The Problem with Modern Debates About "Hot Button" Issues

John ArmstrongCurrent Affairs

The more I listen to modern debates about “hot-button” issues the more perplexed I become about the way we use certain words and draw conclusions. We have become rigidly illogical in both the way we think and speak. We use words that carry popular (assumed) meanings that have little or nothing to do with substantive argumentation. Let me elaborate.

Two items came to mind today as I was driving to a baseball game in Florida. First, the way we debate the issue of stem cell research. It must be said over and over again that no serious Christian is opposed to stem cell research. To suggest that Christians oppose this valuable research is not only a lie, it is a damned lie that comes from the prince of lies who wants to make anything Christian look profoundly stupid. Like most Christians I know I am in favor of serious research using stem cells. I see this research as promising, important and quite humane. What I question is the type of embryonic stem cell research that will result in destroying human embryos. First, I see such an approach as an attack upon the sanctity of human life that will coarsen life and lead us where we should not want to go as a society. Second, I question whether or not the strongest present evidence supports the numerous claims made for this particular form of research. Those who want to promote it are determined to sell it to the public in ways that make the rest of us look like idiots who oppose the healing arts and real concern for suffering people.

The second item that came to my mind today is the issue of global warming. I have a similar reaction to this debate, much of which is silly and falsely presented. This occurs on both sides but especially on the left. No one who is serious about science should deny the point. What is worth a healthy debate is the why question. Why is this warming trend happening? Also in question is what can we really do about this warming trend? And, further, how much can we do without destroying more people and lives in the process?

I am not a climatologist or a trained professional scientist. I do know that many who are have strong pre-suppositions that are deeply rooted in philosophy as much as in hard science. Nothing stirs fear in modern Americans quite like a group of scientists issuing the next warning of an impending apocalypse. We long ago decided that God is not the creator. In the process, long before we denied creation, we also rejected the God of providence who operates within the creation. Now we have to explain what is happening in the physical realm with a model that leaves God completely out. This tends to make modern scientists the new messianic figures of our modern world. Get a group of them to agree on something, publish a few papers on it, and even some evangelicals will jump on board saying, “This is real science. You can’t argue with it.” True, in one sense. But not true in another. Science involves gathering data, making repeated tests, creating models for explanation, questions and more questions, etc. In the case of global warming the science is quite evident to all. Something is happening and the globe’s temperature is rising. What is not clear at all is the why question but few will admit this candidly. Some climatologists are more dogmatic than even than fundamentalist preachers. (And those who disagree with them, within the guild, are treated with contempt.) And these are the same people, at least in the broad sense, who warned us of global cooling just thirty-five years ago. It does make you wonder how we can discuss these issues honestly when we have such dogmatic views about explanations before we ever get to seriously debate the models being employed that led to the explanations that we are now led to assume.

The whole context for these two debates would be much improved if we took science, real hard science, much more seriously. It would also be improved if we challenged the philosophical pre-suppositions on both sides in these debates far more carefully. Surely intellectually inclined Christians can enter such a discussion and make some contribution, or at least I would think so. But if we can’t even agree on how to use the terminology in the debate it will never happen. Indeed, it can’t happen. The incivility of it all is staggering and the arguments employed are now so strident it is hard to think clearly about any of this. Who is telling the truth and what should we do about it?