Worldview: Drawing conclusions without good evidence is a dangerous game

Rob Slane  ·  Apr 30, 2017

Imagine a game of Clue where instead of sitting down to play by the rules—going from room to room, eliminating suspects, places and weapons—the players start making accusations and counter-accusations before a move has been made.

One player says it must have been the Reverend Green, because he is known for his religious extremism. Another reacts to the charge by calling the first player an anti-religious bigot. Still another says that it must have been Miss Scarlet, since she has a certain sort of femme fatale look about her. Another counters with an accusation of misogyny and says it must have been the Colonel, the Reverend, or the Professor, since they are representatives of the patriarchy. And so on and so on.

A game of Clue like this is plainly absurd, but unfortunately much of the back and forth in the culture wars is similar. We jump to conclusions because of personal prejudice and political correctness.

Recently I’ve noticed that as a society we often jump to conclusions about tragic events as well. We often see it when an atrocity occurs, such as a truck attack or a bombing. Within minutes the media tend to describe them as terrorist attacks bearing “all the hallmarks of ISIS.” The Twittersphere then erupts and counter-erupts, with some blaming it on Islamization, and others decrying their Islamophobia.

The suspicion that such incidents are inspired by Islam and/or connected with terrorism is of course a very reasonable one, since there have been enough occurrences where this has indeed been the case to make it at the very least a strong possibility. However, there are also enough of such incidents where this has turned out not to have been the cause to at least make us wary of turning a suspicion into a “fact.”

I can think of numerous such incidents where the perpetrator has turned out to have no connection to any terrorist organization whatsoever, but has been acting entirely on his own. I can think of such incidents where the perpetrators have turned out not to have had any particular terrorist motive, but have simply been lowlife criminals with a long history of mental illness and regular users of drugs, prescription or illegal. I can even recall the shock many felt when the perpetrator of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma turned out to be a fairly average white American with no links to any extremist group.1 

This tendency to draw conclusions before the facts are established is not confined to incidents that may or may not be explained by terrorism, however. For example, Hillary Clinton once said that women who make a claim of rape “should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.”2 Her attitude is not uncommon, nor is it confined to rape. Having largely imbibed the Marxist ideology that society is made up of oppressors and the oppressed, we are increasingly developing an instinct that rushes to believe the “victim.”

This is the very opposite of how we should operate in a law-governed society, which in the Christian West has been based on the Bible for 1,500 years. It is not the police’s or anyone else’s business to “believe” the one making the claim, if they happen to belong to what society has deemed to be an oppressed group. Neither should such accusations be disbelieved. Instead, they should be taken seriously and treated with sensitivity, but judgment should be postponed until the evidence is collected.

This type of thinking is very dangerous, such as when the abuse of children is involved. I can think of a number of cases in which people have had their reputations utterly trashed by what turned out to be unfounded accusations of child abuse, where the police and the media automatically believed the claims being made long before any evidence had been presented. Such reputations are not easily restored.

These type of reactions to events, where we assume we know who did something, or why they did it, or where we believe the accuser before the evidence is in, are symptomatic of how we are losing a basic understanding of the rule of law, and even a basic ability to reason. If we cannot grasp such simple truths as the need for evidence before believing accusations, and the need for proof before taking action, then we are truly at a dangerous point.

What does the Bible teach us about this? First, it teaches us how God judges. It is not according to partiality or prejudice, but rather according to the truth: “He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:9). It is not hasty or impulsive, but rather careful and deliberate: “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty” (Nahum 1:3). It is not according to an emotional response to hearing or seeing an incident, but rather according to eternal principles of justice and right: “He shall not judge by what His eyes see, or decide disputes by what His ears hear, but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Isaiah 11:3-4).

Second, it teaches us that we are to judge in a similar way. Our judgments are to be according to truth and facts, rather than partiality or prejudice: “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15). We are to be careful and deliberate, not hasty and rash: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17).

We are not to let our senses and emotions cloud our judgments, but rather we are to establish the facts and principles of a case: “What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?” (Proverbs 25:8).

If all this seems obvious, fine. However, my observation is that this is becoming far from obvious to many people, and we are seeing judgments and conclusions made more and more on the basis of emotions, partiality, and prejudice, rather than facts, reason, and truth.

This can and will lead to a whole host of problems. It can and has led to miscarriages of justice. It can lead to us missing the real causes of some events and atrocities because we blind ourselves to other possibilities. But perhaps most alarmingly, it leads to a sort of conformist, mob mentality where the media explodes with their explanations, and we are all supposed to accept the line on the basis that “the media says so” or “the intelligence community says so” or “most people say so,” regardless of whether any evidence has been provided to back it up. This is inherently dangerous, and leaves us extremely vulnerable to manipulation and propaganda.

Again, the Bible warns us against following the crowd rather than the evidence, depicting the mob mentality as the enemy of justice and righteousness:

“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit” (Exodus 23:1-3).

I can’t stress enough how important all this is. I have found it increasingly painful to watch the way our society now reacts to events before waiting for evidence to come in, usually in a din of collective hysteria, and often without even bothering to wait until such things as “facts” emerge. And I have found it increasingly painful to watch as we have accepted the sort of argument put forth by Mrs. Clinton, that accusers are to be believed before the evidence is in, just because they belong to some designated class of “oppressed” people.

This is not how virtuous people and societies react, and it is certainly not how Christians should be reacting. Our God is a righteous God, Who judges according to truth, and with exact deliberation. We don’t have His perfect knowledge of course, but He expects us to assess situations in a similar fashion. Rather than relying on assumptions, hearsay, and plays on our emotions, we are to wait for evidence to come in, weigh it in the balance, and only when the evidence is beyond a reasonable doubt are we to arrive at a conclusion. Unless we soon regain our ability to face calamities deliberately, according to the rule of law, we will find that we bring a whole host of problems our way which should have been avoided.

Rob Slane lives with his wife and six home-educated children in Salisbury, England. He is the author of The God Reality: A Critique of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, contributes to the Canadian magazine Reformed Perspective, and blogs on cultural issues from a Biblical perspective at www.theblogmire.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @theblogmire or send email to him at rob_slane@hotmail.com

1. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_McVeigh

2 “Of course, Hillary’s statement was removed from her website.” National Review Online <bit.ly/hillarystatement>