A fellow-juror once told me, at the conclusion of a trial, that he really enjoyed jury duty. I could see how he might say he appreciated the American system of justice, or how he counted it an honor to serve, but how he could enjoy serving on a jury was beyond me.
I’ve served on two juries, the second time as a foreman, and in neither case did I enjoy myself. I and my fellow-jurors were tasked with making a decision that had the potential of changing the course of a human life. That was a heavy burden to bear.
I can remember the judge explaining to the jury the meaning of “reasonable doubt,” but the line between reasonable and unreasonable doubt is notoriously hard to fix. And it seems to be placed differently for different jurors.
This became clear to me when a defense attorney told the jury he was going to present us with twenty-six reasons to find his client “Not-Guilty.” He began with the letter “A” and worked his way through the alphabet. It was a dog and pony show. Many of his twenty-six reasons were ludicrous, and most had no bearing on his client’s innocence. After the prosecution presented its case, I had little doubt of the defendant’s guilt. By the time the defense attorney reached the letter E, I had no doubt at all.
In the afternoon, a witness inadvertently presented evidence that had been previously ruled inadmissible. The judge immediately halted the case, and sent us to the jury room. A few minutes later, a bailiff told us we could discuss the case. To my amazement, several of my fellow-jurors spoke about how convincing the defense attorney’s argument had been. “He had twenty-six reasons!” one of them said, obviously impressed.
The lawyer piled up twenty-six “reasons,” and committed about that many logical fallacies in the process. The number of reasons proves nothing: piling up fallacies remains fallacious, no matter how many there are.
This kind of argument is often used to prove a doctrinal point in Christian circles. A person will amass biblical verses in support of some ecclesiastical or social position, then triumphantly declare, “You can’t argue with Scripture,” or “This is God’s word, not human opinion!” But each proof must be considered on its own merits. Fifty unsuccessful proofs are less convincing than a single successful one.
Not long before the turn of the millennium, a friend brought me a video of a well-known Christian teacher, and asked for my opinion. The teacher claimed that Jesus would return in or around the year 2,000, and he had dozens of biblical proofs to support his claim. He committed one logical fallacy after another in the application of his “proofs.” I remember telling my friend, “Jesus may return in 2,000, but it sure won’t be because this guy said so!”
A hundred prooftexts do not a sound argument make. Each text must be examined for relevance and consistency. Some time ago, another friend asked me to watch a teaching video, which he enthusiastically endorsed as “biblical,” since the teacher’s material came exclusively from the Bible. Indeed, the teacher constantly quoted the Bible, but that did not make his instruction biblical. He wrenched one text after another out of its context, and entirely ignored verses that undermined his point. Yet he maintained that the number of texts he had amassed proved him right. His argument was as faulty as the alphabet lawyer’s, and for the same reasons.
I have noticed that people who argue this way usually place considerable stress on the idea that their idea is biblical – how can it not be with a hundred proof texts? – thereby implying that anyone who disagrees with them is, de facto, unbiblical. But this is to assume the very point that remains to be proven: the argument’s faithfulness to the biblical witness.
A chain, whether forged from steel or logic, is not stronger because it has more links. The links must really connect with each other and with a premise that is true. This is something to remember the next time someone claims biblical support for a position based on the quantity of texts presented.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 1/20/2018