Consider the Source

You’ve undoubtedly come across the statement “consider the source.” Wise words, if meant to induce you to consider the biases of a speaker or writer before reaching any conclusions on the material.

But it is unwise to categorically reject material simply because its originator has statements you disagree with. It is equally unwise to categorically accept material simply because its originator has statements you agree with. Both are examples of the genetic fallacy, a logical fallacy in which a particular work is either uncritically accepted or uncritically rejected based solely on its origin, its genesis.

The wholesale acceptance of all claims by a trusted source, and/or the wholesale rejection of all claims by an untrusted source, can stunt intellectual growth. Just because a source is right in one area, does not mean the source is right in all areas. Conversely, just because a source is wrong in one area, does not mean the source is wrong in all areas.

Any claim should be judged on its own merits, regardless of source. If you know the biases of the speaker/writer, you may be able to more critically review the claim for these sorts of biases. Such informed critique may find the claim either true or false, mostly true or mostly false, etc.

An example may help you recognize this fallacy and perceive the possible ramifications for falling prey to it.

I have seen websites explicitly forbidding the excellent resource A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition (usually abbreviated BDAG), simply because the lexicon is based on an earlier one by Walter Bauer. The reasoning? Bauer also authored the controversial Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity.

In it, Bauer theorized there were competing ‘Christianities’ in the first and second centuries. Christianity as we know it today won out. All other losing beliefs were actively suppressed or eradicated by the victor. A sort of ‘might makes right’ theological battle. Bauer purports that the resulting Christian belief of today is different from that of Jesus and the Apostles.

But Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger ably refute this theory in their The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity. Yet this doesn’t necessarily mean that the lexicon based on Bauer’s original is similarly defective (or that Bauer’s German language original itself is defective). In the Foreword to the Köstenberger and Kruger book, I. Howard Marshall makes this point very well, defending Bauer’s lexicon:

Old heresies and arguments against Christianity have a habit of reappearing long after they have been thought dead…When this happens, they need fresh examination to save a new generation of readers from being taken in by them.

Such is the case with the thesis of the German lexicographer Walter Bauer, who single-handedly read the entire corpus of ancient Greek literature in order to produce his magnificent Lexicon to the New Testament. Its worth is entirely independent of the fact that its compiler was in some respects a radical critic who claimed on the basis of his researches into second-century Christianity that there was no common set of “orthodox” beliefs in the various Christian centers but rather a set of disparate theologies, out of which the strongest (associated with Rome) assumed the dominant position and portrayed itself as true, or “orthodox.”[1]

One faulty book and one excellent resource by the same author! Marshall illustrates how not to fall prey to the genetic fallacy.

Let’s all endeavor to fairly evaluate material that comes our way. Yes, consider the source. Don’t categorically accept or reject it. Assess a claim by a particular source with a critical eye on known biases for evidence of such. Evaluate each individual claim on its own merits.

________________

[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), p 11. Bold added for emphasis.

One Response to Consider the Source

  1. Craig says:

    It had been a while since I’d read anything on the Stand to Reason blog, so I decided to check it out. I came across this one, which covers some of the things in my post here:

    How to Avoid Falling for Fake News

    Like

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