When arguing apologetics, a Christian’s responsibility isn’t to “win.” You wouldn’t know that from scanning through forums and Facebook debates, but it’s true. In fact, to enter into an apologetics discussion or an otherwise spiritual discussion with the intention of “winning,” can be detrimental, because it tempts us to skew the facts in order to prove that we’re right. But winning an argument with dishonest facts doesn’t make us right; far from it.
Think that doesn’t happen with Christians? Think again. This is nowhere worse than it is in the realm of quotes. In a quest to show the legitimacy of Theism and the absurdity (or, to put it more softly, comparative improbability) of Atheism, many go to the Internet for research. There’s nothing wrong with that. But sometimes we pull quotes without looking up the citations to see if they’re accurate and truthful, and the consequences of that can be disastrous.
Take, for example, this quote attributed to Dr. George Wald, a Nobel Prize winner and professor emeritus of biology at Harvard University: “I do not want to believe in God. Therefore I choose to believe in that which I know is scientifically impossible, spontaneous generation arising to evolution.”
It sounds pretty good, if we want to talk about how even evolutionists are not free of bias. The problem, however, is that Wald never said anything of the sort. The quote was supposedly from a Scientific American interview, but as Dr. Jay L. Wile notes, Wald only appears in one Scientific American article mentioning spontaneous generation, and the phrase “I do not want to believe in God” is found nowhere.
Here’s another popular quote that gets thrown around, this one from Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World and grandson of “Darwin’s Bulldog”: “For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.”
Again, that sounds great. It’s exactly the motivation that some Christians would like for all atheists to admit. If that were true, it would make arguing for our cause a lot easier. But ad hominem attacks seldom contain truth, and in this case, it’s simply taken out of context. Aldous Huxley did say the quote in question, in his book Ends and Means, but he continues in the following pages to say why he and his contemporaries are wrong and that a philosophy of meaninglessness has nothing to stand on:
“Furthermore, those who, to be liberated from political or sexual restraint, accept the doctrine of absolute meaninglessness tend in a short time to become so much dissatisfied with their philosophy (in spite of the services it renders) that they will exchange it for any dogma, however manifestly nonsensical, which restores meaning if only to a part of the universe.” (Ends and Means, page 275)
The misunderstood quote is found all over the Internet, including some supposedly reputable Creationism websites, one of which described Huxley as “infamous for his advocacy of a drug-fueled utopia.” Anyone who’s read so much as a synopsis of Brave New World knows that he’s not advocating for the supposed utopia, but rather criticizing a pleasure-obsessed society by showing how bad it is.
It’s not enough to just be on the right side. We have to approach the facts sincerely and honestly and thoroughly. When we fail to do so, we only reinforce the stereotype that Christians only believe because they don’t think and don’t research. Do the research and put in the time, so that you can argue from a more educated and thoughtful stance. The truth does not fear investigation.