Used with permission from John Clayton, Does God Exist?
It is upsetting. These days, it also seems inevitable. Lies are told, and many people believe them. Maybe that was overstated. Sometimes, it is a half-truth or a conjecture stated as a proven fact rather than a direct and intentional lie. But the result is pretty much the same. Children are growing up with a lot of false information in their heads. Many adults are making decisions based on false information. And this false information is not always coming from off-the-wall fringe Internet sites. Often, these days, highly respected sources cannot be trusted.
THE PROBLEM: LET ME GIVE A FEW EXAMPLES
A couple of years ago, I read an article about some little-known pyramids in Sudan. The author stated that these pyramids had been emptied of their contents centuries ago by “European grave robbers.” The statement interested me. I am not an expert on that part of Africa, but I do have some knowledge of its history. I knew that European influence came late to that area. I knew that the area had a lengthy history of intertribal strife. Intertribal strife often leads to grave robbing. Desecrating graves shows quite clearly that “we do not respect your ancestors or believe that they have power over us.” I knew the area also had a long history of Arab slave trading. I knew that the first looting of the better- known pyramids in Egypt had been carried out by Arabs — although Europeans did plenty at a later date. So, I wondered how the author knew that Europeans had looted these pyramids in Sudan.
Not being shy in these matters, I wrote to the editor of the journal in which the article had appeared. Evidently, the author had no proof for his claim. But he certainly was not going to admit that, nor was the editor going to allow my letter to see the light of day. I was impolitely ignored. No proof whatsoever was offered.
This might not be exactly a lie. Those who looted the Sudanese pyramids may have been Europeans. That is certainly a possibility. But it is not known to be a fact. Yet it was stated as a fact. No other possibility was mentioned, even though at least two other possibilities exist (and even seem just as likely).
EXAMPLE NUMBER TWO COMES FROM THE SAME HIGHLY RESPECTED PUBLICATION
I am excited about the possibilities of renewable energy. I know there are problems with solar and wind power, but I believe we will soon work many of those out. So, I was pleased to see an article on offshore wind turbines at Block Island — a part of the State of Rhode Island. I was pleased with what I read in the article until I came to this deceptive statement.
“Lewis objected to the wind farm because of the political process that, he said, led to the power purchase agreement with National Grid, the utility company. Now all Rhode Islanders were paying too much for clean energy, he and others contented, while wind farm developers made a killing. Yet a recent analysis of Block Island power rates, which vary by season, found that the cost per kilowatt hour, if averaged over a year, is 44 percent lower than it was before the wind farm went online.” 
Did you catch that? Do you see the dishonesty? A person reading quickly will think that the author disproved the point made by those who object to the wind farm. But the author compared apples to oranges. The objectors’ point was that the people of the State of Rhode Island were paying more. The author responded with a statistic that is completely irrelevant to that question. No one had denied that the people of Block Island (some of the wealthiest people in the world) were paying less. The claim was that the mainland residents of Rhode Island were paying more so that the rich folks on Block Island could pay less (and the wind farm company could make a huge profit). Instead of answering this objection honestly, the author used a trick to confuse the reader.
Both of those examples come from the highly respected publication Smithsonian. I have respected that publication since I was a child. Unfortunately, I respect it no more. The editors are willing to allow unsupported claims and cheap verbal tricks if either can be used to get people to believe something the editors want. I caught those two. I now wonder how often I have read too quickly and overlooked their dishonesty.
A FINAL EXAMPLE
This one comes from a recent BBC video mini-documentary about archaeology. About halfway through this documentary, the narrator (who claims to be a biblical scholar) makes this statement about the professor digging at Tell es-Safi [photo at R]. “One of his recent finds contradicts the biblical caricature of the Philistines as barbarians.” The narrator goes on to indicate that the Bible consistently presents the Philistines as backward and the Israelites as more advanced.
Do you see a problem with that? Most people will not. Most people, like this documentary’s poorly trained (or dishonest?) narrator, know next to nothing about the Bible. They are perfectly willing to read the modern use of the term “Philistine” back into the Bible. But why? Where does the Bible present the Israelites as more highly developed than the Philistines? This is the exact opposite of what the Bible indicates. The Bible plainly says that the Philistines were more advanced than the Israelites.
“Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, ‘Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.’ But every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle, and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads. So on the day of the battle, there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan, but Saul and Jonathan his son had them” (1 Samuel 13:19 – 22 ESV).
If we were to reword the narrator’s statement to make it factual (instead of dishonest and misleading), it would be “One of his recent finds confirms the biblical description of the Philistines as more advanced than the Israelites.”
Some of you may have the time to write letters of protest. I do not. I have tried that and found it to be a waste of time. The letters will be ignored. These people have an agenda, and they will promote it. But there are some things we can do. Make sure that you know your Bible well. The BBC narrator can put over that false statement only because people do not read the Bible for themselves.
Read alertly. Question the logic if you catch an author, or a publication, using verbal tricks that seem to indicate the facts are not on their side. Do not be taken in by claims that this view or that idea is “progressive.” Those who claim that “you cannot put the clock back” are ignoring the fact that you can put a clock back. C. S. Lewis suggested that if the clock is giving the wrong time, putting it back is progressive. Sticking with a bad idea just because it is labeled “progressive” is the most regressive thing one can do. Train your children, grandchildren, and anyone else you can influence, to question claims (even claims made by supposedly respected sources).
LET ME END ON A MORE LIGHT-HEARTED NOTE
Of course, one would expect the Major League Baseball website to give accurate information regarding baseball. But a few years ago, I noticed that the MLB site claimed that Willie Mays hit four home runs against the Brewers on April 30, 1961. WRONG!!!!! There was no team known as the Brewers in 1961. That team did not exist until 1970. The Brewers played its first game against the Giants (Willie's team) in 1998 (by which time Willie Mays was long retired). In this case, someone just goofed. The writer saw that the game was played in Milwaukee and confused the Milwaukee Braves with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Some errors are just oversights. But, even in more respected publications, some may be intentional. But whether intentional or not, errors on more serious subjects can be harmful. Be alert. "Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge”— 1 Timothy 6:20b ESV.
1. Elizabeth Royte, “There’s Plenty of Juice on Block Island,” Smithsonian, April/May 2022, p. 45.
2. https://www.bbc.com/reel/video/p0d8gprs/the-bible-s-buried-secrets- david-and-goliath
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Top photo: © Chepko Danil Vitalevich; bottom: © Serg73. Images from big stock.com