Neutrality, Objectivity, and Sloppy Scholarship
“One of the first duties of a man is not to be duped.” — Carl Becker
The winners of any contest, whether intellectual, political, or military, work very hard to formulate the history of the conflict so their side of the story is told in the best possible light. As one might expect, there is a great deal of bias in the way history is reported. In order to put the historical accounting in the best possible light for those who are reading the history for the first time, sometimes the facts are manipulated just enough to reinforce the impression that the right side did indeed win the contest and left the opposition in the dust. There are some cases where contrary facts are never brought into the discussion so as not to raise questions and doubts in the mind of readers that there might have been a good reason why there was a debate in the first place. And it isn’t beyond some historians to manufacture their own versions of historical events and then hope that no one notices or checks the original sources.
The Myth of Objectivity
Facts are never neutral, and they do not speak for themselves.1 Facts are lined up in defense of a position and then interpreted. Some facts never make it to the interpreter’s table. Too many people believe that newscasters, journalists, and scientists simply “report the facts” devoid of biases, preconceived assumptions, or political agendas. This is hardly the case as James Davison Hunter points out in his book Culture Wars:
In the very act of selecting the stories to cover, the books to publish and review, the film and music to air, and the art to exhibit, these institutions effectively define what topics are important and which issues are relevant—worthy of public consideration. Moreover, in the substance of the stories covered, books published and reviewed, art exhibited, and so on, the mass media act as a filter through which our perceptions of the world around us take shape. Thus, by virtue of the decisions made by those who control the mass media—seemingly innocuous decisions made day to day and year to year—those who work within these institutions cumulatively wield enormous power.2
The fact that a story even gets on a thirty‑minute news slot should make all of us question the notion of neutrality in reporting or in anything else. There is no such thing as pure, unfiltered, pristine news or history. All news and historical accounting are biased, whether liberal or conservative. It’s the result of how we want the world to be seen.3 Of course, the way we see the world is the right way to see the world. Anyone who sees the world in a different way is seeing it the wrong way. “Network anchor David Brinkley once admitted, ‘News is what I say it is—it’s something worth knowing by my standards!”4
William Proctor, a veteran reporter and author who has worked for the New York Daily News, explains that the “[media] gospel is rooted in a kind of secular theology that purports to convey infallible social, moral, and political truth—a truth that the paper [The New York Times] fervently promotes with all the zeal of the fieriest proselytizer.”5 Proctor describes the editorial and news-gathering policy at the Times as “Manhattan Fundamentalism,” “a well-defined but also rather rigid package of viewpoints which the paper disseminates widely to influence political, social, and personal beliefs and behaviors.”6 Even the choice of a story shows bias. Marvin Olasky writes: “Since only an omniscient God can be truly objective, man’s “objectivity” is inherently biased, TIME staffers, recognizing that, increasingly emphasize subjectivity, but that’s no solution either.”7
In 1986, Robert Bazell of NBC, admitted that “Objectivity is a fallacy…. There are different opinions, but you don’t have to give them equal weight.” Linda Ellerbee wrote that “There is no such thing as objectivity. Any reporter who tells you he’s objective is lying to you.”8
The coldly objective, rationalistic, and materialistic field of science claims to be immune from presuppositional bias. At least that’s what scientists want non-scientists to believe. Science is not an objective field of study, and it doesn’t operate independent of certain non-empirical starting assumptions, as Paul Davies, Professor of Mathematical Physics, points out:
However successful our scientific explanations may be, they always have certain starting assumptions built in. For example, an explanation of some phenomenon in terms of physics presupposes the validity of the laws of physics, which are taken as given. But one may ask where these laws come from in the first place. One could even question the origin of logic upon which all scientific reasoning is founded. Sooner or later we all have to accept something as given, whether is God, or logic, or a set of laws, or some other foundation for existence. Thus “ultimate” questions will always lie beyond the scope of empirical science as it is usually defined.9
Beyond these “ultimate” questions, there are certain presuppositions that prevail among materialist philosophers and scientists that color the facts. How is it possible to reason with Lawrence Lerner, professor emeritus at California State University in Long Beach, when he claims, “There are no alternatives to evolution that are science,” and that all the “alternatives are religious”?10 Any piece of evidence that is put forth that might contradict the evolutionary model will be dismissed out of hand as non-factual, creating an interpretive “Catch-22.” At the same time, Lerner and other evolutionists will claim that they are being scientifically objective when they evaluate the facts. The late evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould has written: “The stereotype of a fully rational and objective ‘scientific method,’ with individual scientists as logical (and interchangeable) robots, is self-serving mythology.”11 Objectivity and neutrality, as they relate to the defense of one’s worldview, are myths.
Beware of the man who tells you that he will explain—fully explain—any complex human action or event by resort to “coldly objective,” “empirically verifiable,” “statistical data.” He is deceiving himself, and perhaps seeking to deceive you.
For in the first place we do not all see the same event in exactly the same way, let alone interpret it the same way—not even events which do not involve the complicating factor of human purpose.12
While the study of the facts of history is of the utmost importance, we must never forget that someone is always choosing what facts will go into a textbook and how they should be interpreted. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
- Roy A. Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), 26–27. [↩]
- James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991), 225. [↩]
- Bernard Goldberg, Bias: CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2002), 5. [↩]
- David Brinkley, quoted by Edith Efron, “Why Speech on Television Is Not Rally Free,” TV Guide (April 11, 1964), 7. Quoted in Colleen Cook, All That Glitters: A News-Person Explores the World of Television (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 32. [↩]
- William Proctor, The Gospel According to the New York Times: How the World’s Most Powerful News Organization Shapes Your Mind and Values (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2000), 11-12 [↩]
- Proctor, The Gospel According to the New York Times, 31. [↩]
- Marvin Olasky, “Progress Report: A Changing WORLD amid a subjective TIME,” World (October 14, 2006), 40. [↩]
- Dinesh D’Souza, “Mr. Donaldson Goes to Washington,” Policy Review (Summer 1986), 24–31. Quoted in Marvin Olasky, Prodigal Press: The Anti‑Christian Bias of the American News Media (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988), 59. [↩]
- Paul Davies, The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 15. [↩]
- Mary MacDonald, “A textbook case in Cobb County,” Atlanta-Journal Constitution (April 14, 2002), F1. [↩]
- Stephen Jay Gould, “In the Mind of the Beholder,” Natural History (February 1994), 103:14. [↩]
- Silvester Petro, The Kingsport Strike (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1967), 27–28. [↩]