December 11

Let’s Not Create Urban Legends

Whenever I edit a Christian book that illustrates a point using “the results of a scientific study,” I cringe! Usually the information comes from another author who confidently quotes an unnamed source—and usually, that source is nowhere to be found, and the material is totally bogus! Make sure that any “research” you cite is true and accurate, and also draws the correct conclusions—and you normally do that by looking up the original research study, if possible.

When you don’t go back to the source, an urban legend can be created. Example: it is commonly reported that, according to scientists, the bumblebee is aerodynamically unable to fly. This is sourced from the story of an aerodynamics expert who tried to work out the math on this question, literally on a napkin, at a dinner party. He started by guessing the weight, wingspan, thrust, etc. of a bumblebee, and couldn’t make it work because he had the figures all wrong. When he got back to his workplace and looked up the correct weight, wingspan, etc., it all worked out (and the bumblebees of the world heaved a collective sigh of relief, I’m sure). But other people at the party apparently never got the memo, and spread the rumor that bumblebees are not supposed to be able to fly.

So-called “higher criticism” of the Bible falls into this trap. Higher critics claim that the Bible, especially the Old Testament, was compiled over centuries, well into and even after the time of Christ. Much of it is based on the theory of the “J document” and “E document” (theoretical predecessors of the first five books of Moses, one of which speaks of “a god” named Jehovah, and a separate document which speaks of “a god” named Elohim). The argument goes that the Jews had two gods, and only agreed on monotheism later, at which point they merged the two documents, and that’s why in the Old Testament God is call Jehovah in some places and Elohim in others! Then they discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls, dated to before the time of Christ, which contained most of the books of the Old Testament, virtually identical to the ones we have today (the wording is something like 99.5% the same). It proved the faithful transmission of God’s Word through the centuries, and totally discredited the “J document/E document” theory — and yet, liberal scholars still hold to this theory today!

My point, however, is not that including undocumented (and/or misinterpreted) research in your book is necessarily going to create an urban legend. But it may end up spreading a falsehood. It could be harmless, as in the bumblebee story, or it may be dangerous, as in the theories of higher criticism.  Regardless, is this what a Christian writer should be doing?

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

Posted December 11, 2017 by Dave Fessenden in category "Uncategorized


  1. By Lisa Cunningham on

    Interesting post, David. Thankfully, I learned how to do solid research as a journalist. I feel that journalism training is the perfect basis for writing thoughtful and accurate non-fiction books. I appreciate your wisdom in sharing this information.

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