Hypothetical Questions Can Be Tricky Traps!
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. (Matthew 22:29)
The truth-rejecting Sadducees, as well as the truth-evading Pharisees, tried to trap the Lord Jesus with trick questions. But the Lord didn’t take the bait. (Nor should we.)
Consider the discussion in Matthew 22:23-29, about serial marriages. The Lord Jesus dismissed the question as illegitimate, as He faulted the Sadducees for ignoring God’s Word and for ignoring God’s sovereign power over human affairs.
So, when an evangelical church hosts a special event to teach God’s truth — with a reverent priority of Sola Scriptura (the hallmark of the Protestant Reformation movement) — we should not be surprised when the event is interrupted by ugly sabotage-attempting blasphemers, who hasten guile with tricky trap questions during Q&A sessions. (Beautiful fields of wheat, white for harvest, can always expect an invasion by tares!)
Recently, at an Biblical apologetics-related event in New England, earlier this year, a trap-loaded question was asked by an attendee: “Some say that minor errors in the Bible are okay, because they don’t hurt the Bible’s main message—but how do you deal with the Bible’s errors?” The sullen-yet-cocky scoffer added: “How do you fix your theology, when new scientific discoveries prove that your literal belief in the Bible doesn’t work?”
Notice how the critic’s leading questions included built-in assumptions, similar to this unfair question: “Yes or no, have you stopped beating your wife?”
Beware! Before you let a critic’s trick question put your faith on trial, put the question itself on trial—judge it for legitimacy, because it might be deceptively illegitimate!
Speaking of trials, such sophistry is routinely rejected in real-world courtroom trials, such as when a witness is asked a question that prematurely presupposes unproven facts. What if the question assumes wet weather, yet there was no report of rain? Or what the question is about how certain medicine dosages affect humans, yet there is no evidence of those dosages ever being tested on humans?(1)
The proper objection (in a litigation context), to such false hypotheticals, is: “Objection, the question assumes facts not in evidence”.(1)
However, most people don’t play by forensic evidence rules, so unsubstantiated and often arrogant assumptions (including groundless name-calling) are often used as a substitute for real proof.(2) So, how should we then respond?
Reply that such questions are defectively misleading as asked, because they contain false hypotheticals that require assuming unproven allegations.
To the smug challenger (described above), I countered: “Since you assume that Scripture contains scientific errors, but I reject that assumption, you need to identify a few examples of such so-called ‘errors’, or even just one!—then we can discuss your question, using specific topics and examples that exist in the real world.”
Unsurprisingly, the bluffing challenger had no example of “error” available (despite his blasphemous boast that Scripture contained lots of “errors”).(3)
Like him, other insolent skeptics often ask similar false hypotheticals, as “bait”, in debate-like discussions.
When they do, admonish them that they may be entitled to their own hypothetical imaginations, but they are not entitled to their own universe—because God rules the real universe. Therefore, random hypothetical scenarios are not guaranteed to occur, in God’s universe, just because we can imagine them.
In sum, don’t automatically assume that a hypothetical scenario can ever occur unless (and until) there is real evidence that it actually does occur.(4) God’s Word is sure. God makes sure that the universe never contradicts what He has said in Scripture. God’s truth rules in and matches the real world.
(1)Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company of Texas v. Williams, 133 S.W. 499, 502 (Tex. Civ. App. 1910) (“The question assumes that the [train station] depot room was wet. The evidence does not show that the depot was wet, and therefore the question was error. Hypothetical questions must be based on facts proved, … [otherwise] the answers to such questions are merely speculative and not pertinent to the investigation.”). See also McDowell v. Eli Lilly & Company, 2015 WL 845720, *6 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (“false hypotheticals are not accepted as reliance evidence); Dallas I.S.D. v. Simms, TEA Dkt. 130-LH-705 (JJSJ, CIHE 9-10-AD2005), page 10 (allegations alone, unsupported by a showing of reliable proof, is inadequate, because this would require assuming critical “facts” not provided as evidence), applying Peaster I.S.D. v. Glotfelty, 63 S.W.3d 1 (Tex. App.—F.W. 2001, n.w.h.).
(2)To illustrate name-calling, devoid of supporting proof, consider how evolutionists unjustifiably accuse Biblical creation scientists of being “unscientific” (or “pseudo-scientific”), just because Biblical creation scientists reject evolutionist speculations about so-called “deep time”, “natural selection” animism, and “Big Bang” cosmogony.
(3)Nevertheless, the pushy skeptic argued that his question deserved an answer, because maybe “modern science” would/could/might somehow disprove some of the details of Scripture-provided facts. Obviously, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself disagreed with that arrogant attitude—and Christ’s knowledge outranks any skeptic’s speculations—so accommodatively endorsing skeptics’ silly speculations is both needless and unwise (Matthew 5:18; John 5:44-47; Luke 16:31). Notice also, in 1st Timothy 6:20-21, that careless attention to “science” (falsely so-called) can be the cause of many carelessly erring from the Biblical faith.
(4)Not all imaginable hypotheticals are actually possible, in a real world, because God ultimately selects which hypothetical scenarios He is willing to allow to occur in His universe. Consider again Matthew 22:23-29, regarding serial marriages (where, as noted above, the Lord Jesus dismissed the question as illegitimate, as He faulted the sophistic Sadducees for ignoring God’s Word and God’s sovereign power over human affairs).