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Boots on the ground

Chasing Biblical objectivity in journalism

Boots on the ground

(Krieg Barrie)

“Biblically objective journalism that informs, educates, and inspires.” WORLD’s mission statement near the top of page 2 of every issue sometimes confuses readers, because it uses the word objective in an old-fashioned way.

Today  we often think of an “objective” perspective as one not voicing a strong opinion—neutral.

The older understanding, though, equated objectivity and reality. Reporters who accurately described reality were objective despite being opinionated, if they were exceptionally well-grounded and well-informed. Key questions to a reporter: How do you become well-grounded? Have you seen close-up what you describe, or are you peering from a distance? 

Our statement about “Biblically objective journalism” on page 2 follows Psalm 24:1—“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and those who dwell therein.” God made everything and everyone, so He knows every atom in the universe and in us. The builder of my house in Austin, Texas, left me the blueprints. The Builder of our world left us the Bible, so when we want to know the objective nature of our world, we study His blueprint.

But that sounds abstract, so let me give you two instances from a fairly typical day—Friday, Sept. 6—of how I try to be Biblically objective on controversial stories by emphasizing street-level reporting combined with a perspective formed by God’s inerrant teaching.

God made everything and everyone, so He knows every atom in the universe and in us.

First, I responded to several letters objecting to WORLD’s reporting on immigration. We’ve tried to sympathize both with refugees desperate to enter the U.S. and readers who insist on the rule of law. To see the crisis up close, our reporters have spent many days on the U.S.-Mexico border. Last year our July 21 issue included Jamie Dean’s story on “Bloody Honduras,” the Central American country from which many recent would-be immigrants are fleeing.

The letters made me think about both past and future. Since Congress passed immigration quotas in 1924, Americans have disagreed about the number of immigrants the U.S. should admit, and which should receive priority. Throughout our history, though, we have usually accepted refugees whose lives were in danger. When we haven’t—the U.S. turned away Jews escaping from Hitler, many of whom later died in concentration camps—many Christians have later regretted that denial.

So here’s a key question concerning those fleeing Honduras: Is its level of crime and violence so high that the U.S. will be enabling murder if we just say no? While driving through Central America five years ago, I saw guards with automatic weapons stationed in front of convenience stores in Honduras, but I really don’t know how hard life there has become. So Jamie early in October is heading to Honduras for a warmhearted but tough-minded look at reality. Please pray for safety.

Second, on Sept. 6 I spent a delightful hour with Rice University professor Jim Tour, one of the world’s most-published chemists. He explained why polls purportedly showing “97 percent of scientists” supporting macroevolution (new body plans at the phylum level) merely document ignorance under social pressure: “The concerted requirement of multiple changes all at the same place and at the same time is impossible to fathom chemically.”

Tour explained that he has often said to proponents of macroevolution, in essence, “show me the chemistry”—and they have not been able to do so. Tour’s stories remind me of the academic solution to getting out of a pit with tall, sleek walls impossible to climb: “assume a ladder.” But if we assume that life just emerged without showing how that could work chemically, we are substituting faith in evolution for Biblical objectivity, which has a logical explanation: God created life.

I urge our reporters to work at “street level, not suite level,” but macroevolutionists are in the suites, generalizing grandly about processes taking hundreds of millions of years—yet unable to show how the requisite molecules (lipids, proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates) occurred in the states and quantities necessary for life to begin, or how the necessary DNA and RNA codes emerged. 

If you want to understand more about Biblical objectivity, you might enjoy a book of mine just published by P&R, Reforming Journalism. Our Saturday Series, at wng.org/saturday-series, is publishing on Sept. 28 and Nov. 2 excerpts from Chapters 3 and 4.