By David Barr
This post takes no position for or against the substantive content of the recent Nashville Statement, a declaration on issues of gender and sexuality, signed by many prominent evangelical theologians and pastors. The aim, instead, is to show that there are significant problems with how it presents itself that have nothing to do with sex and gender.
“When we consider the blood on the knife block, the victim’s handwriting on the grocery list, and the faint aroma of lemons on the divan, we must conclude that the killer was none other than the cook, Mrs. Shropshire.”
This is the sort of reasoning Sherlock Holmes does: taking stock all of the available evidence, and coming to the most reasonable conclusion about what happened or what will happen. It’s often called “inference to the best explanation.” Philosophers call this type of reasoning “abduction”–as opposed to deduction and induction, that is, not the kidnapping kind. We use abductive reasoning all the time: I come back to my apartment and my wife isn’t home. She hasn’t responded to my text, it’s a gorgeous day, and her running shoes are missing, so I conclude she must be out for a run.
Or perhaps she’s been abducted (the kidnapping kind).
It’s worth taking a second to think about abductive reasoning, because it’s often mistaken for bias. There’s admittedly a lot of similarity between these two. Both are ways of arriving at conclusions. But while abduction takes into consideration all of the relevant facts and constructs a reasonable account that holds all of them together, biased judgment skips this fact-gathering phase and jumps to conclusions based on a narrow set of facts and pseudo-facts.