A Review of ‘Truth Overruled’

August 12, 2015

I remember the moment when it hit me as to just how alienated our culture was from Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality. A friend of mine in graduate school was in a serious relationship with a lovely young lady. He was a bright, young Ph.D. student from an excellent evangelical college in the Midwest. She too was very bright, a Princeton undergraduate student from the South with aspirations to go to law school. They were committed to each other, committed to their Christian faith, and they each had promising career prospects ahead of them.

They were also a curiosity. For their peer group at Princeton found their relationship to be very odd. Before they were married, and while they were living in the same town, they were outliers in the campus culture because they were not living together or even having sex. Then, to make matters even more strange, after getting married my friend’s wife was accepted to a prestigious law school some hours from town, and rather than live separately so she could pursue law while he finished graduate work, they made career sacrifices so they could start their new marriage actually living together instead of hours apart.

Such was and is the default understanding of our elite and increasingly common culture. Living separately and abstaining from sex is odd for a serious dating couple; actually living together in a bona fide marriage is also puzzling if it complicates promising career opportunities. One might almost think that my friends thought marriage had a definitive meaning to it that required, even demanded, that they make their decisions in light of what marriage actually is, as opposed to treating marriage as something entirely malleable, defined and governed by strong personal desires and shifting cultural expectations. That marriage might be something other than we want it to be, at this moment, is something of a deviant suggestion.

Given this climate of opinion and practice at Princeton, one might be surprised to discover the most articulate, sharp, and civil voice laying out the case for traditional marriage is a Princeton graduate himself. That voice belongs to Ryan T. Anderson, research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, holder of a doctorate from Notre Dame, undergraduate alumnus of Princeton, and graduate of the progressive but recently rather close-minded Friends School of Baltimore. One gets the sense that it is because Anderson received a vigorous education among many with different views that he is so comfortable engaging the argument.

Over the last few years he has written arguments in academic forums, testified before government bodies, offered opinion pieces online and in print, and made several people uncomfortable on television. He has been, if you will forgive the reference, the Socrates of the marriage debate. No, he’s not corrupting the youth, nor introducing new gods, but he is like that pesky fellow who keeps asking questions, probing the responses, and all the while doing so politely with indefatigable civility. If marriage is as important as all the sides of this debate claim, then isn’t it really important that we lay out what we mean in answering the question, “What is marriage?” At the very least, even if he does not persuade everyone, Anderson wants people to grapple seriously with that question. Yet unlike Socrates who trafficked almost entirely in questions, Anderson also provides a number of answers and explanations, and also unlike Socrates, he’s written a book, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom. Let us hope the dissimilarities with Socrates don’t end there.

This is simply an outstanding book, and on several levels. The arguments and evidence are accessible to those without fancy academic credentials, though there are plenty of endnotes discussing the finer points of data analysis and pointing to academic sources for those who want to dig deeper. The book is appropriately wonky and philosophical at points, delving into social science, constitutional law, and reasoning about human nature. At the same time, Anderson recognizes the importance of narrative. One doesn’t get too far in the book without coming across an account of why this matters to actual people, whether it be children of same-sex couples who feel pressure to downplay negative aspects of their childhood, or families whose livelihoods have been up-ended by ordinances or lawsuits that pressure them to violate their consciences.

Anderson’s substantive strategy is positive rather than negative. He primarily lays out the positive case for what marriage is, constructing a vision for the present and future to defend, rather than only critiquing alternative and revisionist conceptions of marriage. There is, of course, a great deal of critique of opposing viewpoints, and Anderson’s approach here too is salutary. He does his interlocutors the courtesy of letting them speak in their own voice, and he engages the strongest proponents of revising marriage, dealing with common objections like the analogy to interracial marriage and child-less marriages. He also assumes good faith, avoiding the temptation so often witnessed to psychologize why someone has taken a position as opposed to whether the position itself is sound. Despite the near-ubiquitous charges of bigotry and homophobia attributed to defenders of traditional marriage, Anderson does not respond in kind but sticks to the arguments and the evidence. Finally, the book includes more than analysis. Taking an appropriately long-term view, Anderson draws from the history of the pro-life movement to suggest several things that people can do in the days, years, and decades to come.

I could write a great deal more in praise of Truth Overruled, but my own argument for reading the book is straightforward. Everyone involved in the marriage debate, traditional and revisionist alike, agrees that marriage is really important. This is the most broadly accessible and comprehensive book making the public case for marriage as a permanent, exclusive, and complementary union of one man and one woman, united to become father and mother to any children they produce. Thus, whether you currently support the revision of marriage, support traditional marriage, or aren’t sure, you will be much better off for having wrestled with Anderson’s questions, and answers, in this book.

All that said, it would certainly be appropriate for a review in Canon & Culture to address briefly what a Christian audience should make of Anderson’s argument and approach. Anderson is, after all, a devout Roman Catholic, and while his arguments do not appeal directly to revelation, Anderson doesn’t hide his faith and at times speaks explicitly as a Christian in laying out his strategy for how the Church, broadly speaking, should respond to the marriage crisis. In what follows I offer one suggestion to Anderson’s call for Christian involvement.

In the eighth chapter of Truth Overruled Anderson outlines four steps the Christian church can make. First, present the truth about marriage and human sexuality in a positive and attractive way, engaging with both the intellectual claims and the horrible human costs of the sexual revolution. Second, without watering down Christian sexual orthodoxy, change the DNA of our churches such that we welcome people with same-sex attraction and do not present marriage as the only opportunity for meaningful and God-honoring relationships. Anderson’s third charge is for Christians to actively defend religious liberty, not only for themselves, and not only in the abstract. Christians need to consider how best to assist fellow believers who find themselves having to choose between their conscience and their livelihoods. Finally, and crucially, Christians need to live out the truth of marriage and family. As important as the right worldview is, the world’s view of how we manifest the truths we believe will depend most on how incarnate those views become in the day-to-day interactions of husband and wife, father and daughter, mother and son, etc.

These four steps seem to me to be not only sound, but necessary. There is much thought and work that needs to go into accomplishing those tasks. At the same time, there is a step that is missing, and that step is repentance. It is at this point I need to be particularly careful, for I very much want to avoid casting aspersions on the bride of Christ. Yet I am persuaded that our Christian witness to the gospel and all its counsel, sexual and otherwise, will bear fruit once we, you and I, repent of our own part to play in the sexual revolution. For as Anderson rightly points out in the book, the rise of same-sex marriage is a consequence rather than a cause of our culture’s marriage crisis. Any believer or church who has quietly made peace with the world’s view (or, more importantly, practice) of cohabitation, divorce, pornography, or a host of other betrayals of Christian sexual orthodoxy, cannot begin to respond with integrity to Anderson’s four tasks before repenting. This goes double for any of us who have rejected or mistreated our neighbors with same-sex attraction. There are much better ways to respond.

I am reminded of something that one of Anderson’s mentors, Richard John Neuhaus, was fond of saying with regard to our increasingly post-Christian culture, “we can turn this thing around!” Insofar as the “we” includes the triune God, as Father Neuhaus would certainly insist, and so long as “this thing” is understood eschatologically rather than politically and culturally, I could not agree more. I am not as confident however, with regard to the prospects for our common culture. But just as it would be a mistake to think that the right combination of activism and witness will definitely yield a renewed culture of life and marriage, so it is a mistake to think that such a prospect is impossible. If we are blessed with such a renewal, however, I am convinced it will begin with our answering the call to “turn around,” or repent.

That will be hard to do, though that has always been the case since the call to repent and the announcement of the nearness of God’s kingdom first made waves two thousand years ago. Harder yet will be resisting the temptation to remain socially respectable by downplaying or outright denying the particular aspect of our Christian faith that the spirit of this age has declared disreputable and even bigoted. That particular aspect of our faith today is Christian sexual orthodoxy, the truth of which cannot be overruled but can be witnessed to and lived out. Ryan Anderson’s book is a much-needed resource for helping us do just that.

Micah Watson

Professor Watson is a native of the great golden state of California where he completed his undergraduate degree at U.C. Davis. He earned his M.A. degree in Church-State Studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and holds M.A. and doctorate degrees in Politics from Princeton University.   Professor Watson joined the … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24