Were the wildfires on Maui the result of a secret “weather weapon” being tested by the US? Should money being spent on the war in Ukraine be spent at home for disaster relief instead?
If you believe the disinformation campaigns currently being waged by China and Russia, you’re likely to say yes to both questions. Researchers warn that China is building a network of accounts that could be used for future information operations including next year’s US presidential election. This is what Russia did in the year leading up to the 2016 election.
Once you know that news can be fabricated, you begin to wonder if anything you read is really true. For example: a man bought a painting for $4 at a flea market, then discovered inside its frame one of only twenty-four known copies of the Declaration of Independence made on July 4, 1776. It sold for $2.4 million at auction.
Is this true? I found the article on a news site called UNILAD, dated 11 September 2023. An internet search then found the same story reported by both the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun, but their articles were published on June 14, 1991. So I assume it happened, but it seems UNILAD chose to run it again thirty-two years later while giving an impression (intentional or not) of the story as new news.
According to the Associated Press, here are some recent stories that were outright falsehoods: the Burning Man floods triggered an Ebola outbreak and “national emergency”; Arkansas is replacing voting machines with paper ballots; since vaccines for the flu, measles, mumps, and rubella were developed years ago but the diseases haven’t been eradicated, immunizations don’t work.
In this day of AI-generated fake videos, images, and stories, we can expect the problem of fake news to escalate. But there’s an even more significant narrative at work here.
“The deceiver of the whole world”
The Bible calls Satan “the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). Jesus described him as “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Accordingly, the devil has “blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). He wants to deceive believers as well, so he “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
He has been lying to humans since the very beginning when “the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning” (2 Corinthians 11:3). As a result, he is far better at deceiving us than we are at resisting his attacks on the truth and is an expert at shifting his strategy as appropriate to the culture and context.
For example, when I was a seminary philosophy professor in the 1980s, I taught my students how to defend the Christian faith from claims that our beliefs are unscientific and without evidence. This was because truth was viewed as objective and scientific progress was thought to have debunked the miraculous. So we learned to defend biblical authority on the basis of manuscript evidence, archaeological discoveries, internal textual consistency, and fulfilled messianic prophecies. We discussed evidential and rational arguments for God’s existence, Jesus’ divinity and uniqueness, the historicity of the resurrection, and so on.
Today, skeptics are likely to dismiss such apologetic arguments by saying to us, “That’s just your truth. I have my truth.” This is because we now live in a “post-truth,” relativistic culture. It’s conventional wisdom today that there is no such thing as absolute truth, which is an absolute truth claim. Consequently, we are told that we have no right to force our beliefs on others, which is a belief others seek to force on us. But the illogic of such statements is lost on those who make them.
Three practical steps
In the face of such deception, it is vital that we be able to say with Paul, “We would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11). Consider these simple but urgent steps.
One: Think biblically.
Psychologists tell us that our thoughts, whether positive or negative, shape our lives. Accordingly, Paul wisely testified: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). To measure truth claims by “the knowledge of God,” measure them by Scripture. Since “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18), we can trust that “the law of the Lᴏʀᴅ is perfect” (Psalm 19:7). (For more, please see my article, “How can I study the Bible?”)
Two: Pray for discernment.
Scripture exhorts us, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). The “mature” are “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). We should therefore pray with Solomon for “an understanding mind . . . that I may discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9).
Three: Speak only the truth.
We are commanded: “Having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25). We are to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). As I say so often, “speaking the truth in love” should be our mantra (Ephesians 4:15).
I closed my seminary philosophy classes with these words from an anonymous believer:
From the cowardice that shrinks from new truths,
From the laziness that is content with half-truths,
From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,
O God of truth, deliver us!
Would you join me in making them your prayer today?