At the onset, I want to give proper credit where credit is due, and state that First Things has several articles that provide much better scholarly grounding for my thesis than I am able to accomplish. In fact, I leaned on the writers of First Things to help provide me with the little clarity that I do have as I researched, worked through, and wrote about the topic of torture. I encourage the readers of this article to take the time to avail themselves of the resources on this topic that are available at First Things.
Google “train switch” and “ethics” and a variety of Philosophy 101 style games/questions will pop up in the results. The questions are meant to prompt thought and discussion about ethics. For example, one example queries “Imagine that you are standing beside a set of train tracks. Ahead in the distance are five children stuck on the train tracks. Hurtling towards those unfortunate children is a runaway train with a conductor who has blacked out. Now, there is also a side track that the train can be diverted onto, saving the lives of the group of children. The problem is that there is a single man stuck on the side track; diverting the train onto the side track will have the consequence of saving the group of children, but will kill the lone individual. The switch is in front of you, do you pull the switch?”
Based on studies, the majority of people will answer that question in the affirmative. However, I answer in the negative.
The reason why the majority of people will answer “yes” to the above question is because of the Omission Bias. The Omission Bias states that as long as the negative consequences that are the result of accomplishing a good action are unintended, then the action is ethically acceptable. According to the Omission Bias, switching the tracks to save the kids is worth the unintentional consequence of killing the lone man.
I answer in the negative because the Omission Bias is grounded in utilitarianism, and Christians should outright reject utilitarianism. For the sake of brevity, utilitarianism lays claim to the platitude that “the end justify the means” – an abhorrent platitude that can be used to justify just about whatever socially constructed objective a thorough-going relativist sets her or his heart on. In other words, and bringing it back to our intuition pump, we’ll feel badly for that man’s family, but his death, unintentional as it was, saved the lives of a group of children. Group > one, especially if that group is a group of children. Of course, and this is where utilitarianism becomes tricky for the average-want-to-do-the-right-thing person, what if that lone man was humanity’s best hope of curing cancer, and the group of children were all below average students and troublemakers? But, this article isn’t mainly about utilitarianism, except how it relates to many Christian’s opinions on torture. So, to wrap up the “train switch problem,” it is not for me or you to decide who lives and who dies. That is the prerogative of God. Don’t let fancy philosophy 101 terms like “Omission Bias” and “unintended consequences” cloud the fact that by switching the tracks, you would be choosing to end the life of an Image Bearer. You are not responsible for any of the events leading up to that moment. But, once you choose to pull that switch, you, acting as God, insert yourself into the situation. As incredibly horrifying as the fact of children dying may be, it is not for you nor I nor anyone else to decide that the uninvolved man dies and the children live.
Got it? Good. Time to move on to the problem of torture.
In the weeks following the release of the CIA Torture Report, several memes with variations on the same point popped up on my Facebook newsfeed on a fairly consistent basis. The crux of the memes is that the torture of a few terrorists is worth the saving of potential lives. The most oft shared meme was a picture of the burning Twin Towers on one half, a terrorist being water boarded on the other half with the words “Water board a few terrorists to save 2,977 innocents? Absolutely!” Well, that’s a utilitarian argument.
Recognizing the memes/arguments as utilitarian does not condemn torture. It simply means that in order to justify torture, the Christian will need another argument. That being said, I’m sure that many are wondering if the train switch intuition pump above and the torture meme make a good one-to-one comparison. After all, the lone guy stuck on the track is innocent as far as humans can determine innocence. The terrorists in the meme are far from innocent, and most humans acknowledge that. Well, good point, except that utilitarian arguments are still utilitarian arguments. Sorry. No matter how you massage the variables, stating that the end justifies the means is still stating that the end justifies the means, and means are not morally neutral. If utilitarian arguments are used in one instance, they can be used in other instances – for example, abortion.
For the Christian, arguments either for or against the use of torture as justifiable need to be grounded in a Biblical anthropology. What does God in His revealed word have to say about humans?
In the opening paragraph of his section on anthropology, titled “The Doctrine of Man in Relation to God,” Dr. Louis Berkhof wrote, “Man is not only the crown of creation, but also the object of God’s special care.” This, of course, raises the question, why are humans “the crown of creation” and “the object of God’s special care?” Although the truth of Genesis 1:28 that humans are made in the image of God should be Sunday School 101, it’s unfortunately often not, and, hence, deserves the rehearsal.
Since humans are made in the image of God, all humans have innate value – their bodies and their mind. Torture denies that innate value; those who utilize torture treat the body as a tool that can be used in order to manipulate and reshape the mind and the will of an Image Bearer. The violation of a person’s internal space by treating their body as a utilitarian tool is degradation – dehumanizing. To dehumanize someone is to claim that they are not made in the Image of God.
Of course, torture is, at least in practice, far removed from most of us. We hear about it through the news media; we many even discuss it with friends or co-workers; but the vast majority of us have never tortured anyone or been tortured. At least in the ways that the UN Convention Against Torture has defined torture. It’s easy to view torture through a purely abstract lens. But what if the degradation of another Image Bearer is brought home in a way that many of us can relate to? How many will condone the degradation of the mean neighbor kid?
For example, imagine that there is a neighbor kid who is mean to your kids. This neighbor kid says mean things to your kids, breaks their toys, and pushes them off the swing set. You’ve talked to the parents; encouraged your kids to dialogue with young Mickey; and you’ve even given your kids permission to use physical force in retaliation to physical force if no other options are available. But, one day, you overhear your kids yelling at this neighbor kid and saying things like “Well, you have a learning disability which means you’re stupid.” Or, “Since you’re mean and stupid, you can’t play with us.”
Most of us, I hope, would immediately take our kids aside and tell them that it doesn’t matter what Mickey says or does, it’s not ok to treat him like that; it’s not ok to say those things to another person.
In that scenario, most people recognize that the actions of the individual do not justify the degradation of that individual. There are things that transcend our personal time and place, and one of those transcendent things is that nothing justifies degrading another Image Bearer. In his systematic theology, Wayne Grudem closes his chapter “The Creation of Man” with the warning that when we began degrading and devaluing Image Bearers, “we will soon begin to depreciate the value of human life, will tend to see humans as merely a higher form of animal.”
I’m not operating under the delusion that I’ll change anyone’s mind about torture. If you think I’m selling myself short, I challenge you to create an outline for this article. Based on organization, this is a “C” paper, at best . Since I don’t have a teacher riding herd on my, I can excuse myself with the claim, the true claim, that my simple hope and prayer is that those readers who’ve never entertained the thought that torture may not be Biblically justified will think and pray about it. Study it out; don’t assume that just because your favorite TV pundit or radio host paints torture as morally justifiable, that makes it so. To further that, I point back to the initial paragraph and encourage readers to check out the articles on First Things that deal with the problem of torture. I will also include some links below to a couple of articles that I believe are helpful.
Means are not morally neutral, and torture violates the Bible’s teaching that all humans are made in the image of God.
 When discussing situational ethics, it’s easy to take the moral high road. If actually faced with that absurd scenario (which, by the way, is guilty of implied omniscience, among other problems), I think it would be really hard to not sacrifice a lone man in order to save a group of children.
 Research Peter Singer and abortion, for starters.
 My apologies to Daniel Dennett for stealing his phrase “intuition pump” for use in a decidedly anti-utilitarian and pro-Christian article.
 To round this out, I think that the most righteous and just course of action would be for the man to ask the bystander to pull the switch. Self-sacrifice in that instance reflects the love of Jesus. I think. I’ll be happy to consider opposing arguments.
 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 181.
 The bully in my sixth grade class was named Mickey Hoodless. I know that that name sounds like it came from Central Casting, but that was the actual name of the actual class bully.
 Look, I’m not expressing my opinion of how to deal with bullies (I’m also not not expressing my opinion of how to deal with bullies). I hope that those of you who are offended at the suggestion that it’s ok to return physical violence with physical violence will see what I think is clearly an illustration that is alluding to NOT kids and NOT individual families.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 451.
 This is no false humility either; I’m quite aware of what I’m capable of as a writer. For an example of my “A” writing, check out “American Privilege and Living On One Dollar a Day.”