This 1988 baseball card of Barry Bonds shows a relatively thin ballplayer, but is that enough evidence of today’s hulking Bonds having taken steroids?

So why would a biblical apologetics ministry such as Answers in Genesis be commenting on the sports spectacle of a record-breaking 756th home run? Well, AiG has become known for often commenting on current events outside the creation/evolution/age-of-the-earth debate, especially if there is an opportunity to use the Bible to offer insights into those topics. Proclaiming scriptural authority in all areas of life is one of AiG’s hallmarks.

At the same time, don’t expect that by the end of this article, you will be convinced one way or another that Barry Bonds’ baseball feat was partly accomplished through performance-enhancing drugs. For one thing, it is a joyous time for the Bonds' family and many of his fans, and so we don't wish to come across as harsh. There are, however, some possible lessons for Christians to consider that surround the whole debate about his record, and so, we will look at those.

Now that the dust is settling, one of the things to consider is being careful about the nature of the evidence about his alleged steroid use. AiG is a ministry that is heavily involved in evidentiary matters (the scientific evidence concerning creation vs. evolution), and so, the Bonds’ matter holds some interest. As many Americans have been weighing the evidence of whether the San Francisco Giants outfielder at some time in the past has used performance-enhancing drugs to pad his home-run figure, AiG studies the evidence that deals with another of today’s controversies that deals with what happened in the past in regard to the origins issue—evolution vs. creation.

In addition, as a ministry that constantly endeavors to use God's Word as its starting point in commenting on whatever the issue of the day might be, it is possible that Scripture can shed some light on the Bonds' feat and its associated controversy. In fact, I have already used the Bonds' home-run chase as a teaching opportunity for our two baseball-playing teenage sons.1

Swirling around Bonds’ 756th home-run (which eclipsed Henry Aaron’s2 33-year-old record) is the question of whether his new record is tainted because Bonds supposedly took performance-enhancing drugs. Only a few people (witnesses) might know for sure whether the Giants slugger did so. Just as with the debate over origins, we recognize that on a human level, one can never ultimately prove with 100% certainty—scientifically or evidentially—which side is right (either in the steroid debate or the origins controversy). As Christians, we should admit that the believer ultimately believes in creation (or Christ) by faith (though not blind faith), for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). Our Christian faith does not come by evidence—though we quickly acknowledge that Christianity is a reasonable, rational faith which can be readily defended in our modern scientific era and does explain the evidence of the present. However, Genesis creation—as well as evolution—is outside the domain of repeatable, testable science, and thus can’t ultimately be proven in a scientific sense.

Furthermore, and as we declare in AiG’s Creation Museum, when it comes to examining the evidence regarding controversial matters, it’s not usually a matter of who has the better (or the most) “facts” on their side. All have the same facts of the present. Brute facts don’t exist without some interpretation to make sense of them. Therefore, evolutionists use what may seem to some to be convincing facts to defend their belief in molecules-to-man evolution, and within their pre-determined biases/presuppositions of interpreting these facts, the evidence seems to make a good fit. Fans of Barry Bonds can look at the evidence that may show he did not take steroids (or took them unknowingly), whereas his detractors see evidence of cheating in that same evidence. In famous court cases, a jury can interpret the evidence one way and make its ruling, while other observers (e.g., the judge, the general public, media commentators, etc.) might come up with a different conclusion (e.g., because of possible bias a media outlet might bring to the trial’s coverage).

Indeed, most people fail to recognize that with two sides of a story, ultimately it does not come down to a matter of “their evidence vs. ours.” Evidence is actually interpreted, and we may have the same observations (unless tainted by a third party conveying the information, which can happen through the media) and the same data available. So, if you have a bias against Bonds because he does not appeal to you for whatever reason, you are more likely to be prone to say that he is guilty of taking steroids and took them knowingly.

There may be a temptation to say that we should not even be bothered or concerned with the possibility of a cheating athlete, for in the whole scheme of things, baseball is, after all, just a game. But it’s a question our two baseball-playing sons—and millions of others—are now considering, and in a society that says morality is whatever you want to make of it (doing right what is in their own eyes—Deut. 12:8), it is a topic that can turn into a profitable teaching exercise during these relativistic times.

Now, I may hold an opinion about his possible guilt and have strong suspicions. For example, I look at his rookie-year 1988 baseball card, and see a relatively thin ballplayer who looks very little like the hulking man of today. (At the same time, I recognize that a person can bulk up without using steroids—years ago one of our family members was a body builder, and as a health and fitness advocate, he avoided performance enhancers and instead used protein shakes and weightlifting to add about 80 pounds to his frame.) Then there is the evidence of leaked testimony of a grand jury which had investigated a steroid-making company that was associated with Bonds—the leak indicated that the slugger virtually admitted to taking steroids (but that he perhaps took them unknowingly and thought it was some special cream).

In an epistemological sense (i.e., how do we really know something is true), can a Christian state with firm confidence that Bonds is guilty? We really can’t. And as a ministry, we know how a false charge widely disseminated can be harmful (by the way, such accusations can come from both Christians and non-Christians); even though the evidence from our accusers might seem convincing at first blush, we have to remind people to follow Proverbs 18:13 and hear the other side before coming to a conclusion.

If we thus can’t determine with 100% certainty that Bonds is guilty or not guilty,3 there are other lessons to be learned. Here are a few observations we can consider about the man and the controversy:

  • We have heard Barry Bonds talk to the press about putting God first in his life (even before baseball). Also, a crucifix earring dangles from his ear. Bonds went to a parochial high school in the San Francisco Bay area where the school declares (on its website) that it is “committed to our students’ spiritual and moral growth,” with a mission to “foster Gospel values.” After high school, Bonds declared himself a criminal justice major in college. With that background, Bonds should be no stranger to what is right and what is wrong. We are not really in a position to ascertain his morality or his standing before God (although the fruits of his life are there to observe).
  • His statistics have become even more remarkable in his later seasons, when a baseball player’s skills usually start to diminish (in their 30s), so that can make one suspicious. Bonds, however, began to hit more home runs (and to hit them much farther) in his late 30s. It appears, too, that his bat speed has not slowed down over the years, which performance–enhancing drugs can prevent (bat speed is vital to effective hitting).

    But can I judge him? No, I don't know the man at all, and all of us fall short in so many ways. The truth is, if we could peer into the depths of every person’s heart, we would all be found to be tainted (chemicals or not).

  • Christians can use this opportunity to tell young people that the human body, called “a temple” by the Apostle Paul (I Cor. 6:19), should be treated with a degree of respect, in contrast to the athletes who resort to taking steroids for their short-term benefits, but tear down the body in other ways over the long term.
  • The home-run record can perhaps tell us more about society than it can the guilt or innocence of a man hitting a baseball. There are lessons in values and ethics to be learned in examining how society has reacted to Bonds rather than to the player himself.

In the opinion of an AiG supporter who lives near San Francisco and who is an avid baseball fan, many Giants fans in the Bay area would acknowledge that Bonds probably cheated, but that it doesn’t really matter. The 40,000 fans who packed the ballpark on Monday who were there were almost unanimous in cheering on Bonds each time he came to bat.

Our Western society pays such a high premium on success that there is a pressure on athletes to break records at all costs. This mindset has become a values problem, especially since sports can lead athletes to self-centered pursuits. Thus, we should not be shocked in our age to discover that athletes use steroids.

Of course, there is the “role model” aspect to all this. Young athletes, spurred by their peers (and parents) to win at all costs see the “success” achieved by sports stars who are getting away with wrong, and risky-to-the-health behavior.

The real way to succeed, of course, should be hard work, and not cutting corners. This was characterized by the great hitter Tony Gwynn, recently inducted into the Hall of Fame. He studied the game intently (watching thousands of hours of video of his batting swing, studying the opposing pitchers, etc.) and worked harder than just about any other player to enhance the mediocre natural baseball ability he started with as a young player.

The breakdown of morals (I am not now thinking about Bonds but those who say that if he cheated, so what?) should not be surprising today. As society increasingly turns its back on absolute standards of right and wrong (as presented in Scripture), and that cheating, for example, can be condoned, and that self-glorification through athletics is OK , etc., we should not be shocked at all of this in our postmodern era, when we have seen a shift in society (a change from building our thinking on the Bible to building it on autonomous human reasoning) that has made people relativistic (i.e., “What’s right for you may not be right for me”) and self-centered. Doing the right thing should endure for all times and in all places, for goodness comes from God’s very nature. Today there are more who care about outward appearance and performance than character (I Samuel 16:7). Sadly, we also see so much self-centeredness infecting the church. For example, we see it in the false teaching that you are guaranteed financial success if you tithe to a certain church or ministry. It’s also witnessed in those who teach self-esteem as self love and in the idea that we should not call sin sin because it might hurt someone’s feelings.

Yes, we are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27), and thus, there is something special about humanity—so much so that God wants us to fellowship with Him. But two chapters later in Genesis, we are taught that all of us are corrupted through Adam’s disobedience. But the message of the Cross is our hope, which will deliver us from the ultimately devastating effects of selfishness and moral relativity—whether it be in sports or any other human endeavor.

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Footnotes

  1. It just so happens that my sons and I were in the same ballpark on Monday—San Francisco's stunningly situated AT&T stadium on San Francisco Bay—where Bonds was to break the home-run record one day later. We had no idea when we planned our trip to California many months ago that we would be there when Bonds was tied with Hank Aaron for what most sports analysts call the greatest record in U.S. sports. Back
  2. As a long-time baseball fan who watched Aaron play in the 1960s and 1970s, and as strange as it may sound, I think Aaron was an underrated ballplayer. He is known of course as a home-run hitter most of all, but his all-around baseball abilities included: superb fielding, a very good throwing arm from the outfield (he won three Gold Glove awards), base-running (one season he had 33 stolen bases), and hitting for average (a lifetime .305 average). He was (in perhaps an over-used baseball term) a “5-tool” ballplayer. Back
  3. Of course, as an employer, the Giants have the legal right to release/fire a player without having a 100% certainty of wrongdoing concerning a serious matter. Back