Friday, December 27, 2019

Review: When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World

When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World by Leon Festinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In 1954, a group of social psychologists heard about a small cult group who believed aliens were coming to save them from a flood that would destroy the earth on Dec 21. The psychologists infiltrated the group to record everything they could about the events leading up to and shortly after the predicted destruction. This book is a detailed account of what happened and is somewhat of a lesser-known classic among psychologists.

Image result for cult card game
I bought this game for my wife for Christmas
and thought it was relevant to this review.
The fact that this book is a true story and an inside account of a cult-type group is amazing. Knowing this really happened is mind-boggling. To read a first-hand account of how people in the group acted and reacted during the time of events offers great insight into the lengths people will go to in order to maintain their beliefs, even when they are clearly disproven. The observations in this book are paralled on all sides of the modern political and religious spectrum.

The authors changed the names of the people involved and the cities where the events took place in order to protect their identities, presumably from further embarrassment since the events made national headlines. I understand the desire to do this, at least for the names, but changing the names of the cities was distracting and confusing because understanding the geography would have been helpful.

While the story, in theory, is extremely interesting, the book is written in a rather dry fashion, making it difficult to get through at times. Essentially. it's too detailed and there's not enough commentary on the events. It's just straight reporting of what happened during the year of the events and it becomes increasingly detailed as the date of the prophecy got closer. There is commentary by the authors before and after the narrative of events, but it's pretty minimal and doesn't help in understanding until after the fact. Even with two psychology degrees, I would have benefited from more discussion of the psychological theories at work.

Overall, the book was worth reading, at least for me because of my background in psychology and how I try to integrate it into apologetics. There were some really great takeaways in the book, they were just spaced out between a lot of irrelevant details. I'm not sure I would recommend the book to anyone else unless they're a psychologist, really interested in cults, or really want to understand biased reasoning.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Are Christians Dumb?

While working on my previous article, Are you a Stupid Christian?, I realized I should probably address the actual scientific evidence regarding intelligence and belief. This was made all the more apparent when I came across some anti-scientific statements by several Christians on this very same topic (ironically, it was by people who lament the anti-intellectualism in the church). Ultimately, there's no reason for Christians to fear this topic or be concerned with any science that seems to reflect poorly on Christianity and I will explain why this is the case.

The Science
Generally speaking, the scientific data reveals what many Christians fear: religious believers are not as intelligent as atheists. On average, they have less education, lower IQs, less scientific literacy, less verbal ability, and lower scores on analytical thinking (which means higher scores on intuitive thinking). On the one hand, most of the research does not distinguish between different religions so it may not reflect Christians. However, most of the research is done on primarily Christian populations and the few studies looking specifically at Christians have similar results. Therefore, it seems most reasonable to conclude that Christians, at least those in WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) countries, are less intelligent than atheists.

The first inclination for many Christians is to reject the science by trying to explain it away, but we don't need to do this. For one, it makes us sound anti-science and anti-intellectual, which only confirms these results. Two, there are just too many studies from too many different areas (for example, scientists also tend to be more atheistic than the general population) which supports the same conclusion. This is called convergent validity and when present, especially with such high consensus, the results are pretty hard to refute. Finally, we can't fix a problem we don't think exists, so this type of research can actually help the church become stronger.

Let's be honest, anyone who's into apologetics has experienced extreme frustration with the rest of the church on this very issue. Why ignore this because perceived outsiders are saying what we've known is true since the First Great Awakening (late 1700s). The best approach is to embrace the science and take the time to understand what it actually means (and doesn't mean) so that we overcome the issues.

Deeper Understanding
The reason Christians initially feel the urge to reject this science is because it gives the sense that if Christians aren't as smart, then we're more likely to be fooled about our religious beliefs. While this could be true, there are a couple reasons I don't think it is. On the one hand, smarter people have a greater potential to reach correct conclusions, but on the other hand, they also might be more prone to some types of bias (see bias blind spot; also people with lower IQ might be more prone to other types of bias). The takeaway isn't that we should ignore experts. I would still trust them over non-experts in almost all cases. Instead, we should carefully evaluate evidence and even question the experts on our own side.
This graph represents a theoretical comparison between
any two groups to illustrate how small the differences
are even when there is a "large" effect.

The other reason comes down to understanding group data and effect sizes. When scores for a bunch of people are all averaged together, we can only make inferences about the group. So even though atheists as a group tend to be smarter, we don't know if this is true for any particular person. Once we consider effect sizes (see chart), the problem becomes even more complex. Most of the studies have a small to medium effect size, which means there is a huge overlap between atheists and Christians on measures of IQ. In other words, if you choose an atheist and a Christian at random, it's more likely the atheist will be smarter, but there will be a lot of times that the Christian will be smarter.

Finally, the differences between groups are pretty small. This means that the average atheist only has a couple more IQ points than the average Christian. If you met an atheist and a Christian with average intelligence for their group, you wouldn't be able to tell who's smarter without doing a series of rigorously controlled tests. So the answer is no, Christians as a group are not dumb.

Other Factors
While I maintain this research is valid and useful, it also doesn't reveal a causal link. Religion could be causing people to turn off their brains, people with lower IQ may be more drawn to religion, there could be other factors that explain the relationship (being a religious minority, personality factors such as openness to experience, lack of apologetics training, wealth, education, purpose, etc.), or some combination of these things.

In fact, much of the research uses education as a measure of intelligence. There's a high correlation between education and IQ so this is a valid method that we have no reason to reject, especially because it helps at the individual level. For example, professional and aspiring apologists typically have substantially more education than the people they debate or argue with, which means in most of those cases, the Christian is the smarter person. This doesn't mean the Christian is correct, but it shows that even if atheists are generally smarter, it's not always the case.

Biased meme from someone who's probably never read
1 Thessalonians 5:21 or read the rich philosophy and thinking
of Christians throughout history.
I've spent my entire professional life working with highly educated people in academia or other research centers. Generally speaking, most of them are oblivious to the intellectual side of Christianity, including the smart Christians. I think it was Richard Dawkins who said that most of the scientists he knows don't really even think about God even if they do believe (I'm trying to find the exact quote so if you know it, please let me know).

The fact that atheists tend to be a little smarter than religious believers is a very very minor point in favor of atheism, but I wouldn't ever use this as an argument if I were an atheist because it doesn't actually deal with the arguments. It's really only a distraction away from the content of the arguments, especially when considering that many intellectuals have never seriously investigated Christianity.

Thankfully, this is a problem that can be fixed. Intelligence is a composite of two factors, crystallized and fluid intelligence. Crystalized intelligence is our knowledge and it grows over the lifespan whereas fluid intelligence is our thinking ability and is generally stable over the lifespan. This means the church can educate believers, or at least encourage more education, which will lead to increased intelligence among believers.

As the church reconnects with its intellectual roots, it will also be more attractive to intelligent people. Incidentally, getting the church to engage more with their minds will help Christians be more well-rounded humans who are just as capable of loving God with their minds and they are with their hearts.

Apologetics is an obvious way to do this, but it's not the only way. Encouraging deeper study of theology and biblical studies will also do the trick, as will studying science, philosophy, and the humanities.

"The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out." Proverbs 18:15

To access articles use Google Scholar and if a free version is not available, use Sci-Hub.
-Caldwell-Harris, C. L., Wilson, A. L., LoTempio, E., & Beit-Hallahmi, B. (2011). Exploring the atheist personality: Well-being, awe, and magical thinking in atheists, Buddhists, and Christians. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 14(7), 659-672.
-Clark, R. (2004). Religiousness, spirituality, and IQ: Are they linked. Explorations: An Undergraduate Research Journal1(1), 35-46.
-Dutton, E., & Van der Linden, D. (2017). Why is intelligence negatively associated with religiousness?. Evolutionary Psychological Science, 3(4), 392-403.
-Gervais, W. M., van Elk, M., Xygalatas, D., McKay, R. T., Aveyard, M., Buchtel, E. T., ... & Svedholm-Häkkinen, A. M. (2018). Analytic atheism: A cross-culturally weak and fickle phenomenon?. Judgment and Decision Making, 13, 268-274.
-Kanazawa, S. (2010). Why liberals and atheists are more intelligent. Social Psychology Quarterly73(1), 33-57.
-Kinnaman, D., & Lyons, G. (2007). UnChristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity... and why it matters. Baker Books.
-Lynn, R., Harvey, J., & Nyborg, H. (2009). Average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 nations. Intelligence37(1), 11-15.
-Pennycook, G. (2014). Evidence that analytic cognitive style influences religious belief: Comment on Razmyar and Reeve (2013). Intelligence, 43, 21-26.
-Pennycook, G., Ross, R. M., Koehler, D. J., & Fugelsang, J. A. (2016). Atheists and agnostics are more reflective than religious believers: Four empirical studies and a meta-analysis. PloS one, 11(4), e0153039.
-Pew Forum, Scientists and Belief, 2009.
-Rios, K., Cheng, Z. H., Totton, R. R., & Shariff, A. F. (2015). Negative stereotypes cause Christians to underperform in and disidentify with science. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6(8), 959-967.
-Sherkat, D. E. (2010). Religion and verbal ability. Social Science Research, 39(1), 2-13.
-Sherkat, D. E. (2011). Religion and Scientific Literacy in the United States. Social Science Quarterly, 92(5), 1134-1150.
-Stagnaro, M. N., Ross, R. M., Pennycook, G., & Rand, D. G. (2019). Cross-cultural support for a link between analytic thinking and disbelief in God: Evidence from India and the United Kingdom.
-Stoet, G., & Geary, D. C. (2017). Students in countries with higher levels of religiosity perform lower in science and mathematics. Intelligence, 62, 71-78.
-Thomas, R. (2017). Atheism and unbelief among Indian scientists: Towards an anthropology of atheism (s). Society and Culture in South Asia, 3(1), 45-67.
-West, R. F., Meserve, R. J., & Stanovich, K. E. (2012). Cognitive sophistication does not attenuate the bias blind spot. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(3), 506–519.
-Zuckerman, M., Silberman, J., & Hall, J. A. (2013). The relation between intelligence and religiosity: A meta-analysis and some proposed explanations. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 17(4), 325-354.
-Zuckerman, M., Li, C., Lin, S., & Hall, J. A. (2019). The Negative Intelligence–Religiosity Relation: New and Confirming Evidence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 0146167219879122.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Are you a Stupid Christian?

This view represents what we're up against.
Christians have a reputation for being stupid. Anyone engaged in apologetics has probably been told (usually by someone in complete shock) that they're the first intelligent Christian they've met. The charge that Christians are stupid also comes in related names such as anti-science, anti-intellectual, ignorant, uneducated, unintelligent, dumb, and any more. The point is that there are a lot of people who think Christians are intellectually inferior to the rest of society and the list below are things that will confirm that stereotype.

Whether this reputation about Christians is true is not the point of this article (but I do discuss this in my next one, Are Christians Dumb?). In this article, I'm not trying to argue about whether any of the beliefs below are right or wrong. All I want to do is point out that if you have any of the beliefs below, even the ones that seem completely unrelated to religion, it will negatively impact your evangelism and apologetics efforts.

For the sake of the gospel (1 Cor 9:23)
People make automatic judgments about others very quickly, often without conscious thought, and these perceptions are very hard to change. If I told you I believe in Santa Claus and you believed that I meant it, would you trust anything I tell you about God if you don't already believe it? Certainly not! If anything, you might be less confident about your beliefs about the things that we agree on.

Granted, belief in Santa Claus is not like belief in God; however, some atheists do think that it is and many people would argue that some of the beliefs below are just as ridiculous as an adult believing in Santa. Again, this article isn't about critiquing Christians, but being aware of how others see us. For more on how perceptions affect evangelism, check out my series on persuasive apologetics. The article on authority is particularly relevant to this article.

If you believe any of the things below, be aware of how ridiculous these beliefs sound to unbelievers and consider whether it is worth talking about with non-Christians or posting about publicly on social media (and the same goes for politics). If you think that discussing these topics might bring people closer to Christ, then it might be worth discussing with non-Christians.

In cases when we do decide to stand against the experts, humility is key. This isn't a popular view among some Christians, especially those without actual expertise, but true experts (Ph.D. scholars in the relevant field, not a semi-related field), really do know what they're talking about. They've studied the issue in way more depth than most people even know is possible. If it seems like they don't know what they're talking about, it's almost certainly because of your ignorance, not theirs.

Image result for dunning kruger effect
Graph of the Dunning-Kruger effect
Getting information from reporters, news stories, blogs, pastors, theologians, or other Christian leaders does not make you an expert or even make you well-informed. To have a well-informed opinion, you need to read and understand the peer-reviewed articles on the topic. Real experts have read hundreds, if not thousands of them, depending on how broad the topic is.

In most cases when I talk to someone who holds beliefs contrary to expert consensus (think Jesus mythicism), they haven't read any peer-reviewed academic work on the subject. In the rare cases that they have, they clearly didn't understand it or they just cherry-picked a couple quotes or articles that support their view.

We as Christians can choose to hold ourselves to higher intellectual standards than the rest of society. If it's really that important for you to hold a strong view in opposition to the experts, read, understand, and save relevant articles for and against your view so you can refer to them when the topic comes up. This way, if you have a discussion on the topic with someone who disagrees with you, you won't sound like just another stupid Christians (obviously this is assuming you don't get belligerent and yell the information at the person or overload them with a list of 50 articles they need to read 😀)

Here's a list of several beliefs and practices that make people sound stupid (even though I think a small handful of them are actually true and/or good). This list is a result of talking to many intelligent non-Christians over the years, researching perceptions about Christians, my own formal education related to these topics, and some help from crowdsourcing. If you think of any others to add, please let me know. Additionally, I fully recognize that Christians may have their own list of things they think make unbelievers sound stupid, but that misses the point.

Terrible meme, but it reflects what
people believe about Christians
and other religious believers.
1. Denial that global warming/climate change is happening and humans are at least partially responsible.
2. Using and promoting the enneagram.
3. Visiting a chiropractor for illnesses or other treatments beyond their capacity.
4. Use of essential oils for medicinal purposes.
5. Putting amber beads on your children.
6. Being against vaccines.
7. Claiming that vaccines cause autism.
8. Rejecting evolution.
9. Belief in a young-earth.
10. Belief that GMOs are unhealthy.
11. Belief that contrails from planes are harmful chemtrails from the government.
12. Going on a fad diet techniques or products (detoxing, Thrive, Glutton-free (without having Celiacs), paleo, and many many others).
13. Believing bigfoot exists.
14. Belief in UFOs.
15. Thinking homeopathic remedies are generally effective.
16. Opposition to fluoridated water.
17. Believing in the accuracy of astrology/zodiac signs/horoscopes.
18. Claim organic food is healthier (as opposed to favoring it for environmental or moral reasons)
19. Belief that near-death experiences are the soul temporarily leaving the body.
20. Belief that reincarnation happens
21. Thinking that inanimate object, people, or animals are possessed by evil spirits
22. Belief that ghosts exist (and haunt places).
23. Thinking the earth is flat.
24. Using citronella to repel mosquitos.
25. Thinking the moon landing was a hoax.
26. Believing conspiracies about JFKs assassination.
27. Thinking that 9/11 was a government-orchestrated conspiracy.
28. Believing that a full moon affects behavior.
29. Using magnetic bracelets for healing.
30. Belief in psychics (not physics).
31. Belief in the Lochness Monster.
32. Saying (and believing) that sugar causes kids to be hyperactive.

Just to reiterate, believing these things does not mean you're wrong or stupid. What it means is that your beliefs on these topics contradict what a large number of other people believe, particularly educated people and experts. Being aware of this can help you have humility, potentially reevaluate your beliefs, and more effectively interact with unbelievers.

Clark, R. (2004). Religiousness, spirituality, and IQ: Are they linked. Explorations: An Undergraduate Research Journal1(1), 35-46.
Kanazawa, S. (2010). Why liberals and atheists are more intelligent. Social Psychology Quarterly73(1), 33-57.
Kinnaman, D., & Lyons, G. (2007). UnChristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity... and why it matters. Baker Books.
Lynn, R., Harvey, J., & Nyborg, H. (2009). Average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 nations. Intelligence37(1), 11-15.
Pennycook, G., Ross, R. M., Koehler, D. J., & Fugelsang, J. A. (2016). Atheists and agnostics are more reflective than religious believers: Four empirical studies and a meta-analysis. PloS one, 11(4), e0153039.
Stagnaro, M. N., Ross, R. M., Pennycook, G., & Rand, D. G. (2019). Cross-cultural support for a link between analytic thinking and disbelief in God: Evidence from India and the United Kingdom.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Do we need a Christian Psychology?

Recently I've been bombarded with various notions a Christain psychology. This can mean a variety of different things, but I am using the term very broadly to refer to Christian specific practices or approaches to psychology. This seems like an obvious approach to psychology for Christians, but would it actually differ from secular psychology? Whether or not we need or would benefit from Christian psychology comes down to a fundamental understanding of what psychology is.

When I ask people what they think psychology is, most of them say something about counseling. This is a big part of the field of psychology, but it's only about half of it, if that. Either way, counseling is the primary area where people envision a Christian psychology and it's the area that is controversial among Christians so that is where I will focus.

So what is psychology? Broadly speaking, it is the scientific study of human nature. Psychologists observe people (and animals) in every way that we can to draw conclusions about how and why people think and act the way they do. Counseling is simply the area of psychology that attempts to use what is learned to improve mental health.

Psychology is a science and science revolves around peer-reviewed journals. To publish in a peer-reviewed journal requires your paper to be scrutinized by experts in the field (usually three people) to ensure your methods are legitimate and unbiased. Once published, the article becomes public so anyone can replicate your methods, either for practical use or as an attempt to disprove them. As scientists continue to test and retest various treatment methods, the ones that are most effective will become the most widely used.

Obviously, this is extremely idealistic since science isn't quite so cut and dry (or fast), but in a broad sense, and over long periods of time, this is how science works. For this reason, Christian and non-Christian psychologists will eventually reach the same conclusions about what is and isn't effective for improving mental. If something works for Christians, it will also work for non-Christians, unless it is based on beliefs that non-Christians are unwilling to accept. A simple example might be forgiveness. A non-Christian may think forgiveness is wrong, and therefore, not be willing to do it even though it would improve their well-being.

On the other hand, what if Christian specific methods are not as effective as non-Christian methods? In these instances, I would say Christians should adjust their methods and their theology of methods. The potential issue of Christian specific methods is the assumption that correctly following Christ will guarantee psychological well-being, but that's not true. In fact, it's really just another version of the prosperity gospel. God promises us salvation from sin so we can spend eternity in heaven with Him. We'll get some benefits here and there along the way, but those aren't promised.

So do we need a Christian psychology? No, we don't because it will eventually be the same as secular psychology (if both are done well). Instead, we need more Christians in the field of psychology, and we need them to be testing and publishing what they think are biblical or Christian methods of counseling in peer-reviewed journals so others can know about their methods.

Unfortunately, in our society, many of the Christian voices in the debate have little to no scientific training, yet they make grand claims about their methods that are completely unsupported. I think there is great potential for Christianity to influence counseling methods for the better, and at the same time, an opportunity for scientific study of counseling to improve theological views about mental health. However, none of this can be accomplished without testing and publishing our ideas in scientific psychology journals.

For those seeking counseling
I feel I must finish this article with two important warnings for anyone who might be looking for a therapist or struggling with mental health. Christians and non-Christians counselors are liable to err in opposite directions. A Christian might have bad theology regarding mental health and be poorly trained as a psychologist while a non-Christian might be accepting of sin and only willing to treat the adverse consequences of it rather than the core issue. Both are equally bad so be careful not to fall in either direction.

In a perfect world, all counselors would be committed Christians with doctoral degrees in psychology and theology. Since it's not a perfect world, I would suggest looking for a Christian who is licensed as a psychologist or counselor. This does not include biblical counselors who are only trained in theology and have no required training in science, psychology, or statistics. If you can't find a licensed Christian, then I would expand the search to licensed non-Christians. If this seems scary, realize that I say this because I don't know of any mainstream therapy technique that is sinful for Christians to participate in. The only potential problem I can think of would be treating the symptoms rather than the disease, but that's something you could address with your psychologist.

For less severe problems, a pastor, chaplain, or other mature Christian may be a good person to talk to. I would just caution you to look out for any anti-scientific views that might be expressed about psychology because this suggests they probably don't know what they're talking about.

If you have questions or need someone to talk to, please let me know. Navigating the different types of therapy and counseling can be tricky, and it's only made worse by the unfortunate stigma against counseling. It would be my honor help out in any way I can. The best way to reach me is at

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Is Sleep Deprivation a Sin?

I only got about five hours of sleep last night and six the night before. I need a shade over eight to maintain peak cognitive functioning. Have I sinned?

I suspect that most people are inclined to say no without careful consideration, but once we do think about it, the answer in most cases is yes, it is a sin. I say most cases because there are always extenuating circumstances and legitimate reasons for sleep deprivation, but those aren't the norm. I am referring to people consciously choosing to not get enough sleep for ungodly reasons, including reasons that seem godly on the surface.

I've already written on the theology of sleep and how it applies to apologetics, which might be helpful to review before we discuss whether or not sleep deprivation is a sin. I am defining sleep deprivation as getting less sleep than needed in a single night and the less sleep a person gets, the more sleep-deprived they will be. Additionally, the effects of sleep deprivation are cumulative so sleeping only five hours for two consecutive nights causes greater sleep-deprivation than only sleeping for five hours for a single night.

With this basic understanding of sleep deprivation, why do I think it's a sin? There are two main reasons: the effects of sleep deprivation and the causes of it.

Image result for sleep joke

When scientists study sleep deprivation, they have to deprive people of sleep This is somewhat of a problem because sleep deprivation causes cognitive impairment, which can be dangerous. To get sleep deprivation research approved by an ethics board, known as an Internal Review Board or IRB for short, scientists have to take some precautions which are costly and make research more difficult.

For example, when participants are sleep deprived, the researchers have to ensure they do not drive home or go to work directly after participating. To do this, scientists have to pay for people to get a cab to and from the research facility and physically ensure they do not drive away afterward. When I participated in a sleep deprivation study years ago, I had to give consent that I would not drive home after the study and the researchers had to walk with me outside to physically watch me get into the vehicle as a passenger. Had my wife not picked me up and dropped me off, they would have paid for me to get a cab to and from, which would have cost them about $100, which would have been in addition to the $500 I was paid to participate.

Why such precautions? Sleep deprivation impairs cognitive functioning. While it doesn't impair us exactly like alcohol does, it is similar enough that researchers will often use blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) as a comparison.

We all recognize that drunk driving is a sin, so why don’t we call it sin to drive while sleep-deprived, especially considering sleep deprivation can easily cause cognitive impairments greater than the legal limit for BAC when driving. The bottom line is that when we are sleep deprived, we become more dangerous to ourselves and others. Driving is the obvious application, but that’s only part of it. Being sleep deprived negatively impacts us and those around us in every way.

Even if there were fewer negative side effects of sleep deprivation, I would still consider it sinful in many cases because of the reasons behind why we choose to be sleep deprived. There are valid reasons for not getting enough sleep. Life happens and sometime we just can’t sleep, our kids get sick, special events happen, etc. I don’t want to claim there’s never a good reason or create a false illusion that we always have control, but I do want to point out a couple common reasons which probably aren’t good ones.

In my case last night, I had work to get done that was due at midnight. Whether it’s work, school, ministry, hobbies, or something else, sometimes life gets busy and we need to make room for it. Cutting out a few hours of sleep every now and then probably isn’t a big deal. However, if we’re being honest with ourselves, is this usually the case?

For me, it’s rare. Usually, when I have to stay up late to get work done it’s because I procrastinated and was undisciplined in the days or weeks leading up to my late nights. I could have spent a couple hours working over the weekend or been less easily distracted during the week last week, but I wasn’t. When this happens, we’re faced with a choice with choosing the lesser of two evils. Is it better to go to bed and honor God by getting sleep but not doing quality work or is it better to honor God by getting good work done and skimping on the sleep. Every situation is different so I’m not going to pretend to have an answer for you, but I do know that this conundrum can usually be avoided if we are diligent in our work and avoid procrastination.

What about those times when we just have too much going on and cannot get it all done even when we are disciplined? In those cases, we should be asking ourselves why we have too much going on in our lives? There could be all kinds of reasons, again, many of them valid, especially in the short term, but I also suspect many of them come down to pride. We want and strive for importance and to make ourselves great. Often this is hidden as “the Lord’s work” or ministry, but it’s usually just our inflated sense of self-worth.  Whatever you’re doing that has you so busy can probably stop and it will have little to no effect on the world or even an individual person. It might be that we need to scale back the extra things in our lives or even cut them out completely.

Typically what I see when people are not sleeping enough is because they’re also too busy to do other things that Christians should be prioritizing, such as reading the Bible, praying, fellowshipping with other believers, and spending quality time with our spouse and children.

The effects of sleep deprivation are much worse than most people realize. In fact, the research shows that people don’t consciously perceive how it negatively impacts them because we don’t have the awareness to notice or enough direct feedback mechanisms to reveal it. But just because we don’t notice doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Because of the negative side-effects of sleep deprivation, it’s usually a sinful choice; however, it's also suggestive of other sins in our lives. I am using this as an opportunity to repent for my recent sleep deprivation and I pray you will too. Let’s put a stop to this go-go-go mentality that is so damaging to our lives and relationships. Generally speaking, when we prioritize sleep, it gives us more time, not less. I know this seems paradoxical, but sleep allows us to work more effectively and efficiently.

Although it's more complicated than this, we essentially need to organize our lives in such a way that allows us to get enough sleep and maintain the discipline to stick to it. For more details on how to prioritize sleep and practice good sleep habits, please read my other sleep article.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Virtue Apologetics

Image result for virtueA recent article in Psychology Today has been making the rounds on my social media. The article discusses a peer-reviewed paper from 2015 that showed that Christian children are less generous than non-religious children. The original paper was touted as proof that Christianity leads to less virtuous behavior than other religions and as a result, it received more media attention than the typical scientific paper. However, this contradicted previous research so when another scientist analyzed the data, it was discovered that the results were due to an error in how the data were coded. The original paper has since been retracted, and it only took three years since the mistake was discovered!

My point in writing this is not to attack science, the media, or anyone else. They all did what they're supposed to do in this situation. Instead, I want to discuss how the science of virtue applies to apologetics.

I work in an experimental psychology lab called The Science of Virtues Lab. We seek to understand what virtue is, how we can develop it, and how it affects well-being. The scientific study of virtue is not a huge area of psychology, but it's growing quickly because it has shown promise for improving well-being. This creates a conundrum if we think Christians will average higher levels of virtue than non-Christians. As we learn more about the science of virtue, the more likely it is that non-Christians will use that science to their advantage

Broadly speaking, the scientific evidence shows that virtue is correlated to well-being and religious belief is correlated to virtue (and well-being). However, as this knowledge seeps into culture, more people will practice virtue for the sake of well-being without corresponding religious belief. Some of the gratitude interventions, such as journaling, are very easy to do and require no religious belief to enhance well-being.

Virtue Apologetics
The first lesson from the science of virtues for apologetics is that Christians shouldn't be surprised or defensive if and when a psychological study shows atheists equal or outperform Christians on a measure of virtue or other desirable trait. I would even go a step further and say we should encourage this and pray for it. Part of the reason we do what we do in our lab is so all people can experience greater well-being and improved mental health, regardless of what they believe. I think all Christians should desire this for others and even pray for it. If Christianity is true, and I strongly believe it is, there should be some level of fulfillment that is only achievable by faith, so we can still desire the well-being of non-Christians.

Image result for virtueThe apologetic value of virtue isn't necessarily in comparing non-Christians to Christians, because it can and will change, and there are many other factors to consider, such as where a person starts from when they become a Christian. Instead, the apologetic value in the source of knowledge about virtue. Generally speaking, following a biblical morality will lead to greater psychological well-being, regardless of what your actual beliefs are (although there are some caveats to this and occasional downsides). The Bible correctly identifies virtuous behavior that modern science is just beginning to recognize as beneficial for human flourishing. Even more astonishing is that biblical ethics were fanatically counter-cultural in Greco Roman society, especially on the topics of sex and humility, which are both supported as beneficial by science.

The other important apologetic point for virtue has to do with the way we as Christians live our lives. A virtuous life is a desirable one. If we want to convince people that Christianity is worth their time and effort, we need to practice what we preach. It's much more important for us to slow down our lives and work on getting the logs out of our own eyes that it is to study the best arguments for Christianity. This was clearly apparent this week when an act of forgiveness, another Christian virtue, sparked a positive conversation about God among Today Show anchors.

Christianity doesn't guarantee to make us better people. As a group, Christians may or may not be more moral than any other group, but individually, it should have a noticeable effect on our lives. "Conduct yourselves with such honor among your unbelieving neighbors, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." 1 Peter 2:12

Sunday, September 29, 2019

A Reasonable Faith in Science?

One of my favorite things I get to do as an apologist is answer questions on behalf of Reasonable Faith. I recently received a question that I've been thinking about in greater detail since I answered it. The person was wondering if it is reasonable to have faith in science as opposed to God because science has such a strong track record of answering our questions. This is a great question because the person recognized that belief in science still requires faith and that there is knowledge outside of science, therefore, he avoided the trap of scientism.

The careful wording of this question allowed me to answer very affirmatively. Christians have nothing to fear from science, even when a person is talking about whether it is reasonable to put their faith in it. Yes, it is reasonable to put faith in science and to be honest, more people should probably put more faith in it. The only caveat is that we must recognize what it is reasonable to believe that science can do.

The Trajectory of Science
If you grew up before the 90s, you surely remember all the great technological advances we were supposed to have by the year 2000 that never came, the most memorable being flying cars. Maybe the timing was just off and we'll have all the great things we thought we would have, but it will just take a bit longer. I actually think this is likely. Just because we thought we could solve problems quickly doesn't mean we will never solve them. The technology that will exist 100 years from now will be astounding by current standards. Even with all the scientific advances that are all but certain to come, what will science actually tell us about God, or more specifically, will it fill in gaps in our knowledge so that we don't need God as a Creator and Designer of the universe?

In a Time magazine article in 1966, famed atheist astronomer Carl Sagan said that the only thing necessary for life to begin was for a planet to exist that is the right distance from the right type of star. Since then, scientists have discovered hundreds of factors that must be finely tuned for life to exist. The ministry Reasons to Believe has a list of them here.

Over the last two hundred years, the more we learn about life such as the complexity of the cell, DNA, etc., the more apparent it becomes that this universe and the living things in it could not have developed by chance. The foundation of the question was based on what science has done in the past, so to be consistent, we should then expect that future scientific discoveries to show it is even less likely than currently thought for life to begin by random chance.

If the question specifically referred to faith in scientific naturalism, the belief that there are only natural forces, to provide naturalistic answers tp natural theology, then this too would be unfounded. Scientific naturalism has no greater explanatory power or better results than when scientists assume God exists. Taking it a step further, truly putting faith in science would mean following biblical moral guidelines, including those on sex and abortion, since that is what the science shows is best for human flourishing.

Science for Salvation?
Setting this aside, the most important thing to keep in mind is what it means to have faith in Jesus or science. No matter what technological and scientific discoveries are made, we will die. Even if we could upload our consciousness, and for the sake of argument, our soul (if you think they are separate things), into a computer and live for billions of years, but eventually, entropy will rip it apart. Then what? Ten billion years may seem like a lot, but compared to eternity, it's nothing.

The Bible is clear that salvation comes from Jesus only (John 3:18, 8:24). If we put our faith in science, what do we get? Nothing. There's no benefit to trusting in science at the expense of trusting in Christ. We still die and face the consequences of our sins. If we put our faith in Christ, we are forgiven and spend eternity in paradise. Faith in Christ is obviously the better choice, but only if it's true. The scientific revolution has only increased our knowledge of the world and yet the probability that life could exist and evolve continues to shrink to incredulously small numbers. If scientific discoveries were making it easier to explain life, I would say it is reasonable to put faith in science over God, but science is moving in the opposite direction.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Talking to Strangers Review

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wanted to read this book because Malcolm Gladwell is such a great conversationalist and writer that I was sure what he had to say about talking to strangers would be great for evangelism and apologetics. I was expecting this book similar to How to Win Friends and Influence People, but it's not. Rather than giving simple advice on how to communicate with others, the book discusses the deeper issue of how we understand (or don't understand) other people. The book is not what I expected it to be, and thank goodness for that because it is even better.

Gladwell is an excellent storyteller and he uses those stories to make his case. His ability to do that is unmatched and all but guaranteed this book would be enjoyable to read. However, this book had an edge to it that was not present in his other books, which only made it better. I was so captivated by this book that I finished it in about 36 hours. Not only did he tell great stories about interesting topics, but he describes what happened behind the curtain of very well known true events such as the Amanda Knox, Jerry Sandusky, and Larry Nassar cases; Neville Chamberlain's meetings with Hitler; enhanced interrogation techniques; the suicide of Sylvia Plath; and more.

We live in a complicated world and our minds cannot make sense of all the data, so we simplify things. We ignore or don't pay attention to details and make assumptions about others. This book smacks that mentality in the face by revealing the complexities in our interactions with others. I loved it for that. It's reminiscent of the Freakonomics books in that way. A more apt title might have been How NOT to Talk to Strangers because primarily tells us what not to do when talking to others. The book gives a glimpse into how our minds work and it demolishes the stereotypes that cause friction when we talk to others.

While this book is interesting and informative in a broad sense, it's most direct application relates to racial relations and prejudice. Gladwell moves beyond finger-pointing and name-calling to get to the deeper issues that create tension in our society. Recently I've seen a lot of book recommendations to help people understand what is happening in our country regarding race. I can't comment on those other books, but I can say as a social scientist, that this book is excellent and I don't know of another one I would recommend before this one to understand discrimination.

I recommend this book to everyone age 15 above (although it may be a little graphic for some 15-year-olds when discussing rape trials). It's a great book to help people understand people better so that we can all be more understanding and patient with others, kinder to them, and more effective when we communicate. On top of these potential benefits, it's a very enjoyable book to read.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 23, 2019

12 Rules for Life Book Review

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jordan Peterson came to fame rather suddenly a few years ago because of a political controversy, but he's more than just a pop-sensation. He's a legitimate clinical psychologist who understands human beings better than the typical therapist. The book was helpful for me in understanding humans, including my own kids. It was filled with good recommendations for personal well-being, parenting, marriage, and other areas of life.

The book itself is written in Peterson's trademark manner. It's direct and to the point, but also sensitive and thoughtful. At times, it is a little bit of an over-the-top brain dump of seemingly unorganized thoughts, which is ironic since the subtitle is "An Antidote to Chaos." Despite this, I was still able to follow along by listening to it on Audible at an increased speed.

Content aside, the book was simply enjoyable to listen to. Peterson is a great storyteller and he can effectively weave together many trains of thought into one. I was interested in what was being said at every moment of the book and thought about re-reading it immediately after I finished it.

The content of the book was also informative and interesting. I think many of my Christian friends might not appreciate Peterson's continual mentioning of evolution, but I don't think it hurts the case he makes in his book. When he says millions of years of evolution have shaped people to behave a certain way, the same conclusion, and perhaps even a more powerful one will be reached by assuming humans have been designed by God to behave a certain way. Similarly, he often understands the Bible or other religious texts metaphorically, which might cause some people to be dismissive, but this is unnecessary. A true historical event, especially one orchestrated by God, can also be true in a metaphorical sense, so there isn't really any conflict to be had.

The conclusions and recommendations by Peterson all seem to be supported by psychological science. Even though psychology is my field of study, I'm not necessarily an expert on all that is in the book. I did not find myself disagreeing with any of the main points of the book based on scientific evidence. Where Peterson might get into trouble, at least with some people, is his willingness to draw conclusions beyond the science. Personally, I appreciated this because he shows a deep and rigorous philosophical thought. Scientists, at least psychologists, are often unwilling to delve into philosophy for fear of drawing conclusions that are not empirical, but by doing so, they handicap themselves. Peterson's willingness to do this, and do it well, was a breath of fresh air.

As for the personal growth aspect of this book, I think it could be very helpful for some people. I think most people will think the book is enjoyable to read even if they don't get huge personal benefits from reading it. For some, however, I think this book could be life-changing for them, or at least, it could be very helpful in their lives. I would only recommend that people who want to read to book for personal growth, actually read the book instead of listening to it. If they do listen to it, don't speed it up extremely fast and pause it to reflect often, maybe at the end of each chapter. I blew through this book very quickly on audio, and it was helpful, but it would have been even more so if I stopped to reflect and understand things better. This is why I said I thought about listening a second time, which I am still considering.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to everyone. I think there's something in there for everyone. Even though the book is not Christian or religious, it fits with a Christian worldview and a non-Christian worldview.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Logic's End: An Apologetics Fiction Book Review

Logic's End Logic's End by Keith A. Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is an apologetics fiction book and I was super excited to read it, but at the same time, I didn't have very high expectations. Overall, I'm a bit torn on my thoughts about this book because there was such a range of good and not-so-good aspects of it.

To begin with the good, the attempt to even try to write a sci-fi book that attempts to make a rational case for the existence of God is wonderful. I love the fact that this book, and others like it, even exist. The book recommended other apologetics fiction books at the end, along with other apologetics resources, and I will certainly read more of these books.

Additionally, the book was pretty well written. I never stopped to admire the writing, but at the same time, it never caused me to stop and shake my head due to poor writing. Along with this, I enjoyed the story for almost the entire time. The first chapter and maybe even the second (I don't remember) was a little slow, but at the same time, that's almost a necessity and is to be expected.

What I didn't like about the book was the over-the-top attempts at making the case for God (or more specifically, against evolution) and the ending. If you're going to write a fiction book to make an argument, part of the whole point is to do it somewhat subtly and in a way that will prevent critical readers from putting up defensive barriers. I think that most intelligent skeptics who read this book would be just as defensive as reading any other Christian book.

The other part was the ending. It was very abrupt and too simplistic. Perhaps this will make more sense as being a good choice upon reading the next two books in the series, but as of now, I'm not sure I want to read the next books. It seems like the emotional turmoil I felt while reading and the connection with the characters was all for naught, and I'm not sure if I want to spend my time going through that to be equally disappointed. I may vet the next book beforehand, to see if it might redeem those feelings (the door was left open so this is possible), before I read the next one.

Overall, I'm glad I read the book. I wouldn't give this book to a skeptic and hope it will convince them. I also wouldn't give it to anyone who accepts evolution (Christian or otherwise) and has any formal college level or above training in the sciences. While the author is able to mount a decent case against evolution, I don't think it would stand up to the strict scrutiny of someone who's knowledgeable about evolution. I think the best demographic for this book would be Christians who do not accept evolution and for most high school or junior high students.

View all my reviews

Monday, August 19, 2019

Branch Davidian Compound Visit

Today was my wife's birthday, and while it may sound odd, I took her to the Branch Davidian Compound where David Koresh and several of his followers died in a standoff with the authorities in 1993. The site is interesting to my wife because her primary interest in apologetics is with world religions and non-traditional sects (which some people refer to as cults). I also had an interest in this site because I had studied in some of my psychology classes as an example of an epic failure of FBI and ATF to apply basic psychological principles to resolve the situation peacefully.

The visit to the compound was an interesting experience. In some ways, it reminded me of my visit to Dachau, one of the Holocaust death camps in Germany. What happened at this location is incredibly sad, and even if you think of the group as an evil cult, many innocent people still died. On the other hand, it also felt a little like a horror movie mixed with Ace Ventura's visit to Ray Finkle's home.

When we first pulled up, the complex has a gate around it with a big "No Trespassing" sign, but it also had a sign that said "Visitor's Welcome" with instructions on it. We followed the instructions and pulled in. The first building had signs listing the sale prices for some DVDs and other items and a sign directing us to the chapel so we drove a bit further in (about 150 yards from the gate). We walked up to the chapel and were greeted by another sign with instructions for entering the chapel and a request for a $10 donation for maintenance.

From the picture, it appears the entire complex was burned down in '93 so the chapel must have been rebuilt right after that because it looked a bit old. It was just a plain-looking rectangle room that looked like it was probably still used for worship services. On the walls and around the room was information about the group's history, their explanation of what really happened, and memorials for those who had died.
Picture of the new chapel that I found on the Internet
The Branch Davidian's came out of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, so the information posted on the walls briefly paid homage to their shared history. Much of the content focused on David Koresh though. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but I figured they would have tried to distance themselves from David Koresh, but they didn't seem to do that. Everything from the group seemed to refer to him positively (there were newspaper articles posted that weren't as kind), but at the same time, they openly admitted that he manipulatively rose to power and married a 12-year-old.

The only place to visit there was the chapel. There was surprisingly little documentation and explanation of what happened. The complex was about a 30-minute drive from our home in Waco and it only took us about 30 minutes to see everything and we lingered longer than we needed to. It looked like they may play a short film on a projector, but that was not running while we were there. The whole time we were there, we didn't see a single other person, although, there were new vehicles and homes on the compound so there were definitely people around. This added to the creepy feeling and it seemed like we were being watched the whole time.

If you're ever in the area, it might be worth dropping by, but I wouldn't go too far out of your way to visit this site.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Memory, the Gospels, and Darth Vader

The image on the right is a picture of a puzzle that my wife and I tried to put together about a year ago. We were about halfway done and decided to give up because it was taking too long and we wanted our kitchen table back. It was definitely the hardest puzzle I've personally ever worked on. If you look closely, the picture is composed entirely of smaller pictures of scenes from the Star Wars movies. Recently, I have been thinking about memory as it relates to the reliability of the gospels and it dawned on me that this puzzle is a good representation of how memory works.

When I teach apologetics, I often use fun psychological activities to show how unreliable our minds can be sometimes. One of my favorites is called the DRM procedure (named after the psychologists who developed it). In this procedure, I read a list of words and ask the people to write down as many words as they can remember when I'm done, but there's a trick. All the words relate to a single word that is not on the list. For instance, the list I use has words like snore, blanket, nap, rest, and other similar words that all relate to sleep, but sleep is not on the list. Inevitably, about half the people will have sleep on their list of words they remember.

The point here is that our memory sometimes fails us, or even tricks us, but it's still generally reliable. We often forget things and mess up details that happened, but we still get the main point. If you studied the tiny pictures in the Darth Vader puzzle and I tested you on them, you would get all kinds of details wrong. You may even say there were certain scenes from the movie in the puzzle that aren't actually there. However, you would still be able to fairly accurately describe and identify the main image of Darth Vader. Even if you're fuzzy on the details, you can still accurately recall what's important.

How does this relate to the gospels? The gospels are eye-witness testimonies or at the very least,  based on them (I'm not getting into issues of authorship at this point). How do we know the writers got it right, especially when we consider that there are alleged contradictions between the gospels? Some people try to reconcile these apparent contradictions, and whether or not they can do it successfully is beside the point. What matters is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, if Christ has not been raised, our faith is in vain.

One of the alleged contradictions is the day of the week Jesus was crucified. Correctly remembering the exact day is an irrelevant detail. Assuming this is an irreconcilable detail, does this mean the writers memory also failed them when they say they saw the risen Jesus? Not at all. This illustrates the difference between forgetting details and remembering the main point. Days come and go regularly. They're easy to forget and we often do forget what happens on any particular day. However, someone rising from the dead doesn't happen very often so it's a big deal. We're likely to remember someone rising from the dead even if we forget some of the details surrounding it.

Interestingly, a 2005 study tested the memory of Danish WWII survivors, which was more than 60 years earlier. Their ability to recall historical facts was higher than expected by the research scientists. They were able to recall the weather, day of the week, and other details quite well. Still many got answers incorrect (more actually didn't answer because they were unsure). Of particular interest, as it relates to the resurrection, is that even though people got some details wrong, nobody claimed they were invaded by America or that there was no invasion by Germany. The people remembered the main event and the major details surrounding it.

Likewise, when I was putting the Darth Vader puzzle together, I wasn't even completely sure I found the right image. I couldn't remember if it was the one above or the one to the left. I had to ask my wife to be sure. Does this make you question whether or not I failed to complete a mosaic Darth Vader puzzle? It shouldn't. I knew it was a Darth Vader puzzle and not a different Star Wars character or a character from a completely different movie. It's not like I confused this rare failure with someone more mundane, like failing to put the milk back in the fridge.

The point here is that there's no way that the people who saw, or thought they saw, Jesus after His crucifixion, or even those who heard about it, believed in the resurrection because of an issue with memory. That's such a major, life-changing event that it's just not plausible that someone would remember a resurrection that they didn't think actually happened. The best case comes from research on implanted or false memories, but those studies don't come close to mimicking the relevant factors at the time of the resurrection and writing of the gospels (I'll write more on this later and link it here when I do). 

If the resurrection did not happen as recorded in the NT, it isn't because of our limitations in memory. There has to be another explanation such as hallucination, lying, or something else (although I will argue later that those all fail as explanations too).

Berntsen, D., & Thomsen, D. K. (2005). Personal memories for remote historical events: accuracy and clarity of flashbulb memories related to World War II. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 134(2), 242.
Brewin, C. R., & Andrews, B. (2017). Creating memories for false autobiographical events in childhood: A systematic review. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 31(1), 2-23.
Loftus, E. F. (2005). Planting misinformation in the human mind: A 30-year investigation of the malleability of memory. Learning & memory, 12(4), 361-366.
The Psychology, Christianity, and Atheism blog gives a great rundown of memory studies cited by Bart Ehrman here.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Review: Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade

Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert B. Cialdini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm often asked for recommendations for books on apologetic and evangelism methods. There are some good books out there, but none that really focus on the psychological science of persuasion. So when asked, I recommend the book Influence: Science and Practice by Robert Cialdini (Pronounced chal-dee-nee), who is also the author of this book. Now that I've read Pre-Suasion, I recommend reading the two back-to-back. This one is just as great as Influence.

This book is somewhat of a sequel to Influence. In Influence, Cialdini explains the six effective principles of persuasion. In this book, he explains the pre-sausive tactics that can be used to make those principles even more effective, he explains a seventh principle, and he makes a convincing case the the ethical use of these persuasive methods is actually more beneficial than using them to take advantage of people.

The book is also enjoyable to read. Cialdini is the world's expert on persuasion, but it somehow able to write a popular level. He includes plenty of personal examples and interesting scientific research to help illustrate his points and make the book fun to read. Even though it's easy to grasp, the content is based on rigorous scientific research, sales techniques, and marketing practices.

I highly recommend this book for all people. Every one can benefit from being more persuasive. Not only will it help them get more of what they want, but it will also help people from being taken advantage of by others and help them be better at seeing things from other people's perspective. This is a great book for apologetics and evangelism and will also be beneficial for parents, managers and executives, salespersons, spouses, and everyone else. The only caveat I would suggest is to read Influence before reading this "sequel."

View all my reviews

Friday, June 7, 2019

Review: So the Next Generation Will Know: Preparing Young Christians for a Challenging World

So the Next Generation Will Know: Preparing Young Christians for a Challenging World So the Next Generation Will Know: Preparing Young Christians for a Challenging World by Sean McDowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I decided to read this book, but after reading it, I'm glad I did. It's a must-read book for youth pastors, teachers, parents with teens, and anyone else who interacts with teens. This book will help you understand their generation better, the challenges the face, and help you prepare them to become mature adult Christians.

The title of each chapter begins with the word "love" and discusses different ways to love Gen z. The first half of the book focuses on understanding Gen Z so that we can know who they are and relate to them better. The second half of the books gives a plethora of practical ways in which we can equip and train teens in the church to face the challenges of their generation.

I don't know of any other book like this one. I highly recommend it and if you're into apologetics or passionate about training youths, I'd suggest getting a copy for your youth pastor as well.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Should Christians get Therapy?

The role of therapy is by far the most controversial topic for Christians in regards to the field of psychology. There are mounds of books devoted to the integration of therapy into Christian theology and the different views on it. Thankfully, I think there's a way to cut through all the rhetoric, at least in regards to the question of whether Christians should seek therapy for mental health concerns.

In order to think clearly about this issue, we need a very basic understanding of the brain and the mind, which is sometimes referred to as the soul. There are two main views: dualism and materialism. Dualism says that brain and mind are different things, the brain being physical matter and the mind being immaterial (the soul). Materialism says the brain and mind are both just physical matter and that consciousness is a function of the brain. Christians can be either one and often fall somewhere in the middle, often disagreeing just on minute details.

As for our brains, they are composed of glial cells and neurons. The neurons are what do all the works and they have three main parts: a cell body (nucleus), dendrites, and an axon. The synapse is the open space between the axon of one neuron and the dendrite of another neuron. We have nearly 100 billion neurons in our brains and between 100 and 1,000 trillion synapses. This is because one axon can connect to several dendrites. As we learn and develop, our dendrites grow so that our neurons become more interconnected.

Regardless of what position a person takes on whether the mind is material or immaterial, everyone agrees that the brain plays an important role in who we are and how we make decisions. Materialists say it's all in the brain while dualists say that the mind interacts with the brain in some unknown way. What this means is the people on both sides essentially agree that changing the physical structure of the brain will change a person's thoughts and behaviors.

If you've ever driven a car, you understand what this is like. Think of the windshield as your brain and your eyes as your mind. If your eyes work perfectly, but the windshield is covered in dirt, bugs, or rain, you cannot see well. No matter what you do to fix your eyes, you still won't be able to see better through the dirty windshield. Instead, you have to clean the windshield so your eyes can see to their full potential. In the case of mental health concerns, physical structures or chemicals in the brain are almost always, if not always, part of the cause. There may or may not also an issue with the mind or soul, but we simply cannot know without first addressing the physical aspects of the brain.

Therapy, whether done by a Christian or an atheist, attempts to heal the physical structure of the brain. It works by strengthening good connections in the brain and weakening undesirable ones. By healing the brain, the mind has a clear window through which it can see or work. God can and occasionally does heal people instantly of mental health issues, but just like with a broken bone, we are not guaranteed that He will. If you have a mental health issue, or are just going through a hard time, there's no shame in seeking therapy. It doesn't make you a worse Christian or less of one.

I do want to offer a warning though. There is secular counseling, Christian counseling, pastoral counseling, biblical counseling, and other non-Christian religious counseling. I would strongly advise you to avoid that last two. Non-Christian religious counseling should be obvious to avoid and most secular counseling methods do not conflict with with a Christian worldview so there's no reason to avoid it. The one secular practice that I hear criticized most often for not being Christian is meditation or mindfulness practices because of their association with eastern religious practices. However, as a secular practice that is removed from mythic practices, meditation or mindfulness is simply a state of relaxation and attunement to one's surroundings.

But what about biblical counseling? The issue with biblical counseling is that the people who do it are not well qualified. They're not required to have a degree in psychology or theology, which is problematic since they explicitly reject secular psychological science in favor of their own interpretation of scripture and lack the training to even know if the two contradict. Their healing techniques are fairly limited to what most people would consider spiritual practices such as memorizing scripture. While this can certainly be helpful, it's unlikely to completely resolve major issues. Here's a quick article on the differences and agreements between Christian counseling (a qualified therapist who is also a Christian) and biblical counseling.

There's no reason to hold on to mythical, pre-scientific views of the brain. Mental health problems are just as much of a physical issue as cancer or a broken bone. If you're having a tough time, seek help for it. Talk to someone, and if they're not able to help you, seek more qualified assistance. I'd be more than happy to talk with you if you send me a message. If someone you know if having a hard time, listen to them without being judgmental. You likely have no idea the depth of their suffering. Even if you know the cause, you probably don't know how it feels, so have some humility before thinking you'll be able fix them with a few superficial words.


Monday, May 20, 2019

Sleeping for Christ

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me what spiritual disciplines I was participating in. If I asked you the same question, what would you say? One of my answers was sleep, which seemed a bit odd, especially after I explained the way in which sleep is a spiritual discipline. Most people, if they've ever even considered sleep as part of their spiritual life, probably think they should be doing less of it. I'm going to tell you why, as a Christian, you should consider sleep a spiritual practice and why you should probably be doing more of it.
This is from 1 Kings 19:5-7, and Elijah did nap, but God didn't tell him to.

The science of sleep might just be the single topic that is most susceptible to pop-psychology bunk or pseudoscience. The myths about sleep in popular culture are extremely pervasive and overshadow the real science. Thankfully, sleep is not a very controversial topic so hopefully that means I won't offend anyone and people might actually be open willing to follow my suggestions!

I say this without exaggeration, but if you think of all the things we do on a regular basis, sleep is probably the single more important one (obviously assuming that eating and drinking are done to a degree that avoids death). This is because sleep affects how well we can do all of the other activities. It can help us drive safer, memorize scripture better, stay focused at work, and even eat better.

 A person who is sleep deprived will have all kinds of side-effects, some of which are obvious, but some are not. For instance, sleep deprivation makes people cranky. We all know this, but there's more to it than that. It also makes you more likely to get angry even when you're in a good mood. Having a morning coffee or feeling alert may make you feel alert, but it won't improve your performance very much (or at all). Sleep deprivation negatively affects memory, emotion regulation, alertness, mood, physical performance, concentration, mental and physical health, self-control, and even our diets (we crave fatty and sugary foods when sleep deprived, which is especially bad when our self-control is already exhausted). How we sleep affects every aspect of our lives.

Scientists who study sleep are mostly concerned with two variables: quality and quantity. Both variables affect how a person feels and functions during the day. Poor sleep or not enough sleep can be equally negative. If a person doesn't get enough high quality sleep, they start to accrue sleep debt, which is a term to describe how sleep deprived a person is. Moreover, the effects of sleep debt are cumulative from day to day so we accrue more and more sleep debt every night we don't get enough sleep.

Everyone knows we're supposed to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night; right? Wrong. Most adults need a full 8 hours, if not more. One of the most pervasive myths about sleep is that we can adapt to less sleep than we need. We might be able to adapt a schedule, but this will not improve our cognitive, emotional, and physical performance. The amount of sleep you need is biologically determined and there is nothing you can do to change it.

Kids need more sleep than adults and women tend to need a little more than men. Adults under the age of 25 or so still need a little over 9 hours of sleep per day to avoid sleep debt. I'll bet you've never heard that in the pop media! I say 'day' because the ideal would be about 8 hours at night and an hour long nap in the early afternoon, but since most people in our culture are unable to nap, they can and should get all their sleep at night.

There is the rare person who needs less than 8 hours a day, but most adults really need the full 8 hours to avoid sleep debt. If you need 8 hours per night and only get 7 hours, you may still feel and perform fine the next day, but if you only get 7 hours per night throughout the week, you will feel and perform progressively worse throughout the week until you get a chance to catch up on sleep...probably by sleeping 9 or 10 hours on Friday and/or Saturday night. Also, just like there is the rare person who needs less than 8 hours per night, there's also the rare person who needs more, so don't necessarily be worried if you need 9 to 10 hours per night.

The easiest way to know if you're not getting enough sleep is whether you need an alarm to wake-up and if you sleep in on the weekends. A person who is getting enough sleep will not need an alarm nor will they sleep in because they will wake up at their regular time. It still might be a good idea to set an alarm clock just in case, but if it is waking you up regularly or you feel groggy when it goes off, you probably need more or better sleep. Also, don't use the snooze button. They're bad for your quality of sleep. Just set the alarm later.

Most people tend to think they have limited control over the quality of their sleep. This too is far from true. The most important thing a person can do to ensure they get high quality sleep is to get on a set schedule, even on the weekends. Our circadian rhythm governs our sleep cycle and alertness throughout the entire day, even when we're awake. It is because of our circadian rhythm that you probably feel overwhelmed by tiredness every day shortly after lunch and start to feel tired around bed time.

When we have a consistent schedule of going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time, our circadian rhythm becomes more stable and we sleep better. Just because you're an adult doesn't mean you're immune to the negative side-effects of a poor schedule. The more consistent you are, even on the weekends, the better your sleep quality will be, which means you may actually need less sleep (8 hours of high quality sleep is as good or better than 9 hours of poor sleep).

There are plenty of other things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep, even if you believe some pop-psychology or anecdotal myth about sleep! 😉 The one I hear most often is "I need background noise to sleep." That may be true, but only because you've been conditioned to need it. Your sleep quality will probably improve if you create a habit of sleeping without background noise, but it might take a few weeks to adapt. On the other hand, if there are noises you cannot control, white noise is better than erratic noise. In other words, the sound of a fan is probably better than random train noises sporadically throughout the night.

Other factors to consider are your level of physical activity during the day, what you do before bed, the temperature of your bedroom, and the level of darkness. A cool dark room is ideal. Obviously you don't want it too cold, but a little on the colder side with a warmer blanket is better than being too warm. If you must have a light somewhere, a red light is ideal since it won't stop your brain from releasing melatonin. Additionally, reading, working, or watching TV in bed also negatively affects our sleep quality. If we limit the use of our bed to sleep (and sex), our brains learn to associate our beds with sleep so that we will fall asleep easier and stay asleep better.

One final myth to dispel is that alcohol helps you sleep better. This is false in two ways. It is true that when you drink alcohol, you feel like you've slept better, but this is because we don't remember all the times we woke up and tossed and turned throughout the night. Additionally, alcohol causes us to have more deep sleep, which may sound great, but our brains need the right balance between the different levels of sleep. As a result, too much deep sleep one night will cause us to have to catch up on REM sleep the next night. In other words, drinking too close to bed or too much on a Friday night will cause us to sleep like crap on Saturday night.

It's actually pretty hard to sleep too much. This is because we wake up naturally once we get enough sleep. If you are sleeping too much, there's only one likely reason and that is mental or physical health issues, in which case it's probably a good idea to see a doctor. It's possible to be from laziness, but this is rare because in order to sleep too much, you have to basically just lay in bed for extended periods of time to fall back asleep, which in most cases is probably due to depression or some other issue rather than laziness, although laziness is a possibility.

As Christians, we should view sleep as a spiritual discipline. God designed us to require sleep and determined how much sleep we need. There are lots of reasons to stay up late, some good and some bad. Whether your reason is reading, watching Netflix, "doing work for the kingdom," or something else, you cannot avoid most of the negative side-effects of sleep deprivation. In fact, there is a correlation that is likely causal to some extent between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer's.

Getting enough high quality sleep probably won't cure all your problems, but it might be able to fix some of your issues or play a role in doing so. It can help you drive safer, be a better spouse and parent, improve your attitude, help you learn better, be a better evangelist, and be more motivated to whatever God might be calling you to do. All of this is especially important for apologists who are often engaged in intellectually and emotionally challenging activities.

Cappuccio, F. P., D'elia, L., Strazzullo, P., & Miller, M. A. (2010). Quantity and quality of sleep and incidence of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes care, 33(2), 414-420.

Ju, Y. E. S., Lucey, B. P., & Holtzman, D. M. (2014). Sleep and Alzheimer disease pathology—a bidirectional relationshipNature reviews Neurology10(2), 115.

Lim, J., & Dinges, D. F. (2010). A meta-analysis of the impact of short-term sleep deprivation on cognitive variables. Psychological bulletin, 136(3), 375.

Koslowsky, M., & Babkoff, H. (1992). Meta-analysis of the relationship between total sleep deprivation and performance. Chronobiology international, 9(2), 132-136.

Pilcher, J. J., & Huffcutt, A. I. (1996). Effects of sleep deprivation on performance: a meta-analysis. Sleep, 19(4), 318-326.

Van Dongen, H., Maislin, G., Mullington, J. M., & Dinges, D. F. (2003). The cumulative cost of additional wakefulness: dose-response effects on neurobehavioral functions and sleep physiology from chronic sleep restriction and total sleep deprivation. Sleep, 26(2), 117-126.

Wickens, C. D., Hutchins, S. D., Laux, L., & Sebok, A. (2015). The impact of sleep disruption on complex cognitive tasks: a meta-analysisHuman factors, 57(6), 930-946.