Thursday, February 28, 2019

Persuasive Apologetics Principle 7: Bonus Tips

The previous articles in this series each focused on a specific principle from the book Influence: Science and Practice. Because of the narrow focus, the practical tips were limited to things that fit squarely into a single category; however, many of practical aspects of persuasion relate to more than one principle. Here's a few more ways to apply the previously discussed principles to apologetics and evangelism.

Acts of service can have an incredible impact on the way people view you. Depending on who you serve, who you serve with, what you do, and how you do it, service can use the principles of liking, reciprocity, commitment and consistency, and authority. Shoveling your neighbor's driveway will help him like you and feel the need to reciprocate, but there is so much more you can do with service. You can invite people along with you to do service projects, which will increase liking and authority (unless you're a jerk when you serve 😃). If it's a service project through a Christian organization, then the service project can be the first step in commitment that can lead to further actions and conversations such as coming to a church service with you or an apologetics event.

People won't see every act of service you do, but you can build a reputation as someone who willfully and joyfully serves others. Doing so will make it much more likely people will listen when you have spiritual conversations, or better yet, it will lead them to ask you about your religious beliefs. The one thing, by far, that has led more people to ask me about my life is being a foster and adoptive parent. Don't adopt just to have more opportunities to do apologetics. If you've already thought about it, this can be just one more reason. If that's not for you, doing something else that requires as much commitment can be just as effective.

Word Choice
As apologists, we tend to think that the only thing that matters is the content of our arguments and the evidence. While this is the way it should be, it doesn't work that way. The individual words we choose to make our case can have tremendous impact either for or against our case. In fact, even individual words make a big difference in the way people perceive our message. Don't believe me? Watch the clip below from the show Brain Games, which replicates the results of a psychological study.

How does this apply to evangelism? Our words can either make people defensive or help keep them open-minded. Be careful with negative words towards other people or their beliefs. This may get you applause from other Christians, but will harm your case with non-Christians (I call this the apologist's dilemma and will write on it next week). Referring to other people's beliefs as absurd, their religion as a cult, or using any sort of put-down language (even if true in the technical sense) will automatically lead to defensiveness and inhibit rationally thinking ability. J. Warner Wallace and Sean McDowell do this very well (probably one of the reasons their writing a book together).

Most apologetic discussions or talks I have seen tend to be very serious. This isn't bad in anyway, but it does mean there is plenty of room to incorporate more humor into apologetics. Humor can help in many ways. It can help take the edge off of tense situations, diffuse defensiveness, make you more likable, and prevent people from getting bored so they are more engaged. Craig Hazen does this wonderfully if you want to see how it can be done. Just be careful that you don't use too much humor because it can be a distraction, reduce your authority, or send the signal that the content is not important.
It's also probably a good idea to make sure you're not the only one who thinks your jokes are funny.

Kindness and Communication Style
1 Peter 3:15 says to do apologetics with gentleness and respect. Colossians 4:6 says to always let your speech be seasoned with salt. Basic kindness and respect go a long way, but how to do it is not always obvious, and sometimes it's hard work. When you meet someone, ask them their name and then remember it! Say please, thank you, sorry, I agree, your're right, etc. at every opportunity. Listen carefully to what people say, and instead of responding immediately, paraphrase what they said to make sure you understood properly. Ask questions, not just with then intent of trapping someone in a contradiction, but to find out more about what they believe. You can also ask questions about their family or personal life. Using "I" statements rather than "you" statements will avoid the perception of blame and prevent the other person from feeling attacked.

This can work for and against you in equal measures, so be careful how and when you use it. Basically, if you look or act weird, people are going to be less likely to respect you as an authority or trust what you say. This could refer to the way you dress, your hairstyle and color, facial hair, tattoos, piercings, or anything else. On the other hand, all of these things may also be signals that you are part of a certain in-group, in which case, they will give you credibility (this relates to social proof and authority). I have tattoos, but I typically keep them covered. If I am talking to someone else with tattoos, then I will probably mention mine and maybe even show them off. Unless you are actively involved in a specific sub-culture that highly values a unique appearance, I would err towards the norm and probably even more towards the appearance of an authority.

Mere Exposure
People are reluctant to accept things they've never heard of before, especially when it challenges their fundamental beliefs about the world. The notion that religious beliefs can be explored rationally and scientifically is so odd to many people that it literally makes no sense to them. People need to be exposed to the idea that religion can be based on evidence, probably several times in a non-confrontational way, before they are able to process and accept the arguments. This is the primary reason I started Apologetics Awareness: to just make people aware of the possibility there can be evidence for faith. Just putting the idea out there that apologetics is a thing and they can investigate it on their own can sometimes be enough to aid in future conversations, even if they never actually check it out.

As Christians, we believe that everlasting life only comes from the grace of God for those who believe in Jesus, while those who don't believe will receive everlasting punishment. The stakes are extremely high. If we truly love others, we will want to do everything we can to help them believe in Jesus. Everything we do and say makes a difference. We don't want to stress and worry about whether we did everything right (we never will), but we do want to prepare and practice so that we are always becoming better at sharing the gospel and doing apologetics. As apologists, we love science and use it to defend our faith. Let's also apply it to how we defend our faith.

This concludes this specific series on the science of persuasion for apologetics, but I'm sure I'll touch more on the topic in the future. My next article will discuss superheroes and apologetics, followed by one on the the apologist's dilemma, which relates to a specific trade-off that can be tempting to new apologists.

Works Cited
Loftus, E. F., & Palmer, J. C. (1974). Reconstruction of automobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior, 13(5), 585-589. You can read an overview of the article here.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Persuasive Apologetics Principle 6: Authority

In 1963 Dr. Stanley Milgram published the results of one of the most famous psychological studies of all time. In this experiment, Milgram was able to convince regular people to administer what they thought was a potentially fatal shock to another participant for simply not remembering a word. Why did people do it even though they were visually disturbed by the order to do so? Because they were told to do it by an authority figure. The study was conducted at a prestigious university (Yale), which gave credibility to the experiment, and the person giving orders dressed and acted like an authority figure.

Whether it is just as easy to invoke such extreme obedience in modern culture is debatable, but it is no doubt a powerful tool of persuasion. The research consistently shows that people drastically underestimate the effect authority has on influencing people, so don't just disregard this principle as irrelevant in our highly individualistic culture.

It's best to think of authority on a continuum. Some people will be highly influenced by it, some will strongly react against it, and everyone else will be somewhere in the middle. Additionally, you can have different levels of authority so it's not a situation where you either have it or you don't. Ideally, you want to have high levels of authority though. I saved this principle for last because apologists already use this principle often, but with a few adjustments, they can gain higher levels of authority to increase the effectiveness of their apologetic arguments.

While most people in today's culture will not blindly accept everything you say, even when you have earned their trust, some people will, especially if you are pastor, teacher, or anyone else with a position of authority. It's easy to forget about the people who blindly accept what you say when those who disagree are so loud, but they still exist. Be careful with your words and only speak on subjects you have done the hard work to understand, which relates to the next warning.

Just like there are people who will accept everything you say, there will be people who question everything you say. If you make a claim that you cannot support, or worse, is demonstrably false, you will lose any chance you had at earning authority with anyone who heard you, which may include the people who already think highly of you as an authority.

Don't try to superficially strengthen your case by giving arguments you don't know very well or when the evidence is fairly uncertain (the alleged 1st-century fragment issue is a perfect example of people making premature claims on limited evidence). If you are honest and willing to admit there are limits to the evidence and to your knowledge, you should be fine.

There are several ways you can earn respect as an authority. It won't make people automatically believe everything you say (which is good), but it will remove an emotional barrier that prevents rational thinking. As Christian apologists, we want people to think more rationally so they can understand and evaluate the arguments objectively. Gaining authority with someone accomplishes this goal.

The most obvious thing we can do to be an authority is to have academic or other credentials. This undoubtedly is good and helpful, but only if the other person values your credentials. You could be the foremost expert in the world on a subject, but if the other person does not think you are an expert on the subject, then you don't have authority. If you have genuine authority, use subtle ways of pointing it out, but do so without coming across as an arrogant jerk. You can do this by referring to something you did in grad school, use the occasional pedantic word (but not too many), cite specific people or works that relate to the subject you are talking about, and perhaps most importantly, present a good argument against your own view.

The biggest barrier to authority is perceived bias. If someone thinks you are biased, they will never listen to anything you say, no matter how knowledgeable you are. A simple way to counter this is by honestly presenting some sort of information that is or seems to be against your own view. There was a time when I strongly rejected the teleological argument even after I became a Christian. By telling this to non-believers, it shows them that I have not religious bias for accepting this argument. When I explain how I changed my mind on the argument after gaining a better understanding of the argument and the mathematical probabilities, the tone of the discussion changes and they are much more open.

There are several similar ways you can do this. If you reject a common argument for Christianity, tell them you think it fails, and then present the ones that you think are valid. You can also point out an area where you do not think there are any good Christians answers (or at least, none that are better that atheism or other religions), and then shift to why you think Christianity is still better.

The final aspect of authority is to act the part. You can do this by the clothes you wear, they way you speak, your body language, and how you respond to their attacks. If you dress like a professional, without appearing sleazy, people will give you much more respect. The same goes for the way you carry yourself. You want to look and appear confident in every way. Stand or sit up straight, speak clearly and confidently, don't get upset or frustrated, and be willing to listen without being condescending (which also relates to liking). All these factors are cumulative and add up to make a big difference in how people evaluate your arguments..

Visual cues such as height, clothing, and others are deceptively influential.

Authority, just like all the other principles, won't convince anyone on its own. It will help remove biases so people can hear and understand the arguments before criticizing them. What makes authority a little different than the other principles is that there are some people who will blindly follow you based on authority while some people will blindly react against authority. You can walk the line between these extremes by being well prepared and by adjusting your presentation style or content to each individual person (more on this next week for communicating to large audiences).

Remember that even though it may not seem like authority is effective in our culture, the science shows it is. Don't make the mistake of underestimating it. This concludes the six principles from Influence: Science and Practice, but I am still going to write one more article that covers any miscellaneous items that haven't already been mentioned. The final one will focus heavily on very practical suggestions you can use in everyday conversations.

Works Cited
This article was adapted for evangelism and apologetics from a chapter in Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice 5th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson education.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Instant Family: Movie Review

To celebrate the digital release of Instant Family, I thought I would write a brief review of it. As someone who has adopted from foster care, this movie is dear to my heart and is no doubt my favorite movie. Don't just rent it, but buy it, and then lend it out to others.

The movie is about a married couple (played by Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) with no kids who decides to adopt three siblings from foster care. The writer and director, Sean Anders, and his wife adopted three children from foster care, which is what inspired the movie. But rather than telling Anders' story, the movie is a fictionalized and humorous amalgamation of experiences that are common for people who have adopted from foster care.

I absolutely loved this movie, and not just on principle. I love the fact that the movie is about adoption and it fairly accurately depicts real-life situations, but on top of that, it's hilarious. I laughed constantly throughout the whole film. To be honest, I did laugh more than the others in the theatre. I'm guessing this is because the situations in the movie were so similar to what I've experienced. I suspect most adults will think it's a good and funny movie, but those with shared experiences will enjoy it even more.

While the movie does occasionally exaggerate real-life situations for comedic purposes, it doesn't do it as much or as often as you might think. Some of the situations depicted are really that extreme. I think watching this movie will be a good eye-opening experience for many people. It will give them a bit of an insider's view of what it's like to foster and adopt, but it does so in a way that is fun and won't make anyone feel bad.

I really think this is a movie all adults, especially Christians, should watch. I think most people will truly enjoy it, but the movie also has the power to educate people about an unfortunate problem, and motivate them to be part of the solution.

Is it for kids?
Although this film as pegged as a family movie, it's really not. It's a very pro-family movie, but it's not really for kids. There's a lot of mature themes, crude language, and frankly, most kids will probably think it's boring. The humor is definitely geared more towards adults than children.
I'm going to let me 11 year old watch it, but only because she is adopted, otherwise I'd wait a couple more years. I'll probably wait a couple years before I let me let my 8 year old watch it. However, if you have adopted children, there are quite a few potential triggers in the movie you should be prepared for. For more on this, check the Adoption at the Movies Review.

Here's a little more detail on what might not be appropriate for kids. There's one scene where the 15-year old is sexting with a guy and the parents find out. Then, the next day, they go to her school to confront the person she was sending the photos to. The movie also has an f-bomb and uses other crude language somewhat frequently. For a more detailed analysis, check the Plugged In Review.

Another consideration is the general bad behavior of the foster children in the film that younger kids are likely to think is funny and mimic. They won't grasp why the kids act that way so there isn't much of a teaching point until the kids get older. I think it's good that this is in the film because it's realistic, but it's also not a good example for younger children.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Persuasive Apologetics Principle 5: Scarcity

Ha Ha! Gotcha...

I shared this article by saying it would only be available for a limited time (It's not. This was just to make a point). As a result, I expect it will I'll get more readers quicker than my previous posts, at least for the first few hours (update: after one hour, there have been more views than normal). Why do I think this? Because people want what they can't have. We all know this, and if not, all we have to do is read Genesis 3.

The scarcity principle is probably the persuasion tool that we are most familiar with because we see it all the time. Limited time offers, exclusive rights, and while supplies last are all common ways that companies take advantage of this principle. The scarcity principle works because we value things more if they are limited, hard to get, or prohibited. Scarcity signals that an item will be more advantageous to us, either for our survival or social status.

Unfortunately, scarcity is the most difficult principle to apply to evangelism and apologetics, at least for Christianity because salvation is freely available to all people, without special knowledge or practices. However, it can still be used in some circumstances and being aware of it can help so this principle doesn't work against us.

Psychological Reactance
The basic reason this principle works is because of psychological reactance. It's really a feature of childish thinking, but it often lingers in adults (in some people more than others). Simply put, when we can't have something, we react against whatever or whoever tells us no by trying even harder to get the item.

Reactance often stems from a fear response, which is why people are more averse to loss than they are excited about gains. When there is a limited supply, limited time, censorship, or competition for something, we fear that we will miss out on it and we will want it more. Typically, this causes people to think and act irrationally, in ways they wouldn't otherwise act. As Christians, and especially as apologists, we want people to think more rationally. To use this principle, we want to instill a healthy sense of urgency so they realize how important it is to think thoroughly about God, but we don't want to push them into the realm or irrational reactance.

When using this principle in evangelism and apologetics we must be aware of the possible unintended consequences that push people further away from Christ. What seems like the most likely application of this principle is to point out that we have limited time on this earth, and we could die at any moment, so we don't want to miss our chance. The problem with this approach comes from what is known as terror management theory (TMT), which basically says that people have a fear of death that they constantly try to minimize. The research shows that when confronted with death, people are more likely to double-down on what they already believe and cling to it more confidently.

Another possible tactic is to focus on the exclusivity of Christianity; that it's the only way to be saved. Again though, this may backfire and cause people to react emotionally by clinging stronger to their current beliefs in order to prove you wrong or because our culture is so strongly opposed to exclusivity (even though it's present in every worldview) that they will be emotionally appalled to such claims.

If and when you use this principle, it is best to do so in combination with previously discussed principles, especially liking. If a person likes you and feels safe talking to you, they are less likely to react negatively against the exclusive nature of Christianity or fear of death. In this way, you can function as the attachment figure that provides a safety net for them to explore the idea of Christianity being true.

There still are two relatively safe and easy ways to apply this principle. The first one requires a little bit of patience or proper timing though. People are much more open to religion in times of crisis. These moments that occur throughout our lives naturally make us feel like our time on this earth is limited. If you know someone going through such a moment, be there for them. You don't have to try to initiate spiritual conversations or push Jesus on them, but you do have to be a kind and caring person who is present with them. They will probably initiate the conversation, and if they don't, you can drop hints without being pushy.

The other way to use this principle is inherent in apologetics because so many people don't know what it is. Simply by putting the idea out there that there is reason and evidence for God that most people don't know about will pique their curiosity. Just be careful not to reveal too much to quick, unless they specifically ask. Just put enough out there to make them want to know more. Depending on how well you know them, you may even be able to joke a little about how they are ready to handle to information.

The scarcity principle is hard to use for Christianity because of what we believe, but it is commonly used by other religions to manipulate people. Many religions appeal to secret knowledge that can only be attained through their special practices (meditation, yoga, snake-handling, etc.). Many cults intentionally keep aspects of their beliefs secret so that those who know the secrets feel special and those who don't know are desperate to find out. Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Latter-Day Saints, and atheists claim to know the unbiased, secret truth about Jesus and His teachings which cannot be known elsewhere (because it contradicts the evidence).

However, Christianity claims to be freely available to all people. While knowledge is not required for Christianity, we have evidence for our beliefs which is also readily available to people (even though most don't know about it). When using scarcity, be careful so that it doesn't cause them to react against Christianity. It's an effective principle, but can easily be abused or lead to the backfire effect.

My advice is to keep a watch out for this principle so that you are not fooled by scarcity (not just in religion, but with sales and anything else). My next article will be on the principle of authority. While it may seem irrelevant because of our individualistic and autonomous culture, if you know how to use it, it can be just as effective as ever.

Works Cited
This article was adapted to evangelism and apologetics from a chapter in Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice 5th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson education

Persuasive Apologetics Principle 4: Commitment and Consistency

Asking someone to convert to Christianity is a huge commitment. In most cases, people will have to change the entire way they view the world and their place in it. They may lose relationships with family members and friends over it, they could lose their job, and in some cases, they may even be putting their life at risk. That's a big commitment when you put it all out there at once. But is there a way to ease people into it so it doesn't seem so daunting?

The foot-in-the-door technique is a way to start with a small, minimal commitment or agreement and build to a much larger commitment. This technique can be used to manipulate people, as is often done with sales, or to help people reach the logical conclusion of their owns views without fear and social pressure. But this technique is just part of the overarching principle of commitment and consistency, which is used to encourage people to act on their desires, to up-sell products or add-ons, and to increase loyalty.

The main idea behind this principle is that people don't like to appear inconsistent because it suggests they are unintelligent, ignorant, incompetent, untrustworthy, or any number other of bad things. Therefore, when somebody agrees to something, takes a stance on a topic, or invests their resources into it, they are increasingly likely to stand by their initial position at all costs.

Another aspect of this principle is uncertainty. In the previous article on social proof, I noted that people often look to others when they are uncertain. While this is still true, what if there there isn't a clear indication of what others would do in a situation? In these cases, people will often look to their own behavior for guidance on future behavior. This principle is particularly effective for older people who value consistency more than younger people.

This is the principle apologists are probably most apt to use, even if they are not aware of it, and is the focus of the book Tactics. The way it's often used is to point out or draw attention to inconsistencies in a person's worldview or beliefs. While this is a good and effective method, the use of it can be expanded to be even more effective.

Consent or Agreement
In order for this principle to work, people must make some sort of commitment to a position. This may seem obvious, but it's probably where people fail the most. What I see apologists do most often, myself included sometimes, is to make a statement that I know the other person agrees to, then say something like, "you agree, right?," and then move on before allowing them to consent or express their agreement.

It may sound odd or useless, but the research shows that the simply act of allowing the person to respond will increase their commitment to the position. Don't assume they agree, and even if you know they do, let them say it. When they say it, it feels like their own choice and it makes them take ownership over the position so that they will be much less likely to flip flop later. If they do try to change views later, both of you are much more likely to remember what they said before if they actually expressed the view on their own instead of it only be assumed.

Type of Consent or Agreement
People can believe something without ever sharing it or letting anybody know. These private views are much more subject to change than public ones. As a result, you want to get people to make a public statement where they agree with Christianity, and then build from these agreements slowly, without having them voice disagreements. The key here is to get people to agree with you as publicly as possible. Instead of asking someone to think of something good Christianity has offered to the world, get them to verbalize it, and ideally, get them to do so in front of as large an audience as possible.

Even better than a verbal commitment is a written one. Have people write their view on something fairly permanent. One study showed the writing on paper rather than on a white board-like device was more effective at getting people to remain consistent. It may seem a little awkward or forced to do this, but if you get the chance, ask people to write down what they believe. I know a lot of campus ministries use surveys to start conversations. Try adding a section for people to actually write what they believe, but make sure it is something that you agree on.

For instance, you can have them write the statement "Rape is objectively wrong." Almost everyone will agree to that. From there, you can have them write something like, "objective morals do not change based on personal opinion." Once someone agrees to these statements, which almost everyone will, they've locked themselves into the position that inevitably follows, that objective morals can only come from God, and therefore, God exists.

Another tactic some people use it petitions. You get people to sign their name on a petition that nobody would disagree with. Once they've signed, they're more willing to talk about the issue and get involved with it.

Cost & Commitment
Taking a position on an issue and then making that position known to others is an emotional and social cost. If they change their view, it will embarrass them, damaging their price, and it can affect their reputation. This is highly effective, but it's not the only way people can commit to something. People can also commit with time and money.

It may take a little more ingenuity to get people to give time or money, especially if they disagree with you, but there are ways to do it. You can ask for donations to a cause that is mutually recognized as beneficial, and once they associate you with the cause, they will be more prone to commit. If you have regular apologetics meetings, try having a curriculum and require people to buy a book or some other resource to participate. You can do the same with time. Offer to meet someone for coffee to talk about a particular issue. You can even offer to buy (you're trading the opportunity for a financial commitment for a time commitment and reciprocity,which is a great trade).

The key is to start small, especially with non-believers, and slowly ask for greater commitment. You don't have to do this right away either. Go have coffee with someone to talk about religion, and then wait a few days before you call them to say "Hey, there's a Reasonable Faith meeting (or some other apologetics event) going on in a few days. Would you like to attend with me so you can find out more about the questions you were asking."

The number one way to apply this principle is by slowing down conversations, which can be especially hard online. Have patience and wait for people to respond in agreement. Build from where there is agreement rather than going directly to the points where you disagree. It may seem more efficient to focus on disagreements, but it's less effective because it solidifies the person's commitment to their own position and requires you to spend the social capital you've built with them.

It's a lot easier to get people to agree to small requests, so start small and built towards bigger agreements. However, don't push too hard, too fast, or they will feel uncomfortable and back out. Make sure you allow people to express their view verbally or in writing, then build from there. You can sometimes do this right away, but it can also be done over long periods of time such as days, weeks, or months. Don't think that you have to get people to agree to everything you believe all at once. Leave the door open for future conversations and keep building upon what they agree on.

Some people have the tendency to err by pushing too hard, some err by not being direct enough. Find the golden mean between these two areas, using commitment along the way to help be more effective and provide a little more wiggle room for error. The next principle I will discuss is scarcity, which is a tricky one to apply to evangelism and apologetics, but it can be done.

Works Cited
This article was adapted to evangelism and apologetics from a chapter in Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice 5th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson education.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Persuasive Apologetics Principle 3: Social Proof

Have you ever been in a new situation where you didn't know what to do? This is common when visiting foreign countries, but also happens pretty regular in our lives. Think of when you may have started a new job or new school, visited a new type of restaurant, or attended a gathering with people of a different social group than you. What did you do in those situations? If you're like most people, you watched other people and copied their actions.

This is an example of the social proof principle. We readily admit that we rely on others when it comes to social situations, but does it really affect us when we make cognitive choices? The answer is yes, and far more than we realize. The apologist is quick to point out that social proof is a logical fallacy (usually an appeal to the majority), and she would be right. While this is true, it is not entirely bad, even for cognitive decisions. It can help us make quicker decisions and prevent people from extremist beliefs or actions. Unfortunately, it also allows people get away with intellectual laziness and sometimes, bad choices.

The social proof principle trades on the idea that the majority is usually right, and even when the majority is wrong, there's safety in numbers. For most people, this is so ingrained in their thinking that they don't even recognize the power it has over them. It also has the effect of giving people permission to act in ways they otherwise wouldn't. For instance, multiple studies show that after a suicide it reported in the media, there is a temporary increase in suicides afterwards. The effect, known as the Werther Effect, is even thought to apply to airplane and automobile accidents, which also spike after public suicides because the pilots and drivers are thought to commit suicide by crashing intentionally.

Just like with the previous persuasion principles I discussed, as Christians, we don't want to use this principle to trick or manipulate people. Instead, we want to use it to remove barriers to rational decision making. My own conversion, which was hindered by the lack of social proof, helps see how this principle can be used positively.

When I started to investigate Christianity as a non-believer, I was convinced by the evidence, but didn't accept it because I had no social proof. I thought I was being fooled because I was just a college student and I lacked the knowledge necessary to refute such claims. If I had known Christians who knew of and talked about the evidence, I would not have been so skeptical of it and likely would have accepted it sooner. Instead, I had to research the evidence deeper and longer to make sure I wasn't missing anything.

Most people won't go through the extra steps that I did and will remain unbelievers. We don't want that to happen simply because people aren't willing to stand up to their crowd. There are two primary factors that help make the social proof principle more effective and several ways we can apply each one. It works best when people are similar or part of the same ingroup (similar to liking) and when situations are uncertain or ambiguous. Here's how we can use both to help people think more freely.

People are more likely to copy people who are more similar to them. This is why companies use actors who match the product's intended demographic for their commercials. (On a side note, this is one of many reasons why we need more women, minorities, and social scientists in apologetics.) If you want to influence people with social proof, you want to be more like them or highlight others who are. In this way, it is like giving a person permission to believe if they want to.

If you are having an apologetics conversation with a friend who is or was a physics major in college, then your chances of convincing him are slim to none, unless you also have a physic degree. Since most of us aren't physicists, we would do well to have examples of Christian physicists such as Hugh Ross, Luke Barnes, John Polkinghorne, or others. It would be even better if you can mention some who converted as a result of the evidence (I don't know the testimonies of those above well enough to know if evidence helped them convert).

This is why it's good to be aware of other Christians in different areas of life. Can you name a Christian or two who is a professor in each major academic discipline, an athlete in each major sport, an actor or actress, is a musician in a non-Christian band in each genre, works in the business world, who is in politics, or who is a racial minority? Drawing attention to these people will help you be more effective. While it's ideal to name someone who is similar to the person you are talking to, the majority is also effective. Pointing out that Christianity has been the majority religion in the world for the past 1,500 years (and all the good it has done) can also be beneficial. Just beware that you don't use this as an argument in and of itself or with people who are highly rebellious or skeptical.

The other way to use this principle is by putting effort into the friendships you have with non-believers, and then incorporating them into your Christian social group. Let's say you are part of a campus ministry while in college and your closest friends are also in the club. If you have friends from your classes who are not Christians, they likely won't convert as long as their primary identity lies with a group of non-believers, whoever that may be. To convert, many people will face harsh criticism and persecution from family and friends. That's scary for people and a big hurdle. However, if she is closely connected with you and your ministry friends, she will feel safer making the decision to follow Christ because the fear of losing others will be mitigated.

Finally, consider focusing your apologetics and evangelism within your social groups. These people are already like you and probably know you so you can be the living example that a person like them can be a Christian. If you're a lawyer, focus on reaching lawyers. If you're a doctor, focus on doctors. You can do the same for any identity of profession a person can have. The best place to start (and focus most of your time) is on those who are already most like you.

When something is uncertain, we have a much greater tendency to rely on others. Uncertainty is scary because it can be physically, emotionally, and socially dangerous. This is the primary explanation for the bystander effect, which is when there are more people present, they are less likely to act when somebody needs help. Situations such as when someone passes out in public are rare, and therefore, we don't know what to do because of the uncertainty of it. When this happens, we look at others who aren't acting to help because they are equally uncertain and looking back at us for guidance, so nobody helps. If you're ever in such a situation, look at a single person and give them clear instructions (you, call 911), or if you witness it, be the one to act first so everyone else will follow.

On the surface, it may seem as though this principle cannot help with evangelism, but I think it can actually play a significant role. The book Tactics actually highlights the use of this sub-factor very well. The mantra of the book it to put a stone in someone's shoe, the idea being that you say something that really causes them to think and it bothers them (like a stone in the shoe) until they look into it further.

To use this principle, what you want to do is point out how much a person doesn't know, but do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). In other words, don't be a jerk by embarrassing people. Uncertainty can be caused by novelty, ambiguity, or change. This gives apologists an opportunity to help others think for themselves, without other social pressures that shut down their rational abilities.

The obviously, but probably not the best way to do this is to point out that a person holds contradictory views on two related issues. This can be effective but can also lead to the backfire effect, which causes a person to solidify the views they already hold. The other way, and I think it's the better way, is to ask the person more about where learned about something or if they have read/heard of certain people or works that specialize in whatever area is causing them difficulty.

If someone says the Bible is unreliable because it was translated so many times and written way after the events took place, you can ask them where they heard that. They likely won't know, and then you can say something along the lines of "are you aware that there are thousands of ancient manuscripts that show the Bible is reliable" You can continue by asking if they've heard of any number of NT scholars such as Craig Blomberg, Dan Wallace, Craig Evans, Richard Bauckham, or others who specialize in this topic. You can even look up some NT fragments online to show them.

The point is to simply make them doubt what they think they know without being critical or condescending. If you successfully create uncertainty in them, then you want to follow up. If you just leave them be, they're going to look up information from Bart Ehrman, Richard Carrier, Sam Harris, or someone else who they already agree with and accept what they say without critical thought. Suggest some sources for them, or even better, set a time and date to study the topic with them as soon as you can.

The big take-away from the social proof principle is that it's much more powerful in our decision making than most people realize. Don't ignore the power that social influences have on our lives and those of non-believers. This principle is used extensively in TV, marketing, and sales. It's why TV shows have laugh tracks, social media shows you how many Likes, comments, and shares something has, and tip jars start the day with a little bit of cash already in them. There is more and more growing pressure for people to not be Christians in are increasingly secular and pluralistic society (which isn't necessarily bad, but it does create obstacles). The social proof principle, if used right, can help level the playing field so that people can the gospel a sincere consideration.

The next article will discuss commitment and consistency, which allows us to be more effective by finding areas of mutual agreement and building from there one step at a time.

Works Cited
Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice 5th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson education.

Jonas, K. (1992). Modelling and suicide: a test of the Werther effectBritish Journal of Social Psychology, 31(4), 295-306.

Niederkrotenthaler, T., Fu, K. W., Yip, P. S., Fong, D. Y., Stack, S., Cheng, Q., & Pirkis, J. (2012). Changes in suicide rates following media reports on celebrity suicide: a meta-analysisJ epidemiol community health, jech-2011. 

Phillips, D. P. (1974). The influence of suggestion on suicide: Substantive and theoretical implications of the Werther effect. American Sociological Review, 340-354.

Schmidtke, A., & Häfner, H. (1988). The Werther effect after television films: new evidence for an old hypothesis. Psychological medicine, 18(3), 665-676.

Wasserman, I. M. (1984). Imitation and suicide: A reexamination of the Werther effect. American sociological review, 427-436.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Persuasive Apologetics Principle 2: Reciprocity

Related imageEveryone loves getting things for free, but this also comes with a sense of obligation to return the favor. This is reciprocity. It's a give and take. Some social scientists go so far as to say that civilization is built upon this nearly universal human principle. Whether this is or isn't the case, there's no denying that it is an extremely powerful force for most people. Why do you think car dealerships give away drinks an snacks and so many organizations send free return address labels?

The question we should be asking is how can we use this for evangelism and apologetics? Just like in my previous article in this series, which was on liking, we don't want to use this principle selfishly and manipulatively. Instead, it should flow from our love of Christ and desire to be generous, godly people.

One particular verse that comes to mind on the topic of reciprocity is Romans 13:8, which says "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law." This verse recognizes how powerful of an obligation we feel when we owe somebody something. The science shows that most of us will go far beyond what is actually owed in order to repay a debt.

Simply knowing this affords as a tremendous opportunity when witnessing to people. However, I want to encourage you to give freely, without expectation of anything in return. When we expect something in return, and don't get it, we are prone to get angry. Instead, give generously without expecting anything in return. Save it for when you really need something, but in those instances, don't get angry when people still say no. There are always legitimate excuses and sometimes selfish people.

But keep in mind that there is a shelf-life on these requests. Doing a single favor for a coworker probably won't increase the chances they say yes to a request five years later, but if it's a big enough favor, it might still have an effect five months later. The other thing to remember is not to be legalistic about this. You don't always have to give all the time. There will be times when you legitimately don't have the money or the time, so don't give what you can't. On the other hand, if you do have the time and money, but just don't want to, then you should do it and create a habit of being generous.

With that said, there here are several ways to use the principle of reciprocity for evangelism and apologetics.

Gifts & Service
The most straight forward application of this principle is to give someone a gift, but an act of service can be equally effective. It doesn't necessarily have to be big, desired, or even asked for, although the bigger and more desired it is, the more someone will feel indebted to you. It just has to be something with some perceived value. In other words, as long as it's not a piece of trash, it will probably do the trick.

Some simple gifts might be to send flowers (although be aware of boundaries if married), buy someone lunch or coffee, give a book (but don't expect them to read some huge apologetics books), a gift card, some candy, or anything else you can think of that might be appropriate. Gifts could be a great way to engage people when doing evangelism on the street or some kind of event. Give bottles of water, candy, or something that fits the setting so people will come to you and use that as an opportunity to tell them about Jesus.

If you don't have the money, or just prefer to serve people, that is just as effective. Consider babysitting for couples you know who have young kids, offering rides to the airport (without asking for gas money in return, unless you really need it), shoveling driveways or mowing lawns for your neighbors, cleaning the microwave or lunch area at work, fixing cars if you have that skill, or whatever else you have the ability to do.

Between family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, you should have plenty of opportunities to give gifts or serve people. The hard part is wanting to do it and following through. If you're being honest, how often do you see people ask for favors online, through e-mail, or in person and we sit back and wait for someone else to volunteer first. Be on the lookout for these opportunities, even if people don't ask, and be quick to volunteer when they do ask.

Listen & Accept
We live in a society where people just want to be heard. Everyone thinks they have something important to say. Whether they do or not is irrelevant. Listen to people intently, even if they are just complaining about Christians and the Bible. Let them vent if they want to vent, and do so without constantly interrupting them to share your views and correct theirs. Let it go and just listen. If people want an answer, they will ask a question (and sometimes they'll ask questions even if they don't really want an answer!). Instead of trying to defend your own beliefs, simply show them that you accept them regardless of what they believe. You can do this through your facial expressions and body language, by affirming them as often as possible (e.g. I can understand why you would feel that way), and by asking non-judgmental follow-up questions.

This may be the most radical idea for apologists to accept, but you don't always have to engage conversations with the goal of trapping someone between the two or more contradictory views they hold. Listening can be beneficial in several ways that will increase the chances that they genuinely listen to you about Jesus and try to understand what you say instead of just blowing you off and getting defensive.

Genuinely listening to people will increase how much they like you, it will cause the release neurotransmitters in their brain that make them feel good and trust you, and it will give you an opportunity to ask for a favor in return. If you have a conversation with someone about religion and they go on and on the whole time, you can politely ask them to return the favor and give you the chance to share some thoughts. You don't have to do this, and in fact, I would suggest you do this sparingly with people you know. But for one-time conversations with strangers, then I would suggest you almost always ask for this return favor before you go your separate ways.

Conceding a point relates to what is otherwise referred to as the door-in-the-face technique, where someone makes a huge request, and when the other person says no, they come back with a much smaller and more reasonable request which is usually agreed to. It may not seem like a big deal or a good idea, but conceding a point is a powerful tool of persuasion. When we concede a point, the other person will feel a sense of obligation to make a concession as well. Since we have the evidence on our side, a small concession in the form of being more open to listen or reconsider a point is all we need from them in order for us to be effective.

Unfortunately, conceding a point is the one persuasion tool that apologists are least likely to do for two reasons. The first is because they are often much more knowledgeable about apologetic topics than the people they talk to so they are usually going to be right and have better reasons for their position. The other reason, however, is because they are so much more knowledgeable, they are also less likely to recognize and/or admit when they might be wrong.

Let's be honest, of the hundreds of potential sub-topics within philosophy, science, theology, and politics, that apologists like to talk about, you are likely wrong on more than just a couple. Even if you are more knowledgeable than someone else on 99 out of 100 topics, you still may be wrong on several topics and they may have legitimate points for consideration even if they are wrong.

Be on the lookout for opportunities to make concessions, even small ones. What I see most common from apologists is that they sometimes overstate their case. They are still correct in their view, but they present their argument as a little more impenetrable than it actually is. Related to this is a tendency to discount other views. Sometimes they will argue against strawman views, but usually this comes through assuming what another person believes. If and when this happy, say "I'm sorry. You are right on this point. I overstated my case/didn't pay close enough attention to what you originally said."

For Christians, we should be known for our generosity. Give, and do so cheerfully without expectation of repayment. Build a reputation among the people in your life so they think of you as a giving person. Whether you've built a reputation, or have done a single favor for someone, don't be afraid to cash in that favor in service of Jesus. Some people have a tendency to talk about Jesus with non-Christians so much that it puts them off, while others do it so infrequently that people don't even know they are Christians. Be careful to avoid both errors. Love, serve, and give to other people out of genuine concern for their well-being, and when opportunities present themselves, ask them as a favor if they would be willing come to church with you, attend a local apologetics event, go to an apologetics class you teach at your church, study a religious topic with you, or simply have a conversation about religion. They may say yes to such requests more than you might suspect, but if they feel like they owe you, they will almost certainly say yes.

We don't always need to shoot for conversation in every conversation. Instead, all we need to do is get our foot in the door to get the ball rolling for continued conversations. That's a little teaser for two article from now on commitment and consistency. The next article will be on how we can use the social proof principle to improve our apologetic arguments.

Works Cited
Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice 5th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson education.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Persuasive Apologetics Principle 1: Liking

I've heard the above statement quoted by several apologists and it was even the inspiration for a book, The Fifth Gospel, by The One Minute Apologist, Bobby Conway. On the one hand, apologists are right to recognize that the behavior of Christians is not a logically valid objection to Christianity, but on the other hand, the quote accurately reflects reality. Whether we like it or not, people will associate us with Christianity and evaluate Christ's claims based on us. While the Holy Spirit plays a role, God has also given us the task of telling people the gospel. How successful we are will often depend on how much people like us, so be conscious of how your words and actions affect the way people perceive you.

Rather than just trying to get people to like us so they might convert, Christians should strive to be genuinely likable people that lovingly represent Christ to the rest of creation. Some of the ways to do this are just good common sense, others are less obvious, and some might be quite challenging, but nonetheless, they are practices that are scientifically supported to increase influence. Even if you're already doing these things, I want to challenge you to be aware of all these factors when you are engaging in apologetics. Additionally, I have tailored factors to contemporary evangelism and apologetics, but they will also work in other areas of life such as leadership, parenting, sales, and more.

Contact & Cooperation
People are more comfortable with things (or people) that they are more familiar with. Generally speaking, the more time you spend with a person or interact with them, the more comfortable they will be with you and the more they will like you. However, there is an important caveat to this. If you are constantly having negative interactions with someone, then spending more time with someone probably won't help a whole lot.

To practically apply this, start spending more time with the people you want to influence and make sure your positive interactions far outweigh your negative interactions. Don't constantly disagree with them correct what they say, even if they make self-defeating statements like "truth is relative." Learn to let it go and pick and choose your battles. Spend time going out to lunch with co-workers, invite your neighbors over for dinner, grab drinks with your friends, or whatever you can do to spend more time with people. You apply this principle online. Again, instead of arguing with everything someone says, like their posts, comment positively, defend them against others, post on their walls, etc.

This all takes time and effort, but if you're not willing to do it, I would go so far as to say, don't waste your time disagreeing with people or trying to engage them with apologetic arguments.

Compliments & Affirmation
Take the time to listen to Ravi Zacharias do a Q&A after one of his talks and pay attention to how he answers rather that what he says. He does a fantastic job of affirming and complimenting the questioner. He says things like "that's a great question" or lightens the mood with an affirming joke about how the question is too difficult. When he does this, he makes the questioner feel good by letting them know that he respects them.

Compliments don't have to come merely as a result of someone questions though. When a friend updates their profile picture, a co-workers gets a new haircut, or whatever else you notice, offer genuine compliments. Obviously, don't lie just to say nice things, but instead, look for real opportunities to say nice things to people and about people.

People tend to like people who are like them. This is the main area where individualization plays a role in persuasion. So try to be like Paul and be all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:22). You don't need to change who you are when you are with different people, but at the same time, you don't always need to present your whole self.

Let me give you an example, and since the Superbowl was last night, I'll use football so I can come up with a clever clickbait tweet to reel people in! Anyway, let's say you meet a new person at work and he starts telling you how much he loves football, but you hate football, you don't necessarily have to tell him (at least right now). Instead, find out what other things he likes and see if you have any meaningful similarities. Maybe he's also an avid hockey fan and so are you.

For this principle to work, any similarities are helpful, but important and meaningful similarities will have a greater impact. Ideally, you want them to think of you as part of their in-group, which means being similar in whatever is most important to them (which is tough if they strongly identify as an atheist!), but take what you can get. Ask questions to get to know people and let them know when you've had shared experiences or beliefs.

This is almost a taboo subject in our PC society, but just because people don't want to talk about it, doesn't mean it doesn't impact their decisions. In a nutshell, people have more favorable views about physically attractive people. This relates to what psychologists call the halo effect, which is when a person is good at one thing so we assume they are good at other things as well. In simple terms, the more attractive you are, the more influence you will have with people.

Psychologists actually study what makes people attractive. While there will always be some individualized preferences and people who vary drastically from the mean, there are some basic constants for what people consider attractive. Some things such as height, facial features, symmetry are beyond our control and not something to worry about. However, we can control our hairstyle, eating habits, workout regiment, how much we smile, and the clothes we wear. If you don't know how to adjust any of these appropriately, ask for help.

This category is likely the hardest to take advantage of for most Americans, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Not only will getting in better shape help you be more persuasive, but you will reap all the health benefits as well.

Many of these things apologists already do, but they don't always think about how it might effective their evangelism. Every apologist I've ever met, from those who do it for a living to those who do it as a hobby, are kind and likable people. However, as soon as a conversation turns towards an apologetics related topic, and I've seen it over and over again, many of them get so hyper-focused on the content and serious that they forget they are talking to a person, not a machine. When this happens, the conversations usually turn ugly. We should be equally, if not more concerned about persuasion than we are about content.

If you've ever heard the term social capital, that's essentially what this principle is. Start thinking of your apologetics engagements in terms of how much social capital you have with a person. If you have a lot, you can push the conversation more or bring up Jesus more often, but if you haven't earned much social capital with a person, hold your tongue and wait for good opportunities (like when the person specifically asks you questions or the conversation comes up naturally).

This is the first article of a series on persuasive apologetics, using the book Influence: Science and Practice as an outline. The next article will be on how to use the principle of reciprocity when doing apologetics. For an overview of the series, click here.

Works Cited
Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice 5th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson education.