Showing posts with label persuasion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label persuasion. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Psychological Apologetics Resources

Psychological apologetics is a unique field that focuses on using and applying psychological sciences (which really includes all social and cognitive sciences) for apologetics. Very few people do work that could be considered psychological apologetics, especially if excluding people or works that are explicitly in the realm of psychological apologetics. If you want to get started in psychological apologetics, there aren't really any single sources you can pick up to get started. Instead, you need to piece together information from a variety of resources so you can become knowledgeable in both subjects, psychology and apologetics.

I've categorized the books by sub-genre rather than recommended reading order. However, I do provide a recommended order at the bottom of the page and I've classified the books into general tiers of relevance and/or importance for psychological apologetics. Here is what the tiers mean.

  1. Very relevant/important
  2. Relevant/important
  3. Somewhat relevant/important or overlaps content of books rated higher
  4. Least relevant/important or I just don't know much about the book.

While this list is pretty long, it's nowhere near exhaustive, especially considering all the books out there that focus on the integration of psychology or counseling with and theology. I included some of the more current ones, but there is so much more out there. Also, it should go without saying that I do not agree with everything in all the books, but some of them I think are relevant for the field. If you think I missed any important books, want more specific suggestions, or have any other comments, please contact me here

Psychological Apologetics Books

The books in this section are the closest thing that could be considered psychological apologetics without having to piece together resources from various other places. I listed this section first to highlight the sub-genre of psychological apologetics so don't be surprised that these books aren't recommended as first reads. These books only cover a narrow scope of the possible topics that fall under the umbrella of psychological apologetics.

#2. The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous by Joseph Henrich (Ph.D.), who's an atheist psychologist. Ironically, this book arguably makes the best case for Christianity from social sciences than any other. The author recognizes this and explicitly states that the data is not an argument for Christianity, but it is. In short, if Christianity is true, what the book reports to have happened is what would be expected. The book talks about the historical factors the led to the development of modern, Western society, and while there are multiple factors involved, the main factor is Christian sexual ethics and the Church's teachings efforts to spread those teachings.

#2. Complex Simplicity: How PsychologySuggests Atheists are Wrong about Christianity by Luke Conway (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist and Christian apologist. I haven't read this book yet (but don't tell Luke because I told him I would a while back) but this is really the only book by a psychologist that focuses on using psychology for arguments for Christianity. I am feeling more convicted now that I haven't read it yet so I will probably do that very soon now.

#2. Born Believers: The Science of Children's Religious Belief and #2. Why Would Anyone Believe in God? by Justin Barrett (Ph.D.), who's a Christian cognitive evolutionary psychologist. I haven't read these books, but I've read a lot of Barrett's academic works. My understanding of these books is that he makes the case that humans are biologically predisposed to believe in God, and therefore, it is psychologically healthy to do so. 

#3. Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism by Paul Vitz (Ph.D.), who's a Christian psychologist. In this book, which I also haven't read yet, he is responding to the Freudian critique that belief in God serves as a replacement for having a poor or non-existent relationship with a person's biological father. My understanding of the book and Vitz's position is that the opposite appears to be true, that people who have a poor or non-existent relationship with their father are more likely to be atheists.

Effective Persuasion for Apologetics and Evangelism

Perhaps the biggest gap in apologetics literature is the absence of evidence-based strategies for doing apologetics. There are some apologetics books that discuss this, and some do it fairly well, but they don't really go into the science behind effective persuasion methods or give a broad range of practical methods. The books listed are not Christian books and as far I know, only Carnegie is a Christian, but the strategies in these books are easy to apply to apologetics and evangelism.

#1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and #2. Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist and perhaps the foremost expert on persuasion methods. His work is widely used and cited for sales and marketing. Influence is the absolute single best book I know of for understanding how persuasion works.

#2. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. This book is a classic and for good reason. I put off reading it for the longest time because I thought it would have little to teach me and little modern relevance. I was dead wrong. This book is a very practical guide for how to effectively influence people without being manipulative.

#3. Getting to Yes and #3. Getting Past NoThe first is by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton and the second is just by Ury. These books are essential reading in many business programs. These are excellent resources for learning how to negotiate with others, especially in a way that maintains long-term relationships.

#1. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl (M.A.), who's a well-known Christian apologist. This is one of the few apologetics books that explicitly focuses on how to do apologetics and evangelism more effectively. It's a great book but it doesn't really get into the underlying reasons why some of the methods work. Instead, it focuses on more practical aspects of how to use the tools discussed. I recommend people read this one as a model for how to have conversations about faith to create a schema for applying the lessons from the other books in this section to evangelism and apologetics.

#2. Relational Apologetics: Defending the Christian Faith with Holiness, Respect, and Truth by Michael Sherrard (M.Div.), who's a pastor and apologist. This is another one of the rare apologetics books that focuses on more effective methods for doing apologetics and evangelism. While it's not a psychological book, it does apply psychological principles well. 

Bias, Reasoning, and Decision Making

If you want to understand how to do apologetics effectively, you have to understand the way in which people make decisions and the variety of biases that affect our reasoning processes. In short, people are not nearly as rational as we often think they are. These books reveal a ton of ways in which our minds make mental shortcuts, often leading to false conclusions, and how we can overcome them. These books are not Christian books and as far as I know, none of the authors are Christians. While initially it may seem like these biases apply to religious belief, they apply equally to why people belief atheism is true.

#1. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (Ph.D.), who's a cognitive psychologist and noble prize winner in economics because his work was essential for the field of behavioral economics. This is the essential book for understanding decision 

#1. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist that focuses on moral reasoning. This book will help you understand how people make moral decisions. This is relevant because moral beliefs strongly influence religious and political beliefs. His other book, The Coddling of the American Mind, is also pretty good but not nearly as relevant for psychological apologetics.

#2. Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin Banaji (Ph.D.) and Anthony Greenwald (Ph.D.), who are psychologists that focus on basically what the title of the book is. Most of this book focuses on blindspots when it comes to race and sex, but it's highly relevant for psychological apologetics because the mental processes they discuss apply to a broad range of topics.

#2. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz (Ph.D.), who's a psychologist that focuses on decision making. This book makes the point that having more choices isn't always good for us psychologically and often leads to less than optimal choices. It's very relevant in a society where people have lots of religious, political, and moral choices. 

#2. The Mind Club: Who Thinks, What Feels, and Why It Matters by Daniel Wegner (Ph.D.) and Kurt Gray (Ph.D.), who are social psychologists that study consciousness and choice, amongst other things. The book talks about some of the underlying factors that affect our moral decisions.

#3. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Money, Health, and the Environment by Richar Thaler (Ph.D.), who's a Nobel-winning economist. This book discussing how small, often unnoticeable factors affect our decision-making.

#3. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely (Ph.D.), who's a cognitive psychologist. This book is similar to Thinking, Fast and Slow, but it's shorter and explains slightly different ways in which people make irrational decisions. It's a great book that's very enjoyable to read, but I would consider this book more of a second-tier book for psychological apologetics.

Sexuality and Gender

Sex, sexuality, and gender are probably the relevant social topics for Christians in our culture. My knowledge of the subject comes from more academic sources (the sources often cited by these books) so I am not very familiar with these books or authors, but from what I do know about the authors, they are respectable.  

#2. People to Be Loved: Why HomosexualityIs Not Just an Issue, #2. Living in a Gray World: A ChristianTeen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality, and #2. Embodied: Transgender Identities,the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say by Preston Sprinkle, who's a theologian (Ph.D.) that focuses mostly on topics related to sexuality and gender. I haven't read any of these books, but I have listened to several hours of his podcasts and YouTube videos. The guy knows what he is talking about and has a wonderful ability to engage difficult topics with love and respect.

#2. Is God anti-gay? and #2. Why does God care who I sleep with? by Sam Allberry, who's a pastor and apologist who experiences same-sex attraction. I haven't read these books and have limited experience with Sam's work. From the little experience I do have with Sam's work, he seems to be reasonable, knowledgeable, and compassionate.

#2. Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God's Grand Story, #3. Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God. A Broken Mother's Search for Hope, by Christopher Yuan, who's a theologian (Ph.D.) who experiences same-sex attraction. I haven't read either book and don't have much experience with Yuan's work.

#2. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, #2. Emerging Gender Identities: Understanding the Diverse Experiences of Today's Youth, #2. Homosexuality and the Christian: AGuide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark Yarhouse, who's a Christian clinical psychologist. I haven't read these books yet and am not very familiar with Yarhouse's work so I have no comments to add about these books.

#2. The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex and Identity in Our Society by Debora Soh (Ph.D.), who's a neuroscientist who focuses her research on sex and gender. She is not a Christian and is quite liberal, but she still has some concerns about some of the activism around gender. I haven't read this book so I don' t have much to say on it, but you can read this review of it by Preston Sprinkle.

#3. Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle by Michael John Cusick (M.A. x2), who's a Christian licensed professional counselor. I haven't read this book yet, but from my understanding, it's about the negative effects of porn on people who use it. This is relevant for apologetics because most Christians would agree that porn violates biblical morality and so we should expect negative side effects when we engage in it.

#3. Hooked: The Brain Science on How Casual Sex Affects Human Development by Joe McIlhaney (MD) and Freda Mckissic (MD), who are both obstetrician/gynecologists. I don't know if they are Christians or not, but I suspect they are. I have browsed a few sections of the first edition of this book, but I've never read the whole thing. Essentially, this book discusses the scientific evidence that casual sex or sex with multiple partners does not lead to better outcomes in life.

#4. Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier, who's a journalist and not a Christian. I haven't read this book so I don't have much to say about it, but if you want to know more, you can read this review of it by Preston Sprinkle.

#4. This is Your Brain on Sex: The Science Behind the Search for Love by Kayt Sukel (M.S.), who's a science writer and as far as I know, she's not a Christian. She might be, but her Twitter account had quite a few posts the suggest she's probably not. I haven't read this book and know very little about it, but I do want to read it. I included this book because, for the most part, the science of sex supports what the Bible teaches about sex, although there are some people who twist or ignore some of the science to argue otherwise. 

Christian Psychology Books

#2. The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope and Healing for Those Who Feel Trapped by Matthew Stanford (Ph.D.), who's a behavioral neuroscientist. I've read most or all of this book and it's a good explanation of the biological factors that affect our psychology, both of which affect our propensity to sin.

#3. Thriving with Stone Age Minds: Evolutionary Psychology, Christian Faith, and the Quest for Human Flourishing by Justin Barrett (mentioned above) and Pamela Ebstyne-King (Ph.D.), who's a developmental and positive psychologist. Both authors are Christians and in this book, they make the case that humans' ability to be social, get and use information, and exhibit self-control are what makes us unique. Based on these traits, we can make hypotheses about human flourishing, and when we do that, they align with the Bible and the science supports these traits so far. This book is a good introduction to evolutionary psychology and is a good place to start if you want to know more about that field.

#3. Enhancing the Christian Life: How Extended Cognition Augments Religious Community and #3. The Physical Nature of Christian Life: Neuroscience, Psychology, And The Church by Brad Strawn (Ph.D.) and Warren Brown (Ph.D.), who are Christian psychologists. I haven't read either book yet but they're on my shortlist to do soon.

#3. The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? by Miguel Farias (Ph.D.) and Catherine Wikholm (Ph.D.), who are clinical psychologists. Farias is Catholic but I don't know if Wikholm is a Christian. I haven't read this book, but from my understanding of it, they argue that meditation and mindfulness are not all they're cracked up to be and can have negative consequences. I'm hesitant to put this book on this list until I've read it because I'm concerned they might oversimplify the research to promote their view, but I can't condemn them for that since I haven't actually read the book yet.

#3. Positive Psychology in Christian Perspective: Foundations, Concepts, and Applications by Charles Hackney (Ph.D.), who's a Christian social psychologist that focuses on positive psychology.

#3. The Science of Virtue: Why Positive Psychology Matters to the Church by Mark McMinn (Ph.D.), who's a Christian clinical psychologist. 

#3. Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Theory and Application by Everett Worthington (Ph.D.), who's a Christian social psychologist.

#3. The Psychology of Gratitude edited by Robert Emmons (Ph.D.) and Michael McCullough (Ph.D.). Technically, this is not a Christian book, but many of the authors in it are Christians, including the editors, and the research on gratitude generally aligns with Christian theology.

#3. Psychological Insight in the Bible: Texts and Readings by Wayne Rollins (Ph.D.) and Andrew Kille (Ph.D.), who are theologians. I haven't read this book or spent much time looking through it, but it's potentially very useful. My concern is that neither author has a psychology degree, which makes it more likely they will misunderstand the science of psychology in their work.

Integrating Psychology and Christianity

What seems to be the biggest topic of discussion about psychology is how to integrate it into theology. These are just some of the books that tackle that subject. To be honest, I'm not sure it's necessary to read a whole book on it, especially since so many of them get bogged down by abstract conflicts that may or may not be relevant or are probably not due to worldview differences at all. If you want to save the trouble, here's my article on the need (or lack of) for Christian psychology

#3. The Integration of Psychology and Christianity: A Domain-Based Approach by William Hathaway (Ph.D.) and Mark Yarhouse. I haven't read this book yet (it only came out a month ago) but am really looking forward to it. The approach they take based on the table of contents seems like it will be really helpful for being trying to gain a better understanding of integration.

#3. Coming to Peace with Psychology: What Christians Can Learn from Psychological Science by Everett Worthington (Ph.D.), who's a Christian clinical and social psychologist. It's been a long time since I read this book so I don't have much to say on it. I recall having a generally positive view of it so it will likely be a good introduction to psychology for people who don't know the field very well.

#4. Psychology through the Eyes of Faith by David Myers (Ph.D.) and Malcolm Jeeves (Ph.D.). I haven't read this book yet. Myers is a Christian, although many reading this might consider him too liberal, but he is a well-known social psychologist who's written many textbooks. I'm fairly sure Jeeves is a Christian, but I don't know a ton about him other than he writes a lot on the intersection of psychology and Christianity.

#4. Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity, 3rd edition: An Introduction to Worldview Issues, Philosophical Foundations, and Models of Integration by David Entwistle (Psy.D.), who's a clinical psychologist and appears to be a Christian. I haven't read this book yet, but I have it on my shelf and plan to read it.

#4. Psychology and Christianity: FiveViews edited by Eric Johnson (Ph.D.). I put this book here because it's relevant, at least on the surface, but it was disappointing. You can read my review of it here.

Clinical or Counseling Psychology

#4. Skills for Effective Counseling: A Faith-Based Integration by Elisabeth Nesbit Sbanotto (Ph.D.), Heather Davediuk Gingrich (Ph.D.), and Fred Gingrich (D.Min.), who are Christian counselors. This is a skills-based book so the typical arguments over how to integrate psychology and theology can be set aside for this one. Psychologists are great at talking to people and this book teaches methods psychologists use that can be applied to effective apologetics and evangelism.

#4. Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness by Matthew Stanford (Ph.D.)

#4. Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality in Christian Counseling by Mark McMinn (Ph.D.), who's a Christian clinical psychologist. 

#4. Sexuality and Sex Therapy: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal by Mark Yarhouse (see above).

#4. Modern Psychopathologies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal by Barrett McRay (Ph.D.), Mark Yarhouse (Ph.D.), and Richard Butman (Ph.D.), who are Christian clinical psychologists.

Psychology of Religion Books:

Psychology is a science, which means the field is all about publishing in peer-reviewed journals. However, there are still some occasional academic books that get published. Here are some that are relevant for apologetics 

#3. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (MD) was trained as a physician but did a lot of work in psychology and even philosophy. There aren't really foundational books in the field of psychology, but if there were, this might be one of them. For this reason, I'm a little embarrassed to admit I haven't actually read it before (I read more journal articles). James was not a Christian, at least I don't think he was, but he was not overly critical of religion either.

#4. Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology: From Human Minds to Divine Minds by Justin Barrett (mentioned above).

#4. Cognitive Psychology of Religion by Kevin Eames (Ph.D.), who's a cognitive psychologist and Christian.

#4. Neuroscience, Psychology, and Religion by Malcolm Jeeves (Ph.D.) and Warren Brown (Ph.D.)

#4. The Psychology of Prayer by Bernie Spilka (Ph.D.) and Kevin Ladd (Ph.D.) 

#4. The Psychology of Christian Experience by W. Curry Mavid (Ph.D.)

#4. The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues by John Kildahl

#4. A Natural History of Natural Theology: The Cognitive Science of Theology and Philosophy of Religion by Helen De Cruz (Ph.D. x2 in anthropology and philosophy) and Johan De Smedt (Ph.D.). I haven't read this book, but really want to. My understanding of it is that they examine aspects of natural theology from the lens of cognitive science.

The Brain, Soul, Consciousness, and Free Will

This category covers a lot and I plan to add more to this section in particular, but I wanted to have a place to add some of these books. They are relevant to psychology, but a lot of the people writing on these subjects are philosophers or scientists outside of psychology. I say this just to draw attention to that point because psychologists may have a slightly different take on the subject or rely on different sets of data to come to a conclusion. Also, there are a lot of implications for this subject from the books in the reasoning and decision-making section.

#4. Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will by Nancy Murphy (Ph.D.) and Warren Brown (Ph.D.) 

#4. Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? by Nancy Murphy (Ph.D.), who's a Christian philosopher.

#4. Am I just my Brain? by Sharon Dirckx (Ph.D.), who's a Christian neuroscientist.

#4. Rewired: Exploring Religious Conversion by Paul Markham (Ph.D.).

Other Relevant Social Science Books: 

If you want to understand psychology, you have to understand complex relationships between multiple variables. Nothing in psychology has a simple explanation. Psychologists look at everything through the lens of multiple interacting causes, which we separate and test through various statistical methods. These books are not all obviously in the field of psychology, but they are excellent to help people understand the need to look beyond simple and intuitive answers in order to get a full picture of reality.

#1. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, #2. SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, #2. Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain, and #3. When to Rob a Bank: ...And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants by Steven Levitt (Ph.D. economics) and Stephen Dubner (journalist). The books are interesting, fun to read, and informative. In essence, they will help you think like or see the world with more complexity, much in the way that a social or psychological scientist does.

#1. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Ph.D.), who's basically a really smart numbers guy. He's a professor and a former stock trader. What most people don't realize is that psychology is hugely dependent on statistics. If you don't understand stats, you don't understand psychology. While this book is about investing and markets, the stats discussed are very similar to what is used in psychology and the underlying purpose of the use of stats is the same.

 #3. Outliers: The Story of Success, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, #3. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, #3. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, #3. What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, and #2. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell, who's a journalist, pastor's kid, and as of fairly recently, a convert to Christianity (I think while writing David and Goliath). These books are not from a Christian perspective, even after Gladwell's conversion. In short, they won't say much that the books in the reasoning section will say, but Gladwell is so great and tying everything together with stories and a grand narrative.

#3. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (MD I think), who was a psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor. This book is a memoir of his time in the concentration camp. 

#3. The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries by Rodney Stark (Ph.D.), who's a sociologist that focuses on religion. This book examines sociological factors that led to the growth of Christianity in the first three or four centuries. Stark admits he was only an in-name-only believer when he wrote this book, but as a result of writing it, became a committed believer.

#3. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck by Chip and Dan Heath. This book is great for helping understand how to present information in a way that will help people remember it. What's the point in doing apologetics and evangelism if people won't remember what you actually said?

#3. Humility by Jennifer Cole Wright (Ph.D.), who's a psychologist that focuses on the science of morals and virtue. 

#4. Hearing Voices and Other Matters of the Mind: What Mental Abnormalities Can Teach Us About Religions by Robert McCauley (Ph.D.) and George Graham (Ph.D.), who are philosophers. I do not know if they are Christians.

#4. The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded by Don Norman (graduate degrees in psychology and engineering but I'm not sure on specifics). This is an excellent book for understanding engineering psychology or human factors and how the design of objects affects us.

Fiction Books:

#3. Walden Two by B.F. Skinner (Ph.D.), who's one of the most well-known psychologists today, even though he died in 1990. He is best known for behaviorism and his work with conditioning. This is a fiction book he wrote about a utopian society based on psychological principles as he understood them when the book was first published in 1948.

#4. Animal Farm by George Orwell and #4. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. These books are excellent representations of some of our most basic and universal psychological tendencies and what could happen if they're left unchecked.

Apologetics Books: 

I love apologetics. It is led me to become a believer. However, apologetics often has a bad reputation inside and outside the church. On the one hand, some of that reputation is unfair. People don't like it when facts and reasons get in the way of their beliefs. On the other hand, apologists tend to write and speak in a way that is very direct and confident. This is a very effective method for people who mostly agree with what is being said or respect the speaker, but it can be off-putting to people who don't already agree or don't respect the speaker.

For these reasons, I am very careful about the apologetics books that I recommend. These books cover the main arguments used in apologetics, and for the most part, do so in a way that is more winsome and not as overstated as some other apologetics resources. If you want to go deeper, there are a ton of other resources available.

#1-2. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels by J. Warner Wallace (M.A.), who's a cold-case homicide detective that converted to Christianity when he investigated the gospels in the same way he investigates cold-case homicides. This book is the result of that investigation. It's highly accessible and written in a friendly manner that is not condescending or argumentative. He also has a kid's version of this book that is great for children about 10 and under.

#1-2. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision or #3. Reasonable Faith, Third Edition: Christian Truth and Apologetics by William Lane Craig (Ph.D. in philosophy and Ph.D. in theology), who's a Christian philosopher, apologist, and theologian. Craig is probably the most prolific apologist of our time based on the high quality and quantity of works he has produced for academic and lay audiences. These books cover the same content, but Reasonable Faith is more academic and goes into greater depth. The tone of 

#3. The Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs and #1-2. Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions by Craig Blomberg (Ph.D.), who's a New Testament scholar and one of the foremost experts on the reliability of the New Testament. I've only read portions of these books, but I have read a lot of Blomberg's other materials, listened to him speak, and was fortunate enough to have him as a professor in seminary. He's extremely kind and thoughtful and writes in a way that isn't offensive to people who disagree. The Reliability of the NT is a much more academic and longer book, otherwise, they are similar in content.

#1-2. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller (D.Min.), who's a well-known and respected pastor, even among non-Christians. I haven't read this book yet because when I learned about it, I was already reading more advanced works. However, I am familiar with some of Keller's other works and he is an intelligent and thoughtful communicator so I feel fairly confident this book will be excellent for most people, even non-Christians.

#1-2. Francis Schaeffer books. Really, any of his books are great and serve as excellent (but not quite perfect) examples of how to apply psychological principles to apologetics.

#4. Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted World by Paul Gould (Ph.D.), who's a Christian philosopher that emphasizes the need for better cultural engagement in apologetics. It's not just as simple as stating a bunch of arguments to convince people.

Marriage, Relationships, Parenting, Leadership, and Discipleship

I lumped these categories all together because they are often lumped together (Marriage and Family) by psychologists and because they underlying psychological mechanisms are often the same. For instance, the same general leadership principles apply to parenting and work, the details are just tailored to each situation. As Christians, we should try to model Christ-like behavior, which is often judged based on the quality of our relationships with others. This affects our ability to influence those we have relationships with already or people who are able to serve our relationships with others. These books are a combination of Christian and non-Christian sources. They mostly align with Christian ideals, but there will be a few comments in these books that stray from the science and make philosophical statements most Christians probably wouldn't agree with.

#4. Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness by Robert Greenleaf.from them so far is great and very useful for apologetics and evangelism, albeit indirectly.

#4. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert, Revised and Updated and Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage: America's Love Lab Experts Share Their Strategies for Strengthening Your Relationship by John Gottman (Ph.D.), who's probably the most well-known marriage counselor because he has been able to predict divorce in the first five years of marriage with 95% accuracy based on his research. The degree to which this trend generalizes to all couples is debated, but it's still impressive. This book discusses the factors that are relevant and how to avoid the negative predictors of divorce.

#4. A Lasting Promise: The Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage by Scott Stanley (Ph.D.), Daniel Trathen, Savanna McCain, and Milt Bryan. Stanley is a Christian clinical psychologist (I think the others are too) and probably the top Christian academic for marriage resources.

#4. His Needs, Her Needs: Building a Marriage That Lasts by Willard Harley Jr. (PhD.), who's a Christian clinical psychologist. My wife and I read this book for premarital counseling and have gone through it a few times since. It's a great resource for couples to help them think more about their partner's needs than their own.

#4. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman (Ph.D.), who's a Christian therapist. This book is also geared toward thinking about your partners' needs rather than your own and is a great tool for helping people think about how to express love and concern to other people in all situations.

#4. The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind by Dan Siegel (MD), who's a psychiatrist and probably the leading parenting expert right now. Most of his work is evidence-based and very good, although he does stray a little beyond the evidence from time to time to make points about his worldview. In general, though, I think his parenting advice is pretty solid and would be beneficial for people to follow. 

#4. Kevin Leman (Ph.D.) is a Christian psychologist who writes on marriage and family. The books I've read of his are great. None of his books are ones I would say are the best in the field, but they're all good (at least the ones I've read).

#4. David Schnarch (Ph.D.) is a clinical psychologist who focuses on sex therapy. I don't know if he's a Christian but I have seen him cited a lot by some of the author Christian psychologists on this list. On the one hand, there is some research showing Christians have better sex lives than others, but there are also a lot of people with damaged views of sex due to the church that these books can be helpful for.

Self-Help or Personal Growth

We tend to over-spiritualize spiritual growth as though it is somehow completely separate from other types of maturation, but in reality, it's really not. There are some resources by psychologists, some Christians and some not, to help you grow and mature as a person, which will help you grow as a Christian.

#4. How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals About Personal Growth by Henry Cloud (Ph.D.) and John Townsend (Ph.D.) who are Christian clinical psychologists.

#4. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth (Ph.D.). who's a social psychologist who became relatively famous for her work on this subject.

#4. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (Ph.D.), who's a psychologist that focuses on the way we frame things in our mind and how it affects our outcomes. This book, from my understanding, focuses on having a fixed vs. growth mindset. A growth mindset is when we think we can grow and develop, which I would say is a biblical concept, and it's generally better on all outcomes.

#4. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,  Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life and Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief by Jordan Peterson (Ph.D.), who's a clinical psychologist. He's become famous for all kinds of other issues, but he's a legitimate clinical psychologist and a pretty smart guy. He's a bit more philosophical than most psychologists and willing to draw conclusions beyond the evidence more than most psychologists, but at the same time, he's aware of when he's doing it and has pretty decent philosophical grounding for it. In either case, I think his psychological work in these books is worth reading or listening to, even if he goes astray from time and time. He also does work with one of the top personality psychologists and has some interesting work in that area.

Other Christian Books:

#4. Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme, #3. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, #3. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman and Aly Hawkins, and #4. The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World by Gabe Lyons. I've read the first two books and referenced the third one. Kinnaman and Lyons understand culture well and how to effectively engage people in it (which aligns with social science principles). What I have read and heard from them so far is great and very useful for apologetics and evangelism, albeit indirectly.

#3. Interpreting Scripture through Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards (Ph.D. New Testament) Brandon O'Brien  (Ph.D. in some field of religious or theological studies).

#4. Os Guinness books. Os is a pretty well-known Christian author who does a fair amount of apologetics and has a Ph.D. in sociology. He writes, speaks, and presents information in a way that models good psychological apologetics.

#4. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith (Ph.D.), who's a theology-oriented philosopher. This book exhibits a pretty good understanding of some of the psychological factors involved in worship.

Recommended Reading Order (top 10 only):

  1. Tactics
  2. Influence
  3. If you don't know apologetics very well, I would suggest reading an apologetics book or two here.
  4. Thinking, Fast and Slow
  5. The Righteous Mind
  6. How to Win Friends and Influence People
  7. Freakonomics
  8. Fooled by Randomness
  9. Pre-Suasion
  10. Blindspot

Other Resources

Blueprint1543 podcast or free online courses on psychology and theology. BluePrint1543 is an organization founded and led by Justin Barrett (mentioned above) with the goal of combining psychological sciences and Christian theology more naturally.

My Christian Psych list on Twitter, which includes Christians who work in cognitive or social sciences.

Psychological Apologetics FB Page, FB group, and Twitter.

The Ten Minute Bible Hour by Matt Whitman and Smarter Every Day by Destin Sandlin. I listed them together because they do a podcast, No Dumb Questions, together, and because they are part of this list for the same reason. They aren't apologists or psychologists, but they do work in a way that models effective methods for reaching believers and unbelievers. Matt teaches about the Bible and does do some apologetics in his videos while Destin does science and engineering videos and only makes it known he's a Christian by posting a Bible verse at the end of his videos and in formats outside his YouTube channel. They both approach their subjects with humility and respect for other views and model ways to interact with people they disagree with.

The Freakonomics and Revisionist History (Malcolm Gladwell) podcasts are great for all the reasons I mentioned above. Agree or disagree with them, that's fine, but the way they look at topics in greater depth and from more angles than we typically see in the media is what social scientists do. These podcasts can help you get in the habit of doing that.

The Moral Science Podcast by Amber Cazzell (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist that did a postdoc in the lab I work in at Baylor. This is not a Christian podcast but it does cover a lot of topics that are relevant for psychological apologetics.

The Langauge of God podcast by BioLogos, a science-based apologetics organization, has had several episodes that relate to psychological apologetics. After quickly growing their episodes, the ones that seem most relevant are #s 14, 30, 31, 32, 33, 58, 65, 77, 79.

The WorkLife with Adam Grant (Ph.D.) podcast is a psychology podcast that covers a lot of relevant topics for psychological apologetics or just understanding the field of psychology.

The Hidden Brain podcast is a psychology podcast that will help gain understanding in various areas of psychology, some of which are directly related to psychological apologetics.

The CrashCourse Psychology playlist on YouTube.

Faraday Institute for Science and Religion videos and podcasts on the brain and psychology.

The Great Courses on Amazon/Audible Why You Are Who You Are: Investigations into Human Personality by Mark Leary (Ph.D.) and How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals by William Lidwell. These courses will help you better understand people and how unconscious things affect our decisions.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Engineering Psychology for Apologetics

Apologists tend to think like engineers in the sense that we're very analytical and logical, which also means that we often misunderstand people who don't think this way. Nearly every apologist goes through a phase where we think, if I just show people the evidence, then they'll believe. Some give up when they realize it's not that simple, some get wise and change their methods, and some never figure this out.

Since so many of us think like engineers, why not embrace this thinking style and view ourselves as conversation engineers. The field of engineering psychology, or human factors psychology, attempts to improve the design of machines or systems so that people can use them better. The better the design, the more likely people will seek out the product, use it, and recommend it to others. As conversation engineers, we can design spiritual conversations that lead to a better experience for the people we talk to.

The success of Apple has largely been attributed to the superior design of their products. Apple engineers and designers have made products that are easy to use, making it an enjoyable experience for customers, which leads to increased sales and brand loyalty. As apologists, we can use these same engineering principles to improve our outcomes. Our product is the evidence for Christianity, which the users (non-apologists and non-Christians) will be more likely to use and trust if we can give them a positive experience.

Basic Concepts
For now, there are three basic concepts to understand. These are affordances, signifiers, and feedback. Affordances are what the product can be used for and to some extent, is dependent on the person. A chair affords sitting, but if it's a really big or heavy chair, it only affords moving for strong people or groups of people. Signifiers are signals about what a product can do (what is affords). An arrow on a dial signifies which way the dial can turn.

Feedback is a little more than people might initially think. It is a signal regarding whether the operation has been activated or a signal about whether to product is working as intended. Your phone may beep to let you know you've pressed a button or it may provide different types of beeps to tell you something went wrong. Feedback can be thought of as a type of signifier that comes after a function rather than before it and gives information about the product, not the user.

Application to Apologetics
In apologetics dialogues, our product is evidence and our goal with it is to bring people closer to Jesus, strengthen religious belief, grow the church, give Christian confidence, inspire awe, and so on. In human factors terms, these are the affordances. However, it can also have bad affordances just like a phone can have bad affordances like porn, distractions, being used for target practice, and so on. Apologetics, when done wrong, can push people away from Jesus, drive people to anti-intellectualism, or make Christianity seem narrow and self-righteous.

If we use signifiers and feedback in the right ways, we can help prevent the negative affordances of apologetics. Signifiers can be obvious or subtle. Wearing Christian or apologetics clothing and posting Bible verses on social media are obvious, but doing so may provide feedback to people with unintended negative consequences. I'm not saying don't do this, but be aware that there could be negative consequences to it. To overcome potential negative effects, use positive rather than negative signifiers (e.g. more positive Bible verses than critical ones).

Subtle signifiers can also be useful. Wearing colors like blue, white, or green can make you seem more approachable and open so people are more likely to engage in conversation with you and be more open to listening when doing so. Colors like black and red may work against you in this way. Likewise, the same goes for your website, ministry branding, and so on.

The language we use can be a powerful signifier. If we talk about people in a condescending or critical way, this tells people we aren't open to understanding and don't really care about others so they will avoid us or if they do engage, the conversation will be fruitless. Likewise, when we talk about how busy we are, we send the signal that we're not open to taking an interest in others, which creates a barrier to relationships.

Feedback is perhaps the most dangerous area for apologists. When our feedback is limited to variations of "that's wrong and here's why," we are not going to win people over. Again, this signals a lack of concern for others, even if we are correct. Instead, our forms of feedback should send the message we care about others and we're open to considering their point-of-view (even if we've already considered it 100 times and know it's false).

How can we do that? Rather than engaging people in a back-and-forth, point-counterpoint type of conversation, we need to take a greater interest in others. Ask people about their lives and what motivates them. When they do say something factually or logically incorrect, try paraphrasing so you can ensure you've understood them or thank them for sharing their views with you. Ask follow-up questions to find out more about their beliefs or their lives, not just questions aimed at trapping them.

You may be thinking that this doesn't sound like typical feedback and you're right. This is feedback about yourself, not about them. You are sending the other person the message that you can listen to them without arguing, that you care about them, and that you're a rational, kind, and considerate person. By sending them this type of feedback, they will be much more open to listening when you do present evidence.

This is just the tip of the iceberg on this topic. I want to encourage you to check the resources below to go deeper or check back here as I will almost certainly write more on this topic. The big take-away is that we want the people we engage with to have a positive experience so that they want more of it. We need to consider the other person's experience over our own desire to present evidence. If they have a positive experience, they will be much more likely to listen to the evidence and come back to you in the future or search for more evidence on their own.

I highly recommend the book The Design of Everyday Things to help understand design concepts. Even though it's not an apologetics or religious book, if you think through it and do the work of applying it to apologetics yourself, it can be very helpful.

I also recommend the Great Courses class How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals. This can help you be more effective at apologetics through the clothes you wear, how you design your website, your ministry logo, and so on.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Coddling of the Righteous Mind

I've been meaning to read Jonathan Haidt's books, The Righteous Mind and The Coddling of the American Mind for quite a while. In fact, I considered applying to work with him for my PhD because his research is so relevant for apologetics. Alas, I finally got around to reading both of these books and they were great. I wish I would have read them much sooner.

The Righteous Mind discusses the science of moral decision making, which relates to our political and religious views. This is extremely useful for apologetics because if we better understand how people have come to their decision on different issues, we approach the topic with arguments that the other person will value. Haidt shows that there are five different domains that are used for moral decisions. They are Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation. He also proposes the possibility of a sixth domain, Liberty/Oppression, which seems to be accepted now (the book was published in 2013).

The Coddling of the American Mind is a response to the political climate on many college campuses today. Haidt and Lukianoff (who's actually the first author, but is lesser known) discuss the various cultural shifts that have led to a generation that is unable to cope with diversity of thought or the challenges of life. The book discusses changes in parenting practices, the effects of social media, and the negative effects of cultural maxim's such as "trust your feelings." This book is helpful for apologetics specifically for anyone who wants to reach Gen Z and also extremely helpful for parents.

Both books discuss interesting scientific research mixed with real-life events that often make the headlines. For this reason, they were enjoyable to listen to and easy to comprehend on an audiobook. My guess is that anyone who reads or listens to them will learn quite a lot about why people are the way they are and it won't feel like a chore either. I highly recommend these books to all apologists, especially anyone who does college ministry (e.g. Ratio Christi chapter directors). Additionally, parents should read The Coddling of the American Mind. Even though it's not a parenting book, per se, it will be as helpful, if not more, than most parenting books.

Both books have websites with additional resources and information for people who want to go further. and

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The apologist's super-secret weapon

You have to meet people where they are
or they'll never get to where you are.

Part I of this article discussed paraphrasing as a secret weapon that anyone can use in apologetics or evangelism. All you have to do is repeat what the other person said in your own words. When done correctly, this method is so effective that often times the other person will reveal some personal details about their thoughts, beliefs, or actions, which can lead to some awkward moments.

Knowing this will happen is helpful to prepare you, but you also need to respond the correct way so that you don't shut down the conversation and damage the relationship. To help you be prepared, some possible confessions that come to mind are past or current affairs, murder, abortion or paying for someone to have one, having an intersex condition, homosexuality or same-sex attraction, being transgender, past sexual abuse, being in an open marriage, rape, war crimes, time in prison, drug use, and many many more.

Whatever you think is the worst possible thing a person could do, imagine someone confessed that to you and keep it in mind as you read the rest of this article (this is assuming they've served their time or are no longer a threat in potentially dangerous or criminal situations).

Super-Secret Tip
This "bonus" tool is always a good thing to practice, but it's mostly necessary because paraphrasing is so effective. If and when someone shares something with you that's very private, you have to prevent yourself from reacting with a negative tone of voice, look, or otherwise critical manner. If you show any trace of disapproval, you will shut down the conversation immediately and probably damage the relationship.

Psychologists call this unconditional positive regard. No matter what the person says, you need to respond positively or at the very least, neutrally. You don't have to agree with the person or condone their actions, which is going to be very tough for some of you to understand, but you still need to react in a non-negative fashion.

The hardest thing to control for most people in these situations will be your facial expressions, but you'll also have to watch your body language and keep yourself from blurting something out, including a laugh or audible gasp. An easy way to respond verbally is by paraphrasing, thanking the person for trusting you enough to share such personal details, or by asking how they feel about whatever they just revealed.

When someone share's an embarrassing or controversial detail about their life, they almost always already know you disapprove or might think they're abnormal so you don't need to respond with critical comments. This is true even when every bone in your body might be telling you to point out what you think their errors are (and it's probably your reaction telling you to do this, not the Holy Spirit's). Instead of correcting or debating, focus on making sure you understand their story and they feel safe. Once you've done this, you will begin to earn the right to respond, which is necessary if you actually want your words to make a positive impact on the other person.

We all have issues, some more severe than others and some just more taboo in our culture. Expecting someone to have their issues worked out before you will accept them is hypocritical and the exact opposite of what Jesus did. It's also a highly ineffective strategy, which also damages the reputation of all Christians.

Check out my articles on persuasive apologetics for more tips on increasing your effectiveness.

The apologist's secret weapon

I'm currently reading the new edition of Tactics, which is a must-read if you want to learn how to have better conversations with unbelievers. The books Relational Apologetics and Influence: Science and Practice (non-Christian book) are also great for evangelism and apologetics. These books are wonderful, but it takes a lot of studying to remember all the different methods and a lot of practice to be able to effectively put them to use.

What if there was a very simple method you could use in every situation that will help your conversations be more fruitful, lead to future opportunities, prevent misunderstandings, and take the pressure off yourself? Obviously, if there was such a method, we'd all do it, at least if we knew about it, which is why I'm telling you about it!

Clinical psychologists, and all others who do counseling, are trained in methods that help facilitate conversations. They're able to create an environment that helps people feel a greater sense of trust and connection with the counselor so they will be more willing to talk about personal topics and will be more open to receiving advice from the counselor. This is exactly the type of situation we want to create in apologetic dialogues so we should learn from their methods.

Even though it's extremely important to learn all the knowledge you can for apologetics, applying this technique is even more crucial because the answers can be found later and, more importantly, people aren't looking just for answers. This is abundantly clear from psychology. People want answers, but they also want connection. They want to express their views to another person, be understood, and feel respected (That's also great relationship, parenting, and leadership advice. You can pay any time 😉). To do this, you don't need to have answers. You just need to listen and understand.

Secret #1
The technique I am referring to, which is used extensively by psychologists, is paraphrasing. When using this method, you don't need any knowledge about anything related to apologetics. Answers are good, and we should have them, but the point is that we don't need them in order to have effective conversations with people. All you need to do is to listen carefully to the other person and repeat back to them what they said in your own words.

By paraphrasing or summarizing what the other person says, you're ensuring that you've properly understood their point of view, which will prevent both sides from getting frustrated at how "dumb" the other person is. When you do this, you will build trust with the other person so they'll be more likely to listen to you when you do give a response and more likely to have future conversations with you. As a bonus, it will also buy you more time to think of a response so you won't have to tune them out as you formulate a response in your head.

Image result for paraphrasingThis method is arguably more important in online conversations, even though it will drastically slow things down. When we can't hear a person's tone of voice or see facial expressions and body language, online conversations can very easily become uncharitable and degenerate into a cesspool of linguistic muck. Paraphrasing solves this issue most of the time, but it's hard, and sometimes too effective. Isn't that a nice problem to have?

The reason it's hard because it requires a lot of restraint to refrain from giving a response to an objection you've practiced a hundred times in your head. It's very tempting and I don't even do it as often as I should. It's easy to think we understand and then respond, only to see the conversation take what seems like a sharp turn off a cliff.

The other "issue" is that paraphrasing is sometimes so effective that people will often overshare very personal details about their life or beliefs with you, leading to some potentially awkward moments. When this happens, you have to use the apologist's super-secret weapon (it's a separate article for clarity and to limit the length here) so you don't damage the relationship.

Once you understand, you can choose to respond, or not, depending on the situation. You are probably going to err in one direction or the other, either by talking too much (and being seen as too pushy) or by not talking enough. If I had to choose one, I'd choose to err on the side of talking too little because this is going to open more opportunities in the future, and ask Koukl says in Tactics, put a stone in their shoe (because people typically don't spend time thinking about what annoying people told them in an argument).

As I've heard so many apologists say, particularly Ravi Zacharias, our goal in apologetics is to win the person, not the argument. Paraphrasing can help us win the person and never lose an argument. Be sure to read about the super-secret weapon and other scientific methods of persuasion to take you to the next level.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

What pets can teach us about apologetics & evangelism

When my wife, Lindsey, and I decided to go to seminary, we had to get rid of our cat so we could live on campus. This saved us a ton of money, and even though cats are pretty easy to care for, it simplified our lives. After we found a home for our cat, I swore I would never get another pet. Still, my kids have been begging to get a cat ever since we got rid of Bella four years ago. However, circumstances change and for a variety of reasons, we decided to get a cat for our kids for Christmas.

To say the kids were excited would be an understatement. They went crazy the second they realized that the litter box they unwrapped meant that we were getting a cat. We went to the shelter a couple days later and pick out Cherry, a two-year-old tabby cat. She's only been with us for five days, but it's already clear that she prefers to spend time with Lindsey and me even though the kids love her way more. They feed her, play with her more often, and spend more time petting her, yet she sleeps in our room and chooses to sit on our laps, not theirs.

Why does the cat prefer my wife and me if the kids give her more positive things? It's because they also annoy her more. They pick her up constantly, they wake her up, chase after her so they can hold her, and pet her awkwardly. They're so excited to have a cat that they just can't leave her alone.

Apologetics & Evangelism
How does all this relate to apologetics and evangelism? To some degree, unbelievers are forced to share spaces and interact with believers just like our cat is forced to share spaces and interact with my kids. However, when my cat gets the choice, she usually doesn't choose the kids just like unbelievers usually won't choose to spend time with believers.

Generally speaking, people don't like to be corrected, told what to do or believe, don't like to argue, and don't care a whole lot about making sure all their beliefs are logically consistent. Unfortunately, apologists (myself included) often resort to doing these exact things when we evangelize. We correct people's beliefs by pointing out logical inconsistencies, tell them what they should believe instead, then we argue with them about it. We all know this is not effective, but we do it anyway.

My kids love having a cat so much that they can't prevent themselves from grabbing, petting, and following her every moment they can. I keep telling them that if they just showed a little restraint, the cat would come to them and let them pick her up, but all they don't have enough self-control to override the emotional reaction that's telling them to grab the cat now. In other words, they are unable to make a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain.

Almost all the apologists I know genuinely love other people and are heartbroken that so many will not experience heaven. We feel a sense of urgency to preach the gospel before it's too late, but this sense of urgency is often interpreted the wrong way and our constant efforts are seen as annoying at best and downright evil at the worst.

We need to be better at thinking of evangelism and apologetics as a long-term endeavor. I know how hard it is to leave a logical inconsistency or incorrect fact go without correcting it, but we need to override this emotional response so that we can have more long-term success. People will not listen to us until we've built enough social capital with them and earned their respect. Then our apologetic arguments will be more effective.

I'm reading the new edition of Tactics right now and hope to have a review of it soon. I bring this up because with the new edition, now is a good time to read or reread it so we can be more effective at what we do. Another good book is Influence: Science and Practice, which isn't for evangelism but is very useful for it. I used the principles from that book and applied them to apologetics and evangelism. The principle of liking is the most relevant to this article and probably the most useful for apologists.

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

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-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.