Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Do we need a Christian Psychology?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Is Sleep Deprivation a Sin?

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

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

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

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

Image result for sleep joke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Virtue Apologetics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 29, 2019

A Reasonable Faith in Science?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Talking to Strangers Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, September 23, 2019

12 Rules for Life Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Logic's End: An Apologetics Fiction Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, August 19, 2019

Branch Davidian Compound Visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Memory, the Gospels, and Darth Vader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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