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. TheCoddling.com and RighteousMind.com

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The giraffe's neck: evidence for evolution or design?


If you've done any investigation into the debate between evolution and intelligent design (or creation), you've probably heard about the giraffe's neck. Not only do both sides claim it in favor of their position, but they often tout it as irrefutable proof that they are correct. How could this be and which side is right?


Let me start by explaining why both sides of the debate claim it for their side. The evolutionists look at the recurrent laryngeal nerve, which travels from the head all the way down the neck, under the aortic arch, and back up to the larynx. It's a 15 ft nerve that only needs to be about a foot, if that. Evolutionists say if this was designed, it was done poorly and not what is expected, but if it evolved from a shorter-necked species, it's exactly what is expected.

On the other hand, those in the intelligent design camp look at the features in the neck that protect the giraffe's brain. Because giraffes are so large and their heads are so high, their hearts have to pump blood very powerfully to get the blood up there, but when they bend down to drink, gravity will pull the blood down rapidly and flood the brain. To prevent death every time they drink, they have an advanced pressure control system which is far too complex to have evolved all at once (irreducible complexity), therefore, the best inference is that it was designed by an intelligent being.

I have no idea if this is
real of Photoshopped.
The arguments from both sides are more complex than I presented them and both sides have counter-arguments to the opposing claims so don't think my caricature settled the matter. My point isn't to argue for either side, but to help people see or present the argument with less bias.

It's easy to poke holes in any claim. That's why we have the flat earth society, Holocaust deniers, and so many other off-the-wall beliefs that are semi-normal in our society. We have to look at both sides of an argument in comparison to one another in order to avoid our own biases.

In this case, what is really being compared is whether God created something that appears poorly designed or that random mutations were able to produce an incredibly complex system all at a single time. In other words, based on our current knowledge, the choice is between something that seems odd or unlikely, but not impossible (God's design seems poor) to something that seems statistically impossible (irreducible complexity).

I admit that this seems to handicap evolution from the get-go, but there are two points to consider. First is that we should avoid making decisions based on a single instance if we can avoid it. So maybe you agree that the design argument is better in the case of the giraffe, but for the rest of biology, evolution makes more sense. The second point is that there are other domains that are equally biased against God or Christianity (historical claims of the Bible, the cosmological argument, etc.).

If we know both sides of the evolution debate and approach the topic with an open and honest mindset, we have to admit that it's a hard choice. Both sides make a pretty good case and both sides have issues. The case of the giraffe is a fun illustration because we see the trade-offs in a single species, but this method of comparison should not limited in this way. We should apply it to the evidence and limitations for each argument in the whole debate. Hopefully, by framing the debate in this way, we can make a more rational choice or present the topic in a way that helps others make a more rational choice.


Romans 1:4

I learned a valuable lesson from this verse, completely unrelated to what the verse actually says! It's also a lesson I already knew and should have been more careful to pay attention to.

When I first set out to memorize this verse, I read several translations and the Greek, which is good and what I should have done; however, none of them seemed to make much sense so I gravitated toward the one that made the most sense to me on the surface (NLT) before studying the verse in depth. As a result, I got it wrong.

My initial translation was:
"Jesus Christ, our Lord, was declared the Son of God when He was resurrected from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit." 
There are three subtle errors here. I mistranslated declared (ὁρισθέντος), "by the power of" (ἐν δυνάμει), and "Holy Spirit" (πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης). What what is a better translation? After studying it all last week, I think the best wat to translate this verse is:
"Jesus Christ, our Lord, was appointed the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead."
The problem with the correct translation is that the meaning makes little sense. It's filled with vague or ambiguous terms that don't make sense without further study. I'm going to walk through these specific translation issues to explain what each phrase means.

Was appointed
Jesus was always the Son of God. There's no question about that. So then what does it mean that He was appointed by the resurrection? Before the resurrection, Jesus was fully human, meaning He had human constraints, at least to some degree. The resurrection formally appointed Jesus as Son of God in a unique way. In other words, the resurrection was the official beginning of a new age, which is nothing new to Christians.

In power
The debate on this verse is what power modifies. In other words, is it best translated:
  1. Appointed with power
  2. Son of God in power (or powerful Son of God)
  3. Power of the Holy Spirit
Due to word order and parallelism with verse 3 (in contrast to "descendant of David"), I chose "Son of God in power." The resurrection was the event that ushered in Jesus' full power, above and beyond the power He had prior to the resurrection.

Spirit of holiness
Most translations say Spirit of holiness while some say Holy Spirit, but they are essentially the same thing because the capital S on spirit means it is referring to the Holy Spirit. The other option is the translate it as "spirit of holiness" which would refer to Jesus' spirit in contrast to His flesh, which is the state He lived in from birth to crucifixion.

Many of the commentaries point to the parallelism with v. 3 (in contrast to "according to the flesh") and the fact the πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης is never used in the rest of the NT to refer to the Holy Spirit as arguments against this being a reference to the Holy Spirit, but then they go on to say it is a reference to the Holy Spirit without giving strong arguments for it. The best case seems to be parallels in the OT Septuagint for Holy Spirit (Ps 51:11, Isa 63:10-11) which seem best translated that way, but it's not exactly the same in the Greek (πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον vs. πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης) and that also seems to be an anachronistic translation or understanding of the OT.

It seems best not to be a reference to the Holy Spirit, but I don't think I understand the nuances enough to be rationally justified in disagreeing with the majority of NT (and OT) scholars on this. For this reason, I hesitantly accept this as a reference to the Holy Spirit rather than a reference to Jesus' spirit, but either way, the translation stays the same except for the capitalization.

If this were a more theologically important verse, I would spend more time studying it, but since it's not, I think it's best to hold this one loosely and move on to the next passage.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Review: Awkward: The Science of Why We're Socially Awkward and Why That's Awesome

Awkward: The Science of Why We're Socially Awkward and Why That's Awesome Awkward: The Science of Why We're Socially Awkward and Why That's Awesome by Ty Tashiro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I stumbled on this book on Amazon and thought it might be interesting and it certainly was, although I'm not sure everyone will think so.

The book is well written and uses a good combination of personal anecdotes and scientific discoveries to inform the reader about why people are awkward and how they can be less awkward. The author seems like the perfect guy to have written this book because he was an awkward kid, seemed to admit he is still awkward, and has a PhD in psychology.

The reason I thought this book was so interesting is because I am one of the awkward people this book talks about. I could relate very well to the descriptions of awkward people and the things they do. I laughed when he mentioned about awkward people putting cognitive effort into setting the microwave in the most efficient way because that's exactly what I do.

I think many people, particularly awkward people, will find helpful are the chapters that offer advice about hot to overcome some social awkwardness. I think awkward people will like this book because it will likely give them a sense that there are people who understand them and it can give them hope for being understood by those close to them. For non-awkward people, this book may seem strange and you might find it odd that people are really like what he describes. Still, the book is written in a way that you should still enjoy it, especially if you can think of a co-worker, child of yours, or another family member who is awkward because it will help you understand them better.

This book wasn't life-changing, but I can imagine that it might be for some people. Even if it's not life-changing, it was enjoyable to listen to and offered insight to better help understand other people. For that reason, I recommend it to anyone interested in understanding others.

View all my reviews

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.

Conclusion
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.

Conclusion
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.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

What you don't know about biological sex

Image result for intersex

Sexuality, biological sex, and gender are the hot topics of the day, and unfortunately, nearly everyone has an over-simplified view of each topic. For this article, I'm only going to focus on biological sex, and for 99% of people reading this, my guess is that there's a lot more to it than you realize. I have no intent to change anyone's mind on any theological implications, but instead, I want to help people understand the topic so they can think more clearly, speak more intelligently, and be less insulting to people who don't fit the standard categories.

When people talk about biological sex, they typically refer to what is considered "normal," an XY male with a penis or an XX female with a vagina, but there's more to it than that. As many as 1.7% of the population is intersex, or what is sometimes referred to as a disorder of sexual development (DSD), although some consider this term disrespectful (the term hermaphrodite is considered derogative, too). I am using the term intersex in the broadest sense, to refer to any instance where a person's biology does not align with what is typically considered male or female. This is the best definition I've seen and comes from an 11-year-old intersex kid in this TED Talk.
Image result for boy or girl
One of the reasons people are not more aware of these differences is because many intersex people are unaware of it themselves. Many don't find out until puberty or struggles with infertility, but some go their whole life without finding out. In these cases, only genetic testing could tell them they're intersex.

Below is a list and brief description of the lesser-known variations of sex. As you read these, think about whether you would consider someone with such a condition a male or female, how should they describe their gender identity, and what does it mean for them to be homo- or heterosexual?

Sex Chromosomes: XO 
(Turner syndrome (TS); 45,X; or 45,X0)
Females most commonly have two X chromosomes, but for women with Turner Syndrome, one or part of one of the sex chromosomes is missing. This affects about 1 in every 5,000 girls. Some people have no signs of it while others might be affected by various physical abnormalities such as a wide neck, low-set ears, heart abnormalities, delayed growth, and others.

Sex Chromosomes: XXX
(Triple X Syndrome; Trisomy X; or 47,XXX)
Just as some women can have only one X chromosome, a slightly more common variation (1 in 1,000) have three X chromosomes. Women with this genetic variation are at higher risk for behavioral problems, learning disabilities (e.g. ADHD), mental health problems, and some physical problems such as seizures, flat feet, and more. The symptoms are usually mild and often even non-existent.

Sex Chromosomes: XX
(XX Male Syndrome; 46,XX testicular disorder; XX sex reversal )
We all "know" that men have XY chromosomes and women have XX chromosomes, but about 1 in 20,000 people with a male appearance has two X chromosomes. They are usually shorter than the average male but look like a male in every way. They are infertile but otherwise, they usually have a normal functioning penis. Some will have smaller or undescended testes, a urethra hole on the underside of the penis, or ambiguous genitalia.

Sex Chromosomes: XY
(Swyer Syndrome; Gonadal Dysgenesis; 46,XY Complete Gonadal Dysgenesis (CGD); 46,XY Sex Reversal; XY Female Type)
About 1 in 80,000 people have Swyer syndrome, which is when someone looks like females and have female genitalia, but has XY chromosomes. Although they do not have ovaries, they can become pregnant and give birth via implantation. Most people with Swyer syndrome don't have symptoms until they never go through puberty or get a period, which will happen after hormone therapy.

Sex Chromosomes: XXY
(Klinefelter Syndrome (KS); 47,XXY Syndrome; XXY Syndrome; XXY Trisomy)
This is the most common variation, affecting about 1 in 650 newborn boys. Instead of copying an extra X chromosome as with XXX females, the extra chromosome copied is a Y. People with KS have few to no symptoms (estimates are that 75% of people with it never know). Individuals with this are often taller, but may have weaker muscles, decreased testosterone, delayed puberty, breast enlargement, small penis, undescended testes, and other related effects. As many as 10 percent of people with KS have autism.

Sex Chromosomes: XYY
(47,XYY Syndrome; Jacob's Syndrome; XYY Karyotype; YY Syndrome)
About 1 in 1,000 boys are born with an extra Y chromosome. These males are typically taller than average and may have an enlarged head or teeth, flat feet, widely spaced eyes, or other physical effects, but many have no side-effects. They're also at an increased risk of having ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, and depression.

Sex Chromosomes: XXYY
(48,XXYY Syndrome; XXYY Syndrome)
This condition affects 1 in 18-40,000 newborn boys so they will have the appearance of males. People with it have an average height of 6'4". Other symptoms include infertility, intellectual disabilities, decreased testosterone, reduced body hair, poor muscle development, breast enlargement.

Sex Chromosomes: XXXY
(48,XXXY Syndrome; XXXY Males; XXXY Syndrome)
People with this chromosomal condition look like males. They tend to be taller than average, but usually have less testosterone, which can lead to enlarged breasts, smaller penis, undescended testes, and incomplete puberty. They're usually infertile and often have intellectual disabilities. This affects 1 in 17-50,000 newborn boys.

Sex Chromosomes: XXXXY
(49,XXXXY Syndrome; 49,XXXXY Chromosomal Anomaly; Chromosome XXXXY Syndrome; XXXXY Aneuploidy; XXXXY Syndrome)
This condition is sometimes called Klinefelter syndrome (see above) because it affects people similarly, but the effects are more severe and wide-ranging. It affects about 1 in 90.000 newborn boys so it's quite rare. All people with this condition are infertile

Sex Chromosomes: XXXYY
(49,XXXYY Syndrome; XXXYY Syndrome)
This is extremely rare, with only a handful of known cases. Some symptoms are severe intellectual disability, facial deformities, ambiguous genitalia, small penis or testes, enlarged (male) breasts, and more.

Sex Chromosomes: XXYYY
I couldn't find much on this. I think this genetic arrangement is more theoretical than actual, but there is at least one known case of it. It is likely similar to the cases discussed above, but probably has more severe symptoms similar to XXXYY.

Clitoromegaly
Image result for intersex society of north americaThis is an enlarged clitoris, which may not sound very severe, but in some cases, it can be so large it looks like a penis. This is a symptom of XX males and other conditions discussed in this article. The picture on the right was and is used to measure the clitoris/penis length to determine if a baby with ambiguous genitalia should have surgery to "fix" their genitals to look like a traditional male or female. This also essentially determines how they are raised.

Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH)
(Subtypes: 21-hydroxylase deficiency (most common form); 11-beta-hydroxylase deficiency; 17-alpha-hydroxylase deficiency; 3-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency; Congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to cytochrome P450 oxidoreductase deficiency; Congenital lipoid adrenal hyperplasia )
This condition can affect males and females, but females usually experience more severe symptoms. It affects the production of three different hormones, one of which is the male sex hormone, androgen, which is why it relates to this article. It can cause either sex to have ambiguous genitalia. In less severe forms, males can a have small penis and testes and females can have an enlarged clitoris.


Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS)
(Androgen Receptor Deficiency, Androgen Resistance syndrome, AR Deficiency, Dihydrotestosterone Receptor (DHTR) Deficiency)
This is a rare condition (1 in 25-50,000) that affects sexual development before and after puberty in males. Their bodies do not respond to the male sex hormone, androgen, so they develop external female sex characteristics but have no uterus or ovaries and so they cannot give birth like XY females (see above). They are typically raised female and have a vagina. However, there is partial androgen insensitivity (Reifenstein Syndrome), which exists on a continuum and is less severe,. People with this could appear as male or female, but even when appearing as a male, they are usually infertile and tend to have enlarged breasts.

5-Alpha-Reductase Deficiency
(Familial Incomplete Male Pseudohermaphroditism (type 2), Pseudovaginal Perineoscrotal Hypospadias, PPSH)
This is similar to AIS (above), but instead of an insensitivity to androgen, it's an insensitivity to the male hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT). People born with this often have female genitalia at birth and are raised as females. However, they might also have ambiguous genitalia or a small penis. During puberty, increases in male hormones often gives the appearance of more male-like secondary sex characteristics (deeper voice, greater muscle mass, etc.) for those raised as females. Those raised as males will likely have decreased body and facial hair and will likely be infertile, at least without reproductive assistance. Most are raised females but many eventually adopt a male gender identity in adolescence.

Conclusion
This article merely laid out the biological facts, which is merely a starting point for talking about gender identity, and sexuality. In one study, over half (52%) of people with a disorder of sexual development identify as something other than heterosexual, which should cause us to think, what does it even mean for people with these genes to be heterosexual, homosexual, or other? Is an XX male a homosexual if he is attracted to XX females or XY males?

Even though intersex conditions are somewhat rare for the general population, intersex people may be a large percentage of people who are not heterosexual or identify with a different gender. I say it's possible because there is limited research on this and what does exist shows a wide range of correlations between intersex, homosexuality, and gender dysphoria.

Hopefully, this gave you something to think about and has challenged you, at the very least, to be a little more careful and respectful about how you speak about sexuality, gender, and biological sex. If  I said anything in this article in an offensive way, I apologize. I tried speaking respectfully, but I also tried using common language so people would get what I'm saying. If I failed at either one, please let me know.

References
I relied heavily on these websites for this information and would recommend you start there for further research.
Genetics Homs Reference
RareDiseases.info.nih.gov
National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD)
Mayo Clinic

Here are some other useful resources. If you can't access peer-reviewed journals through Google Scholar, trying using Sci-Hub.

APA.org article that gives a brief overview of some of these conditions
-Ahmed, S. F., Morrison, S., & Hughes, I. A. (2004). Intersex and gender assignment; the third way?. Archives of disease in childhood, 89(9), 847-850.
-Blackless, M., Charuvastra, A., Derryck, A., Fausto‐Sterling, A., Lauzanne, K., & Lee, E. (2000). How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis. American Journal of Human Biology: The Official Journal of the Human Biology Association, 12(2), 151-166.
-Furtado, P. S., Moraes, F., Lago, R., Barros, L. O., Toralles, M. B., & Barroso Jr, U. (2012). Gender dysphoria associated with disorders of sex development. Nature Reviews Urology, 9(11), 620.
-Jones, T., Hart, B., Carpenter, M., Ansara, G., Leonard, W., & Lucke, J. (2016). Intersex: Stories and statistics from Australia. Open Book Publishers.
-Meyer-Bahlburg, H. F. (1994). Intersexuality and the diagnosis of gender identity disorder. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 23(1), 21-40.
-Sax, L. (2002). How common is Intersex? A response to Anne Fausto‐Sterling. Journal of sex research, 39(3), 174-178.

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.

Friday, December 27, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Are Christians Dumb?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion
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

References:
To access articles use Google Scholar and if a free version is not available, use Sci-Hub.
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-Pew Forum, Scientists and Belief, 2009.
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