Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Preventing Abortion

How many people have you convinced not to have an abortion? How many people have you convinced to become pro-life, and if you have, did it prevent them from having an abortion? With the exception of a small handful of people, my guess is that the answer to all of these questions is zero.

It's extremely hard to get people to change their minds on abortion. In a journal article that looked at the willingness for people to change their views due to evidence, abortion was the issue people were least likely to change their views on (Kaplan, et al., 2016). Another article tested how well people can think about abortion by asking people to evaluate deductive syllogisms. When the syllogisms were neutral (Socrates is a man, all men are mortal, therefore, Socrates is mortal...), participants correctly evaluated whether it was valid 70% of the time. However, when syllogisms opposed their views on abortion (for either side), the participants were right only 40% of the time (Čavojová, et al., 2018).

In short, when it comes to abortion, above any other issue, people simply lack the ability and motivation to think rationally. And even if they do see the arguments rationally, they might not be convinced. In a Sam Harris podcast, his guests (a philosophy and psychology professor, 1:23:20), mentioned a pro-life argument and said it was compelling, but they still didn't change their minds on the issue!  This is a much harder issue to fight than many people realize.

The Power of Words
I did a poll on Facebook and Twitter yesterday, and nearly everyone agreed that preventing abortion is better than expressing moral outrage (52-3). You might be thinking, but isn't this a false dichotomy? Yes it is...and no it isn't. Expressing moral outrage with abortion (or other issues) can be neutral or even beneficial for prevention (one person in the poll said that expression is prevention). However, expressing moral outrage can also be detrimental due to psychological reactance, which leads to the backfire effect. In short, people don’t like being told what they can and cannot do, especially when it comes from the outgroup, so they react against it by strengthening their views in the opposite direction.

This means that when we speak out against abortion, the other side, and some in the middle, become invigorated to fight against the pro-life position. I am fully pro-life, but if I'm being honest, I'm sick of seeing and hearing all the pro-life arguments! If it bothers me as a pro-lifer, how much more do you think it pisses off others?

Thankfully, all is not lost. If you truly want to prevent abortion, and save lives, the best way to do it is through your actions, not your words (although there is a place for words, if done right). Here are some suggestions for very practical steps you can take to prevent abortions (all of which should go hand in hand with continual prayer).

Option 1: Adoption
I once heard someone say that there are so many kids in foster care that it doesn't make sense to prevent abortion since many of them will end up in foster care. The problem with this argument is that it ignores the nuances of our adoption and foster care system. There are long wait lists to adopt infants, while our foster care system is filled with older children, sibling groups, and children with disabilities or other issues.

Adoption can help prevent abortion in three ways. First, it can change perceptions about the horrors that await unwanted babies. This may seem like no big deal, but this actually eliminates a major pillar of the pro-choice argument. Adoption also helps because it can change the life of someone at high-risk to have an abortion. The outcomes for kids in foster care, especially those who age out, are pretty bad as far as pregnancy, education, and marriage, all of which make them prime candidates for having an abortion. Adopting a child from foster care may change their life so they don't get pregnant (or get someone pregnant) in the first place, and if they do get pregnant, they will have a supportive family to help them raise their child so they don't feel like they have to have an abortion.

The third way adoption can help prevent abortion, which relates to the next point, is that is shows others you are willing to do something to make difference. When you talk to someone about abortion, you will have much more credibility and your words will carry much more weight if you are a foster parent and/or adoptive parent because it shows that you a.) know what you're talking about and b.) you care as much as you claim to.

Finally, adoption itself can help change people's mind as it did with this former abortion doctor. Essentially, people who have adopted are much more attuned to the idea that their child, whom they love dearly, could have very well been aborted as so many are. Adopting helps encourage others to adopt and ask questions about it, which will then have an affect on abortion.

Option 2: Serve
You've probably heard people complain that Christians stop caring about people after they're born. Even though this is not true, it's still what people think. If you want to change people's minds, show them how much you care. I know so many Christians who passionately care about aborted babies, but outsiders can't see that genuine love because they can't get past all the talk.

I already mentioned how adoption can do this, but you can do this more directly by going to where the people are who might have an abortion: an abortion clinic or alternative care center. Rather than protesting and yelling at them (see psychological reactance), go and care for them. Offer to help them, even in small things, and do so without judgment. Show the mothers you care about them just as much as you care about their baby. Earn their trust and respect so that they will listen to you and allow you to help, and when they need help, don't turn your back on them. Be willing to put in the time, effort, and money to change a mind and save a life. Practically speaking, you may be asked to adopt the baby so being licensed to foster will make that easier from a legal perspective.

Option 3: Make Disciples
I know someone who was staunchly pro-choice but is now strongly pro-life. What changed her mind? Jesus. She became a Christian and when she did, that is what changed her political views on abortion and other issues. Yes, there are pro-choice Christians, but as they become more mature in their faith and understand God and the Bible better, they will most likely change their views. As hard as it is to get someone to become a Christian, I think it might be harder to convince them to become pro-life, plus there are additional benefits to being a Christian that make it a more fruitful endeavor.

Option 4: Use Your Words
I once had a hockey coach tell our team to never criticize our opponents in the media because it gives them additional motivation to beat you. A couple years later I saw that play out first hand when one of my teammates was misquoted in the newspaper before playing the defending national champions. A buddy of mine on the other team told me how the newspaper article was hanging in their locker room all week and was their primary motivation for the game, which worked, because they smoked us. When we speak out about abortion by complaining and criticizing others, all we do is incite anger in the opposition. Sure, it rallies the base, but all it does is motivate them to anger the opposition too.

When you speak out against abortion, you have to do it in a personal and clever way, otherwise you will have the opposite effect of what you want. Draw attention to real people and the damage abortion causes to them to show that this isn't just about making a choice between a clump of cells and personal convenience. It's so much more than that. Take a moment to watch this video by Choice42.com. It's the best pro-life video I've ever seen because it makes this a real issue with real people. Their website also has actual images of babies in the womb which again makes it a personal issue.

Conclusion
As Christians, apologists, and pro-lifers, we have the truth and stand for what is right, but we must must must realize that everyone else thinks just as strongly that they are in the right. We need more than logical arguments. I agree that we shouldn't need more than this, but if there is one clear result from psychology, it's that people are not nearly as rational as we think. We need more than reason to convince most people. It's much harder, but it's the only way we will win the battle. If you're not willing to do the work to be effective, at the very least, donate money to or volunteer with organizations that are effective and keep silent on the issue so you don't hamper their efforts.

References
- Kaplan, J. T., Gimbel, S. I., & Harris, S. (2016). Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence. Scientific reports, 6, 39589.
- Čavojová, V., Šrol, J., & Adamus, M. (2018). My point is valid, yours is not: myside bias in reasoning about abortion. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 30(7), 656-669.
- Sam Harris podcast (abortion argument starts around 123:00): https://samharris.org/podcasts/the-limits-of-persuasion
- Statistics for those aging out of foster care (70% females will be pregnant before age 21). https://www.nfyi.org/51-useful-aging-out-of-foster-care-statistics-social-race-media
- Foster care outcomes: https://www.casey.org/nw-youth-outcomes
Foster care outcomes: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/youth/outcomes/research
- People abort instead of giving kids up for adoption.  https://www.americanadoptions.com/pregnant/deciding_between_abortion_or_adoption
- Abortion statistics. 
https://5aa1b2xfmfh2e2mk03kk8rsx-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/women_who_have_abortions.pdf
- Abortion and race
https://concernedwomen.org/abortion-demographics-who-has-an-abortion
- Who's having abortions
https://abort73.com/abortion_facts/us_abortion_statistics

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Science of Sex as an Apologetic


Let's just jump right in and start talking about sex.

Christians believe that God is good, designed us, and gave us moral instructions, including sexual instructions, presumably based on the way He designed us. Therefore, the moral laws in the Bible will probably lead to the greatest human flourishing. While this is not necessarily true, it probably is for every moral law in the Bible. This means that the moral laws given in the Bible are scientifically testable claims, at least to some extent, and sex is no exception.

There are lots of possible options for sexual relationships. People can be promiscuous, polygamous, serially monogamous (several monogamous relationships at different times in life), monogamous, celibate, or practice any number of other options that blend aspects of these throughout their lives. Despite what is practiced or prescribed, we can scientifically test which option is best for human flourishing.

If the Bible was inspired by an all-knowing and all-good God who created the world and everything in it, then His moral laws regarding sexual relationships should also be what is best for human flourishing. Let's test this hypothesis to see if it's true.

What's the Bible Say?
Most people have a general idea what the Bible says about sex, but it's still important to lay the foundation. In order to get a full picture of the biblical view, several verses need to be understood in their context, so rather than a long systematic theology-type analysis, I'll just summarize the biblical view. Basically, the Bible says that sex is supposed to be reserved for life-long monogamous marital relationships and any sexual acts with another person outside of a marriage is wrong.

What about homosexuality, pornography, and masturbation? For the purpose of this article, I am not going to discuss the topic of homosexuality, although some of what I say will be relevant to that topic. As for pornography, it does include another person and will be part of the discussion. Masturbation, on the other hand, often does include porn or fantasies about other people, but doesn't necessarily include those things so it will tangentially relate to what is discussed below.

What's the Science Say?
The science of sex comes from two main sources. The first evaluates the mental health, behavioral, and marital outcomes of having sex at different points in life with different partners. The other looks at the neuroscience of sex and offers explanations for the outcomes we observe.

Contrary to popular beliefs about sex, as opposed to scientifically supported beliefs, having fewer sexual partners, waiting longer to have sex, and ideally, waiting until marriage to have sex is pretty much unanimously associated with positive benefits. I say pretty much because there might be some negative factors, especially for some individual cases, but I didn't really see any. People who wait actually have better sex lives when they are married, have better mental health in their youth and in adulthood, are less depressed and less likely to commit suicide, are less likely to get divorced, report higher marital satisfaction, and are less likely to engage in other risky behaviors. These effects are even stronger for females, so having sex before marriage is more harmful for females than for males.

Why would this be the case? There are several factors that play a role, but I think the best explanation is biological. When we have sex and have an orgasm, vasopressin and oxytocin, known as the bonding hormones, are released in our brains and bond us to our sexual partners. The more we have sex, the more bonded we become. However, when we end a sexual relationship, it is harder for us to cope and negatively affects our ability to bond with another person in the future, at least to some extent. If we keep creating and separating such bonds, we become desensitized to it and have a decreased response so that it becomes harder to bond with our marital partner.

The other thing that happens when we have sex before marriage, or early in a relationship, is that we become more committed to the relationship than we should be. Let's say you are dating for 3 months and you're about 50/50 on whether you want to marry your partner, so you decide to give sex a try to see if you're "sexually compatible." Unless something goes terribly wrong, which probably won't happen, having sex will create a stronger bond between you two and increase your confidence that you should marry this person. Unfortunately, and quite probably, you will realize in a few months, or possibly a few years and after you've already married, that you shouldn't have married this person.

No matter how sure, or unsure you are about marrying your partner, sex is pretty much guaranteed to make you more sure, but if you're not really all that compatible, this is not a good thing. Having sex makes breaking up harder and less likely, even in cases when people should break up. Then, every time you have sex with someone else, you are creating a similar bond with that person and potentially breaking it.

Here's where porn plays a role because porn has these same effects, assuming that a person masturbates while viewing or fantasizing about it. Your involuntary parts of the brain don't know the difference between having sex with a person or masturbating to a picture or video of them so the same hormones and neurotransmitters are released creating bonds with random people and therefore, inhibiting a person's future ability to bond with a marital partner. On top of that, viewing pornography creates false and heightened expectations for sexual interaction which leads to lack of sexual fulfillment, it is associated with infidelity, and associated with decreased marital commitment. Additionally, there is some evidence, but it's mixed, suggesting that pornography is might increase rape and sexual aggression, presumably due to the objectification and abuse of women often depicted in porn.

Orgasms also cause the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, the reward center of the brain. This is the same thing that happens in the brain with addiction. Because of the private and solitary nature of porn, it can be very addictive and extremely hard for people to overcome. The organization, Fight the New Drug, focuses all its effort on the issues associated with porn and is a good resource.

What about benefits of other types of relationships? Only a handful of articles showed benefits or equal outcomes of nonmonogamous relationships. The issue with these results is that benefits for nonmonogamous relationships were on outcomes not related to overall well-being, but were things such as increased use of birth control, STD testing, or relationship satisfaction, but they didn't compare their groups to people in monogamous marriages or compare based on number of sex partners. In other words, they excluded the people who experience the best outcomes in overall well-being. So if you have two groups of sexually active people, but one group is monogamous and the other is not, then it appears these groups fair about the same when averaged out over various outcomes.

What if I've had sex outside of marriage or been married before?
If you have or are currently sinning sexually, or if you've been married before, will this ruin your future marriage (if you decide to get married)? No, it won't, or at least, it doesn't have to. These things can be overcome. In some cases, it might be extremely hard and in others, it might be fairly easy. The first step is to stop sinning right now and seek professional help from a psychologist if necessary. If and when you decide to enter a relationship or get married, be sure to address your sexual history with your partner and take conscious steps to overcome potential barriers from your past.

Conclusion
The science strongly supports waiting longer to have sex and having fewer partners. It also supports waiting until marriage, but this isn't as strongly supported. I didn't mention it because it's what most people hear, but sex outside of marriage also contributes to STDs, unwanted pregnancies, and all the negative effects associated with these such as abortions, guilt and shame, decreased education and income (for single mothers), and so on. The reasons for waiting far outweigh the reasons for having sex, so if you are having sex outside of marriage, or thinking about it, I hope this helps you. It might also be helpful for parents to tell their teens so they don't just think the Bible is a bunch of dogma.

The Bible, written between 3500 and 2000 years ago, provides a model for sex and marriage that makes perfect sense based on our biology and is scientifically shown to lead to the best outcomes, yet the authors had no knowledge of this. None of the other models for sex and marriage can be supported with such strong empirical evidence, nor do they even make sense once we understand the biology of the brain (and if you think about it, the biology makes a good case for couples to have lots and lots of sex once they're married).

Is this absolute proof the Bible is inspired by God? No. Perhaps the Bible got it right due to chance or some other factors such as just accepting cultural norms. This seems quite unlikely since sex practices were extremely diverse and perverse (such as the acceptance of pedophilia) in the time and place the Bible was written. While there can be possible explanations for how the Bible got this right, the best one is that it was inspired by Our Designer.

I mentioned on Facebook that I am focusing on abortion this week, and I am because sex is what leads to pregnancy and the desire for some people to have an abortion. My next article will look specifically at abortion and some practical things people can do to help prevent it.

References
Here's just some of the many resources available. These are just the ones I used directly in my research; however, there were seriously so many available that said that same thing over and over again. Only a handful challenged the notion that sex might not be so detrimental, but usually only questioning gender effects or the strength of the effects. In other words, they still admitted sex outside of marriage had negative effects, but they argued the effects weren't quite as strong and/or were limited mostly to females.

-Braithwaite, S. R., Coulson, G., Keddington, K., & Fincham, F. D. (2015). The influence of pornography on sexual scripts and hooking up among emerging adults in college. Archives of sexual behavior, 44(1), 111-123.
-Braithwaite, S. R., Aaron, S. C., Dowdle, K. K., Spjut, K., & Fincham, F. D. (2015). Does pornography consumption increase participation in friends with benefits relationships?. Sexuality & Culture, 19(3), 513-532.
-Hallfors, D. D., Waller, M. W., Bauer, D., Ford, C. A., & Halpern, C. T. (2005). Which comes first in adolescence—sex and drugs or depression?. American journal of preventive medicine, 29(3), 163-170.
-Jose, A., Daniel O’Leary, K., & Moyer, A. (2010). Does premarital cohabitation predict subsequent marital stability and marital quality? A meta‐analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(1), 105-116.
-Shulman, S., Seiffge-Krenke, I., & Walsh, S. D. (2017). Is Sexual Activity During Adolescence Good for Future Romantic Relationships?. Journal of youth and adolescence, 46(9), 1867-1877.
-Ramrakha, S., Paul, C., Bell, M. L., Dickson, N., Moffitt, T. E., & Caspi, A. (2013). The relationship between multiple sex partners and anxiety, depression, and substance dependence disorders: A cohort study. Archives of sexual behavior, 42(5), 863-872.
-Rasmussen, K. (2016). A historical and empirical review of pornography and romantic relationships: Implications for family researchers. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 8(2), 173-191.
-Teachman, J. (2003). Premarital sex, premarital cohabitation, and the risk of subsequent marital dissolution among women. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(2), 444-455.
-Yucel, D., & Gassanov, M. A. (2010). Exploring actor and partner correlates of sexual satisfaction among married couples. Social Science Research, 39(5), 725-738.
-Conley, T. D., Matsick, J. L., Moors, A. C., & Ziegler, A. (2017). Investigation of consensually nonmonogamous relationships: Theories, methods, and new directions. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12(2), 205-232.
-David Rodrigues, Diniz Lopes & C. Veronica Smith (2017) Caught in a “Bad Romance”? Reconsidering the Negative Association Between Sociosexuality and Relationship Functioning, The Journal of Sex Research,54:9, 1118-1127, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2016.1252308
-Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Schechinger, H. A. (2017). Unique and shared relationship benefits of consensually non-monogamous and monogamous relationships. European Psychologist.
-Haupert, M. L., Moors, A. C., Gesselman, A. N., & Garcia, J. R. (2017). Estimates and correlates of engagement in consensually non-monogamous relationships. Current Sexual Health Reports, 9(3), 155-165.
-Muise, A., Laughton, A. K., Moors, A., & Impett, E. A. (2018). Sexual need fulfillment and satisfaction in consensually nonmonogamous relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 0265407518774638.
-Wood, J., Desmarais, S., Burleigh, T., & Milhausen, R. (2018). Reasons for sex and relational outcomes in consensually nonmonogamous and monogamous relationships: A self-determination theory approach. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35(4), 632-654.
-World Family Map showing highly religious couples most sexually satisfied. https://ifstudies.org/ifs-admin/resources/reports/worldfamilymap-2019-051819final.pdf

Monday, March 11, 2019

Preventing Pop-Psychology in Apologetics

Apologists, as a group and as individuals, are the most well-informed people I know. This is likely because the discipline demands knowledge on a wide variety of subjects, apologists are intellectually curious, and there are well-known apologists with legitimate expertise in just about every major academic discipline who can responsibly inform other apologists. For whatever reason though, there are no major apologists who are experts in psychology (or related disciplines), which leaves apologists vulnerable to pseudo-scientific pop-psychology.

Here's a relatively harmless, real-life example. I had the privilege of having an extended conversation with a well-known apologist at a conference last year (2018). I mentioned my desire to integrate psychological science into apologetics. He responded by telling me about a podcast by another apologist/theologian who stated that there is a replication crisis in psychology and therefore, all psychological science is untrustworthy. The apologist I was talking to trusted this as reliable information and seemed to have no doubt that it was undeniably true (on a side note, this is an excellent example of the persuasive power of authority).

Unfortunately, this is an example of how even intelligent people can be fooled into believing pop-psychology. When I use the term pop-psychology, I am referring to psychological science that is both bad and popular. What makes it popular is usually what makes it bad, although there are works listed below that are positive examples of popularized psychology. The problem with pop-psychology is that it incorrectly represents or ignores important details (usually through oversimplification), is unfairly one-sided, and is relatively outdated science. In other words, it's pseudo-science in the realm of social and cognitive science.

I plan to write more on the replication crisis soon, but for now, let me just say that psychologists disagree on whether there is actually a crisis; if there is, it's limited to a few sub-topics within the sub-discipline of social psychology; and the field has made huge changes years ago to correct the issues. However, this isn't the only topic that apologists are vulnerable to pop-psychology, and in fact, may be one of the least important.

Psychology relates in some way to just about every apologetic argument. The most obvious topics are those related to consciousness and sexuality, but it can also inform the debate on post-resurrection appearances, the reliability of the gospel writers' memories, whether religion is merely a psychological crutch, near-death experiences, why people are leaving the church, whether the teleological argument is a byproduct of cognitive biases, our apologetic methods, and more. While it's not strictly related to psychology or apologetics, I've also seen pop-psych or pop-science perpetuated by Christians regarding the Enneagram, vaccines, parenting practices (e.g. Baby Wise and other Ezzo books), dietary science, and some areas of medicine (I'll write on these other subjects eventually, particularly the psychological ones).

Why it Matters
There are a couple reasons we want to avoid pop-psychology (or pop-science). First is because it tarnishes our reputation with non-believers if we buy into pop-psych ideas. The other is because popular atheists such as Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, and Steven Pinker are educated in psychological sciences, or closely related disciplines, and philosophers such as Daniel Dennett and Peter Boghossian are fairly well versed in it too. So far, apologists have won debates against these people by focusing more on philosophy and evidence, but I'm not sure what would happen if the debate focused on psychological biases and errors. There are more and more objections to Christianity that relate to psychology and if apologists are unable to answer those objections well, people will lose their faith over it.

Overcoming Pop-Psych
The easiest way to avoid pop-psychology is to stay away from psychological topics and focus on what you do know. I know it's tempting to speak authoritatively on subjects we haven't really studied, especially when people ask us questions, but recognize the limits of your knowledge and resist the urge to say more than you should. If this is not a desirable option for you, then actually take the time to incorporate psychology into your apologetics study. Read good books, peer-reviewed articles, and learn enough about statistics and research design to actually understand what you are reading. If you want to read a book by a Christian with apologetic value, I would recommend books by Justin Barrett, Miguel Farias, Matthew StanfordMark Yarhouse, Kevin Leman, and Paul Vitz (there are certainly others who are good and qualified, but I am not familiar enough with their works to recommend).

Another option is to ask someone with expertise in psychology. The people listed about are likely too hard to contact, but you can certainly ask me or one of the following people who also have degrees in psychology and are fairly accessible online. The people are Tom Gilson, James Kunz, Thomas Trebilco, or Jason Jones. We won't all agree on every subject or speak authoritatively on it, but we should be able to help you avoid pop-psychology and recommend quality resources.

My next article will be on one of my most popular presentations, which I've never before taken the time to write down. I'm taking the opportunity to write about it because I am presenting on it next week. It is on how the science of sex is evidence for Christianity.

Good Popular Psychology Books
Thinking, Fast and Slow
Influence: Science and Practice
Malcolm Gladwell's books (he does not have a degree in psychology, but does fairly good work related to the field and most psychologists view his books favorably).
Nudge

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Apologist's Dilemma

What's your goal as an apologist?

For probably every apologist I know, their goal is to reach unbelievers with the gospel and/or to train others to do evangelism and apologetics. This is also reflected in the mission statement of the major apologetics ministries (RZIM, Reasonable Faith, Reasons to Believe, Stand to Reason, Ratio Christi, Answers in Genesis, etc). If this is not your goal as an apologist, it probably should be.

Here's the issue: the things you do and say, and the way you say it, will be perceived differently by believers and unbelievers, so apologists might feel forced to appeal to one group at the expense of the other.

Ingroup and outgroup bias is part of the psychology of prejudice. What the science shows is that people are more generous to members of their own group and more critical towards members of the outgroup (compared to a neutral person). Mocking or criticizing the outgroup can be an easy and rewarding way to reveal group identity and attain accolades from others within the group, especially in public discourse. Unfortunately, this is harmful for outgroup relations.


What does this all mean for apologetics? It means that non-Christians will be much more attuned to offensive or condescending language or actions than Christians will be (and Christians will be the same way towards non-Christians). Not only are Christians unlikely to notice and call each other out when it happens, but they will likely applaud it and reward it in the form of likes, retweets, or praises (e.g. "you really showed him").

This is the dilemma that apologists face: to appeal to the ingroup or the outgroup. If they are condescending or derogatory towards non-Christians (or their beliefs), other Christians will see that as a signal of being a strong and competent member of the ingroup, and hence, will like or share what they say, watch their videos, or praise them in other ways. This can help build trust within the group and grow one's audience quickly, which is an attractive strategy. On the other hand, it inhibits a person's ability to reach unbelievers and models behaviors that others will emulate.

Do apologists have to choose one method over the other? Thankfully not. Mark Mittelberg, Lee Strobel, Josh and Sean McDowell, Hugh Ross, Alan Shlemon, Craig Hazen, J. Warner Wallace, pretty much everyone at RZIM, and several others do this very well, serving as proof that it can be done. How do they do it? There are a lot of factors, many of which come down to their word choices, the tone of their communication, and what they talk about.

In short, they're not bombastic, condescending, or rude. More specifically, they rarely, if ever, put down other people or their beliefs by referring to them with words like absurd, irrational, silly, cults, or similar words; nor do they talk down to non-believers as if they are idiots for holding their beliefs. They focus on the positive aspects of Christianity and the evidence for it more than they criticize the errors of other worldviews (not to say there's never a time for this) or complain that culture is out to get Christians. They frequently smile and joke when they speak in contrast to being too stern and serious. And finally, they rarely waste their social capital on unnecessary political or secondary theological issues. Instead, they talk on culturally relevant topics or focus on more important apologetic points.

It's lots of little things like this that help these apologists reach non-believers more effectively (for more idea, see my article on persuasive apologetics). When doing apologetics, always do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15) and let your speech be seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). Remember what your end goal is and who you represent. Next time you read, watch, or listen to something from an apologist, pay attention to the way they communicate and try to evaluate it without bias. Copy what is good and leave behind what isn't.

My next article is going to discuss pop-psychology and how apologists can avoid it.

References
Noel, J. G., Wann, D. L., & Branscombe, N. R. (1995). Peripheral ingroup membership status and public negativity toward outgroups. Journal of personality and social psychology, 68(1), 127.

For more information, search Google Scholar for group polarization, prejudice, outgroup derogation, ingroup/outgroup bias, discrimination, and other related terms. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

How Superhero Movies can Help our Apologetic

The 'good' pictures are the serious ones, the artistic ones; the ones with good shots. The 'bad' are simply escapist, romantic, only for entertainment. But if we examine them with care we will notice that the 'good' pictures are actually the worst pictures. The escapist film may be horrible in some ways, but the so-called 'good' pictures of recent years have almost all been developed by men holding the modern philosophy of meaninglessness.
- Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There (1968), 41.
I purchased tickets for Captain Marvel just a couple days ago so I figured, what better time to write about it. Superhero movies are about the only ones I care to see these days, in part, because I think what Schaeffer said about movies 50 years ago is more or less correct, even today. However, the superhero movies, which would probably be what Schaeffer referred to as 'bad' movies are actually technically and artistically good these days.

The great thing about superhero movies is that they still recognize objective morality. The heroes fight for justice, and for the most part, their values align with orthodox Christian values (although I'm sure we'll see this changing in many ways). Because of the immense popularity of these films, they are a good way for apologists to learn about how people in our culture think. What is particularly interesting in these movies is how morality is portrayed. While the heroes typically do what is good and right, there is no intellectual justification their moral acts, there are logical inconsistencies, the heroes are pegged as the saviors of the world, and salvation is a right for all people.

What does this tell us about the culture at large? People don't care a whole lot if their beliefs are justified or logically consistent. Instead, people are drawn to a message that tells them strong convictions justify their views and they will be saved no matter what they believe or do. It's a mixture of relativism, fideism, and universalism all wrapped in to one, and this is the culture we live in.

What this means for apologetics is that anytime we discuss morality, people will easily get offended and be defensive. There is a huge barrier around moral issues that shuts down rational thinking and open-mindedness, especially surrounding abortion (see articles in works cited section).

Does this mean you cannot or should not talk about moral issues? Not at all. Morality can be a great way to initiate spiritual conversations. The main take away is to be hyper aware that there is an increased risk of causing the backfire effect when discussing morality. To avoid this, ask a lot of thought-provoking questions (not just trapping questions), use persuasion principles to promote rational thinking, be patient, and try to steer the conversation to Jesus and away from quibbling over moral disagreements.

Apologist Alan Shlemon made a great point in his latest apologetics tip of the day video. Save your arguments for when people ask. Even though you probably love talking about apologetics, remember the goal is to preach the gospel. Use movies, morality, or anything else as conversation starters and then move to the gospel. If people ask challenging questions, then use apologetics to give an answer.



Works Cited
Čavojová, V., Šrol, J., & Adamus, M. (2018). My point is valid, yours is not: myside bias in reasoning about abortion. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 30(7), 656-669.

Kaplan, J. T., Gimbel, S. I., & Harris, S. (2016). Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence. Scientific Reports, 6, 39589.