Friday, October 29, 2021

Why isn't Apologetics more Effective?

Have you ever had a religious or political discussion with someone where you stated your disagreement in a carefully worded, factual, and well-reasoned response? How did it go? I'm guessing the other person didn't say, "Oh, you're right! Thank you so much." In fact, I bet it's more likely that they responded with something so irrational or incoherent that you couldn't even understand what they were trying to say.

Why it happens
There are several reasons why this happens, but they can basically be summed up by what psychologists call the backfire effect. This effect explains why people will sometimes strengthen their beliefs about something after they are presented with evidence against it. We like to believe that we're all rational beings who make decisions based on evidence, but that's just not the case most of the time.

The dual-process theory is the dominant theory among psychologists to explain how we think. According to this theory, system 1 is fast, unconscious, automatic, and emotional while system 2 is slow, deliberate, analytical, and rational. The issue is that we like to think that our rational system 2 is in complete control, but system 1 has much more control than we think it does.

If we believe something is true and are confronted with conflicting data, it is emotionally difficult, especially if it is a deeply held belief. When this happens, system 1 jumps into overdrive and hijacks system 2 in order to defend our original view so that we think we are being rational, but any unbiased observer can see otherwise.

The task of evangelism is to persuade people that their deeply held beliefs are false and that Christ is the only way to eternal life. Apologetics specifically tries to do this with evidence and reason. Unfortunately, this creates the perfect setting for the backfire effect so that in many cases, apologetics may actually cause people to strengthen their current beliefs rather than convert to Christianity! Does this mean that apologists are doomed right from the beginning and there is no point in trying? Not at all. There are ways to avoid the backfire effect for those who want to be effective.

Overcoming the Backfire Effect
Just about everything I can think of has positive and negative effects. If we focus too much on the positive or the negative, we increase our risk of erring. I don't think that most people know that the backfire effect is a possible outcome when they do apologetics, and if they do, they underestimate the likelihood of it. Learning (more) about the backfire effect can help us think about the potential negative outcomes of apologetics and evangelism rather than focusing too much on just the positive.

The backfire may seem discouraging at first, but my hope is it doesn't prevent people from doing apologetics and evangelism. Instead, I want to encourage people to learn about and apply evidence-based methods of influencing people so they can do apologetics more effectively.

If you want to get a more robust understanding of evidence-based methods of influence, I recommend the books Think AgainInfluence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and How to Win Friends and Influence People. These are not Christian books, but they can be easily applied to apologetics and evangelism and they go into more depth than Tactics which is an apologetics book on effective influence. If you want to learn more about dual-process theory or more generally, how people think, I recommend the books Thinking, Fast and SlowPredictably Irrational, and Blindspot.

Books are great, but they are time-consuming, so I've written a few articles discussing several evidence-based methods of persuasion, which specifically apply these methods to apologetics and evangelism. I would recommend starting with the apologists' secret weapon and the super-secret weapon before reading the articles on persuasion methods for apologetics.

Rather than just ending with more on your to-do list, the one bit of practical advice you can use right now is to avoid arguing with others. As soon as a discussion becomes an argument, your odds of persuasion plummet. Instead, listen to people, ask sincere and inquisitive questions (not trapping questions), and if needed, apologize for any errors (factual or social).

Thanks for reading and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Complex Simplicity: How Psychology Suggests Atheists Are Wrong about Christianity

Complex Simplicity: How Psychology Suggests Atheists Are Wrong about Christianity Complex Simplicity: How Psychology Suggests Atheists Are Wrong about Christianity by Lucian Gideon Conway III
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a wonderful breath of fresh air in its genre. I've been reading and listening to apologetics materials for a long time now and I felt like I learned something new from this book, which hasn't happened for many years. The book was also written in a vastly different tone than other apologetics books which I think has pros and cons.

Most apologetics books will lay out the logical and scientific evidence for God and Christianity, perhaps focusing on just one small set of arguments. By contrast, this book focuses on the psychological case for Christianity. The author, Luke Conway, does this by responding to psychological critiques of Christianity and by presenting arguments that Christianity leads to human flourishing. Conway responds to such claims that Christians or Christianity is simplistic, close-minded, too authoritarian, and others.

Because the book focuses on these types of psychological arguments against Christianity, and Conway is a psychological scientist, he responds to these psychological objections in more depth than other books that cover them in passing. Additionally, Conway is a social psychologist, he has actually conducted scientific studies on the topics covered in the book so he is able to cite some of his own work, but he's also very familiar with others who have published scientific articles on the topics.

One of the things that social psychologists study is influence tactics and Conway uses his knowledge in that area to write in a way that is more likely to change the minds of unbelievers or doubting believers. If you're familiar with Tim Keller's apologetics works, Conway writes in a similar tone. Conway presents arguments for Christianity and responds to objections, but he does not mock nor is he condescending toward other people or their views if they disagree.

Conway also adds a good dose of humor to the book. It's not over-the-top, distracting humor nor is it passive-aggressive humor meant to hide ad hominem critiques. The overall effect is that it makes the book more enjoyable and gives the feeling that the author is a genuine and caring person.

I don't say this often, but I would recommend this book to anyone. For people who are or are not Christians, it will give them a new look at arguments for Christianity, and because it's written in a more friendly tone, it's less likely than other apologetics books to offend unbelievers.

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