Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Answered Prayer or Apophenia?

Generally speaking, humans are control freaks. We like to feel like we have control over everything, which means randomness and uncertainty make us uncomfortable. There are several ways our brains try to overcome this. Compensatory control explains our tendency to compensate for a lack of control in one area of life by increasing control in a different area. For instance, parents who don't feel like they have control at work might compensate by increasing their control over their children.

Another mechanism, apophenia, explains our tendency to find patterns and/or assign purpose or agency to mere coincidence and randomness. This is also sometimes referred to as pareidolia, hyperactive agency detection device (HADD), agenticity, or patternicity. This explains our tendency to see Jesus in potato chips, shapes in clouds, and the development of superstitions (along with conditioning).

Atheists will sometimes argue that these mechanisms explain why people believe in God. In many cases, I think they are right; although I do think that apologists can and do overcome these objections based on the evidence (this is a topic I plan to write on much more). However, when it comes to answers to prayer, religious experiences, and following God's plan, I am not so sure believers can overcome objections rooted in these psychological mechanisms.

Answered Prayer?
Since becoming a Christian, I have prayed for God's guidance and have obeyed what I thought God has wanted me to do, but if I'm being honest, I don't really know if God has been leading me. Recently, I decided that the best way I could serve the kingdom was by getting a PhD in psychology so that I can incorporate it into apologetics. I prayed fervently for God to block this path if it's not in His will, and if it is, I prayed that I would only get accepted to the school He wanted me to go to so I wouldn't have the difficulty of choosing.

Not only was I accepted, but I was only accepted to one school, I received an increased stipend, I've already been given a couple exciting professional opportunities (I don't officially start for another four months), I already have ministry opportunities there, and I just found out I will also receive a new laptop when I start in the fall (I found out right before I bought one myself). My prayers have been answered more wonderfully than I ever expected, but was it God who answered them? I am genuinely interested in hearing what others think, so please let me know.

The Problem of Consistency
While on the surface, it certainly seems like God has been orchestrating the events of my life, especially if we were to look even further into my past, it's not so clear on further reflection. There are certainly Latter-Day Saints at BYU who feel God has answered their prayers similarly and thousands of other people who were accepted to PhD programs with similar or better benefits. Is God also guiding their path? If I accept that God guided my path, I also need to accept that God guided theirs, especially if their circumstances are more unlikely than mine.

What we also need to remember is that God is all-knowing so He knows what will happen in the future. This means that if He is directly guiding someone's life, He knows what they will do as a result. Therefore, God is tacitly giving His approval to what they do and teach as a result of their God-given opportunity. So anyone who thinks God directly intervened to answer my prayers should also accept that when I teach doctrines different from what they believe (perhaps on creation, consciousness, free will, hell, or others), my views are likely correct. The only other option is to say that these secondary doctrines are not important to God, in which case, we shouldn't waste time trying to figure these things out and should focus just on salvation.

Likewise, if anything bad happens to me or my family in the future, that was also God's plan. I don't expect anything bad will happen to me or my family, but if it does and I accept this as an answer to prayer, the only proper response is to praise God. If one of my children is killed in a car accident (or worse), God knew it would happen and I should praise Him knowing that it was His plan. I see a lot of Christians saying God called me to this or that or God gave me this opportunity, all of which appear to be good. I cannot recall ever hearing a Christian praising God when the bad stuff happens.

Finally, we come back to apophenia. We literally have thousands, if not millions of opportunities in our lifetimes for amazing coincidences or opportunities to happen to us. These can range from every day things such as getting a good parking spot, finding money on the ground, or bumping in to an old friend in a random place, to major life events such as buying a home, getting a job, or as in my case, getting accepted into a school. Plus, there are billions of people in the world. Considering the vast number of possibilities and number of people who exist, we should expect that due to pure random chance, we will experience highly unlikely events several times in our lives, whether we prayed for them or not.

And to top it all off, this doesn't even factor in past experience and performance. In my case, assuming I had a good resume, and I don't know if I did, I should expect to get into at least one school. If my resume was only pretty good or middle of the road, then I should expect to only get into a single school or none at all.

So what's your verdict? Do you think God supernaturally intervened to answer my prayers or did things just happen to work out based on some combination of experience and coincidence? As much as I would like to claim God acted, intellectual honesty prevents me from doing so. God did not explicitly tell me He answered my prayers, didn't give me any prophecy of it, no outside person confirmed it to me, and I don't have a history of healing people or directly speaking to God as did the Old and New Testament prophets. I don't doubt that God can and occasionally does still speak to people and directly answer prayer, but in most cases, it's not the best explanation of the situation and might even be harmful to make such claims.

Why does this matter? Why not just praise God and give Him the glory no matter what? It's because people are watching and they're not stupid. They laugh, and rightfully so, at simplistic faith, they notice when what we were "called" to do ends in disaster, and they can see through our feeble claims of religious experiences. I've seen this cited as a reason for leaving the faith and I've had people personally tell me it keeps them from it. There's so much evidence for Christianity and so many good ways to show Christ's love that we simply don't need to claim supernatural intervention for ordinary experiences.

Although it's a slightly different question, I thought this video by J. Warner Wallace would be good way to end because he discusses how it's unnecessary to invoke a supernatural cause when natural explanations work perfectly well. My next couple articles will discuss a few uncommon apologetics topics: vaccines and sleep (I haven't decided which will be first). Can you guess how they might relate to psychology and apologetics?

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.

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.

- 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. 
- Abortion and race
- Who's having abortions

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Persuasive Apologetics Principle 7: Bonus Tips

The previous articles in this series each focused on a specific principle from the book Influence: Science and Practice. Because of the narrow focus, the practical tips were limited to things that fit squarely into a single category; however, many of practical aspects of persuasion relate to more than one principle. Here's a few more ways to apply the previously discussed principles to apologetics and evangelism.

Acts of service can have an incredible impact on the way people view you. Depending on who you serve, who you serve with, what you do, and how you do it, service can use the principles of liking, reciprocity, commitment and consistency, and authority. Shoveling your neighbor's driveway will help him like you and feel the need to reciprocate, but there is so much more you can do with service. You can invite people along with you to do service projects, which will increase liking and authority (unless you're a jerk when you serve 😃). If it's a service project through a Christian organization, then the service project can be the first step in commitment that can lead to further actions and conversations such as coming to a church service with you or an apologetics event.

People won't see every act of service you do, but you can build a reputation as someone who willfully and joyfully serves others. Doing so will make it much more likely people will listen when you have spiritual conversations, or better yet, it will lead them to ask you about your religious beliefs. The one thing, by far, that has led more people to ask me about my life is being a foster and adoptive parent. Don't adopt just to have more opportunities to do apologetics. If you've already thought about it, this can be just one more reason. If that's not for you, doing something else that requires as much commitment can be just as effective.

Word Choice
As apologists, we tend to think that the only thing that matters is the content of our arguments and the evidence. While this is the way it should be, it doesn't work that way. The individual words we choose to make our case can have tremendous impact either for or against our case. In fact, even individual words make a big difference in the way people perceive our message. Don't believe me? Watch the clip below from the show Brain Games, which replicates the results of a psychological study.

How does this apply to evangelism? Our words can either make people defensive or help keep them open-minded. Be careful with negative words towards other people or their beliefs. This may get you applause from other Christians, but will harm your case with non-Christians (I call this the apologist's dilemma and will write on it next week). Referring to other people's beliefs as absurd, their religion as a cult, or using any sort of put-down language (even if true in the technical sense) will automatically lead to defensiveness and inhibit rationally thinking ability. J. Warner Wallace and Sean McDowell do this very well (probably one of the reasons their writing a book together).

Most apologetic discussions or talks I have seen tend to be very serious. This isn't bad in anyway, but it does mean there is plenty of room to incorporate more humor into apologetics. Humor can help in many ways. It can help take the edge off of tense situations, diffuse defensiveness, make you more likable, and prevent people from getting bored so they are more engaged. Craig Hazen does this wonderfully if you want to see how it can be done. Just be careful that you don't use too much humor because it can be a distraction, reduce your authority, or send the signal that the content is not important.
It's also probably a good idea to make sure you're not the only one who thinks your jokes are funny.

Kindness and Communication Style
1 Peter 3:15 says to do apologetics with gentleness and respect. Colossians 4:6 says to always let your speech be seasoned with salt. Basic kindness and respect go a long way, but how to do it is not always obvious, and sometimes it's hard work. When you meet someone, ask them their name and then remember it! Say please, thank you, sorry, I agree, your're right, etc. at every opportunity. Listen carefully to what people say, and instead of responding immediately, paraphrase what they said to make sure you understood properly. Ask questions, not just with then intent of trapping someone in a contradiction, but to find out more about what they believe. You can also ask questions about their family or personal life. Using "I" statements rather than "you" statements will avoid the perception of blame and prevent the other person from feeling attacked.

This can work for and against you in equal measures, so be careful how and when you use it. Basically, if you look or act weird, people are going to be less likely to respect you as an authority or trust what you say. This could refer to the way you dress, your hairstyle and color, facial hair, tattoos, piercings, or anything else. On the other hand, all of these things may also be signals that you are part of a certain in-group, in which case, they will give you credibility (this relates to social proof and authority). I have tattoos, but I typically keep them covered. If I am talking to someone else with tattoos, then I will probably mention mine and maybe even show them off. Unless you are actively involved in a specific sub-culture that highly values a unique appearance, I would err towards the norm and probably even more towards the appearance of an authority.

Mere Exposure
People are reluctant to accept things they've never heard of before, especially when it challenges their fundamental beliefs about the world. The notion that religious beliefs can be explored rationally and scientifically is so odd to many people that it literally makes no sense to them. People need to be exposed to the idea that religion can be based on evidence, probably several times in a non-confrontational way, before they are able to process and accept the arguments. This is the primary reason I started Apologetics Awareness: to just make people aware of the possibility there can be evidence for faith. Just putting the idea out there that apologetics is a thing and they can investigate it on their own can sometimes be enough to aid in future conversations, even if they never actually check it out.

As Christians, we believe that everlasting life only comes from the grace of God for those who believe in Jesus, while those who don't believe will receive everlasting punishment. The stakes are extremely high. If we truly love others, we will want to do everything we can to help them believe in Jesus. Everything we do and say makes a difference. We don't want to stress and worry about whether we did everything right (we never will), but we do want to prepare and practice so that we are always becoming better at sharing the gospel and doing apologetics. As apologists, we love science and use it to defend our faith. Let's also apply it to how we defend our faith.

This concludes this specific series on the science of persuasion for apologetics, but I'm sure I'll touch more on the topic in the future. My next article will discuss superheroes and apologetics, followed by one on the the apologist's dilemma, which relates to a specific trade-off that can be tempting to new apologists.

Works Cited
Loftus, E. F., & Palmer, J. C. (1974). Reconstruction of automobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior, 13(5), 585-589. You can read an overview of the article here.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Persuasive Apologetics Principle 6: Authority

In 1963 Dr. Stanley Milgram published the results of one of the most famous psychological studies of all time. In this experiment, Milgram was able to convince regular people to administer what they thought was a potentially fatal shock to another participant for simply not remembering a word. Why did people do it even though they were visually disturbed by the order to do so? Because they were told to do it by an authority figure. The study was conducted at a prestigious university (Yale), which gave credibility to the experiment, and the person giving orders dressed and acted like an authority figure.

Whether it is just as easy to invoke such extreme obedience in modern culture is debatable, but it is no doubt a powerful tool of persuasion. The research consistently shows that people drastically underestimate the effect authority has on influencing people, so don't just disregard this principle as irrelevant in our highly individualistic culture.

It's best to think of authority on a continuum. Some people will be highly influenced by it, some will strongly react against it, and everyone else will be somewhere in the middle. Additionally, you can have different levels of authority so it's not a situation where you either have it or you don't. Ideally, you want to have high levels of authority though. I saved this principle for last because apologists already use this principle often, but with a few adjustments, they can gain higher levels of authority to increase the effectiveness of their apologetic arguments.

While most people in today's culture will not blindly accept everything you say, even when you have earned their trust, some people will, especially if you are pastor, teacher, or anyone else with a position of authority. It's easy to forget about the people who blindly accept what you say when those who disagree are so loud, but they still exist. Be careful with your words and only speak on subjects you have done the hard work to understand, which relates to the next warning.

Just like there are people who will accept everything you say, there will be people who question everything you say. If you make a claim that you cannot support, or worse, is demonstrably false, you will lose any chance you had at earning authority with anyone who heard you, which may include the people who already think highly of you as an authority.

Don't try to superficially strengthen your case by giving arguments you don't know very well or when the evidence is fairly uncertain (the alleged 1st-century fragment issue is a perfect example of people making premature claims on limited evidence). If you are honest and willing to admit there are limits to the evidence and to your knowledge, you should be fine.

There are several ways you can earn respect as an authority. It won't make people automatically believe everything you say (which is good), but it will remove an emotional barrier that prevents rational thinking. As Christian apologists, we want people to think more rationally so they can understand and evaluate the arguments objectively. Gaining authority with someone accomplishes this goal.

The most obvious thing we can do to be an authority is to have academic or other credentials. This undoubtedly is good and helpful, but only if the other person values your credentials. You could be the foremost expert in the world on a subject, but if the other person does not think you are an expert on the subject, then you don't have authority. If you have genuine authority, use subtle ways of pointing it out, but do so without coming across as an arrogant jerk. You can do this by referring to something you did in grad school, use the occasional pedantic word (but not too many), cite specific people or works that relate to the subject you are talking about, and perhaps most importantly, present a good argument against your own view.

The biggest barrier to authority is perceived bias. If someone thinks you are biased, they will never listen to anything you say, no matter how knowledgeable you are. A simple way to counter this is by honestly presenting some sort of information that is or seems to be against your own view. There was a time when I strongly rejected the teleological argument even after I became a Christian. By telling this to non-believers, it shows them that I have not religious bias for accepting this argument. When I explain how I changed my mind on the argument after gaining a better understanding of the argument and the mathematical probabilities, the tone of the discussion changes and they are much more open.

There are several similar ways you can do this. If you reject a common argument for Christianity, tell them you think it fails, and then present the ones that you think are valid. You can also point out an area where you do not think there are any good Christians answers (or at least, none that are better that atheism or other religions), and then shift to why you think Christianity is still better.

The final aspect of authority is to act the part. You can do this by the clothes you wear, they way you speak, your body language, and how you respond to their attacks. If you dress like a professional, without appearing sleazy, people will give you much more respect. The same goes for the way you carry yourself. You want to look and appear confident in every way. Stand or sit up straight, speak clearly and confidently, don't get upset or frustrated, and be willing to listen without being condescending (which also relates to liking). All these factors are cumulative and add up to make a big difference in how people evaluate your arguments..

Visual cues such as height, clothing, and others are deceptively influential.

Authority, just like all the other principles, won't convince anyone on its own. It will help remove biases so people can hear and understand the arguments before criticizing them. What makes authority a little different than the other principles is that there are some people who will blindly follow you based on authority while some people will blindly react against authority. You can walk the line between these extremes by being well prepared and by adjusting your presentation style or content to each individual person (more on this next week for communicating to large audiences).

Remember that even though it may not seem like authority is effective in our culture, the science shows it is. Don't make the mistake of underestimating it. This concludes the six principles from Influence: Science and Practice, but I am still going to write one more article that covers any miscellaneous items that haven't already been mentioned. The final one will focus heavily on very practical suggestions you can use in everyday conversations.

Works Cited
This article was adapted for evangelism and apologetics from a chapter in Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice 5th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson education.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Instant Family: Movie Review

To celebrate the digital release of Instant Family, I thought I would write a brief review of it. As someone who has adopted from foster care, this movie is dear to my heart and is no doubt my favorite movie. Don't just rent it, but buy it, and then lend it out to others.

The movie is about a married couple (played by Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) with no kids who decides to adopt three siblings from foster care. The writer and director, Sean Anders, and his wife adopted three children from foster care, which is what inspired the movie. But rather than telling Anders' story, the movie is a fictionalized and humorous amalgamation of experiences that are common for people who have adopted from foster care.

I absolutely loved this movie, and not just on principle. I love the fact that the movie is about adoption and it fairly accurately depicts real-life situations, but on top of that, it's hilarious. I laughed constantly throughout the whole film. To be honest, I did laugh more than the others in the theatre. I'm guessing this is because the situations in the movie were so similar to what I've experienced. I suspect most adults will think it's a good and funny movie, but those with shared experiences will enjoy it even more.

While the movie does occasionally exaggerate real-life situations for comedic purposes, it doesn't do it as much or as often as you might think. Some of the situations depicted are really that extreme. I think watching this movie will be a good eye-opening experience for many people. It will give them a bit of an insider's view of what it's like to foster and adopt, but it does so in a way that is fun and won't make anyone feel bad.

I really think this is a movie all adults, especially Christians, should watch. I think most people will truly enjoy it, but the movie also has the power to educate people about an unfortunate problem, and motivate them to be part of the solution.

Is it for kids?
Although this film as pegged as a family movie, it's really not. It's a very pro-family movie, but it's not really for kids. There's a lot of mature themes, crude language, and frankly, most kids will probably think it's boring. The humor is definitely geared more towards adults than children.
I'm going to let me 11 year old watch it, but only because she is adopted, otherwise I'd wait a couple more years. I'll probably wait a couple years before I let me let my 8 year old watch it. However, if you have adopted children, there are quite a few potential triggers in the movie you should be prepared for. For more on this, check the Adoption at the Movies Review.

Here's a little more detail on what might not be appropriate for kids. There's one scene where the 15-year old is sexting with a guy and the parents find out. Then, the next day, they go to her school to confront the person she was sending the photos to. The movie also has an f-bomb and uses other crude language somewhat frequently. For a more detailed analysis, check the Plugged In Review.

Another consideration is the general bad behavior of the foster children in the film that younger kids are likely to think is funny and mimic. They won't grasp why the kids act that way so there isn't much of a teaching point until the kids get older. I think it's good that this is in the film because it's realistic, but it's also not a good example for younger children.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Persuasive Apologetics Principle 5: Scarcity

Ha Ha! Gotcha...

I shared this article by saying it would only be available for a limited time (It's not. This was just to make a point). As a result, I expect it will I'll get more readers quicker than my previous posts, at least for the first few hours (update: after one hour, there have been more views than normal). Why do I think this? Because people want what they can't have. We all know this, and if not, all we have to do is read Genesis 3.

The scarcity principle is probably the persuasion tool that we are most familiar with because we see it all the time. Limited time offers, exclusive rights, and while supplies last are all common ways that companies take advantage of this principle. The scarcity principle works because we value things more if they are limited, hard to get, or prohibited. Scarcity signals that an item will be more advantageous to us, either for our survival or social status.

Unfortunately, scarcity is the most difficult principle to apply to evangelism and apologetics, at least for Christianity because salvation is freely available to all people, without special knowledge or practices. However, it can still be used in some circumstances and being aware of it can help so this principle doesn't work against us.

Psychological Reactance
The basic reason this principle works is because of psychological reactance. It's really a feature of childish thinking, but it often lingers in adults (in some people more than others). Simply put, when we can't have something, we react against whatever or whoever tells us no by trying even harder to get the item.

Reactance often stems from a fear response, which is why people are more averse to loss than they are excited about gains. When there is a limited supply, limited time, censorship, or competition for something, we fear that we will miss out on it and we will want it more. Typically, this causes people to think and act irrationally, in ways they wouldn't otherwise act. As Christians, and especially as apologists, we want people to think more rationally. To use this principle, we want to instill a healthy sense of urgency so they realize how important it is to think thoroughly about God, but we don't want to push them into the realm or irrational reactance.

When using this principle in evangelism and apologetics we must be aware of the possible unintended consequences that push people further away from Christ. What seems like the most likely application of this principle is to point out that we have limited time on this earth, and we could die at any moment, so we don't want to miss our chance. The problem with this approach comes from what is known as terror management theory (TMT), which basically says that people have a fear of death that they constantly try to minimize. The research shows that when confronted with death, people are more likely to double-down on what they already believe and cling to it more confidently.

Another possible tactic is to focus on the exclusivity of Christianity; that it's the only way to be saved. Again though, this may backfire and cause people to react emotionally by clinging stronger to their current beliefs in order to prove you wrong or because our culture is so strongly opposed to exclusivity (even though it's present in every worldview) that they will be emotionally appalled to such claims.

If and when you use this principle, it is best to do so in combination with previously discussed principles, especially liking. If a person likes you and feels safe talking to you, they are less likely to react negatively against the exclusive nature of Christianity or fear of death. In this way, you can function as the attachment figure that provides a safety net for them to explore the idea of Christianity being true.

There still are two relatively safe and easy ways to apply this principle. The first one requires a little bit of patience or proper timing though. People are much more open to religion in times of crisis. These moments that occur throughout our lives naturally make us feel like our time on this earth is limited. If you know someone going through such a moment, be there for them. You don't have to try to initiate spiritual conversations or push Jesus on them, but you do have to be a kind and caring person who is present with them. They will probably initiate the conversation, and if they don't, you can drop hints without being pushy.

The other way to use this principle is inherent in apologetics because so many people don't know what it is. Simply by putting the idea out there that there is reason and evidence for God that most people don't know about will pique their curiosity. Just be careful not to reveal too much to quick, unless they specifically ask. Just put enough out there to make them want to know more. Depending on how well you know them, you may even be able to joke a little about how they are ready to handle to information.

The scarcity principle is hard to use for Christianity because of what we believe, but it is commonly used by other religions to manipulate people. Many religions appeal to secret knowledge that can only be attained through their special practices (meditation, yoga, snake-handling, etc.). Many cults intentionally keep aspects of their beliefs secret so that those who know the secrets feel special and those who don't know are desperate to find out. Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Latter-Day Saints, and atheists claim to know the unbiased, secret truth about Jesus and His teachings which cannot be known elsewhere (because it contradicts the evidence).

However, Christianity claims to be freely available to all people. While knowledge is not required for Christianity, we have evidence for our beliefs which is also readily available to people (even though most don't know about it). When using scarcity, be careful so that it doesn't cause them to react against Christianity. It's an effective principle, but can easily be abused or lead to the backfire effect.

My advice is to keep a watch out for this principle so that you are not fooled by scarcity (not just in religion, but with sales and anything else). My next article will be on the principle of authority. While it may seem irrelevant because of our individualistic and autonomous culture, if you know how to use it, it can be just as effective as ever.

Works Cited
This article was adapted to evangelism and apologetics from a chapter in Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice 5th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson education