Monday, May 13, 2019

Vaccines and Apologetics

I've been meaning to write about vaccines for a while now but just haven't gotten around to it. However, in the past year or so, I've heard several Christians question their safety (mostly about autism), there have been several outbreaks, and there is a proposed bill in Colorado (the state I live in) that would require kids to get vaccinated, so I thought now would be a good time to discuss them from an apologetics point of view. There are certainly more lessons to be learned, but for now I want to focus on just three lessons we can learn from the vaccination debate.




Stay Current

As a society, our knowledge is growing rapidly, especially our scientific knowledge. For this reason, it is important to reconsider our conclusions on various topics from time to time. The first time my wife was pregnant, I thoroughly researched the safety of vaccines, but that was almost 10 years ago. It is possible that new scientific discoveries have changed our understanding of the safety of vaccines since that time. People often like to quip that you can't trust science because it changes. This isn't entirely true. Scientific knowledge does change, but it almost always improves by becoming more nuanced. Very rarely does scientific knowledge completely change on a subject.

In the case of vaccines, I specifically looked to see if there was a link between any vaccine and autism. When I researched it 10 years ago, there was no published scientific data showing a link (more on this under the next heading); however, it is plausible that new scientific research has found a link between vaccines and autism, especially since newer research tends to be more specific.  Perhaps by testing specific vaccines given at specific times to specific populations of people, scientists have found that there is indeed a link.


I searched very thoroughly, and I found several scientific studies testing for a link between vaccines and autism, but none showed a relationship between the two. Even though the science on the subject has not changed and neither has my view, I'm glad I investigated it so that I will not embarrass myself and so that I can have stronger epistemic justification for my view.


Be Consistently Skeptical

As part of my investigation, I watched the documentary Vaxxed in order to understand why people think there is a link between vaccines and autism. One of the people featured in the documentary was part of a team investigating the MMR vaccine and he claims that he found a correlation between the vaccine and autism, but out of fear of losing his job, the leader of the team (DeStefano) covered it up and only published the analyses that showed no correlation. Most of the documentary is about the cover up, but it also includes several emotionally powerful stories of kids who developed autism shortly after receiving the vaccine.

The documentary is very well done and has a powerful emotional appeal, but ultimately, it should not be persuasive. At best, the producers of the documentary cast doubt on a single research study. From that same study, they present the "true" data to show there is a link; however, these analyses have not been subject to peer-review nor is the data available in enough detail to evaluate the reliability of the analyses. Just because the producers of the documentary present themselves as unbiased outsiders doesn't mean they are unbiased nor does it mean they are capable of performing the complex statistical calculations they claim to have done.


In searching the peer-reviewed scientific literature, I found 38 other studies that reported no link between autism and any vaccine. These studies were conducted by a ton of different scientists in several countries from multiple scientific disciplines using funding from all kinds of different sources so it's extremely unlikely that government or big pharma conspiracies can explain these results.


Moreover, there was not a single reputable scientific study showing a link between vaccines and autism. There have been three (two use the same data set) that found a link. The original study by Andrew Wakefield in 1998 that started the whole issue with vaccines and autism has been retracted and discredited due to methodological issues (small, biased sample). The two recent ones, funded by anti-vaxxers, also have sampling biases and weren't able to get published in a legitimate scientific journal so they were published in an open source journal (pay to publish journal). Despite all this, it's debatable whether they even show a link since they don't adjust statistical significance levels to account for multiple statistical tests (see notes in references below).


The point here is that we cannot trust someone simply because they claim to be an unbiased whistle-blower who has special knowledge. Likewise, we can't base conclusions off of the absence of evidence either (unless we have really good reasons for thinking the evidence should exist). We need to be just as skeptical of these people and claims as we are with mainstream claims. Ironically, I often see the same tactic used to support atheism. When sheltered Christians first learn about evolution, hear claims that the Bible has contradictions, or find out that there is limited non-Christian accounts of Jesus, they uncritically accept these as evidence against Christianity and leave the faith. Had they been skeptical of these objections and searched for Christian responses, they would realize these are non-issues.


Love Your Neighbor

Jesus sacrificed His life to save ours. As Christians, we are called to be like Christ. Not only are we to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30), but we are to consider others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Vaccines are a simple measure that improves quality of life and prevents death. Unfortunately, not everyone can get them. Infants, elderly, those who are allergic to some of the ingredients, cancer patients, and others are sometimes unable to receive vaccines. Thankfully, they can receive protection from illnesses when others get vaccinated. This is because when a greater number of people get vaccinated, fewer people will contract the disease and the few vaccinated people who get the disease will spread it to fewer people since they'll have it for a shorter period of time.

Getting vaccinated is a simple and effective way to love your neighbor by decreasing the chances they will get sick. Yes, there are some risks. Here's the CDC's list of possible side-effects, most of which are rare and minor, although there a few major ones (on a side note, why are these major risks accepted by the scientific community but the link with autism isn't? ­čĄö) The risks associated with vaccines are smaller than the risk of not getting them, but if you're still not willing to get them for yourself or children, please consider doing it for the sake of others. Nobody is asking you to lay down your life or your kids' lives for others, but to simply take a small risk.


Conclusion

There is a lot of information in our world and very little time for us to really learn about and understand it all. Thankfully, we don't have to because we have experts who spend their lives studying topics in great depth. It is possible that the experts are wrong, but unless we have advanced knowledge in an area and very good reasons for rejecting what the experts say, it's probably best that we stick with the experts. If we, as non-experts, disagree with experts, we are likely the ones getting something wrong, not them.

Additionally, rejecting expert views calls into question our credibility and intelligence so that our ability to preach the gospel is greatly diminished. Again, this is worth doing, but only if we have strong reasons for doing so. In regards to vaccines, most people just aren't knowledgeable enough in the science and statistical methods used in order to take a rational stand against the experts.


Reasons to Believe (RTB), which is a ministry that focuses on science, has done some excellent work on this subject as well. Here's a couple of their articles and videos, which echo what I've said and goes into more detail in some ways. Here's their article on how vaccines are a way to love your neighbor, an article on vaccine safety, a video on vaccines from a Christian worldview, and a final video below by one of the RTB scholars, AJ Roberts who has done scientific work on vaccines.




The young-earth creationist ministry, Answers in Genesis, has also made favorable statements about vaccines in articles here and here. Likewise, the Discovery Institute, the other major ministry that focuses on science, has made favorable comments about vaccines here and here. My hope is not that people will get vaccinated, which is good for society, but that Christians will come to see that vaccines work because of our God-given design, and therefore, become proponents for them.


References

This first set of articles are all the ones that found no link between the MMR vaccine or those containing thimerosal and autism.


Andrews N, Miller E, Grant A, Stowe J, Osborne V, Taylor B. Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a retrospective cohort study in the United Kingdom does not support a causal association. Pediatrics. 2004;114:584-591.
Davis RL, Kramarz P, Bohlke K, et al. Measles-mumps-rubella and other measles-containing vaccines do not increase the risk for inflammatory bowel disease: a case control study from the Vaccine Safety Datalink project. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2001;155:354-59
Demicheli, Vittorio, Tom Jefferson, Alessandro Rivetti, and Deirdre Price. "Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in children." Cochrane Database Syst Rev 4, no. 4 (2005).
DeStefano, Frank, Tanya Karapurkar Bhasin, William W. Thompson, Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, and Coleen Boyle. "Age at first measles-mumps-rubella vaccination in children with autism and school-matched control subjects: a population-based study in metropolitan Atlanta." Pediatrics 113, no. 2 (2004): 259-266. This is the article that is challenged in the documentary Vaxxed , yet there is no actual published evidence that the data were wrong. Even if we toss this one out, there are still all these other articles.
DeStefano F, Chen RT. Negative association between MMR and autism. Lancet. 1999;353:1986-1987.
DeStefano, F., & Shimabukuro, T. T. (2019). The MMR Vaccine and Autism. Annual review of virology6.

DeStefano, F., Bodenstab, H. M., & Offit, P. A. (2019). Principal Controversies in Vaccine Safety in the United States. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 69(4), 726–731.
Doja, Asif, and Wendy Roberts. "Immunizations and autism: a review of the literature.” Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences 33, no. 4 (2006): 341-346.
Dudley, M. Z., Salmon, D. A., Halsey, N. A., Orenstein, W. A., Limaye, R. J., O’Leary, S. T., & Omer, S. B. (2018). Do Vaccines Cause Autism?. In The Clinician’s Vaccine Safety Resource Guide (pp. 197-204). Springer, Cham.
Farrington, C. Paddy, Elizabeth Miller, and Brent Taylor. "MMR and autism: further evidence against a causal association." Vaccine 19, no. 27 (2001): 3632-3635.
Fombonne E, Zakarian R, Bennett A, Meng L, McLean-Heywood D. Pervasive developmental disorders in Montreal, Quebec, Canada: prevalence and links with immunizations. Pediatrics. 2006;118:E139-150.
Fombonne E, Chakrabarti S. No evidence for a new variant of measles-mumps-rubella-induced autism. Pediatrics. 2001;108:E58.
Fombonne E, Cook EH Jr. MMR and autistic enterocolitis: consistent epidemiological failure to find an association. Mol Psychiatry. 2003;8:133-134.
Heron J, Golding J. Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a prospective cohort study in the United Kingdom does not support a causal association. Pediatrics. 2004;114:577-583.
Hviid A, Stellfeld M, Wohlfahrt J, Melbye M. Association between thimerosal-containing vaccine and autism. JAMA. 2003;290:1763–6.
Hviid, A., Hansen, J. V., Frisch, M., & Melbye, M. (2019). Measles, Mumps, Rubella Vaccination and Autism: A Nationwide Cohort Study. Annals of internal medicine.
Honda H, Shimizu Y, Rutter M. No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2005;46:572-579
Hornig, Mady, Thomas Briese, Timothy Buie, Margaret L. Bauman, Gregory Lauwers, Ulrike Siemetzki, Kimberly Hummel et al. "Lack of association between measles virus vaccine and autism with enteropathy: a case-control study." PloS one 3, no. 9 (2008): e3140.
Jain, Anjali, Jaclyn Marshall, Ami Buikema, Tim Bancroft, Jonathan P. Kelly, and Craig J. Newschaffer. "Autism occurrence by MMR vaccine status among US children with older siblings with and without autism." Jama 313, no. 15 (2015): 1534-1540.
Kaye, James A., Maria del Mar Melero-Montes, and Hershel Jick. "Mumps, measles, and rubella vaccine and the incidence of autism recorded by general practitioners: a time trend analysis." Bmj 322, no. 7284 (2001): 460-463.
Madsen, Kreesten Meldgaard, Anders Hviid, Mogens Vestergaard, Diana Schendel, Jan Wohlfahrt, Poul Thorsen, J├Şrn Olsen, and Mads Melbye. "A population-based study of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and autism." New England Journal of Medicine 347, no. 19 (2002): 1477-1482.
Madsen KM, Lauritsen MB, Pedersen CB, et al. Thimerosal and the occurrence of autism: negative ecological evidence from Danish population-based data. Pediatrics. 2003;112:604-606.
Maglione, Margaret A., Lopamudra Das, Laura Raaen, Alexandria Smith, Ramya Chari, Sydne Newberry, Roberta Shanman, Tanja Perry, Matthew Bidwell Goetz, and Courtney Gidengil. "Safety of vaccines used for routine immunization of US children: a systematic review." Pediatrics 134, no. 2 (2014): 325-337.
Mandy, William, and Meng‐Chuan Lai. "Annual research review: the role of the environment in the developmental psychopathology of autism spectrum condition." Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 57, no. 3 (2016): 271-292.
Mrozek-Budzyn D, Kie┼étyka A, Majewska R. Lack of association between measles-mumps-rubella vaccination and autism in children: a case-control study. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2010;29(5):397–400
Newschaffer, Craig J., Daniele Fallin, and Nora L. Lee. "Heritable and nonheritable risk factors for autism spectrum disorders." Epidemiologic Reviews 24, no. 2 (2002): 137-153.
Parker, Sarah K., Benjamin Schwartz, James Todd, and Larry K. Pickering. "Thimerosal-containing vaccines and autistic spectrum disorder: a critical review of published original data." Pediatrics 114, no. 3 (2004): 793-804.
Peltola H, Patja A, Leinikki P, Valle M, Davidkin I, Paunio M. No evidence for measles, mumps and rubella vaccine associated inflammatory bowel disease or autism in a 14-year prospective study. Lancet. 1998;351:1327-1328.
Picciotto IH, Green PG, Delwiche L, et. al. Blood mercury concentrations in CHARGE study children with and without autism. Environ Health Perspect. 2010;118(1):161-166.
Plotkin, Stanley, Jeffrey S. Gerber, and Paul A. Offit. "Vaccines and autism: a tale of shifting hypotheses." Clinical Infectious Diseases 48, no. 4 (2009): 456-461.
Price, Cristofer S., William W. Thompson, Barbara Goodson, Eric S. Weintraub, Lisa A. Croen, Virginia L. Hinrichsen, Michael Marcy et al. "Prenatal and infant exposure to thimerosal from vaccines and immunoglobulins and risk of autism." Pediatrics (2010): peds-2010.
Price CS, Thompson WW, Goodson B, et. al. Prenatal and infant exposure to thimerosal from vaccines and immunoglobulins and risk of autism. Pediatrics. 2010;126:656-664
Richler, J., Luyster, R., Risi, S., Hsu, W. L., Dawson, G., Bernier, R., ... & Goudie-Nice, J. (2006). Is there a ‘regressive phenotype’of autism spectrum disorder associated with the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine? A CPEA study. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 36(3), 299-316.

Rutter, Michael. "Incidence of autism spectrum disorders: changes over time and their meaning." Acta paediatrica 94, no. 1 (2005): 2-15.
Schechter R, Grether JK. Continuing increases in autism reported to California’s developmental services system: Mercury in retrograde. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008;65:19-24.
Stehr-Green P, Tull P, Stellfeld M, Mortenson PB, Simpson D. Autism and thimerosal-containing vaccines: lack of consistent evidence for an association. Am J Prev Med. 2003;25:101-106.
Taylor LE, Swerdfeger AL, Eslick GD. Vaccines are not associated with autism: An evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies. Vaccine. 2014 June;32(29):3623–3629.
Taylor B, Miller E, Farrington CP, et al. Autism and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: no epidemiological evidence for a causal association. Lancet. 1999;353(9169):2026–2029
Tozzi AE, Bisiacchi P, Tarantino V, et. al. Neuropsychological performance 10 years after immunization in infancy with thimerosal-containing vaccines. Pediatrics. 2009;123(2):475-482.
Uchiyama, T., Kurosawa, M., & Inaba, Y. (2007). MMR-vaccine and regression in autism spectrum disorders: negative results presented from Japan. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 37(2), 210-217.

Uno Y, Uchiyama T, Kurosawa M, Aleksic B, Ozaki N. The combined measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines and the total number of vaccines are not associated with development of autism spectrum disorder: the first case–control study in Asia. Vaccine. 2012;30(28):4292–4298
Verstraeten T, Davis RL, DeStefano F, et al. Study of thimerosal-containing vaccines: a two-phased study of computerized health maintenance organization databases. Pediatrics. 2003;112:1039- 1048.
Wilson, Kumanan, Ed Mills, Cory Ross, Jessie McGowan, and Alex Jadad. "Association of autistic spectrum disorder and the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: a systematic review of current epidemiological evidence." Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 157, no. 7 (2003): 628-634.
This is a non-exhaustive list of articles that investigate the psychological factors of people who think there is a link between autism and vaccines, suggesting there might be a psychological explanation for why some people think there's a link.
Betsch, C., & Sachse, K. (2013). Debunking vaccination myths: Strong risk negations can increase perceived vaccination risks. Health psychology32(2), 146.
Browne, M., Thomson, P., Rockloff, M. J., & Pennycook, G. (2015). Going against the herd: psychological and cultural factors underlying the ‘vaccination confidence gap’. PLoS One10(9), e0132562.
Gulyn, L. M., & Diaz-Asper, C. (2018). Exploring Perceptions of Blame for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities30(5), 587-600.
Hornsey, M. J., Harris, E. A., & Fielding, K. S. (2018). The psychological roots of anti-vaccination attitudes: A 24-nation investigation. Health Psychology37(4), 307.
Jolley, D., & Douglas, K. M. (2017). Prevention is better than cure: Addressing anti‐vaccine conspiracy theories. Journal of Applied Social Psychology47(8), 459-469.
Larson, H. J., Jarrett, C., Eckersberger, E., Smith, D. M., & Paterson, P. (2014). Understanding vaccine hesitancy around vaccines and vaccination from a global perspective: a systematic review of published literature, 2007–2012. Vaccine32(19), 2150-2159.
Mitra, T., Counts, S., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2016, March). Understanding anti-vaccination attitudes in social media. In Tenth International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media.
Pluviano, S., Watt, C., Ragazzini, G., & Della Sala, S. (2019). Parents’ beliefs in misinformation about vaccines are strengthened by pro-vaccine campaigns. Cognitive processing, 1-7.
Here are the only two peer-reviewed articles that have ever shown a link between vaccines and autism. Both of them have been retracted due to methodological issues such as biased sampling or poor controls. 
Wakefield, Andrew J., Simon H. Murch, Andrew Anthony, John Linnell, D. M. Casson, Mohsin Malik, Mark Berelowitz et al. "RETRACTED: Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children." (1998): 637-641. Article has since been debunked and retracted due to methodological errors. This is the original article that started the controversy.
Mawson, Anthony R., Azad Bhuiyan, Binu Jacob, and Brian D. Ray. (2017). "Pilot comparative study on the health of vaccinated and unvaccinated 6- to 12-year old U.S. children. Journal of Translational Science3(3), 1-12. Three results regarding autism and vaccines, two of them are significant at .05, but not .01. The other is significant at .01. 
Mawson, A. R., Bhuiyan, A., Jacob, B., & Ray, B. D. (2017). Preterm birth, vaccination and neurodevelopmental disorders: a cross-sectional study of 6-to 12-year-old vaccinated and unvaccinated children. J Transl Sci3(3), 1-8. These two "studies" are not published in reputable perr-reviewed journals and use a single data set. They also group all vaccinated children together, looking at neurodevelopmental disorders (not just autism) and all vaccines (not just MMR). The data comes from a "convenience sample" of homeschool children who are both more likely not to vaccinate and to have a neurodevelopmental disorder (which is why they homeschool). Here’s a more detailed response to these articles. https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/no-two-studies-purporting-to-show-that-vaccinated-children-are-sicker-than-unvaccinated-children-show-nothing-of-the-sort/ Here’s another critique of the study. https://www.snopes.com/2017/05/17/vaccine-study-autism/

Update: I was recently sent this article which appears to show a link between a different vaccine (Hep B) and autism. After reading it, it seems like a classic case of data fishing, which is when you have a large dataset and go digging for random correlations. In this case, out of 80,000 kids, they found a correlation with autism from on 9 kids who had autism and the vaccine and did no correction to control for type I error, which is they did, there would not be a significant correlation. Moreover, if we consider these results reliable, we must also accept that being a single-mother causes autism, which is what this study also reports.

Gallagher, C. M., & Goodman, M. S. (2010). Hepatitis B vaccination of male neonates and autism diagnosis, NHIS 1997–2002. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A, 73(24), 1665-1677.
Here are some sites that list additional studies showing no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. These are all probably listed above, but there might be a few extras that aren't.






Monday, May 6, 2019

Review: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert by John M. Gottman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The author, John Gottman, is well known for his scientific research on marriages. Because of this, I have cited and read many of his academic and popular level works. This book may just be the best one so far, and certainly is the best marriage book I have ever read.

There are a lot of good marriage books out there, many of which I still recommend, but this one trumps them all, and does so for many reasons. First of all, most other marriage books probably cite Gottman at some point and refer to him as the expert, which he is. The principles laid out in this book are the basic framework that any other good marriage advice will fit into. This is because Gottman's advice comes from rigorous scientific study rather than anecdotal evidence from a small sample size. This is not to say any other marriage advice is irrelevant or bad, but if it does not seem to mesh with what Gottman says, it should be regarded highly suspiciously.

Another thing that makes this book so great is the excellent balance of intellectual advice, real-life examples, and practical solutions. This makes the book interesting, informative, and helpful all in one. The book explains many issues people run into with marriages and offers some solutions, but it also has exercises couples can use to help discover root issues and overcome the problems. It's also a surprisingly short book, at only 265 pages, many of which can be skipped or skimmed if you're not dealing with a specific issue or not actually doing the exercises. The exercises are to help diagnose problems in marriages, to help foster solutions, or to just simply build closeness between partners. Some are simple, one-minute questionnaires, others are longer exercises that couples can use to discuss and build intimacy over months, and some are in between.

A quick note of warning though. If your marriage is failing and you read this book, it might cause more difficulty, at least in the beginning. This is probably true of any marriage book because talking about personal issues, especially if they've been growing for years, is hard and painful for just about any circumstance. This book may simply increase that because it encourages couples to work on their issues instead of merely working around them. It can be hard in the short-term, but will have better long-term benefits.

Whether your marriage is good or bad, you've been married for 50 years or just starting in a relationship, this book can be tremendously helpful, especially if both partners read through it and do the exercises together. There really is something for everyone in this book. From now on, this book is at the top of my list as a recommendation for marital advice. Other books will certainly still be helpful, especially for very practical tips, but none that I know of can compare to the combination of practical advice and intellectual information in this book.

View all my reviews

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.

Conclusion
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.

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.