Category Archives: General Apologetics

Why Are You a Believer? A Review of J. Warner Wallace’s Forensic Faith

J. Warner Wallace is a  cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker and best-selling author.  Wallace has written two books defending the truth claims of Christianity: Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

Cold-Case Christianity provides readers with ten principles of cold case investigations and utilizes these principles to examine the reliability of the New Testament gospels. In God’s Crime Scene, Wallace investigates eight pieces of evidence in the universe to make the case for God’s existence.

But having written these two helpful books, Wallace came to realize, as he spoke in churches across America,  that many of the Christians attending his presentations doubted the need for Christian evidences in the first place.

When Wallace asks audiences why they are Christians, he typically gets these answers:

“I was raised in the church” / “My parents were Christians” / “I’ve been a Christian as long as I can remember”

“I’ve had an experience that convinced me” / “The Holy Spirit confirmed it for me” / “God demonstrated His existence to me”

“I was changed by Jesus” / “I used to be [fill in your choice of immoral lifestyle], and God changed my life”

“Because I just know the Bible is true” / “Because God called me to believe”

But why, he wondered, does nobody ever answer the question with “I am a Christian because it is true“? After all, isn’t that the primary reason we should believe anything?

But many of the Christians Wallace encountered seemed to set aside their Christian beliefs as somehow privileged, as exempt from evidential considerations. This approach to Christian belief, however, is just not acceptable.

Wallace writes:

Now, more than ever, Christians must shift from accidental belief to evidential trust. It’s time to know why you believe what you believe. Christians must embrace a forensic faith. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Christians living in America and Europe are facing a growingly skeptical culture. Polls and surveys continue to confirm the decline of Christianity.  When believers explain why they think Christianity is true, unbelievers are understandably wary of the reasons they’ve been given so far.

As Christians, we’d better embrace a more thoughtful version of Christianity, one that understands the value of evidence, the importance of philosophy, and the virtue of good reasoning.

The famed writer C. S. Lewis, all the way back in 1939, wrote the following words about Christianity:

If all the world were Christian it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against the cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether.

Is the church anti-intellectual today when it comes to defending her core truth claims? This has certainly been my experience while teaching Christian apologetics for the last 14 years. Wallace concurs:

I’m not the only one to notice how anti-intellectual the church is today. Atheist activist and philosophy professor Peter Boghossian wrote a book in 2013 entitled A Manual for Creating AtheistsIt was published around the same time my first book, Cold-Case Christianity, hit the bookshelves. Boghossian describes his book as “the first-ever guide not for talking people into faith—but for talking them out of it.” He hopes to teach atheists “to engage the faithful in conversations that will help them value reason and rationality, cast doubt on their religious beliefs, mistrust their faith, abandon superstition and irrationality, and ultimately embrace reason.” In a YouTube video promoting the approach, Boghossian made an interesting observation: Christians fail to process truth claims rationally; instead of assessing the evidence and drawing the most reasonable inference, they typically rely on personal experience, emotional response, and “blind faith.” For this reason, he encourages atheists to engage Christians not on the evidence but on the way Christians evaluate truth claims in the first place.

Is Boghossian wrong in his assessment of Christians? Wallace thinks not.

Sadly, my own experience in the church confirms what Boghossian has described. Boghossian, and others like him, believe they need only show Christians how to examine evidence and the rest will take care of itself. Confident of the evidence supporting their view, they can’t imagine Christianity will survive a forensic investigation in the “age of reason.” But as someone who has examined the evidence of God’s existence and the reliability of the New Testament documents as a detective, I hold a similar, although opposite, view. If Christians will simply learn how to approach their beliefs evidentially and take the same forensic approach detectives take when examining an event from the past, the rest will take care of itself. I’m confident the claims of Christianity are supported by the evidence, and I believe a forensic faith will comfortably survive in the age of reason. Boghossian and I are engaged in a race of sorts. Both of us understand the importance of the evidence, and we are trying to reach the same group of accidental Christians. The only question is who will reach them first.

Mature Christians who have walked with the Lord for many decades may dismiss all this talk of evidence and apologetics. They just don’t need it. Their experiences of Christianity are unshakable and no skeptic is going to change their mind. To that Christian, though, I ask: What about the young? What about the students? What about the teenagers and twenty-somethings? Do we just abandon them?

Wallace cites disturbing survey results about young people in our churches:

Most teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their religious beliefs and practices. They typically cannot defend what they believe. Young, uninformed believers also reject important Christian claims.

63 percent of teenage Christians don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God;

51 percent don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead;

68 percent don’t believe the Holy Spirit is a real Being.

Between 60 percent and 80 percent of people aged 15 to 30 will leave the church for at least a season, and most will never return.

Only 33 percent of young, churched Christians said the church will play a part in their lives when they leave home.

If current trends related to the belief systems and practices of young people continue, church attendance will decline by 50 percent in the next decade.

College professors are nearly five times more likely to be professing atheists or agnostics than people in the general population. The vast majority of university professors reject the Bible as “the actual word of God.”

When surveyed, the largest segment of young, ex-Christian respondents said they left Christianity because they had intellectual doubt, skepticism, and unanswered questions.

So what do we do about this? Wallace answers:

If properly equipped, [young people] could actually grow in their faith and confidence, even in the midst of strong opposition. You and I have the opportunity to reach the young people we love. . . if we are willing to embrace the mission. Our children, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, are in the right place; they believe something true. If they’ve come to understand their own need for a Savior and have repented and placed their trust in Jesus alone for their salvation, they are saved for eternity. But if they haven’t taken the time to study why Christianity is true, . . . they will be ill-equipped to answer objections and less than persuasive with a group that requires far more evidence than ever before. We have to change the course of the church in order to meet this challenge, and the church is much more like an ocean liner than a jet ski. We cannot turn it on a dime. Instead, we must make small course corrections—one degree here and one degree there. Forensic Faith is my effort to come alongside the church as a tugboat and shift the direction of our ocean liner one degree at a time.

Wallace is right and I hope you will read his book so that we can all get this ocean liner turned together.

How Did Paul Find Common Ground with Greek Intellectuals in Acts 17?

Darrell Bock, in Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, provides an excellent analysis of Paul’s speech to the Athenian Areopagus in Acts 17. Bock demonstrates how the beginning of Paul’s oration found common ground with his Greek audience. By studying Paul’s technique, we can learn how to find common ground with members of our culture who are biblically illiterate.

In Acts 17:24-25, Paul says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

Bock writes:

Thus God is defined in a twofold way. The first is as Creator of all. Larkin (1995: 257) notes that the Epicureans had similar views. The second idea is that God is not contained in a temple and, by implication, is not reflected by an idol. This second remark recalls Stephen’s view and the basic view of Judaism (1 Kings 8:27; Isa. 66:1–2; Acts 7:47–50; on this use of ‘world’ in relation to creation, see Wis. 9:9; 11:17; 2 Macc. 7:23; Josephus, Ant. preface 4 §21). The idea that a temple cannot contain the gods is something some other Greeks also recognized, as Euripides, frg. 968, expresses the idea that a house built by craftsmen could not enclose the divine form (Bruce 1988a: 336n65).

Paul’s emphasis is on God as Sustainer and Creator, along with the idea that God does not need humans for anything. The Greeks shared this idea of deity as independent (Aristobulus, Hist. Alex. frg. 4; Euripides, Heracles 1345–46, ‘God … is in need of nothing’; Fitzmyer 1998: 608).

In Acts 17:26-27, Paul says,

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.

Bock writes:

The reference to Adam is intended to show that all people have their roots in the Creator God. Indeed, humanity is to seek God. Johnson (1992: 315–16) notes a similar argument in Philo, Spec. Laws 1.6–7 §§32–40, especially 1.7 §36: ‘Nothing is better than to seek the true God.’ This affirmation would be hard for the Athenians, who prided themselves in being a superior people, calling others barbarians. . . .

Paul describes the Greeks as humans seeking God in their own imperfect way in the hope that they may ‘get a hold’ of God—and this goal is attainable because God is close (Deut. 30:11; Josephus, Ant. 8.4.2 §108 [God is close to his own]; among the Greeks, Seneca, Moral Ep. 41.1, ‘God is near you, with you, within you’). Although the Greeks had similar expressions, this is not a mere intellectual attainment, which the Greeks tended to emphasize. Rather, there is a personal dimension that leads to serving and honoring God in truth, as verses 30–31 will show (Marshall 1980: 288; Larkin 1995: 257, ‘a gracious, personal Creator, Ruler and Sustainer of all’). In effect, Paul is saying that the Greeks’ effort proceeds with uncertainty until they understand what God has revealed. . . .

Witherington (1998: 529) is right to contrast what is happening here with a famous speech of Dio Chrysostom, Man’s First Conception of God (Olympic Discourse 12.28), to which Paul’s remarks are often compared. There Stoic ideas are used positively to declare how people have innate conceptions of God and all are kin to God. Paul says that there is a kinship at creation but that this is not enough. Fellowship requires that one respond to God as God’s creature, as one accountable to the Creator and his divine revelation.

In Acts 17:28, Paul quotes popular Greek writings.  “In him we live and move and have our being”; “For we are indeed his offspring.”

Bock writes:

This text about living, moving, and having our being in the Deity appears to allude to pagan ideas (BAGD 432 §3; BDAG 545 §3). Polhill (1992: 375–76) discusses the debate over whether this statement is rooted in a specific passage in Epimenides of Crete (ca. 600 BC), a point that is unlikely given the frequency of the thought in ancient thinking. An association with Epimenides goes back to Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 1.14.59; among the Greeks, a citation from Isho’dad of Merv is also known; Bruce 1990: 384; Williams 1990: 308; Barrett 1998: 847). These citations suggest a widespread belief that people exist by God’s creation and sustenance, so that God is not far off.

In addition, ‘we are his offspring’ (γένος ἐσμέν, genos esmen). The expression that we are God’s offspring comes from another pagan poet, Aratus (ca. 315–240 BC), Phaenomena 5 (some scholars also note Cleanthes, Hymn to Zeus; Marshall 1980: 289; but Fitzmyer 1998: 611 rejects a connection to Cleanthes). Paul explicitly notes this connection in introducing the citation as coming from ‘some of your poets.’ Paul is working with ideas in the Greek world that are familiar to the Athenians and only alludes to Scripture in his speech instead of quoting it directly. The text from Aratus, as Paul uses it, recognizes the shared relationship all people have to God. It also makes a more subtle point when the remark about being God’s children is repeated in verse 29: we are God’s creation; we do not create him by making images of the gods (Witherington 1998: 530). Thus the remark does express Paul’s view in this limited sense. . . . Paul contextualizes the citation and presents it in a fresh light, setting up his critique. He takes a Greek idea of the ‘spark of the divine being’ in us as tied to Zeus and speaks of being made as God’s children by the Creator, alluding to our being made in God’s image.

Given the common ground Paul has found with the Greek intellectuals of the Areopagus in verses 24-28, he then introduces new arguments in verses 29-31, ultimately leading to the resurrection of Jesus. Hopefully, you can see that this methodology is far more productive than Paul jumping straight to the resurrection of Jesus. It requires a shorter leap for the members of the Athenian council, and some of them do respond positively to Paul’s message.

In like manner, when we engage anyone with the truths of Christianity, we must find common ground first. Does our friend believe in a Creator God? Do they believe in the supernatural? What do they think of the Bible? Can it be trusted? Is it historically accurate? Do they think Jesus really existed or that he was a legendary figure? These are the kinds of questions that need to be answered to find common ground in our day. This often requires effort and patience that many of us don’t have. But if we skip this step, our evangelism will fail more often than not.

#8 Post of 2015 – A Review of ‘God’s Crime Scene’

Normally, I don’t review books in the traditional sense. Instead I prefer to excerpt portions from the books I read and highlight them to you, my audience (I’ll probably still do that later on with this book). However, Jim Wallace was kind enough to send me a pre-publication copy of his new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universeand I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading it over my summer vacation, so here goes!

Jim is a translator. He takes the sometimes complex arguments of academics and he translates them into a simpler form for his audience. This a crucial task for the Christian church, because without translators the vast majority of people will never understand what academics are saying about the Christian worldview. We need to know what the academics are saying because they are doing the research that either corroborates or rebuts the claims of Christianity.

There are two things, I think, that make Jim an especially effective translator. First, he has a knack for developing analogies and illustrations that communicate the complex ideas of Christian apologetics. Second, Jim is masterful at bringing his cold-case detective experience to bear on apologetics arguments. He demonstrated both of these talents in his first book, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, which analyzed the historical reliability of the New Testament documents.

The idea behind his second book, God’s Crime Scene, is that we are investigating the “crime scene” of the observable universe and we are trying to determine if the cause of the observable universe operated from inside of it or from outside of it. Wallace compares this investigation to that of a detective who arrives at a death scene where a dead body has been discovered. The detective must figure out whether the death was caused by the elements inside the death scene (e.g., disease, accident) or whether the cause of death was outside the death scene (e.g., murderer).

Wallace takes the reader through eight different pieces of evidence that must be analyzed at the “crime scene.” These evidences are : 1) the origin of the universe, 2) the fine tuning of the universe, 3) the origin of life, 4) the apparent design of life, 5) consciousness, 6) objective morality, 7) free will, and 8) evil. A chapter is dedicated to each of these.

Wallace not only steps the reader through the evidence in each chapter, but he teaches us how to think about the evidence, using his decades of experience as a detective and as a participant in numerous criminal trials. The task of any jury is to listen to the evidence and arguments made by both the prosecution and defense, to weigh what each side has presented, and then to render a decision about which side has presented the truth about what really happened.

In the same way, we are called to sit on a jury where the prosecution argues that the eight pieces of evidence lead to a theistic creator-God who exists outside the observable universe, and the defense argues that the eight pieces of evidence can be explained by the forces of nature contained inside the observable universe.

As an apologist who has been studying the evidences for Christianity for over a decade, all eight evidences that Wallace presents are familiar territory to me. He has certainly done his homework (extensive citations of scholars on both sides) and updated bits and pieces of the evidences and arguments, but this book is not primarily intended for someone like me.

Just as Lee Strobel brought the evidences for Christianity to a generation of people who had never heard of apologetics (yours truly included) using his background as a journalist, J. Warner Wallace is bringing the evidences for Christianity to yet another generation using his background as a cold-case detective.

Here’s to J. Warner Wallace and all the other translators. You’re doing essential work for the kingdom!

Does God Hide His Face from Us?

In Psalm 27, David begs the Lord to not hide His face from him. In the context of the psalm, it appears that David is being attacked by his enemies, he has been praying to God to deliver him from these enemies, but God has not yet answered his prayers. Thus, to David, God is hiding His face. What are we to make of this? Goes God really hide from us?

Christian blogger Josh Fults has written an insightful article on this topic. First, Fults reminds us what God’s relationship was with mankind at the beginning:

We must remember, when God created mankind he walked among them. Instead of a game of hide and seek, we find in Genesis that God ‘walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day.’ So apparently, at the onset of creation, man and God enjoyed fellowship in a direct sense. Then sin entered the world, and who is it that we find hiding? God doesn’t hide. God doesn’t remove Himself. Instead we see Adam and Eve have made the decision to hide. It was man that hid initially and broke this extremely intimate connection between God and humanity.

Sin, then, has a direct bearing on God’s relationship with us. We cannot possibly answer the question of whether God is hiding without remembering this crucial point. In a fallen world, evil, pain, and suffering are regular occurrences. We certainly see David suffering many times in his life.

However, just because God is not saving us from all this pain and suffering as soon as we pray about it does not mean that He is hiding from us. This simply does not follow. In fact, David comes to realize this as well. At the end of Psalm 27, he states, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”

But if God is not always answering our prayers in the ways we want our prayers answered, then how is He communicating with us? Fults answers this question:

God reveals Himself expressively in His written word. ‘Beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself’ (Luke 24:27). God also revealed Himself explicitly to mankind through Jesus Christ. ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). We also see God make Himself known through nature.  ‘For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse’ (Romans 1:20). We also see that God communicates through His Spirit to us if we are willing to hear. ‘He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth’ (John 14:16-17).The Spirit of God draws us to Himself. We also find that believers in Christ also reveal God to those around them, as we see in Acts 1:8 that Christians ‘will be My witnesses.’

So God does indeed reveal Himself in many different ways to us. Although we may feel like He is hiding from us, we must realize that it is sin, ultimately, that causes this feeling. Once we are in Heaven with God, we will never have this feeling again.

#2 Post of 2014 – What Is a Step by Step Argument Showing that Christianity is True?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Anyone who has read my blog for the last several years knows that I am a big fan of the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. I have quoted from the book many times and pointed my readers to it again and again.

One thing that I haven’t done, though, is given an outline of what the book is actually trying to accomplish. What Geisler and Turek attempt to do in the book is lay out a methodical, step by step process for arguing that Christianity is true. Here is the 12-step argument:

  1. Truth about reality is knowable.
  2. The opposite of true is false.
  3. It is true that the theistic God exists.
    1. Beginning of the Universe (cosmological argument)
    2. Design of the universe (teleological argument/anthropic principle)
    3. Design of life (teleological argument)
    4. Moral law (moral argument)
  4. If God exists, then miracles are possible.
  5. Miracles can be used to confirm a message from God.
  6. The New Testament is historically reliable.
    1. Early testimony
    2. Eyewitness testimony
    3. Uninvented testimony
    4. Eyewitnesses who were not deceived
  7. The New Testament says Jesus claimed to be God.
  8. Jesus’ claim to be God was miraculously confirmed by:
    1. His fulfillment of many prophecies about Himself
    2. His sinless and miraculous life
    3. His prediction and accomplishment of His resurrection
  9. Therefore, Jesus is God.
  10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) teaches is true.
  11. Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God.
  12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God (and anything opposed to it is false).

Notice that these 12 steps marshal evidence from philosophy, science, and history, and they all work together to build a logical argument which leads to the conclusion that the Bible is the Word of God. I am always bewildered when skeptics claim that Christian beliefs are based on nothing but wish fulfillment when books like this fill Christian bookshelves.

I have used this basic 12-point framework for many years and it has served me well. Most everything you learn about apologetics fits into this 12-point argument. In fact, at Southern Evangelical Seminary, where I received my Master’s degree, you had to take a class on these 12 points and your final exam was to write down the 12 points and briefly defend and explain each point.

If you have never purchased and read this book, do it today. You won’t be sorry.

Why Must You Read the Other Side’s Arguments?

Recently I had some dialogue with a person on the blog, and it became obvious quickly that this person had almost exclusively read material written by one side of a debate. Not only was he not aware of arguments and evidence on the other side, but he was way overconfident in the conclusions he had drawn from his reading.

While I was attending seminary, the idea that we must read the other side in an argument was drummed into us constantly. One of my seminary professors even told us that he would read atheist writers as devotional material in order to constantly remind himself what atheists think.

It turns out that there is a good psychological reason to do this as well. Our minds have a strong tendency to jump to conclusions with little evidence. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes this tendency in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. The first problem is that our minds tend to only offer up ideas that are fresh in our memory.

An essential design feature of the associative machine is that it represents only activated ideas. Information that is not retrieved (even unconsciously) from memory might as well not exist. System 1 excels at constructing the best possible story that incorporates ideas currently activated, but it does not (cannot) allow for information it does not have.

Recall from earlier blog posts that System 1 is the part of the human mind that is automatic and unconscious. It is constantly working behind the scenes to support System 2, which is the part of our mind that actually does intense thinking and analysis. Kahneman continues:

The measure of success for System 1 is the coherence of the story it manages to create. The amount and quality of the data on which the story is based are largely irrelevant. When information is scarce, which is a common occurrence, System 1 operates as a machine for jumping to conclusions.

Without reading the other side in a debate, System 1 will simply serve up coherent stories from the data it has from one side and jump to conclusions.

And there also remains a bias favoring the first impression. The combination of a coherence-seeking System 1 with a lazy System 2 implies that System 2 will endorse many intuitive beliefs, which closely reflect the impressions generated by System 1. Of course, System 2 also is capable of a more systematic and careful approach to evidence, and of following a list of boxes that must be checked before making a decision— think of buying a home, when you deliberately seek information that you don’t have. However, System 1 is expected to influence even the more careful decisions. Its input never ceases.

Because System 2 is lazy (we don’t want to think if we don’t have to), System 1 just keeps on serving up conclusions based on the one-sided evidence it has received. Kahneman offers up an abbreviation for this phenomenon:

Jumping to conclusions on the basis of limited evidence is so important to an understanding of intuitive thinking , and comes up so often in this book, that I will use a cumbersome abbreviation for it: WYSIATI, which stands for what you see is all there is. System 1 is radically insensitive to both the quality and the quantity of the information that gives rise to impressions and intuitions.

Why are we humans programmed with WYSIATI?

WYSIATI facilitates the achievement of coherence and of the cognitive ease that causes us to accept a statement as true. It explains why we can think fast, and how we are able to make sense of partial information in a complex world. Much of the time, the coherent story we put together is close enough to reality to support reasonable action.

However, one of the problems WYSIATI causes is overconfidence.

As the WYSIATI rule implies, neither the quantity nor the quality of the evidence counts for much in subjective confidence. The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little. We often fail to allow for the possibility that evidence that should be critical to our judgment is missing— what we see is all there is. Furthermore, our associative system tends to settle on a coherent pattern of activation and suppresses doubt and ambiguity.

This is why we must read the other side. Without doing so, we become overconfident in our views and we actively suppress doubt and ambiguity. One of the great lessons to be learned in life is that we have to learn to be more humble in our viewpoints, and we have to live with less confidence and more ambiguity.  Otherwise, we are simply jumping to conclusions.

Will You Wait for a Long Answer to Your Short Question?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Questions can be really short. Why is there so much evil in the world? Who is God? Why did Jesus have to die? Why do you think Christianity is true? What is the meaning of life?

Most of the time, though, answers are a heck of a lot longer. On this blog, I answer a question on almost every post with a 500-word answer. The question might be 10 words long, so my answer is 50 times longer than the question.

Most non-fiction books are written to answer a single question that the author poses. An author may use 70,000 words to answer a single short question.

My point is that there is an asymmetry between questions and answers. Answers are often far more complex than the question they are answering.

It seems that many skeptics of Christianity (actually most people in general) forget about this asymmetry when they demand short, pithy answers to their short, pithy questions. Well, here is my challenge to skeptics of Christianity. Are you willing to wait for the long answer to your short question?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been talking to a skeptic and something like the following happens:

Skeptic: “If God is all-powerful and all-good, then why is there evil?”

Me: “Well, let’s start by defining what evil is. Evil is …”

Skeptic (cutting me off): “Let’s face it. You don’t have an answer to this. You’re probably going to mention free will, but that just leads me to another question. Christians can’t really believe in free will because they believe God knows everything. How do you answer that?”

Me: “OK, so you want to discuss God’s sovereignty and man’s free will now. Maybe we’ll come back to evil. Just because God knows what I will do doesn’t mean that I’m not free to do it. Here’s an analogy….”

Skeptic (cutting me off): “Free will can’t exist because physics basically determines everything we say and do. We are a product of natural laws and the more we discover in science, the less we need God to explain anything. Aren’t you concerned that every time you assume we need God for something, that science will eventually provide the answer?”

Me: “Umm, so now we’re on to the God of the Gaps argument? I’m getting exhausted. Can we stick to one thing for a minute?”

Skeptic: “It’s not my fault you don’t have answers for these questions.”

This kind of conversation is one of the things that originally drove me to start writing a blog. I could finally answer questions without getting constantly interrupted!

So skeptics, when you’re talking to a Christian, are you willing to actually wait for an answer? Or are you just going to pepper him with question after question and never let him get an answer out of his mouth?

When I’m dealing with a skeptic who won’t wait for an answer, that’s usually a pretty good sign that the skeptic does not want answers. They just want to fight. As fun as fighting is (I used to do a lot more of it years ago), I just don’t have time for it any more. There are skeptics out there who actually will wait for the answers, and those are the ones I want to talk to.

The Comfy Cocoon of Knowing You’re Right

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Imagine a man named Charles. Charles is dogmatic about his beliefs concerning the origin of the universe, the existence of God, right and wrong. Charles is an evangelist who loves telling people about his beliefs. He writes a lot of blog posts and sometimes he comments on other people’s blog posts. Whenever he gets an opportunity to explain to people why his views are correct, he jumps at it.

Charles converted to his views as an adult after spending many years on the other side. He has an inside view of the other side and knows all of their weaknesses. He feels sorry for those still on the other side, as he knows they are wrong about reality, wrong about the big questions of life.

Charles has surrounded himself with those who think like him. He congregates with them, buys books written by them, votes like they vote. Charles has found a community that affirms what he believes.

Charles no longer feels a need to consider the evidence the other side provides for their viewpoint. He looked at it briefly in the past, but it is so obviously wrong that he didn’t have to spend much time before he moved on to other things. Now, when he interacts with the other side, he just does so to shake them out of their ignorance. He knows their arguments are weak, so he doesn’t really pay much attention to them.

Charles, more recently, has grown less patient with the other side and has started calling them names and insulting them, mostly anonymously or through social media. He just wishes they would snap out of their uninformed beliefs. When he encounters the other side these days, he sees them as the enemy. They represent what is wrong with the world.

Charles doesn’t feel too bad any more when people on the other side are demonized or mocked by his friends. I guess he’s just used to it. The other side is, after all, irrational and deluded.

Charles now lives in a very comfortable cocoon, a safe place he has constructed for himself. He knows he is right. He knows his friends are right. He knows the other side is evil, deluded, even hateful. If the other side would just go away, the world would be so much better off. In the mean time, though, the cocoon is pretty nice.

He is protected from having to actually think about the other side most of the time. What’s the point? He already thought about it a while back. No need to dig it all up again. No need to leave the cocoon.

What Are the Implications of the Halo Effect?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In the previous post, we looked at the halo effect, as explained by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. We saw that the halo effect causes us to overweight our first impressions of a person so that subsequent impressions are largely influenced by those first impressions.

If we like a person when we first meet them, then we will consistently look for reasons to like everything about them as time goes on. If we don’t like a person when we first meet them, then we will consistently look for reasons to not like anything about them as time goes on.

The halo effect has many implications for apologetics and evangelism. Say you want to discuss the gospel with someone. If that person already sees you as likable, based on their positive initial impressions of you, then when you present the gospel message, they will most likely be receptive.

If, however, the person with whom you want to discuss the gospel dislikes you, based on their initial negative reactions to you, then they will most likely reject anything you say to them about Christianity. They will simply assume that you are wrong about everything because of the halo effect.

I have had many skeptical visitors to the blog over the years who, after interacting with me initially, decide that they just don’t like me. In their minds, I lie, I don’t understand evidence and rational thinking, and I’m just not someone who can be trusted. How do I know? Because they tell me. Once these people have formed their initial opinions, I know that no matter what I say to them, no matter how I say it, they will never accept anything coming from me. This is the halo effect.

On the other hand, there are people who interact with me and immediately like me; they find me to be trustworthy and reasonable. With those people, the halo effect works in my favor. They are quite willing to hear what I have to say, even when we don’t agree on everything.

If a person doesn’t like me, for whatever reason, they are not going to listen to what I have to say about the gospel. I can rest assured, however, that God will bring along someone else who that person does like. There is usually no point in me banging my head against the halo effect to change that person’s impression of me. They have formed their opinion and it is probably not going to change, at least not without substantial effort on my part and theirs.

I think the halo effect is one reason that Billy Graham was such an amazing evangelist. Most people, after first seeing or listening to him for just a few minutes, immediately like him. There is just something about him that people like. The halo effect, undoubtedly, helped him bring thousands and thousands of people to Christ.

Alas, we all can’t be Billy Graham. This is a hard pill to swallow for an apologist or evangelist, but swallow it we must. Most of us know at least some people, even in our families,  who just don’t like us a great deal. The fact is, we probably cannot reach those people, but, we do need to reach those who do like and trust us. They are ready to hear what we have to say.

What Is the Halo Effect?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

It has nothing to do with the popular video game, but like confirmation bias, it is a concept you need to understand because it impacts all of us, and we are mostly unaware.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, describes the halo effect.

If you like the president’s politics, you probably like his voice and his appearance as well. The tendency to like (or dislike) everything about a person— including things you have not observed— is known as the halo effect. The term has been in use in psychology for a century, but it has not come into wide use in everyday language. This is a pity, because the halo effect is a good name for a common bias that plays a large role in shaping our view of people and situations. It is one of the ways the representation of the world that System 1 generates is simpler and more coherent than the real thing.

Kahneman provides a concrete example:

You meet a woman named Joan at a party and find her personable and easy to talk to. Now her name comes up as someone who could be asked to contribute to a charity. What do you know about Joan’s generosity? The correct answer is that you know virtually nothing, because there is little reason to believe that people who are agreeable in social situations are also generous contributors to charities.

But you like Joan and you will retrieve the feeling of liking her when you think of her. You also like generosity and generous people. By association, you are now predisposed to believe that Joan is generous. And now that you believe she is generous, you probably like Joan even better than you did earlier, because you have added generosity to her pleasant attributes.

Real evidence of generosity is missing in the story of Joan, and the gap is filled by a guess that fits one’s emotional response to her. In other situations, evidence accumulates gradually and the interpretation is shaped by the emotion attached to the first impression.

Impressions of a person are gained over a period of time, but the halo effect causes us to overweight first impressions over later impressions. Here is the problem stated:

The sequence in which we observe characteristics of a person is often determined by chance. Sequence matters, however, because the halo effect increases the weight of first impressions, sometimes to the point that subsequent information is mostly wasted.

Early in my career as a professor, I graded students’ essay exams in the conventional way. I would pick up one test booklet at a time and read all that student’s essays in immediate succession, grading them as I went. I would then compute the total and go on to the next student. I eventually noticed that my evaluations of the essays in each booklet were strikingly homogeneous. I began to suspect that my grading exhibited a halo effect , and that the first question I scored had a disproportionate effect on the overall grade.

The mechanism was simple: if I had given a high score to the first essay , I gave the student the benefit of the doubt whenever I encountered a vague or ambiguous statement later on. This seemed reasonable. Surely a student who had done so well on the first essay would not make a foolish mistake in the second one! But there was a serious problem with my way of doing things. If a student had written two essays, one strong and one weak, I would end up with different final grades depending on which essay I read first. I had told the students that the two essays had equal weight, but that was not true: the first one had a much greater impact on the final grade than the second.

In the next post, we will look at some implications of the halo effect.