Sometimes the facts don’t matter

by Lenny Esposito

I’ve made the point many times that we as Christians are called to defend our faith. The Bible commands it of us, and we face an increasingly hostile world. Apologetics is how one learns to defend his or her faith through the use of reason and evidence. I believe apologetics can be tremendously helpful in clarifying people’s understanding t the Christian faith. However, sometimes we may rely too heavily on facts when engaging with others.

A fascinating new article appears in The New Yorker this week entitled “I Don’t Want to Be Right.” 1 In it, author Maria Konnikova highlights the research being done by a number of psychologists and sociologists showing that people’s beliefs help shape the core conception of themselves, and thus if one tries to correct the false beliefs of someone, it may not only fail, but have the adverse effect of corrupting the source in their eyes.

As an example, Konnikova cites one 2013 study conducted by Kelly Garrett and Brian Weeks who sought to correct misinformation about access to health records. At first, they thought that the facts were making a difference, as some people changed their beliefs. “But, when the researchers took a closer look, they found that the only people who had changed their views were those who were ideologically predisposed to disbelieve the fact in question. If someone held a contrary attitude, the correction not only didn’t work—it made the subject more distrustful of the source.”2

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Before some of my atheist readers jump too fast, the article was very clear that it mattered not which side of any contention one was on. This applies as much to liberal views as conservative one and it applies to secular and scientific views as much as religious ones. As Stephan Lewandowsky states in the article, “False beliefs, it turns out, have little to do with one’s stated political affiliations and far more to do with self-identity: What kind of person am I, and what kind of person do I want to be? All ideologies are similarly affected”(emphasis added).3

Facts are Threatening Things

I had a similar experience a couple of years ago when I was working an online chat, answering web viewers’ questions for the Harvest Crusades. A man came on the line and said that he really wanted to believe in Jesus in his heart but he felt that he couldn’t because of his head. After a bit of conversation, it came out that he was a professor of philosophy, and he had difficulty with the problem of evil. Of course, I immediately went into apologetics mode and began telling how arguments such as Hume’s have been shown to be incorrect.

This was all well and fine, but I noticed something strange. The more we talked about philosophy, the more resistant and hardened he became. Gone was the open, vulnerability in admitting that he would like to believe in Jesus…

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Come Reason’s Apologetics Notes: Sometimes the facts don’t matter