• Those who will not be convinced

    I gave a talk last night to the Portsmouth Skeptics in the Pub group on my Case Against God. It went down an absolute treat. Packed to the rafters to almost twice its small capacity (people sitting on the floor and all), there were some great questions and audience interaction. I really loved it and I gather so did the audience. Woo hoo! However, it was really interesting that there were a number of committed Christians in the audience, not least a woman in the front row. I used her as an example in one of my morality thought experiments. Speaking to her after the talk, I was surprised to learn that she as a fundamental Christian and her husband/partner was an atheist. How does that work in a relationship? They must live day to day next to each other with her thinking he will burn in hell.

    Anyway, I talked about the backfire effect whereby if you front up some rational evidence against someone’s position, it is more likely to entrench them in their original position. This is the frustration of philosophy: it supervenes on psychology. It is simply not good enough to merely present winning rational arguments, you have to overcome psychology and biases too.

    So this lady spoke to me at the end, and said something like, “You won’t change my mind. I am a fundamental Christian.” To which I explained the backfire effect which I had only just mentioned to someone else. She seemed proud to announce, implicitly, that there was no argument that would change her mind. Without realising it, she was some kind of presuppositionalist!

    And as a skeptical philosopher who makes a habit of challenging his own position and claims (hence having changed many of mine over the years), this annoyed the heck out of me. It’s a whole world of wrong, an ostrich with a buried head.

    Category: FeaturedPsychologySkepticism


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    • D Rieder

      It’s hard to know when one is indeed truly willing to challengs one’s own beliefs and cherished notions, don’t you think? I’d like to think I have an open mind about God and Christianity and such, but I really can’t imagine an argument, line of reasoning or better arrangement of history that can ever make the human sacrifice that is at the core of Christianity seem even remotely acceptable. But clearly millions of Christians would just say I’ve closed my mind to the obvious truth and goodness of Christ’s death on the cross.

    • Geoff Benson

      I recall that in/after/during the Bill Nye vs Ken Ham debate (I really couldn’t stand to watch it all through) both were asked ‘what would change your mind?’. Nye replied ‘evidence; Ham responded ‘nothing’.

      Your point precisely. If they were open to genuine reason and logic in the first place then they couldn’t hold the views they do, certainly not fundamentalist.

    • There is at least some reason to be skeptical of the backfire effect, these days…