Honor the Lord with Your Amygdala

November 25, 2019 § 15 Comments

The Oatmeal, an online comic by Matthew Inman, published an amusing and illuminating illustrated treatise on the “backfire effect.” This is the natural, and often sinful, cognitive bias that causes some to resist evidence contrary to their beliefs. The amygdala (the emotional core of our brains) goes into defense mode when we’re presented with “facts” we don’t like. The sin (my observation, not The Oatmeal’s) comes in when we reject ideas without utilizing our God-given reason, or when we spiral into an emotional tirade at the presenter.

Oatmeal GWUsing one of the examples in the comic, the suggestion that our beloved George Washington wore false teeth made from the teeth of slaves may illicit such a response. (There is evidence that Washington purchased teeth from slaves for false teeth, but it’s rather slim and inconclusive despite being presented here as “fact.” Or is that just my amygdala talking? You can investigate the sources cited in the comic yourself on that.)

The author says that the backfire effect “makes sense from an evolutionary perspective” and follows that up with an archetypal caveman scenario. But it also makes sense from a Biblical perspective. We are created to hold firmly to personal convictions. To believe. As fallen creatures though, we often let emotions get the best of us and set aside reason when our beliefs are challenged.

Because “we’re all going in the same direction”, the author concludes with the assurance that he’s “not here to tell you what to believe” before telling us what to believe: that it’s okay to stop, listen, and change. I’m not sure if the “change” encouraged is a change in how we respond—now that we know how our brains often handle new and unwanted information—or a change in our worldview when presented with new ideas about the world or ourselves. Both are good and healthy responses, the latter depending of course on the ideas.

In any case, the only reason to believe anything at all is if we are convinced that it’s true. This includes foundational or presuppositional beliefs, like the existence of God, or the tenets of naturalism, that we ultimately must accept or reject on faith.

Matthew Inman is neither shy nor particularly clear about his brand of atheism, but in this video he masks a sad, nihilistic worldview with plenty of jokes—some either profane, throwing shade at religious belief, or profanely throwing shade at religious belief—all while professing faith in “Jibbers Crabst”.

The overall aim of his post about belief seems to be the awareness of what’s going on when we learn new things, and realization that we don’t have to blow up at others who challenge our deeply held beliefs. Atheism and sarcasm aside, that’s an earnest and respectable goal.Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 9.54.06 AMSometimes the truth hurts. But the truth is meant to ultimately give us joy. The good news of the gospel—that Jesus Christ died to save sinners—begins with the bad news that we all are sinners who need a savior. There’s a classic example of new information that many an amygdala reject (1 John 1:9-10).

We should keep an open mind, even about our deeper convictions. But as G.K. Chesterton tells it, “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid. Otherwise, it could end up like a city sewer, rejecting nothing.”

(The “classroom-friendly version” of The Oatmeal comic is linked above, but there is a “regular version” with some profanity that really isn’t a necessary or funnier way to make the point.)

Defending Your Faith: A Basic Course in Christian Apologetics

August 19, 2015 § 1 Comment

IDefending had the privilege of co-teaching an apologetics class at church, and below is about three and a half hours of audio from the course. It’s meant to be an introduction to Christian apologetics, defining the practice of defending Christianity, the role of faith, arguments for the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, Creation and Flood debates, and the problem of evil. Teaching is not my strongest suit, but I think the material and the flow of the lessons turned out pretty well (and the friend I taught with, Mark Kline, is a rather gifted teacher). Use this if it fulfills a need, and feel free to download the corresponding PDF handouts and PowerPoint slides to look at while you listen. We may do something similar to this again in January, so any feedback would be appreciated.

SESSION 1
• The what, why, who and how of apologetics
• The role of faith and reason
• The argument from reason for God’s existence
• The argument from morality for God’s existence
Listen: Creekside U – Defending Your Faith, Session 1
Download: Slides (PPS) • Handout (PDF)

SESSION 2
• What are the different forms of the Word of God?
• How do we know the Bible is God’s word?
• How did we get our Bible?
• Are there any errors in it?
Listen: Creekside U – Defending Your Faith, Session 2
Download: Slides (PPS) • Handout (PDF)

SESSION 3
• Are there ay errors in the Bible?
• God’s publishing process
– Manuscript evidence
– Archaeological evidence
– Prophetic evidence
– Statistical evidence
Listen: Creekside U – Defending Your Faith, Session 3
Download: Slides (PPS) • Handout (PDF)

SESSION 4
• How old is the Earth? How big was the Flood? How much does it matter?
• Too much evil and suffering in the world?
• Unanswered questions lead to atheism
Listen: Creekside U – Defending Your Faith, Session 4
Download: Slides (PPS) • Handout (PDF)

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