By Inside_my_head.jpg: Andrew Mason from London, UK derivative work: -- Jtneill - Talk (Inside_my_head.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Reading Time: 2 minutes By Inside_my_head.jpg: Andrew Mason from London, UK derivative work: -- Jtneill - Talk (Inside_my_head.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Reading Time: 2 minutes

I previously posted about my recent experience with some Jehovah’s Witnesses doing their doorstep thing, and how impotent rational arguments so often are. We all know this from repeatedly beating out heads against a brick wall on a daily internet basis and when we argue face to face with believers. The rational argument aren’t the ones that change people’s minds, usually. People don’t go, all of a sudden, “Great point! I’ve never thought of it like that I now no longer believe.” They will far more likely entrench in their views.

Slograman said this in response:

Jonathan MS Pearce I’ve never had the pleasure of philosophizing with Witnesses. Curious though, if rational arguments don’t work, why not make emotional appeals instead? I’m asking as someone who wants to explore this method more.

For an example, the last time I talked to a fundamentalist Christian, I pointed out the inherent cruelty in the Biblical flood story. I did this because I was tired of trying to defend geological arguments she was making that I didn’t understand, as I am not a scientist. I appealed to human sensibilities and emotions instead. The discussion came to an abrupt end when she couldn’t explain why God drowns children for crimes they hadn’t committed. I feel that I lacked the proper follow-up to further the discussion past this point, however.

Perhaps if we erode their emotional connection to their beliefs, we can then use rational arguments to finish the job. Thoughts on this method?

To which I quickly responded:

I think this is a really interesting question. There isn’t too much scale for psychological and emotional argument because this is one of the reasons religion and belief in God exist. God provides comfort in death, justice and fairness past the end of our lives, and so on. Atheism is a tough sell – it’s pretty stark in what it can offer adherents in any comforting way.

So you are right in suggesting formulations of the problem of evil as being the best option. These are very strong emotional and psychological arguments. Yes, there are intuitively weak logical arguments in the skeptical theism strain, but intuitively, the problem of evil offers the biggest thorn in the side for Christians; this much is recognised by apologists.

I think Peter Boghossian has talked about roadside atheistic evangelising and how best to achieve it. What would your thoughts and experiences be?

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...