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‘Why doesn’t my argument work?’

iStockphoto arm-wrestling
Published: 26 March 2016 (GMT+10)

When we provide solid evidence and arguments for the Bible, even in the most gracious and careful way possible, skeptics often refuse point blank to consider our reasoning. This can be very frustrating, and even discouraging. If we’re not careful, it can even lead to doubt—people can start to think ‘perhaps their refusal reflects the weakness of Christianity’. In today’s feedback, CMI’s Shaun Doyle explores how a proper understanding of our limits, and the limits of what arguments can achieve, can ease our burden as we testify to the truth of Christ and the Bible. Leighton W. from New Zealand comments:

To whom this May concern,

I am very frustrated with evolutionists and their one sided mind. I try to explain that evolution is a farce however they won’t listen. I tell them that evolution requires a god anyway because the universe then by the Big Bang has to start with a miracle, and without a god there cannot be a miracle. Then I try and help them understand the mathematics and logistics of creation and evolution. I tell them that evolution IF we take only the change of evolution then the chance of it being successful for one body type is around about 1 in 1 billion Trillion, and even in the time given in the secular graph of time of the earth cannot reach that 1 in 1 billion trillionth chance. Then I try to explain the giraffe’s neck to them, and still their ears deafen to the teaching of creation. My question is: how do I not be so frustrated by the ignorance of the mind of the worldly.

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

It’s easy to feel frustrated when people refuse to acknowledge what we see so clearly about God, creation, and the Bible. But we need to remember that apart from God’s grace we wouldn’t be able to see it either. Even though God is plain to everyone, we close our eyes to it because we don’t want to acknowledge God (Romans 1:18–23). Remembering that ‘but for the grace of God, there go I’ can help ease some of the frustration we might get.

And when we confront unwillingness to accept the truth, it’s not our job to convict people of sin, righteousness, and judgment. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. We witness to the truth, but we have no access to people’s hearts like the Holy Spirit does. The best we can do is present our case and commend it to people to consider (and of course pray that God would work on people’s hearts to help them accept the truth). Knowing that can relieve us of the burden to persuade people about the faith, since there’s only so much our words can do.

And what exactly does a good argument do? It doesn’t change people’s hearts, and it doesn’t make a person accept the conclusion. The best it can do is show a person the intellectual cost of rejecting the conclusion, and even that isn’t guaranteed. And even if the person sees the intellectual cost of rejecting the conclusion, they may still be willing to pay that cost.

A brilliant example is how most Muslims reject the fact that Jesus was killed by crucifixion because the Koran says He wasn’t (Surah 4:157). The historical and medical evidence for Jesus’ death by crucifixion is impeccable, but the Muslim commitment to the Koran stops most of them from accepting the evidence. It rarely matters what anyone says; mere words will almost inevitably not convince them that Jesus died by crucifixion.

People are not logic-chopping robots. They also have emotions and presuppositions that can cloud their better judgment, and they have wills that are naturally turned against God. This is why there is usually so much more to evangelism than just a one-off presentation of a good argument for God and the gospel, and there is so much more to making a Christian than we are capable of doing. Remembering the limitations of what we can do won’t necessarily make all our frustrations go away, but it can help ease them by putting our frustrations in perspective.

And, of course, there’s the usual stuff—talk about your frustrations with people who can help; pray about your frustrations (Philippians 4:6–7); and distance yourself from the situation and occupy yourself with other helpful things when you get frustrated.

Helpful Resources

Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover
Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $10.00
Kindle (.mobi)
Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $10.00
eReader (.epub)

Readers’ comments

Peter G.
It is easy to become discouraged when there appears to be no obvious breakthrough in trying to convince a person to understand the Gospel. However I think it is always important to remember that every person has the God given right to choose what they want to believe, regardless of whether that choice is right or wrong. In the same way that God respects this choice, so must we. We present the Truth and the Holy Spirit reveals the Truth but the choice is still with that individual to either reject or accept. Adam and Eve made the most tragic choice known to mankind and yet God never prevented them from making that choice.
dan M.
When first saved and before I knew all the, (good) arguments for the existence of God and accuracy of the bible I was unwilling to listen to evolutionists arguments. I didn't want to give up my new found faith so the evolutionist arguments scared me so I wouldn't listen. I would imagine it is much the same for them. We get comfortable in our beliefs and we don't want to budge.
I too have been frustrated by rejection of my logical arguments for God but I now understand it is only the Spirit that can pierce the heart of any person and my job is to present the gospel. Only then will people be approachable with the scientific evidence of creation. Therefore I focus on educating and bolstering the faith of my fellow Christians and only enter into scientific debate when asked.
I will never be complacent about the gospel message and the evidence that supports it. we need to be ready to squash every argument contrary to Christ! 2Co 10:5
I find it is easier, (for my part) and more effective to ask unanswerable questions of evolutionists and let them chew on it. This method is less confrontational and more thought provoking.
I always make myself available for the work of Christ with love and understanding.
Neil W.
Shaun Doyle’s point he made, “…it’s not our job to convict people of sin, righteousness, and judgment. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.”. Amen! But why?

Ephesians 6:12 NIV
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

If the people we share with are under the control of the enemy’s influence we can talk ourselves blue in the face with spot-on facts. At some point it is better to back off and pray for them in private before we reengage with them. We know from God’s word that the Holy Spirit is actively working the person’s we engage with. It is not by accident. We must have confidence in that knowledge.

Sadly, I did not understand this for many years. I knew about it, and could even quote Eph 6:12 to you, but I just truly did not get the depth of this concept in this key verse. I spent a lot of time in frustration that stole my peace.

We must let God do the heavy lifting by the ministry of the Holy Spirit because this is a spiritual battle. We are the vessels or portals that our Father needs to minister though us to the world. And our heart’s break when we can’t reach someone but our hope should not be focused on our efforts only. We must have confidence that our Father loves people even more than what we can understand in our ignorance.

Thank you for your wonderful ministry CMI.
Patrick P.
It was Mark Twain who said "It's easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled." This certainly applies to the foolish claims of evolution. Shame is that much of the Church has been fooled also.
Richard L.
Thank you, Shaun and all the terrific feedback-ers so far!

Dear Leighton, to follow up what others have said:

1. Remember this is spiritual warfare. In Colossians 2:8's discussion of "hollow deceptions"--notions that are wrong and don't connect to reality (hollow/empty); but people think they do so (deception)--the word for "capture" is spoil-of-war: capture on the battlefield, unto slavery. Strong spiritual warfare! Pray before, during and after the discussion.

2. Realize that this involves wrongly-informed consciences. Deeply captured are those who think they have to hold onto a wrong notion in order to keep their integrity / intellectual honesty. (This capture happens when "holding fast" to a truth claim happens without first doing Bible-mandated [1 Thess. 5:21] "testing".) I strongly suspect that Christians who intensely trash-talk creationist ministries are spiritually sensitive but with wrongly informed consciences. Atheists can also prize integrity while holding to their very wrongly informed consciences--and blank out intake of our input. Pray that the Holy Spirit would make them metacognitively able to re-examine themselves about that danger.

3. Pray that atheists would value truth above their comfort zone--overcoming their worldview-produced ego-stroking "My mind is the measure of all things", and "autonomy of human reasoning", and "I am a moral free agent". That this action happens can only be due to sovereign work of the Holy Spirit (though God can also use our words).

4. Finally, remember that our faithful witness produces a scent--"fragrance" towards those elected unto salvation, and the "stench of death" towards others. (2 Cor. 2:16)

5. Finally, finally, as others have said: be patient and faithful. Some need multiple inputs from you to hear.
Mark E.
The church, in its role as bearers of the Good News, are employed by God as Change Managers. We are called by God to go out into the world, sharing the Good News, and encouraging people to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. Understanding the barriers to this transformation can help in the development of strategies and approaches when sharing the Good News. As mentioned in earlier posts, the ultimate work of this transformation is through the Holy Spirit, but our role is vital in declaring the truth in how we live and what we say and do. As an accredited Change Management Professional, I can see the usefulness of the disciplines associated with assisting organisations to transition through change when new systems, processes and procedures are implemented...the issues are the same or very similar for the unchurched. The formula is simple enough '(A1 + D + K + A2)/R =C', where A1 = Awareness, D = Desire, K = Knowledge, A2 = Ability, R = Reinforcement, and C = Change.
Awareness refers to the provision of information about the reasons for the change without reference to 'how' to change. Until the person who needs to change is fully aware of why change is required, they will not develop any 'Desire' to participate in the change. Desire is the emotional, physical and spiritual commitment to change, the willingness to agree (or disagree) with the change proposition. Once this commitment is achieved, they are then ready to receive the Knowledge and Ability to implement the change for themselves. Throughout these 4 stages (A1, D, K, A2), the participant must be reminded of and reinforced in the coming change. Our focus initially must be on A1, ready for K and A2 whilst always working on R.
Everett C.
I'm an example of the same situation from the other side. After years of church membership and reading my Bible daily I realized one morning in late 1990 that I didn't believe it. Thankfully, my response was to ask God to show me the reason for my unbelief.

I had heard about scientific creation but rejected it without investigation because I thought its proponents were foolish Bible thumpers. But one morning in January 1991, not many weeks after my prayer for understanding (I later learned that my long-deceased mother had prayed for me when I was very young), I "happened" to hear a radio interview with a PhD biologist who scientifically deconstructed evolution as I listened somewhat breathlessly. In an instant of what I describe as revelation I knew he was right! The reason I had lost my faith in the truth of the Bible was my having received a BS degree in geology some 15 years earlier. My mind was tightly closed to the truth until my prayer. God opened it.

I picked up my first creationist book that afternoon and, after being saved a few weeks later, never looked back. I know that if I had not prayed for God to show me the reason for my unbelief I would be, at best, a church-going atheist today some 25 years later. I now am privileged to serve as a member of a local scientific creation group alongside one of my former college professors from 1970 who was himself an evolutionist at the time.

I learned from my experience that debating an evolutionist may well be fruitless because, as Shaun pointed out, the issue is spiritual not scientific. So present the truth with grace and a gentle spirit. And pray!
Robert W.
Witnessing for Jesus Christ and presenting Biblical truth to unbelievers is not just for today. Our loving God takes over to nurture any "seed" we may plant with those who don't know Him as yet.
However, we shouldn't be discouraged at rejection in the present. As a person hears more and more from all sides, he/she will remember those who have witnessed, or at least that someone, maybe years ago, planted the seed that now helps them to see the truth. God promises that His Word that goes out will not return to Him void, but will accomplish that which He pleases, and prosper in the things where He sends it. (Isaiah 55:11)
There may be those whom we have witnessed to in the past who remembered that witness, and today believe. Praise Him!
Richard D.
What breaks my heart are the Christians and pastors that won't even consider reading articles or buying a book from a young earth creation organization or scientist. How do we reach our brothers and sisters in Christ who believe in an old earth, or theistic evolution or evolutionary creation or progressive creation or a hodgepodge of all the above?
I had a Christian brother ask, where could I get any good credible material on young earth creationism. As it turned out he has been lead to believe Answers in Genesis, your ministry and the other similar ministries are a bunch of crack pots, pseudo-scientists who don't know what they are talking about. And this misdirection was done by other Christian sources not by atheists.
If Christian truly have the mind of Christ, and the Spirit of God resides in them, and they have the word of God, the Bible in their hands and they have lead people to salvation by faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross, and the resurrection, why such blindness when it comes to Genesis 1-11? Why such resistance to the straightforward meaning of scripture? What can we do to open their eyes? It is such a tragedy! And it really does grieve me.
Please, Please help the church see the spirit behind evolution. Reveal the motivation, the source, the reasons Lyell, Darwin, and their ilk created this false history of origins.
How can we get the church to understand-that a man is blessed when he does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly nor sit in the seat of the scoffer... Psalm 1? Proverbs says-The naive inherit folly, and the folly of fools is foolishness. The believing church, seminaries/pastors, are naively embracing folly regarding our origin. How can the authority of scripture be reestablished for the believing Church again?
Shaun Doyle
It grieves our heart too. For more information, please see Loving the Bible too much? and Why would Christians be hostile to biblical creation?
Bob C.
Hi Shaun. A very gracious response to a very real dilemma for most of us as 'defenders of the faith.' A verse that comes to mind is Proverbs 15:1 ' A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.' As you infer our attitude is more important than the data we produce.
Your article itself is the epitome of what you were contending for. Thank you for it.
Kind regards
Christian R.
I also noticed that a lot of people I was discussing with, on controversial issues, often feel sure of themselves concerning these issues. So, during a conversation about a controversial subject, even with best friends, they are convinced their approach or understanding or conclusion is right. Not every one shows the same openess. When I tell them more facts that would or should change their perception, or position, they often defend their point anyhow, because of their conviction. It is normal to feel destabilized in such circumstances... happened to me more than once. I don't try to force them to change their mind immediately, because everyone is naturally on his defence. It does take time for them to re-evaluate their position and check the veracity of facts or reliability of sources. The way I view it, I sow the fact, I explain or defend my position. The other person doesn't have to accept it right away, it might take time; a bit like a seed planted doesn't grow overnight. Most of us had to chew a while before accepting facts contrary to our belief. It takes time to accept unsettling facts or theories. Reading testimonies from Creation Magazine will show just that. But I invite the other to prove me wrong on the facts, and I accept that it might take time to accept it. Also, pride can be in the way, on both parts, so I ask the Lord to bless both of us that we may understand the truth. I ask the Lord to make me understand the truth, and to make me humble enough to accept it when I am wrong, and to change my view honestly. We all had to change our perspective at one point, under the weight of evidence, and that, often after a long period of time. I seek peaceful conversations; I'm done with seeking immediate results.
Daniel M.
In conversations with atheists and skeptics, you might use the "Columbo" technique rather than the "proof" technique. With Columbo, you just ask questions, such as "What do you mean by that?" or "How did you come to that conclusion?" or "I'm not sure I understand your logic. Can you walk me through it?" Many people are just repeating something that they've heard on TV or remember vaguely from a science class years ago. This technique engages the person in a friendly way, affirming that you value their opinion, while at the same time probing their depth of knowledge about it. Also, you are making them think about their position because now they actually have to defend it.
Joe F.
One thing to always keep in mind is that, as Christians, we have the gift of God's Holy Spirit to guide us, and to confirm truth to us. The unbeliever does not. Were it not for the Holy Spirit, creation of all that exists by God would seem just as ridiculous to us as it does to the skeptic. As the article states, when we give the biblical facts of creation to a skeptic, that is all we can do. The Holy Spirit must - and in many cases will - do the rest. How long will that take? Nobody but God can say. All we can do is plant a seed, and let it germinate in His time. Plant the seed as best you can, and don't become frustrated if you don't see a bountiful crop brought forth. Rather, be thankful you were called to do that much.
Jon Stephan E.
I think the Pharisees did the same thing when they denied the miracles of Christ. No matter how convincing, it could be explained away somehow.
Dean R.
Yes the Bible speaks about the natural world, pre & post fall & also the spiritual dynamics that govern the heart & minds of humanity.

Stubborness & pride can rob us of so much that we cant see the forest for the trees.Deceptions & equivocations tend to tilt & undermine our thinking.
We are called to defend the position God has revealed to us & grow in God's grace.

Who says the Creation argument doesnt work any way...certainly not God or Scripture. I would say be thankful you have had the opportunity to share the wisdom of Scripture & leave it in God's hands (so to speak). Not only does He give us science, maths, art, music etc but an open line & community to share our struggles because of Christ.
Chris B.
While it is not our job to convict people (cause them to realize their wrong in their heart) it is our job to convince them of their wrong.

Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2 "Be prepared to correct, rebuke and encourage." correct is also translated into convince.

CMI provides excellent tools for helping with the convincing but it must be partnered with prayer. Especially praying for grace. Grace for all those involved in the conversation. This is something I am learning myself right now.

Convicting people is beyond our ability and requires grace.

My encouragement for all that are frustrated with seemingly dead end conversations is for every conversation a seed is planted. And seeds require warmth and watering to germinated before they can flower. Keeping prayers, keep sharing, and allow the joy of the Lord to overflow.

God Bless, and Thank You CMI for all you do.

Chris D.
Essentially the question above is “Why is the evolutionist not buying the Christian argument?” A key to the problem is the word “buy” because the Christian is selling the argument. Classical sales techniques suggest that the problem is caused by the buyer not being engaged. The conversation is one-sided, with the Christian trying to convince (sell) the evolutionist of their argument.
A solution to the problem is to engage the evolutionist in the conversation. You do this by asking questions. Get them to defend their viewpoint. Get them to try to convert you. For example, you ask them to explain how the big bang happened, and then how something happened without a cause. If they say there was a cause, what was it? What caused that cause? The thrust of your questioning boils down to asking them this: “How do you know that claim is true?”. Eventually, it will come down to belief, for example, a belief in a higher authority like scientists. Once it becomes belief, it is no longer science.
When having this kind of conversation, do not keep repeating “How do you know that is true?” because that gets tiresome very quickly. Instead, say things like “In physics, every effect has a cause, and the big bang seems to contradict that. Help me understand your viewpoint.” The key is to be genuinely interested in their arguments and them, not just your perspective. Just like high-end selling, you have to build the relationship before you can close the sale.
Once the evolutionist is in the “belief space” they have moved beyond the evidence, and into the territory of worldviews. Here they need to show their worldview does not contain inconsistencies, but only Christianity passes this test.
Shaun Doyle
For more information, please see the related articles, especially Faith and facts.
john P.
Not everyone is a seeker and lover of the truth and as Shaun says it is the Holy Spirit's job to convict and convert people.only He knows if He got His Foot into someone's door and they are saved. We won't know this side of eternity. We sow the seed, He harvests it
Gordon S.
A passage that helps me as to the subject of this article is Acts 19:8/9. Paul reasoned to prove his case but when persons became abusive he left them. We can help people who have been wrongly educated by reasoning, but if they have fixed views we may have to leave them with God as it was said to Job "God will make him yield not man" (Job 32:13 JND translation). If persons are dyed in the wool Darwinists (as a well known evolutionist admitted he was) we may have to leave them with God.
Grahame G.
re Muslims

"It simply doesn’t matter what anyone could say; no mere words will convince them that Jesus died by crucifixion."

It would be more accurate to say "most of them" rather than "them". Or "will be unlikely to convince" rather than "will convince".

Ravi tells a story of a Muslim scholar he talked to who admitted it was time for the Muslim world to admit Jesus died and stop debating whether He did and ask why.
Shaun Doyle
Fair call. Updated accordingly.
Gian Carlo B.
And this is why I usually do not spend a lot of time debating or even commenting much on G+ or anywhere on the Internet. Even with the best clarification of my argument and best logic, there will always be some illeterate brains who cannot see their own errors and like to keep pouring fingers at their opponents. I usually comment one to three times and leave the fray since I have other important things like attending my university homeworks and I have a life to live, better than arguing with fools.
Alex W.
Well said Shaun.
A friend of mine at university who was a Christian when I wasn't often invited me to church events and I went with him but it made no difference to my life. However, his faith, consistency, and graciousness in the face of my failure to respond was a good example to me, and a vast contrast to the party crowd I mixed with. Years later when a Christian I thanked him for his witness and he again responded graciously that it was nice to hear of fruit but he did not look for it.
We witness to the truth because Jesus commanded it, not because we can 'bag heads' thereby. We can sow the seed, and we can water it, but God gives both the germination and the growth.
Paul S.
1. Many would not listen to Jesus despite seeing what happened, and especially those with a vested interest (job, reputation, life's work).
2. Jezebel would not listen when Elijah wiped out her prophets in a great victory.

It is their choice to listen or not, yours is to give the information. Many won't receive it.

Don't fret. Be calm and assured, they will notice that.

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