Do you ever wonder why you can give a great explanation to someone and yet they still won’t come to agree with your point?
I’m one of those people who has this kind of innate, implicit view that if I just explain something well enough, people will agree. They’ll see it my way. There’s a certain kind of pride that’s behind that I think, that God’s been working on my heart on over the years, to where I frequently now realize I don’t see things the right way. I don’t have the right answer all the time. That’s important for all of us to recognize.
But even when I am convinced by scripture and multiple sources that I do have the correct belief on a certain issue, I still hold this view that if I just explain it well enough, people will agree. It doesn’t work like that. You know this. I know this. We all know this, but sometimes we forget that in conversation.
Today what I want to do is spend a little bit of time talking about some possible reasons why, even in the face of a compelling explanation, sometimes people will still not agree. There are two categories we’re going to look at today. One is that the presuppositions someone holds may prevent them from seeing the evidence the way you see the evidence. The other category we’ll look at is simply hardness of heart. We’ll talk about God’s involvement with the heart and that aspect to.
First, presuppositions. What is a presupposition? It is a position you hold that comes before other positions you hold, hence the “pre” and “supposing,” presupposition. These are foundational beliefs. They’re kind of like the things that are bedrock for how we see the rest of the world and understand evidence and interpret people’s explanations and all of that.
I have the presupposition that gravity exists. Now that used to be a conclusion for me. At some point I had to be convinced that gravity existed, but now that I do, if you ever tell me that a person can just float or that gravity doesn’t apply over here, I’m just going to reject that out of hand. I’m not going to go, get out of my chair, walk into the hallway to see someone who supposedly is defying the law of gravity.
Now maybe they’re doing that from a hovercraft or some type of jet pack, but that doesn’t suspend gravity; that’s countering it. But if you were to tell me that gravity just doesn’t exist over here in this place, I just wouldn’t believe you.
In the same way that if you were to tell me that there’s a square circle on this piece of paper across the room, I’m not going to get up. I’m not going to go look at it. My presuppositions about what it means to be circular and square, namely that you can’t be both circular and square at the same time, just rule out the possibility of a square circle. It doesn’t fit in my worldview. It doesn’t accord with my presuppositions.
This happens when we talk about religion too. For instance, you may give great evidence for the resurrection. You may point to the fact that we have multiple sources that all independently give us details and tell us about the resurrection. You may say that it’s the best explanation ever proposed, that all the other hypotheses fail, and that they’re actually quite laughably silly when you analyze them. You might go through each individual step about how the church started out of the resurrection, how the tomb was empty, how people saw him after his death and were willing to die for that claim. You might go through all of that and the related embarrassing testimony about the resurrection. Someone will still say, “Yeah, but it didn’t happen.”
When you push a little more, you might get to a reason why. They might say, “It can’t happen.” When people start saying things can’t happen, we’re getting in the realm of presuppositions. If you keep pushing, this person will likely say resurrections are the types of things that can’t happen. Behind this is the presupposition that there is not a supernatural realm. That there is not a miraculous type of event that could take place.
You see, that’s a starting place for this person in the conversation. It’s not a conclusion. They came in with this set of things that are possible and not possible in their mind. The resurrection, in spite of any evidence you could ever give them, just doesn’t fit with their presuppositions. It is ruled out on the face of it.
We have to acknowledge that. Now are people’s presuppositions able to be overcome sometimes by adequate evidence or an overwhelming amount of evidence? Yes. But they’re never going to see your evidence until they change their presuppositions. I think that’s important for us to understand. We’re not on equal ground analyzing the same evidence. My presuppositions are going to cause me to see different things in the evidence than someone else’s presuppositions.
This is right at home in the evolution debate. Some Christians will say that there’s no evidence for evolution. Well there is evidence for evolution. Some people will say there’s no evidence for intelligent design. There is evidence for intelligent design. I think we have to be clear on that. There are points on both sides of the ledger, so to speak. There are pros and cons to each view. The question is: which view has the most evidence and the best evidence and is most compelling and is most plausible.
You see, my presuppositions are going to affect how I evaluate the evidence for intelligent design and how I evaluate the evidence for evolution. In the same way, when a person who’s not a Christian comes to look at the evidence for intelligent design, they’re going to say, “Well there isn’t this type of thing as a transcendent intelligence, so life cannot have been designed.”
“There can’t have been a creator because that’s a supernatural type of thing,” if they understand our position correctly. That matter came from something immaterial. That type of thing doesn’t exist. “There is not an immaterial type of thing or substance out there.” They’re not going to look at the evidence the same way because they don’t think the type of thing we’re talking about is even possible because of their presuppositions. That’s why two people can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions. It’s because they have two different sets of presuppositions. They’re not standing on equal ground.
This is also at play when we talk about homosexuality. Today’s same-sex advocate has much better arguments than advocates in previous years or decades. They will often say, “Yes, the New Testament does not present homosexuality in a good light. In fact, it seems to say it’s wrong.” Oftentimes what they’ll say, though, is, “But it’s not talking about what we’re talking about today. It’s not talking about same-sex orientation. They didn’t even have a category for that.” Some people will even say, “Well Paul was just a man of his time.” I’ve actually heard people say that if Paul were around today, he would agree that same-sex relationships can be holy because he just didn’t know enough back then.
What’s behind that? What is a presuppositions they hold that makes them come to that conclusion? I think behind this is the idea that the Bible is not the word of God. If we’re saying Paul was too ignorant to address the true situation, what we’re also saying is the Holy Spirit was either too ignorant or inept or maybe, more accurately, just didn’t inspire the New Testament. That it’s not God-breathed. A certain view of scripture is what’s behind their conclusion on homosexuality.
Now that view of scripture is obviously a conclusion for them. They had to come to that. Now maybe they came to that in order to support their view of homosexuality. Maybe they held that view before. But nonetheless, in this conversation that is a pre-commitment they hold that is going to affect how they interpret the evidence.
Another example also on scripture might be for someone who holds that works are required for salvation. Now people come to this view oftentimes just by reading the Bible incompletely and incorrectly. But for some people they’re going to say, “That’s what the Catholic church teaches.” If you say, “How do you know the church is right?” they’ll say, “The church teaches me what the Bible says. The church is authoritative.” What’s behind a Catholic view of scripture is that it’s only correct and only authoritative in as much as it’s taught and interpreted by the church. The church is the authority there, not scripture. Or scripture at least has a derivative authority only because of the church.
That’s definitely going to affect how we interpret scripture, how we talk about different concepts in the conversation. Because the church is viewed to be as infallible. Protestants view scripture as infallible and not the church. But the Roman Catholic church teaches that itself is infallible. That’s a preconception that you’ll have to deal with oftentimes with talking with Roman Catholics.
We’ve talked about the resurrection and evolution and homosexuality and works/scripture, but all of these oftentimes are conversations we get into and we’re like, “Okay, why don’t they agree? I’ve presented a compelling case, I think. It’s compelled other people.” The difference here is different preconceptions. We’re not standing on equal ground in evaluating the evidence.
Now we all are created in the image of God. We can make arguments that are based on that. Maybe we’ll talk about that another time, but nonetheless, we come into conversations with different lenses that are going to accentuate or even filter out different points of the evidence. That’s the first category we were going to talk about today: presuppositions.
The State of the Heart
The last category is perhaps the more important category (but we’re going to spend less time on it just so we can hit our 14-minute mark, which is what I strive for on this podcast.) Hardness of heart: that’s our second category. Scripture tells us that the heart is deceptive above all things. We often forget this in our apologetics conversations, but there is a strong heart and spiritual component to what we believe, how we act, what we’re willing to accept.
Oftentimes, for the person who’s thought about these issues, they can’t cave on their view of evolution because that would mean that there’s a God. As some people have said, we can’t allow God to get a divine foot in the door because they understand what it would mean. If God exists, some people rightly understand that man is accountable to him. “Well I don’t want to be accountable to God,” some people have said in their heart or even out loud. “So we can’t hold a view of the world and creation that lets God get a divine foot in the door.”
Jesus is constantly going back and forth with the Pharisees in the Gospels. He’s explaining things and they don’t get it. They just want to kill him all the more. His same message is interpreted differently by the Pharisees than the other people. Why?
As he constantly says, the hardness of their heart. I’m preparing to preach on Mark 7 this coming Sunday, and it’s interesting, at the end of the first section in Mark chapter, Jesus says, “For from within and out of the heart come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and even folly,” or foolishness or wickedness depending on how you understand and translate that term. “All of these evils come from within,” Jesus says.
Why don’t people believe the Gospel. Is it because they’re not convinced by evidence? Well, from a certain perspective yes, but also because their heart doesn’t want to. This is what Paul gets at in Romans 2, that no one’s actually seeking after God on their own. Everyone has gone astray. They’re like sheep without a shepherd. No one does good in that way. I think we have to remember that when we’re talking with people. Apart from God giving someone a new heart, they won’t do what’s pleasing to him and believe. That needs to be in our minds as we share with people. We should be calm and patient with people, realizing that, one, from a human standpoint they have different preconceptions, presuppositions, about what is possible or not. We’ve got to work through those.
Two, there’s a hardness of heart issue that only God can change the heart. In fact, in the Old Testament, in Ezekiel, when a prophecy is being made about the New Covenant, God tells people what he’s going to do. He’s going to take out their heart of stone and give them a new heart, and then give him his Spirit to cause them to walk in his way. Our problem is that we need a new heart.
When we’re talking with a non-Christian about scripture, homosexuality, abortion, creation, the resurrection, yes, we need to convince them with well-reasoned arguments. Paul reasoned with people. But yes, that same Paul acknowledged that unless God gives them a new heart, nothing’s ultimately going to change.
This is what’s behind Paul’s writing in 2 Timothy, chapter 2, verse 25. He’s telling Timothy to correct opponents with gentleness. “And perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth, and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will.”
Paul obviously has this view that people are accountable for their accounts. I don’t think anyone could read Paul and come away with this view that people aren’t responsible. But he also affirms here and almost every time he writes that God has to grant repentance. The Holy Spirit has to regenerate people in order for them to follow him.
Paul in this passage is saying God needs to grant repentance and give them knowledge of the truth, and only then will they come to their senses and come out of their captivity to Satan and to sin and to self.
We should have patience, just like Paul says here. Have patience with people. Correct them with gentleness. Why? Because we understand the issue is a heart issue. Yes, we’re reasoning with them. Paul even says here, “to correct them.” This is written to Timothy in a specific pastoral context there, but nonetheless, I think there’s something we can learn here and apply: we do this with gentleness and respect, as we see in 1 Peter 3:15. Here Paul’s telling us to do it with gentleness once again, that we would have patience, realizing that it is God who affects salvation. It is God who gives that gift. It is God who takes out the heart of stone and puts in a heart of flesh.
Yes, he ordains that to happen through the preaching of his word, as Paul says in Romans 10. “How will people hear unless they are preached to, and how will people preach unless they are sent?” And on and on and on. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news?” Why, because that’s the means God has ordained for the sharing of the Gospel and for people coming to salvation. It’s through the preaching of the Gospel. It’s through reasoning through the scriptures. It’s through those conversations that we have with people about Gospel matters.
Oftentimes that involves us countering people’s presuppositions, being aware of the fact that they are there so we can call them out and talk about them. When someone rejects the resurrection, we might think the issue is about the resurrection. The issue oftentimes is their preconceptions. We also need to remember, though, that behind those presuppositions is often a hardness of heart, and that leads us to have patience with people and pray for them that God would grant them repentance so that they would come to a saving knowledge of him.
I will talk with you next week on Unapologetic.
2 thoughts on “Episode 114 – Why Do People Reject Good Arguments?”
Very good! I would quibble about the "not convinced by the evidence" though. They, because of their presuppositions, have different standards for evidence. Your evidence is unacceptable to them because they do not believe anything "supernatural" can occur. Such sources are never even considered. They are thrown out without a hearing. 😉
I totally agree! But, those two ideas don’t seem to have to contradict: One can not be convinced by the evidence because one summarily dismisses it because of their presuppositions. Is that fair?