Passion isn’t proof. A false premise is still false whether it is delivered with the rousing rhetoric of a politician or the monotone voice of Rosey the Robot. We may find this hard to believe. After all, we are often moved by the emotional pleas of a speaker. But, it’s true. I mean, if passion is proof, then Hitler was right. Right? In fact, if passion is proof then atheists and theists alike are right! Folks, passion isn’t proof.

Not only is passion not proof, but passion can actually be a hindrance to proof. Feinberg and Willer found that moral rhetoric (read passion) can make an argument ineffective. They write:[1]

However, research suggests such moral rhetoric is largely ineffective for persuading those who do not already hold one’s position because advocates advancing these arguments fail to account for the divergent moral commitments that undergird America’s political divisions.

In other words, arguing with great passion can be the wrong strategy even though your facts are solid. So, if passion isn’t proof, and if passion can actually hinder an argument for truth, we should work to argue more dispassionately. Here are three suggestions:[2]

  1. Step Inside the Other Person’s Worldview: How they see the world determines how they feel. Ask yourself, what is important in their view? Figure out what they care about and use this to begin a conversation.  For example, an atheist may say he believes God is a moral monster or that the Christian church has perpetrated moral atrocities against people through history. These passionate and inflammatory statements reveal that he cares about moral conduct. Realizing this, one could begin a rational conversation about what grounds right and wrong in this world (i.e. The Moral Argument).
  2. Find Common Factual Ground: Finding common factual ground can be an effective way to move a conversation away from feelings and toward facts. Every effective argument for God’s existence begins with shared facts. The Cosmological Argument, for example, appeals to the common facts that the universe began to exist and that things that begin to exist must have a cause. These facts serve as a feelings-neutral common ground starting point for conversation.
  3. Forget the Score: Are you trying to win a debate or a soul? In winning a debate, it is important to score points. (It can be fun too.) In winning a soul, on the other hand, it is important to forget the score and just be Christ-like. Simply put, while being reviled, we must not revile in return (1 Peter 2:23). This means we will sometimes forfeit the chance to score points and instead focus on moving the conversation toward the truth.

So what does this mean? Is there really no place for passion in our apologetics? It doesn’t mean that all! Surely, all good apologists will be passionate about their faith. But, no good apologist will rely on their passion to prove their argument or allow their passion to get in the way of their argument. Instead, they will be careful to argue kindly and dispassionately that Christianity is simply the best explanation of the shared facts of reality. Or to say it another way, a good apologist will channel their passion into making better arguments.

 

 

[1] From Gulf to Bridge When Do Moral Arguments Facilitate Political Influence?http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167215607842

[2] These thoughts are inspired by John Baldoni’s article here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnbaldoni/2015/12/19/3-questions-to-help-you-win-your-next-argument/#5e08b6f965b8.

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