Beliefs Trump Evidence

Beliefs Trump Evidence June 3, 2013

Have youever been in a situation where someone considers the exact same data as you,but the two of you draw entirely opposite conclusions? Often there’s a simplereason why this happens. A scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towersmay help illustrate. Toward the end of the book, Frodo and Sam find themselvesat the Black Gate which guards entrance to the land of Mordor.As they contemplate a mad dash through the Gate, their slippery guide, Sméagol,offers an alternative path into Mordor: a dark way, secret and more difficult,but likely safer in the long run. Puzzled, Frodo questions Sméagol withgentleness, but Sam charges him with deceit and evil motives. Even when Frodopoints out that Sméagol has been true to his word thus far on their journey,Sam’s resistance lingers. Why do Frodo and Sam have opposite reactions toSméagol’s offer? Why didn’t the evidence Frodo presented change Sam’s mind?Ultimately, Frodo and Sam brought opposing beliefs about Sméagol’s fundamental character to the discussion. Frodobelieved that Sméagol was redeemable, while Sam believed he was evil all theway through. Both interpreted Sméagol’s recent actions differently, becausetheir fundamental beliefs governed how they viewed the evidence. To Frodo,Sméagol was changing; to Sam, he was just biding his time.

This isoften the problem we’re up against when we’re telling people about ourChristianity. Non-Christians (by definition as “non-Christians”) don’t believewhat Christians believe. They don’t believe in God or supernatural creation orthe Bible or Jesus or whatever. In other words, they bring an entirelydifferent set of presuppositions to the discussion. The common result is that,no matter how much “evidence” we give them, they will keep on explaining itaway, just like Sam did with Frodo. Our fundamental beliefs, i.e., our presuppositions,dominate the evidence every time!

Practicallyspeaking, this means several things. First, we should pray, because only theHoly Spirit can open blind eyes and change presuppositions. Second, we shouldbe gentle with questioners. They often aren’t being obstinate; because of theirbeliefs, they truly don’t see it like you see it. And third, it means we shouldoccasionally direct attention to their unexamined beliefs and ask them whythey’ve made these assumptions. Many times, we’ll find that they didn’t evennotice they had those assumptions in the first place.