When Is an Apologetic Dialogue No Longer Worth Pursuing?

by Randal Rauser , Christian Post Contributor |

Is it worth debating people if you can't change their mind?

Over the years, I have often heard atheists pose the question, "What kind of evidence would it take you to give up your Christian belief?" In many cases, the assumption behind the question seems to be that the Christian should have some clear threshold of evidence in mind. And failure to state what that threshold is would call into question the rationality and intellectual seriousness of the Christian.

Atheists aren't the only ones posing this kind of demand. I recently came across a similar view expressed by Christian apologist Max Andrews in the following tweet:

"When dialoguing with your interlocutor, ask them, 'What must obtain so that your position be changed or that you're convinced of my position?' If they fail to present conditions or claim that nothing will, discard the conversation and neglect the casting of pearls before swine." (source)

I disagree strongly with Mr. Andrews' sentiments and in this article, I'm going to explain why by considering what it means to have an open-mind and whether the possession of an open-mind is essential for worthwhile conversation.

Does Having an Open Mind Require You to Know When it Would Change?

First up, Andrews, assumes that having an open-mind about a belief entails having the ability to state the conditions under which one would give up that belief. But I see no reason to think that is true.

Consider the example of Calvinism. After growing up a default Arminian, I became a Calvinist in 1999. Two years later, I rejected Calvinism and returned to an Arminian position, albeit a post-critical Arminian position.

While I am an Arminian once again, I certainly think I'm open-minded on this topic and I know many Calvinists who would agree with me. Despite that fact, I can't say what exactly would persuade me to change my mind on the question: new exegesis of Romans 9? A novel argument in favor of soft determinism or perhaps the incompatibility of libertarian free will with divine foreknowledge? I'm not sure. Anyone of these could change my mind, but without having the evidence presented to me, I can't be sure.

I do suspect that if I were to change my mind and accept Calvinism again, it would likely come about as the result of a gradual process in which various arguments or lines of evidence would slowly erode my commitment to Arminianism leading to the moment when I suddenly come to realize, "Hey, I'm a Calvinist again!"

The fact is that this is typically how major belief conversions occur: slowly, over time, by way of multiple small steps culminating finally in one big change. But the ability to anticipate precisely the moment when that change would occur on a particular topic is typically something we don't know.

To conclude my first objection, it seems to me that the ability to identify the point at which you'd abandon a belief is not an essential hallmark of open-mindedness.

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