Put on the table one of your most cherished theological ideas — say creationism, the historicity of Jonah surviving in a big fish, Calvinism or Arminianism, penal substitution, the gospel as social justice, progressive ideas on the gay/lesbian debates… just put your major idea on the table and ask yourself one question:
What would it take to change your mind?
Here’s George Monbiot asking that about an article in The Spectator about climate change:
If people are committed to an unscientific position, no evidence or argument will shake them out of it. Whether they subscribe to AIDS denial, excessive fear of radiation, vaccine scaremongering, homeopathy or creationism, they tend to demand impossible standards of proof from their opponents but to accept any old rubbish that supports their beliefs.
So if you are among those who reject the vast weight of scientific evidence for manmade climate change, I don’t expect this article to persuade you. Ask yourself what it would take to change your mind. If tens of thousands of peer-reviewed papers, against a tiny handful supporting your position; basic physics, demonstrable in a lab; instrumental temperature records spanning 150 years and much else on these lines can’t sway you, what could?
Conversely, which claims will you not accept? Do you believe that volcanoes produce more carbon dioxide than human beings? That the hockey-stick graph of global temperatures is a fake? That global warming is a conspiracy cooked up between governments and scientists? If none of the science persuades you, but you accept these groundless claims, your belief is likely to be a religious one, by which I mean unamenable to refutation.
So demonstrating in the pages of The Spectator that last week’s cover story was complete hogwash may be a waste of time for those whose minds are already made up. But I’ll do it anyway.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If someone maintains that he has overturned the entire canon of knowledge about global sea levels, derived from a massive database of readings from tidal gauges and satellites, he’d better have some powerful evidence for it, and he’d better publish it in the peer-reviewed scientific journals, where claims are assessed by people who know what they’re looking at.