We often hear it said that “nobody was ever converted by argument”. And while it’s true that the Holy Spirit is ultimately the one who opens minds and hearts to the truth of Christ, it’s simply rubbish to say that argument plays no role in that process. Arnold Lunn, a rather famous convert of the past century writes:
“Nobody is ever converted by argument” is a popular slogan with Christian appeasers, but unilateral disarmament is as foolish in theological as in international disputes. Communists and atheists do not act on the principle that no Christian can ever be perverted by argument.
Nobody, of course, is ever wholly converted by argument, but if we exclude supernatural factors, argument is the decisive factor in many cases. It certainly was so in mine. I did not pray for guidance because I had abandoned, with relief, the practice of prayer while at Harrow. The Empty Tomb was a fascinating problem but—to me at that time—less interesting than those problems of snow and avalanche craft which I was trying to solve. My writings on snowcraft have emerged with credit from the test of scientific research, conducted in the main by Gerald Seligman, because I tried to practice what Huxley preached in the famous maxim “an assertion which outstrips the evidence is not only a blunder but a crime”, and for the same reason I was slow to commit myself to any definite theory about the Resurrection. The problems of snowcraft were scientific, the problem of the Empty Tomb historical, and in the latter case as in the former I tried to reach a solution by means of rational deductions from the available evidence. The mental process in both cases seemed to me much the same.
Whatever may be the influence of rational argument on conversion, it is certain that lack of rational argument is an important factor in perversion. Had I known what I now know I should not, as a boy, have been perverted by the specious arguments of Leslie Stephen’s “An Agnostic’s Apology” (Faber and Faber). I have just reread a symposium, “Public School Religion,” which I edited and to which the Bishop of Bradford, and the head masters of Eton and Westminster contributed. Many of the points discussed would have been equally relevant in a wider setting than the public schools, as for instance the ingrained resistance of the average boy to anything which is taught as a school subject. But experience proves that where apologetics is intelligently taught, a surprisingly large number of boys are thereby inspired to propagate the faith.