Proof is not Persuasion, and yet…

In apologetics proof and persuasion are two related, essential, and yet distinct concepts. Some believe persuasion isn’t vital and others think that persuasion is everything. Frame brings much balance to the discussion:

I do think that persuasion is an important concept, but I do not agree that it should be incorporated in the concept of proof. That would limit our proofs to those which actually persuade people. But, in fact, Scripture teaches that good proofs do not always persuade, for unbelievers repress the truth. This repression is not always successful; sometimes I’m believers recognize truth, even truths about God. But it is nearly impossible to predict what a given unbeliever will suppress and what he will admit in spite of himself. Ultimately, the only cure for repression is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, as we construct arguments, we have a little idea of what sort of argument will be persuasive to any particular individual or audience. There is no argument guaranteed to be persuasive to all people. Not even arguments from Scripture alone are guaranteed in that way, though we know from the above discussion that they are pleasing to God. To have such a guarantee, we would have to be able to predict both the devious process of suppression and the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit.

-John M. Frame, Apologetics, to the Glory of God: An Introduction, 62

And yet in his exposition of proof in his Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, Frame focuses on persuasion as an essential element of “justifying” our beliefs. Let his words there act as a word of  caution.

We are not seeking merely to validate statements but persuade people. Justification is a person-oriented activity. In trying to justify our beliefs, we often seek to persuade others and sometimes ourselves, but there is always some persuasion being attempted… If we ignore the element of persuasion or “convincingness,”…we may find ourselves constructing perfectly valid and sound “proofs” that are of no help to anyone.

Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 151, 152

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Posted on September 18, 2012, in Apologetic Method and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. In today’s NYT, Cass Sunstein (of _Nudge_, etc.) has a piece on persuasion: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/18/opinion/balanced-news-reports-may-only-inflame.html

    The gist:

    ‘People tend to dismiss information that would falsify their convictions. But they may reconsider if the information comes from a source they cannot dismiss. People are most likely to find a source credible if they closely identify with it or begin in essential agreement with it. In such cases, their reaction is not, “how predictable and uninformative that someone like that would think something so evil and foolish,” but instead, “if someone like that disagrees with me, maybe I had better rethink.”

    ‘If civil rights leaders oppose affirmative action, or if well-known climate change skeptics say that they were wrong, people are more likely to change their views.’

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