Friday, June 1, 2018

The Stewed Tomato Trap

As Jesse Duplantis begs for $54 million to buy a jet plane, let's remember this little ditty popularized by Josh McDowell (though I am sure he didn't originate the basic idea):

For example, suppose a student comes into the room and says, “Hey-I have a stewed tomato in my right tennis shoe. This tomato has changed my life. It has given me peace and love and joy that I never experienced before.” It’s hard to argue with a student like that if his life backs up what he says. 

Yes, it's hard to argue with a student like that, but it's not because his life backs up what he says.  It's because we long ago fell into this trap where subjective experience trumps objective fact.

In an objective sense, you could run that student in circles with arguments on why the stewed tomato isn't that cause of his peace. The most obvious point is that it has the bearing of the tail wagging the dog. But the real reason you can't argue with this student is because all the relevant data is locked away in his skull behind a wall of what some politely call confirmation bias. You can't argue with it if the student wants it to be true.

The corollary point to this is where we segue into Duplantis' $54 million excursion into foolishness. This is just the latest of so many examples. (Who remembers Oral Roberts saying God would "call him home" if his followers didn't pony up $8 million? Oral's people were getting a relative bargain.) It is also the fruit of the stewed tomato trap. Under the assumption that you can't argue with experiences of peace, love and joy, it follows as a corollary in the minds of critics that you also can't argue with expressions of greed, selfishness, and dissatisfaction. Christianity (the stewed tomato) has changed Duplantis' life this way? No thanks. Directions to the nearest Buddhist temple, please.

McDowell used the stewed tomato analogy a lot in his time. It was no surprise then that when I asked him some questions many years ago, he said that he never started with apologetics when talking to people and that his apologetics works were not meant to be evangelistic tools. He said as much as well in Evidence That Demands A Verdict: His goal was to use apologetics to answer questions so he could get back to presenting the stewed tomato.

Attitudes like this are no aid to apologetics, and foolish excursions like the one Duplantis is on only make the job of apologetics harder. Thanks to the stewed tomato trap, it is hard to argue against it.

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