Conversion Stories … that don’t actually convince anybody of anything at all

religious_intolerance_conversionOne common strategy that is commonly deployed to convince people to convert is to wheel out a conversion story of somebody impressive. Here is a specific example, it consists of a posting to a Facebook group yesterday …

■■ Quran wins the heart of US Professor Dr. Jeffrey Lang ■■

Dr. Jeffrey Lang is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of Kansas, one of the biggest universities in the United States. He started his religious journey on Jan 30, 1954, when he was born in a Roman Catholic family in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The first 18 years of his life were spent in Catholic schools, which left him with many unanswered questions about God and the Christian religion, Lang said, as he narrated his story of Islam.

“Like most kids back in the late 60s and early 70s, …

I started questioning all the values that we had at those times, political, social and religious,” Lang said. “I rebelled against all the institutions that society held sacred including the Catholic Church,”

What then follows is the usual conversion story that involves feelings, crying, and generally rather a lot of emotions.

So when presented, was anybody impressed? Er no, not really. We now live in an age when such appeals to emotion can be fact checked.

Point 1 – It is an attempt to Appeal to an Authority

Note the strong emphases being placed upon this chap being a professor. The implication is obvious, here is a smart highly intelligent human, and since he converted, then you should as well.

No wait, he is a professor of Maths, so belief is not his area of expertise.

The fact that this is an attempt to leverage his status sends a clear message – the belief has no evidence or rational arguments, so it instead makes an appeal that is designed to impress and manipulate you psychologically.

Point 2 – It’s an old, a very old story

This chap converted in the early 80s, and so when faced with a conversion story that is almost a quarter of a century old, you can’t help but wonder if nobody at all has converted since then. I’m sure people have, in fact they join and leave all the time, so perhaps what this tells us is that this is the only instance during the past quarter of a century that a highly educated professor of Maths converted, and in all the decades since then there have not been any more.

That alone sends a rather clear signal that is perhaps not quite the desired message they were going for.

In the end, this specific attempt at psychological manipulation has fallen completely flat, the rise of the Internet gives us rapid access to information and so such attempts are no longer as common as they once used to be because we can rapidly google and fact check. However, the root tactic of psychological emotional manipulation will remain unchanged – when examples such as this no longer work they will rapidly fade and be naturally deselected, and so other alternatives will naturally emerge.

The beliefs that prevail today are here because they have been naturally selected and so they have a distinct survival advantage – adaptability. What happens is that they tend to fragment and splinter into newer more attractive variations that then become popular. Christianity lost a considerable grasp on humanity due to the rise of the printing press, the new rapid flow of ideas and information gave birth to both the enlightenment and also the scientific revolution, but belief adapted and mutated, so the reformation brought in more palatable variations of belief.

Now I’m speculating and so I’d like to suggest that once again this pattern may be playing out today. The internet has deployed its ability to disrupt, not just within a commercial context, but also within our minds and hearts – it is disrupting traditional belief. This I suspect might lead to the emergence of  newer more palatable variations of religion that will then thrive because belief is manna to the masses who consume beliefs to glean meaning in a meaningless universe.

Perhaps we shall see the emergence of variations of Christianity that are pro-gay and pro-science. We may also see variations of Islam emerge that are totally opposed to all violence, pro-free speech, and promote secularism as an ideal. It is in many ways inevitable that it will be like this because that is the direction that our cultures are moving in, and so if belief is to thrive it will need to adopt such thinking, and I strongly suspect that it will.

No doubt the supernaturalism will also persist and will simply be dressed in a more modern costume that reflects the new emerging tolerance and rising hostility for intolerance.

I might of course be quite wrong about all of this, but then that is wholly natural, I dare to deploy doubt and don’t exclude my own speculations and idle musing from such doubting. I’m not alone and never really have been, for while we do live in a world filled with humans who love to have their minds tickled by the embrace of supernatural claims, dotted around are also those such as myself who have grown to doubt claims that lack evidence, and that it not new, because while belief has always thrived within the human mind, so also has doubt.

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca,  Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, and dramatist

2 thoughts on “Conversion Stories … that don’t actually convince anybody of anything at all”

  1. For fun I just revisited my older posts in this forum and it looks like you and I have been down a very similar road in the past and I’m not bringing really anything new lol. I guess I’m just restating everything I stated before!

  2. The way conversion happens is more about psychology and less philosophy, and I’m not sure I want to go there (I may talk about personal experience but I’m not qualified to talk about experience in general) but I do have a few reservations towards your claims of “communication sharing breeds out God” and “higher learning is rightfully becoming more resistant.” This has to do with where you are looking.

    I find that the sciences of studying molecules and energy (maths, biology, chemistry) have mistakenly believed science to be philosophy. There are also numerous falsifiable practice beliefs that are easily countered- the ideas “truths are completely provable” and “molecules and energy beget all truth” are vastly accepted beliefs, which cannot be proven themselves. These are self defeating statements, but are the very core behind the philosophies of most good scientific thinkers.

    Yet among the higher learned, philosophers tend to sway more Deist than Atheist, and Medical experts have one of the highest conversion rates. (Playing kickball and choosing players is an ugly way of arguing. I’m just responding to the mathtician comment)

    And I’m afraid it’s those philosophical questions that have been unfairly answered that drives a lot of this learned machine. The universe is assumed to be meaningless because we cannot prove a meaning, but that thinking takes the flawed philosophy of “If it’s true it’s undeniably provable”. Instead we apply different philosophy “The thing that begets the product must exain the product” and apply it to meaning and we arrive at “Since man desires meaning, the universe ought to be able to provide one in order to cause the event that in it there’s man that desires meaning”

    And on a final note, it sounds like your largest reservation to Deism is that you look around the world and cannot find an example of something known to be supernatural. I just ask you examine your own “rules”. The earth was round when all experimental evidence of the time showed it to be impossible. All solids are made of clusters of energy while many years ago, that idea would be laughed at. We’re these things untrue until they were proven? “Scientific thinking” would deny all theories until perfect probability.

    I’m afraid we’re to the point of writing books to eachother lol. If you respond don’t feel the need to address every piece of this and if you don’t, I won’t assume I have won that point lol. I’ll probably do the same.


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