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 are on only make the job of apologetics harder. Thanks to the stewed tomato trap, it is hard to argue against it.

Comments

im-skeptical said…
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.

- How true. Good post.
Joe Hinman said…
The argument from religious experience is deemed too subjective to be of any real interest to rationally minded skeptics. Yet over the last 50 years, a huge body of empirical scientific work has emerged in peer reviewed journals that strengthens the case for religious experience as a God argument. Unfortunately, this body of work is largely confined to psychology of religion and is virtually unknown to theology or even religious studies. In this paper I examine the research methods used in this body of work, particular attention to the mysticism scale developed by Ralph Hood Jr. (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga). I then apply the findings to an argument from religious experience. After demonstrating how the data supports the argument I will deal with two major issues: (1) Is an argument based upon the universal nature of these experiences appropriately Christian, or does it undermine a Christian witness by implying a unilateralist perspective? (2) Do counter causality arguments based upon brain chemistry and structure disprove the argument? Finally, I present “six tie breakers” that warrant decision in answer to the brain structure argument.
Anonymous said…
Hi roz how can i contact with you ?
J. P Holding said…
IMS, you accidentally broke your parody mode.
im-skeptical said…
JP, you accidentally said something that is true. But you don't seem to understand the implication of it, because it totally undermines a whole class of Christian arguments for belief in God.
Joe Hinman said…
JP, you accidentally said something that is true. But you don't seem to understand the implication of it, because it totally undermines a whole class of Christian arguments for belief in God.

I doubt it but explian
J. P Holding said…
He means I said he was a parody. I guess hes getting bored.

Popular posts from this blog

Where did Jesus say "It is better to give than receive?"

How Many Children in Bethlehem Did Herod Kill?

Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, Jonah and U2’s Pride in the Name of Love

Dr. John Lennox: Video - Christmas for Doubters

On the Significance of Simon of Cyrene, Father of Alexander and Rufus

William Lane Craig on "If Mind is Reducible to Brain Function, Why Trust Thought?"

The Meaning of the Manger

Responding to the “Crimes of Christianity”; The Inquisition

Fine Tuning Bait and Switch