Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that in most cases there is little chance of anyone’s persuading a fundamentalist through reason and evidence to drop their fundamentalist beliefs.
Conservative evangelicals — or fundamentalists — tend to hold a number of opinions that are easily challenged by well established facts. For instance, they tend as a group to believe Noah’s Flood was an historical event; the theory of evolution is false; abstinence-only sexuality education is effective; gay marriage will destroy the sanctity of their own marriages; America was founded as a Christian nation; and so on. A whole host of factually absurd opinions.
It is perhaps interesting those opinions seem almost as meaningful to fundamentalists as the notions God exists, salvation can be had through Jesus Christ, and one should live according to the Ten Commandments. Put differently, it would be just as difficult to discuss the religiosity of fundamentalists without discussing their belief in abstinence as it would be to discuss their religiosity without discussing their belief in salvation. So when talking about fundamentalist religiosity it is worthwhile to note how fundamentalism involves many more beliefs than just strictly religious beliefs.
Intellectually — through reason and evidence — it is easy to challenge nearly every fundamentalist belief. I don’t know of another ideology so wrong on the facts and so devoid of sound logic. These days on the internet, thousands of people busy themselves with debunking fundamentalist beliefs. Those efforts seem to me effective in showing how intellectually untenable most fundamentalist beliefs are, but I think they entirely fail to address a key reason many — perhaps even most — fundamentalists hold their beliefs.
That is, I strongly suspect in a great many cases, asking a fundamentalist to give up their peculiar religiosity is the same as asking them to risk giving up their family, friends, and community. That’s the sense I get from many of the fundamentalists I know.
In a way, that might not be so different from the rest of us. It’s common for humans to form social groups based at least in part on shared beliefs. Anyone who declared themselves for the Republican candidate at the Democratic Convention might quickly find themselves an outsider. So it shouldn’t surprise us that fundamentalists might hold their beliefs — not so much from intellectual conviction — but in order to gain the benefits of being part of a group.
If that’s so, then an intellectual attack on fundamentalist beliefs will not address the primary concerns of those fundamentalists who value their relationships with their family, friends, and community more than they value intellectual honesty and truths. And, I imagine, that is a sizable majority of fundamentalists. We are, after all, a social species — perhaps much more so than we are an “intellectual” species.