The Role of Persuasion in the Question of the Holy Spirit

This article takes one of the examples in the "Reasonable Doubts about the Holy Spirit" article and explores it further to show that there is no possible way for a person to come to an informed belief based on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the alleged interference of Satan or the stubbornness of Humans and that the beliefs that we form about ambiguous subjects are results of factors of persuasion in our environment.

2b. If Tom has the potential to be influenced by the Holy Spirit when Evan tells him about Jesus, Tom should recognize the truth and accept Christ. Along the way he adopts the belief that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are valid today for everyone. Stipulating for a moment that the Gifts of the Spirit were ONLY valid in the time of the apostles, he lives happily ever after. His Spirit evidently did not pick up on the discrepancy. Is it possible that he made a conscious decision to disregard what the Holy Spirit was telling him and didn't know it?

In this situation at least three premises present themselves to Tom before he forms a belief one way or the other.
1. The Holy Spirits gifts are Valid today.
2. The Holy Spirits gifts are not valid today.
3. Maybe some are valid and some are not.

Stipulating for the sake of argument that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit were ONLY valid at the time of the Apostles I'll assign some claims to some entities.
1. Satan says that The Holy Spirits gifts are Valid today
2. The Holy Spirit says that The Holy Spirits gifts are not valid today.
3. Tom comes up with a compromise that some are valid and some are not.

So How does Tom decide between any of these claims. He is no expert. He stands alone with these thoughts. He can find scripture to support arguments for and against, but his cultural belief in fair play give him the idea that both may be right in certain circumstances. Usually when you have to make a decision or decide what you think about something, it is based on evidence and logical inference. This is true in the day to day interactions in the world. One can see evidence of certain things and one can see if it fits with what the claims are and one can make an informed decision. He knows people that speak in tongues, but he also has a feeling that it may be just a show for attention. However in this case, the evidence is in the Bible, and it seems to be ambiguous on the issue. Usually when one is faced with making a decision and one isn't qualified to make an informed decision, one has to rely on experts.

So now who is an expert? If both arguments have support in the Bible, then how does anyone, even an expert make an informed decision? If they make the decision on a feeling, then how does anyone know where the feeling came from? Holy Spirit, Satan, or the self? If both parties ascribing to different side of the issue make their decision on a feeling that they describe as the Holy Spirit, who can argue? How do they know it was the Holy Spirit? Does this "Holy Spirit Feeling" ever manifest itself in situations where you wouldn't expect any "Holy Spirit Guidance", like at the mall for example? This is where good old fashioned Persuasion and Rhetoric comes into play when you don't have enough information to make a decision about an issue that is ambiguous.

Some factors of Persuasion are in the incomplete list that follows.
- People are naturally terrible at estimating probability.
- People are naturally terrible at perceiving and interpreting probabilistic data.
- People "remember the hits and forget the misses"
- People like stories and are willing to give the teller of the story the benefit of the doubt about the truth of it.
- People are more likely to believe a story if it comes from someone they like.
- People are more likely to believe a story if it is believed by the larger group.
- People are more likely to believe a story if it comes from an authority.
- People will change their evidence based viewpoint if it contradicts the viewpoint of the group.
- People overestimate the degree of belief in others.
- People are more likely to believe a story if it fits with what they already believe or want to believe.
- People look for confirmation of what they already believe and disregard things that contradict.
- People are likely to use the precautionary principle as illustrated by Pascals Wager in minimizing risk.
- People fill in the gaps in information naturally, stories, blind spot in the eye, movies, music etc
- People will come to believe what they hear the more it is repeated to them.
- People are more likely to believe a story that is accompanied by symbols or imagery.

When there are good arguments on both sides and you don't have any evidence to make an inference based on Logic, then you always have your friends, family, church and culture to give you a feeling about the truth of an issue. This is the how the industry of marketing and advertising work as well as politics.

Does anyone just pick a church at random and make it their church home? No, they shop around, and visit other churches till they find one that 'feels' right. Why does it feel right? The Holy Spirit, Satan or self? How do they know? They decide from the factors listed above. The decide based on the influences in their environment.

To say that one follows the Holy Spirit based on a feeling is a case of special pleading. There is no way to validate it even for the person having the feeling. Therefore, the teachings in the Bible that are ambiguous, logically must not be important and can be disregarded until they can be substantiated in principle and evidence.


- Cialdini, Robert. 2001. Influence: Science and Practice. Boston. Allyn and Bacon.
- Gilovich, Thomas. 1991. How We Know What Isn't So. New York. The Free Press: A division of Macmillan, Inc.
- Okeefe, Daniel J. 1990. Persuasion Theory and Research. Newbury Park, California. Sage Publications.
- Cialdini's Six weapons of influence
- Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion.
- Why Do Christians Believe?
- From an Atheists Perspective

Persuasion Videos from Debate Central.
- Speaking to Persuade
- Objects of Persusion
- Theories of Persuasion
- Strategies of Persuasion