Thursday, January 29, 2015

Polanyi on the Head and the Heart

Michael Polanyi
“Proponents of a new system can convince their audience only by first winning their intellectual sympathy for a doctrine that they have not yet grasped. . . .

We can now see, also, the great difficulty that may arise in the attempt to persuade others to accept a new idea in science. We have seen that to the extent to which it represents a new way of reasoning, we cannot convince others of it by formal argument, for so long as we argue within their framework, we can never convince them to abandon it. Demonstration must be supplemented, therefore, by forms of persuasion which can induce a conversion. The refusal to enter on an opponent’s way of arguing must be justified by making it appear altogether unreasonable.” (Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, Kindle 3292.)

Scientists who suggest new systems run into opposition from those for whom the status quo is working. Often, a scientific revolution requires a new way of looking at the world for the theory to make sense. Polanyi points out that before a revolutionary scientific idea can be accepted by the academy, the scientist must convince them that his or her idea is worth considering. In other words, before he or she can win their heads, the scientist must win their hearts.

Polanyi uses an interesting word to describe this process: “conversion.”

Like the controversial scientist, we can’t convince people that the gospel is worth considering through intellectual arguments. We can’t prove our message using the “rules” of naturalism, and if we present our case assuming the existence of God we are accused of special pleading. It’s heads I win, tails you lose.


Polanyi is right that conversion begins with the heart, not the head. So, how does the church convert the heart of our world? 

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