When having important conversations with unbelievers, you will likely come across folks who seem very sincere in their beliefs. As a matter of fact, they may even appear to hold their beliefs even more sincerely than you do!
Does such a person have the right to claim that their worldview is superior?
This question works both ways. For example, Christian thinkers often argue that the willing martyrdom of the apostles demonstrates that they sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead. However, the same Christian thinkers would argue against the idea that Islamic Jihadist martyrdom can be used as evidence for the existence of "Allah" (rather than Yahweh).
The uninitiated skeptic will often use the above example to demonstrate that sincerity must not be taken as evidence that a view is correct.
And the skeptic would be correct about this, except that in the above case, it is not the sincerity itself of the respective party which determines the "apologetic" value, but rather the circumstances surrounding the events. While the Islamic martyrs die for blind faith and spurious promises, the Christian martyrs died for claims they--and many others--witnessed with their own eyes.
They were defending what they knew for certain to be true, and paid with their lives.
Below, I'd like to note three observations about the relationship between truth and sincerity--two negative and one positive.
#1. Truth does not logically follow from sincerity
A non-sequitur is an informal logical fallacy which occurs when the conclusion of an argument does not follow from the premises.
In this regard, one should note the lack of a logical connection between these two concepts. So while there are many factors which could discount the above argument concerning the apostles, one of them is not their sincerity.
A poignant example is the person who visits their doctor for an annual checkup, only to find out that they have an advanced form of cancer. This person likely sincerely wishes they did not have cancer.
In fact, we have medically-documented cases of denial. In such cases, a person may actually convince themselves--sincerely--that the doctor's diagnosis is incorrect.
Nevertheless, it's obvious that the patient is misguided. One's sincerity may affect her emotional perception of a given situation, but her sincerity alone is not an indicator of truth and/or falsehood.
This sounds obvious, but many miss this point! Again, this often happens as a result of misunderstanding theistic arguments. Another possible cause could be the legitimate misrepresentation of the argument by the theist.
When we take the time to think clearly and articulate arguments with intellectual rigor, we can avoid these petty issues which distract us from the point of the discussion--evangelism of the lost.
#2. Sincerity is in the eye of the beholder
Another legitimate problem with connecting truth-value and sincerity is that one is objective and the other is subjective.
Consider the example of an over-zealous husband who wants to surprise his wife by cleaning the house. While many wives would be appreciative of such a task under usual circumstances, consider a woman whose medical condition has rendered her unable to do certain tasks.
She may misunderstand her husband's intentions and feel he that he is unappreciative of her condition. By doing what would normally be her task (provided that was their normal mode of operation), he's offended her by making her feel inadequate to keep up her end of the duties.
A few things are going on in such a scenario.
- The truth-value is that something virtuous happened; that is, disorder was turned into order. Objectively speaking, the correct outcome was accomplished.
- The husband sincerely believed he was doing a good thing; that is, he was excited to surprise his wife with folded laundry, clean dishes, etc.
- The wife's perception of her husband's actions was the exact opposite of his intent.
One could come to the wrong objective conclusion if based on the subjective whims of either the husband or the wife.
Therefore, we see a second way in which sincerity is completely disconnected from truth-value.
#3. Sincerity can be a positive sign of integrity
On the other hand, we can note the positive observation that those who possess sincerity are often concerned with truth and integrity.
Although many Muslims are misguided, for example, Christians who interact with them on a regular basis will note that they are some of the most sincere folks you'll ever converse with and are unquestionably concerned with learning the truth.
Lest you question the above, consider this excerpt from the testimony of recently-deceased Christian apologist Nabeel Qureshi, a former Muslim:
"By age five I had read the entire Qur'an in Arabic and had already memorized many chapters. From that time on, my life as a Muslim was used as a model for all the children in the local Islamic communities. Every morning, as soon as my eyes opened, I recited the prayer that was to be read upon waking, thanking Allah for saving me from the death of sleep and for giving me another day to live. I would then proceed to my morning recitation of the Qur'an, following this with the first of the five daily prayers (salaat). Interspersed were many smaller prayers, such as the prayer recited during ceremonial washing (wudhu), the prayers before reciting the Qur'an, the prayers before the morning salaat (fajr), and the prayers immediately after fajr. Then would come the prayers before eating and after eating. Then there were the prayers upon leaving the home and while walking to the bus stop. Soon afterwards I would find myself sitting in class, reciting prayers which ask Allah to give me knowledge and help me learn . . . etc. All of this by 7:30 a.m. But the prayers did not stop there; a devout Muslim's day is full of the remembrance of God through traditional Islamic methods."
One could accuse the practicing Muslim of many things, but not a lack of sincerity. Nabeel was steeped in Islamic apologetics, and by his own admission "loved Islam with all [his] heart."
Nabeel's sincerity is just one example which shows that millions of people in the world believe something false in the sincere pursuit of truth.
Rather than disparage others or assume because that, since they don't have the truth, they are not interested in it, let's give them the benefit of the doubt by treating them with integrity.
Although we realize that the human will is violently opposed to the things of God, we also know that God has made his existence evident in creation (see Romans 1; 2:15, etc.) and that he uses many means to draw the lost to himself.
By pointing out how those means point to the truth that our God--Yahweh--exists and desires a loving relationship with any and all who would call on his name for salvation, we honor him and those who have been made in his image.
When God begins to open the heart and mind of a lost sinner, the last thing we want to do is close that door by suggesting that he or she is not sincere in their pursuit of truth.