As simple as it looks, this witnessing method often works wonders for Ray Comfort and those who learn from him, especially on subjects unfamiliar with this kind of thinking. The Way of the Master radio and TV shows have disseminated this method far and wide, such that especially if you live in the US you're more likely to get this from an evangelist than any other approach.
Let's look at the intended delivery and effect in detail.
1. Would you consider yourself a good person?
If yes, sets up the subject for disappointment and shock when it's later explained that this is unimportant because the subject has sinned. If no, reveals that the subject probably has poor self-esteem and will react well to a chance at redemption.
2. Do you think you have kept the Ten Commandments?
The witness must obtain a no. If the subject does not volunteer any sins, the witness often invokes Matthew 5:28 - "...anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Therefore if you've got working eyes and hormones, you've broken the seventh Commandment. In the unlikely event that the subject is entirely innocent, the witness invokes the inescapable blemish of Original Sin.
3. If God judges you by the 10 Commandments on the Day of Judgment, will you be innocent or guilty?
Since the answer to 2 was no, the answer to this must be guilty.
4. Based on that, would you go to Heaven or Hell?
Does that concern you?
The answer to this is unimportant. Up to this point, the exchange has been an intellectual exercise. The suddenly personal nature and immediacy of the final question triggers an emotional response. Any latent belief the subject may have bubbles to the surface and creates fear. After that, it's just a matter of telling the subject that there's only one way to Heaven: to accept Jesus Christ as personal lord and saviour. It becomes the way out of the fear, and is accepted on that emotional level it needs in order to stick.
Obviously, the questions are rigged to produce the expected answers. You will also have noticed that the questions simply assume the existence of God, Jesus, the Ten Commandments (therefore Moses), sin, Heaven and Hell.
Their purpose is not to convince the subject that God exists, but to capitalise on the fact that most people already believe, even if they do not act upon that belief or have not thought about it lately. It prompts a renewed commitment without inspiring new doubt. After this commitment, doubt is even less likely. It takes moderately religious or even barely religious people, and makes them want to be saved.
The spanner in the works is the very thing the method seeks to avoid: doubt. The existence of God, sin, Hell and the basic truth of the Bible are critical premises. If the subject expresses doubt during the initial questions, a common response by the witness is to proceed hypothetically and then invoke Pascal's Wager, e.g. "If I'm right, then you're going to Hell unless you commit to Christ. Are you sure you want to take that chance?"
If that doesn't work (for example if the subject has one of these responses to the Wager), the method is finally derailed and the witness must use other apologetic to bring the subject up to the necessary level of belief.
Without pre-existing fear of God and eternal damnation, the method has no emotional punch. If the witness is in a public place or is trying to "save" many people, he/she will probably decide at this point that the subject isn't worth the effort, hand out a card or pamphlet and move on.
A nice thing you can say about WOTM's method is that it takes evangelical belief to its logical conclusion. If you believe deep down that this stuff is true, it shows you the thing you need to do. However, that is one huge if.
It only works properly in an atmosphere where its premises are unchallenged, so that's where to attack it if a friend or family member has been or is being swayed. Make use of doubt. Get people outside of the little box in which the questions force them to think.
Painful as it might be, and whether you're against WOTM or not, try watching witnessing clips from the WOTM television show on YouTube (or even GodTube). Take note of the level of belief subjects begin with, and how much they're willing to accept without argument before the "punch" line. Witness for yourself the persuasive power of passive belief, and understand why so many atheists want people to shed even this.
I was looking for a piece of Way of the Master propaganda suitable for analysis, to apply real criticism to the real thing rather than just dealing with the occasional WOTM quotes people use. I found what I wanted on Comfort's own blog, which while not officially WOTM turf is certainly by the same author.
This piece flabbergasted me with its bare-faced sophistry. It is, in the main, an attempt to characterise legitimate objections to apologetic arguments as mindless talking points which believers can safely ignore. I'll be handling each one in turn, by number.
Introduction> There is no atheist belief. Comfort denounces the belief that there is no god, but most atheists don't have this. They simply don't believe in any gods, and are of the opinion that there are none.
1> Calling a credible argument these things is deceitful, but if you're calling a spade a spade...
- A straw man argument misrepresents the opposing view to make it easier to rebut, e.g. "Atheists have no morals."
- Circular reasoning relies on the conclusion in the premise, e.g. "Creation must have had a creator." (Response: what if it isn't a creation?)
- Quote mining is finding quotes which, out of context, appear to say something the author didn't. There's a quote by Darwin where he asks how the eye could possibly have evolved, and it's often used to say that he didn't know. In fact the very next thing he wrote was the answer to his own question.
2> The "Creator" argument is the watchmaker argument, but that would be fine if the watchmaker argument were sound. The real problem is that it illegitimately expands our reaction to complex and obviously manmade objects to all complex objects. It is the artificiality of a watch that tells us it's created, not its complexity.
3> Pascal's wager presents the same choice as the gain-loss argument. The trouble is that if you consider the possibility that other gods exist besides the Christian one, you realise you may have everything to lose by choosing Christianity or any other religion.
4> "Adultery in the heart" is Comfort's way of making sure anyone with working eyes and hormones has to admit to sinning. If sexual attraction without action is only a sin to the Christian god, it's important to determine whether that specific god exists. Therefore it matters whether Jesus not only existed, but performed miracles and came back to life as the son of God would do. That's the part that's lacking in evidence.
- Well, the Bible is full of mistakes. Many are listed here. That doesn't disqualify the whole thing automatically, but it does mean it's not inerrant. It is worth reading regardless, whether or not you believe it.
- Dawkins did say those things about the God of the Old Testament in The God Delusion, and much more besides in that sentence alone. It's meant to be funny (it always gets laughter and applause from an audience), but every word of the takedown is supported by at least one action taken by God in those old books.
6> "No true Scotsman" means taking those who do not fit your image of your own group and finding excuses to exclude them. Comfort's definition of a Christian doesn't seem to match the usual one (scroll down to the Noun section).
- If the Lord doesn't exist, then it's impossible to know Him and according to Comfort there's no such thing as a genuine Christian.
7> Atheists question evolution all the time. The difference from faith is that evidence for evolution answers those questions. Here is an inventory of hundreds of species-to-species transitional species for which there is substantial credible evidence.
8> If there is no Hell, there is no eternal punishment. If there is a Hell, it could be anybody's Hell, and have any arbitrary entry requirements (say, eating with a fork). We have no way of knowing whether we're already on the train tracks, and that's how it is for our whole lives. So it's not worth worrying about.
9> Sorry, but this really is "no true Scotsman". Catholicism was Christianity in Europe until the 17th century and the advent of Protestantism and Lutheranism. With few exceptions, all Christians were Catholics, or branded heretics. If the true Christians in Europe weren't the Catholics, who were they?
- It's doubt, unbelief and lack of faith that makes people atheists in the first place. We don't abandon all that as soon as we find a new name for ourselves. We all entertain the possibility that we might be wrong, and to some extent we look for that one obvious argument for gods that we missed. That's partly why I write for this site. On behalf of all atheists, bring it on.
- This is Comfort's true opinion of atheists: that we're all theists in denial. Of course, denying something isn't the same as being in denial. Sometimes, a person will deny something because it really isn't true.