How Did You Come to That Conclusion?

Alan's monthly letter for August 2014

Have you ever given someone a free ride? I know you’re a nice person and have probably helped a neighbor in need. There’s one free ride, though, you need to stop giving.

Here’s the scenario. You’re talking to a friend and they raise an objection against your faith. Perhaps they say, “I think God is wishful thinking,” “Science has proven Christianity false,” or “All religions are basically the same.” Instead of them backing up their objection with evidence or reasons, you begin a defensive discourse explaining why their view is incorrect. Now you’ve done it – you’ve just given them a free ride.

Free rides can be avoided with a simple, yet powerful, tactic based on the burden of proof rule. The rule is defined as the responsibility someone has to defend their belief, opinion, or view. Here’s how it works: The person that makes the claim bears the burden of proof. In other words, if someone offers a point of view, it’s their job to give reasons for it, not your job to defend against it.

Too often, though, believers bear the burden of proof when it’s not their responsibility. They try to answer every objection that is mustered against their view. This keeps the Christian in a defensive posture the entire conversation. It also makes sharing your faith a difficult and unpleasant experience. If I felt responsible to respond to every wild objection or story that someone could spin, I’d feel hesitant to share my faith as well. 

It’s time to stop giving free rides and begin enforcing the burden of proof rule. Whenever someone raises an objection to your faith, ask a simple question: “How did you come to that conclusion?” This question is not a trick. It’s not unfair. You’re simply shifting the burden of proof back where it belongs – on the person who made the claim. 

For example, if a friend tells you all religions are the same, remember, they made the claim. Therefore, it’s their job to bear the burden of proof and give a reason why they think it’s true.  Ask, “How did you come to that conclusion?” (or ask any question that requests a reason why their claim or view is true). Then sit back and listen. It’s now their time to defend their claim.

Keep in mind they may not say anything. They’re used to Christians taking the bait and giving them a free ride instead of making them shoulder the burden of proof.

You might be wondering, then, what should I do if they do give reasons for their view? If – and only if – they meet the burden of proof, then it is appropriate for you to offer a response. That’s because once they give their opinion and reasons why that opinion is true, they have now made a legitimate argument. Keep in mind that an argument is not bickering or fighting. It’s simply an opinion with reasons to back it up. Just about everyone makes an argument each day in normal conversation with their friends and family.

The point is that you do not have to respond to an opinion with reasons why that opinion is false. Everyone has opinions. Far fewer people have reasons why those opinions are true. Only when they make an argument (giving a reason why the opinion is true) do you have an obligation to respond.

This is not a trick. It’s not mean. It’s the appropriate thing to do. Plus, it makes sharing your faith simpler. After all, what’s easier to do: give a five minute speech why someone’s opinion is false or take five seconds and ask how they came to their conclusion?

If, after they provide reasons for their view, you don’t know how to respond, simply thank them for their thought and ask if you can get back to them at a later date. Then, investigate the answer (www.STR.org has many helpful answers). You can tell them your response or what you discovered the next time you see them.

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Alan Shlemon

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