Responding to Skepticism (And the Proper Use of Tactics)

Jonathan Morrow has a post on “How to Break Free from Skepticism with One Simple Question”:

Whether from a well meaning friend or an aggressive critic, the problem of skepticism can be hard to break free from. The unspoken assumption of skepticism is that if it’s possible you could be wrong about something, then you can’t know it. Usually this comes in the form a “How do you know that you’re not wrong?” (which could be repeated forever….)

This is mistaken. Here’s why. Just because it’s possible I could be wrong about a belief, it does not follow that I am wrong about that belief. 

In other words the mere possibility that I could be wrong doesn’t mean that I actually am wrong. I’m going to need some reasons to think my belief is mistaken before I should begin to doubt that particular belief.

Jonathan recommends asking skeptics to provide some of those reasons (see how he words the question he asks, along with conversational examples, here). He says:

Ask them this question and clarify what the real issue is and then have a productive spiritual conversation exploring the evidence together [all emphases in original].

Sometimes people misunderstand the use of tactics, and so, object to them (or worse, misuse them). The goal of tips like this one isn’t to shut down the unbeliever, it’s to open up the conversation by turning it away from speculation, vague opposition, and defensiveness, and drawing out the real, substantive objections so they can be openly discussed and considered.

In other words, when you’re having a personal conversation with anyone about spiritual things, the purpose of using questions like Jonathan’s is to increase your understanding of that person and his perspective so that you can personalize your response, treating him with dignity as a valuable, unique human being, and having his ultimate good as your goal.

After you’ve finished a conversation, assess how you’re doing at this by asking yourself: Do I know more about this person and his beliefs than I did before? Was I, as a result of understanding him better, able to better personalize my explanations in a way that made sense to him, in light of his background, beliefs, and level of understanding of Christianity? 

Everything we say and do when talking to others about Christianity teaches them about Christianity. Some people may find this counter-intuitive because the word “tactics” seems so impersonal, but the tactics are intended to help you move away from rote answers into the kind of meaningful interaction that communicates God’s view of the value and dignity of every human being.

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Amy K. Hall

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