Author Greg Koukl
Published on 03/06/2017
Tactics and Tools

A Bedtime Story from a Materialist

Greg shares an example of a time he used the Columbo tactic, “What do you mean by that?”


A foundational principle of the tactical approach is that when other people make a claim, especially if it’s controversial. It is not our job to refute the claim but it’s rather their job first to defend it. Ok, I call this reversing the burden of proof. The basic rule of the burden of proof, that is who bears the responsibility to give evidence regarding a view, is that the person who makes the claim bears the burden. Ok, let me say that again. It’s really important. The person who makes the claim, especially if its controversial, bears the burden to give reasons why anybody should take the claim.

Seriously now, the problem is too often when someone else makes a controversial claim especially against Christianity or against a Christian ethical view or something like that, they’ve just throwing that out there, and the Christian has felt the responsibility to refute it. And whenever we do that we give the other person of free ride. That is, they just throw down the gauntlet so to speak. The the gauntlet is a glove from Medieval Times, you know. When you throw down the gauntlet that the knights.... This was a challenge right?

You throw down the challenge by giving an alternate point of view and then they back off like they don’t have to now defend it. They win just because they entered the fray, as it were, by offering their point of view. And we let them go at this, and we’ve taken the responsibility on ourselves. And if we can’t resolve the issue we can’t refute the point of view then we kind of walk away in a dejected fashion, without realizing that we’ve let them off the hook in an inappropriate way.

So when somebody else makes a particular claim it is their job to defend it first. It is not our job to refute. Let me give you an example how this worked out for me when I was on a very famous talk station here in Los Angeles the CBS affiliate called KFI. A big powerful shock jock station. And I got a chance to spend an hour on the air defending intelligent design over and against Darwinian evolution and so there are a lot of different issues that that came up as calls were calling in.

But somebody began to invoke Big Bang cosmology against my view. Look, I understand this is controversial for Christians but I’m not the least bit troubled by Big Bang cosmology because I understand how well it fits within our story. Think about it if there was a big bang then there had to be a big banger. You know? A big bang needs a big banger, and so this becomes evidence for our view not for theirs. You can’t get something from nothing basically is what we’re arguing.

Now this person didn’t agree with me. He thought the Big Bang was on his side because he thought you could get something from nothing. And then he went on to explain how you could get something from nothing how the Big Bang is on his side. I have it written down here. Exactly what he said. Here’s what he said. He said, “You could start with a base of nothing and then you could say that there was nothing but an infinite continuous moment until one tiny little insignificant thing happened. A point happened in the nothingness.”

Well that’s the problem isn’t it? How do you get a point in the nothingness? Maybe if it’s a really small point it’s easier? I don’t know, but he continued. He said, “this requires no intelligence. So no intelligent God had to intervene. All we need is a tiny imperfection in the perfect nothingness that expanded and became increasingly complex and soon you have galaxies and planets here.”

So apparently, he thinks, you start with nothing and nothing is like a calm pond and then a speck of something comes from somewhere. He didn’t say where. And that falls into the pond of nothing and this annoys the pond and it starts bucking and weaving and start spitting out galaxies and planets. Now I have to answer this. What would you say if you were in this situation? I think you’d be stuck but I wasn’t because I had a tactical advantage.

I noticed something that he said and I pointed it out. I said, “You know it’s interesting how you started. You started by saying you could say that...then you gave your story. You told your fantasy. You’re right.” I said, “You can say anything you want but giving us good reason to believe it? That’s something else entirely. And that’s your job to do. It’s not my job to refute it.” Now listen, here’s the point: people make up stories all the time. they offer explanations and the key phrase that introduces it lots of times is I can explain that. Then they tell a story.

Okay fine, it’s fine for people to attempt to explain something as an alternate explanation from our view, but an alternate explanation is not a refutation. it’s just an alternate explanation. Now they’ve got to do the hard work of giving reasons why they think their alternate view is better than our view. And that’s their job to do, not ours. These stories they tell can have rhetorical power and they’re meant to put our story to bed. That’s why I sometimes called this “bedtime stories.” But they’re stories nonetheless and only stories unless they can give good reasons. And this is why the next step of your tactical approach is so important.

You always ask, how did you come to that conclusion? What are your reasons for that point of view? And then you throw the ball back to them to attempt to give some reasons for their view. And if they don’t have any reasons for the view, just like this guy in the radio show, then we have no obligation at all to take that view seriously.