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Religious conversation and the Socratic method - Comments

road_runner321's Avatar Comment 1 by road_runner321

I prefer questions to outright statements, but try to phrase the questions as a means to gather information rather than sounding like you doubt the person's point of view, even though you may. Be amiable, but don't let the conversation be sidetracked.

Questions provide them with an outlet for voicing their faith to an attentive listener, while allowing you to learn new things by which you can gauge the limits of their understanding, and bringing them up short on inconsistencies. I believe this is called "Socratic irony", using questions, asked perhaps from feigned ignorance, to cause another person to realize something or to insinuate a point. It also involves a degree of self-deprecation or mild flattery to cause the other person to drop his guard somewhat. If you get good enough you can use the questions to steer the conversation into any topic of contention you desire.

If you want videos, I would suggest old Columbo episodes where he is questioning suspects. Perhaps you'll want to scale it back a bit for regular conversations.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 03:13:15 UTC | #945797

crucialfictionofjesus's Avatar Comment 2 by crucialfictionofjesus

Attempting this approach at an 'exhibition' about the 12 tribes of Israel, I engaged with a seemingly bright articulate presenter only to be confounded when his entire conviction was based upon direct conversation with god, proven by the fact the he "spoke in tongues"

My flustered response was "so your unintelligible babbling is proof of what- that you are actually insane?"

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 05:13:06 UTC | #945804

MAJORPAIN's Avatar Comment 3 by MAJORPAIN

I had a "crazy" patient come through the ER the other night. He told me about god and jesus and wanted to know if I knew I could live forever.

I asked him, "do I have a choice...I mean in the living forever part? What if I don't want to live forever?"

It was if I asked him if he knew I was from Mars. The look on his face said it all. He had never thought of that.

I know this doesn't answer your question per se but it is my approach. I can't actually tell anybody they're an idiot to their face, but I've learned to ask questions that show up their naive approach.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 10:29:32 UTC | #945840

Wiwaxia's Avatar Comment 4 by Wiwaxia

I think that domlanic's point is a good one. I like to ask questions too, but some of the answers that you get are just so stupid.

I personally think that this is often a good way of making people stand back and examine their thoughts. If you read some of the conversion stories, it's often this kind of approach that works, while a direct attack on someone's thoughts can just make them shut out everything that you are saying. However, it can take many years for people to reject belief systems that the have held for decades, and which they often have considerable social investment in.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 10:33:58 UTC | #945841

fading_shadow's Avatar Comment 5 by fading_shadow

You can't wake someone who's faking sleep. That's my advice, if you are talking to people who are sticking to their guns, repeating the same flawed arguments over and over again and start shouting at a tripping point, don't waste your time and just walk away. I have found that out through many heated discussions with religious people. For some, you can't help at all because they're not willing to listen.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 12:42:37 UTC | #945857

Jumped Up Chimpanzee's Avatar Comment 6 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee

Comment 1 by road_runner321

I prefer questions to outright statements, but try to phrase the questions as a means to gather information rather than sounding like you doubt the person's point of view, even though you may. Be amiable, but don't let the conversation be sidetracked.

Questions provide them with an outlet for voicing their faith to an attentive listener, while allowing you to learn new things by which you can gauge the limits of their understanding, and bringing them up short on inconsistencies. I believe this is called "Socratic irony", using questions, asked perhaps from feigned ignorance, to cause another person to realize something or to insinuate a point. It also involves a degree of self-deprecation or mild flattery to cause the other person to drop his guard somewhat. If you get good enough you can use the questions to steer the conversation into any topic of contention you desire.

If you want videos, I would suggest old Columbo episodes where he is questioning suspects. Perhaps you'll want to scale it back a bit for regular conversations.

This technique of asking questions from feigned ignorance (or innocence) sounds very much like the technique used by Louis Theroux in his excellent documentaries investigating extreme or weird lifestyles. Recommended viewing.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 16:48:16 UTC | #945912

Roedy's Avatar Comment 7 by Roedy

Socratic method attempts to direct another to a conclusion by asking questions. I have found even asking questions to discover beliefs without attempting to direct is very difficult.

  1. Christians most often do not know what they believe. It is like asking them what they think of Lebesgue integrals. In their view that is a matter for experts. They are not entitled to have a view. They cannot be expected to. Maybe their pastor can tell you what they think. They don't want to risk saying anything counter to church teaching.

  2. Jehovah's witnesses are extremely well informed on what they believe. Again they cite JW experts who studied the matter and came to conclusion X. They are the best experts available, so they must be right.

  3. Some older people know a few bible verses, and cite the bible which everyone acknowledges is the literal word of god. That settles it. Questioning god is crazy. If the bible seems inconsistent, the problem must be with you. God wouldn't make no mistakes. There is no need to investigate. What's got into you boy? Why is you so evil?

Christians do not hold their beliefs for reasons or because the assertions ring true. They trust authorities. This is why I suggest undermining faith in human authorities will be key to deprogramming Christians.

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 22:34:09 UTC | #945971

VrijVlinder's Avatar Comment 8 by VrijVlinder

@ Roedy: undermining faith in human authorities will be key to deprogramming Christians.

There was a thread here about a minister who became atheist. Disbelief at the pews. I would think that having your own minister/pastor switch would jolt people under him to do the same. If they can brainwash people maybe they can also reverse the procedure?

However this needs to happen at a viral rate to be effective before I die. It can't come too soon.

Thu, 07 Jun 2012 02:28:04 UTC | #946024

JohnConstantineC's Avatar Comment 9 by JohnConstantineC

I think you will just frustrate yourself, but have a look at this http://www.jameshartforcongress.com/prometheus/socvsjes.htm

Thu, 07 Jun 2012 12:22:06 UTC | #946117

justinesaracen's Avatar Comment 10 by justinesaracen

In principle, asking people questions is a good way to keep them engaged and less defensive, but the trick will always be to keep them on track.

In my ongoing disputes on Facebook, invariably, when I ask a hard question (i.e. how they reconcile a benevolent god with the suffering of the innocent) the respondent jumps over to another point, usually a talking point of their own and then they meander into an area where they pour out what they've memorized. So you would be wise to formulate a clear question, perhaps one with a simple yes or no answer, and refuse to move away from it until it is answered.

Good luck. I find that you almost never change the mind of the person you are disputing with, but you do put a nick into their argument, and sometimes they flee. Any third parties watching will chalk up one point to you for clarity and logic and will note that the believer has either fallen silent, or gotten personal.

Thu, 07 Jun 2012 12:50:47 UTC | #946127

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 11 by Mr DArcy

If they are evolution believers ask them at what point humans were endowed with "souls". Also what was God doing for 13.7 billion years?

If they are evolution deniers, ask them why modern snakes don't have voiceboxes.

Ask all of them what God is doing NOW, and the evidence for their answers please!

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 13:30:29 UTC | #946327

nick keighley's Avatar Comment 12 by nick keighley

Comment 7 by Roedy :

Socratic method attempts to direct another to a conclusion by asking questions. I have found even asking questions to discover beliefs without attempting to direct is very difficult.

yes i was going to warn the OP that socratic dialogue is actually quite difficult to do well. It can sound quite hostile. And pretended ignorance can sound false. These day I don't seek out theists to pick arguments with- though anyone who stops me on the street or on my doorstep is fair game!

  • Jehovah's witnesses are extremely well informed on what they believe. Again they cite JW experts who studied the matter and came to conclusion X. They are the best experts available, so they must be right.
  • though if you get them off their prepared questions they can be stumped. I opened with "why is the universe so large"- intending to move on to the likelyhood of other intelligent beings and the question of if and how they were Saved. An empty universe is equally inexplicable- isn't it a bit wasteful? But he was stumped and promised to come back the next day.I waited in. he never came. In fact they never come to my house anymore!

    [...] Christians do not hold their beliefs for reasons or because the assertions ring true. They trust authorities. This is why I suggest undermining faith in human authorities will be key to deprogramming Christians.

    so the RCC is secretly a cover for an atheist deprogramming effort? :-)

    Sat, 09 Jun 2012 09:37:57 UTC | #946537

    Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 13 by Alan4discussion

    Comment 12 by nick keighley

    Jehovah's witnesses are extremely well informed on what they believe. Again they cite JW experts who studied the matter and came to conclusion X. They are the best experts available, so they must be right.

    It was suggested on an earlier discussion, that they would be the only "experts" available to JWs, as they are forbidden to study literature which challenges their beliefs.

    Sun, 10 Jun 2012 12:30:54 UTC | #946725

    DaisyD's Avatar Comment 14 by DaisyD

    I really love how the Socratic method keeps both sides of the conversation on the same page and how it doesn't give anyone a chance to twist definitions and throw a deepity or two to appear profound.

    Anyway, just last week, a twelve year old cousin of mine asked me if someone who grew up not having known God will necessarily do evil things (I'm in a predominantly Catholic country by the way). Because she said someone told her it's a sin not to know God. I jumped at the chance and asked her what she would think and do if she found out that there really is no god. She said she would just keep doing as she does. I asked her if she's going to do bad things, since she'd know that no one is really watching her up there and no one is going to send her to hell. She said that there is no point in being bad to people (I suppose that's the Darwinian altruistic instinct kicking in). Then I brought the discussion to how big the world is and how, by chance alone, there's bound to be people who will never hear about God, and we established that some of those people will be good and some will be bad. I found that she does understand that if you go around cheating people, no one will trust you and therefore no one will help you when you're in need. I'm just so proud of her that she can think like that at her age. And as a bonus, her seven year old sister, who overheard us talking, shouted back at us "Who cares if there's no god!"

    Sun, 10 Jun 2012 17:35:41 UTC | #946743

    Quine's Avatar Comment 15 by Quine

    When you are one who is asked the question, it is important to carefully think about it before you start your answer, especially if there are ambiguous words involved, or if the question assumes facts that have not been established as facts (the usual case re religion). You might come back with, "Okay, I am trying to understand what you mean by ...." Very often it is the unsubstantiated assumptions in the questions asked by the religious that they, themselves, don't see.

    There is more about this general subject back in the thread we have at:

    http://richarddawkins.net/discussions/645240-what-do-you-say-to-your-faith-based-neighbors

    Sun, 10 Jun 2012 17:51:21 UTC | #946747

    VrijVlinder's Avatar Comment 16 by VrijVlinder

    Comment 11 by Mr DArcy If they are evolution believers ask them at what point humans were endowed with "souls". Also what was God doing for 13.7 billion years? If they are evolution deniers, ask them why modern snakes don't have voiceboxes.

    That has been done, I think it is one of the first things that is always brought up in conversation.

    what was God doing for 13.7 billion years?

    Answer from theist: He was making other universes elsewhere.

    why modern snakes don't have voice boxes.

    Answer from theist: Because god punished the snake for being a blabber mouth and shut it off for good.

    You see there is no way to present them with evidence contrary to what they believe. They can accommodate anything and still have the resulting answer god or jesus.

    Even if the person is a Brain Surgeon. With complete understanding of the brain to be able to operate and not kill the patient. To have understanding of the chemistry behind the brain and thought process. Yet continue to have a creationist mentality.

    Depending on the level of that person's intelligence, you may get a more refined intelligent answer but you will not be able to convince them otherwise. Not even with scientific evidence since they will credit gods and jesus with every single accomplishment by humans.

    Sun, 10 Jun 2012 21:57:17 UTC | #946784

    Misfire's Avatar Comment 17 by Misfire

    Here's a podcast on the subject for anyone interested.

    One way to deal with the problem of bad answers is to alter the Q&A format a bit--don't just go for an answer; ask for a few possible answers. That can open the door to uncertainty, at least, and maybe to some evaluation of knee-jerk responses.

    Tue, 12 Jun 2012 00:13:31 UTC | #946960

    VrijVlinder's Avatar Comment 18 by VrijVlinder

    Thanks for that Misfire I like finding something to focus on which would be more successful to get their doubt going...

    "Faith: Pretending to know things you don't know"

    Challenge people on their use of the word faith

    This is true, that is a sticking point where people do not know how to describe their faith or it's origin.

    Tue, 12 Jun 2012 06:32:29 UTC | #946990

    Iain Mott's Avatar Comment 19 by Iain Mott

    One excellent way to brush up on your debating skills, particularly with people of religion, is to find people out on the street making claims of some kind and 'show an interest'. You may find that these people want only to tell you what they think rather than engaging in a conversation. But you can always point that out to them.

    Should you indulge in such activities, I have found it best to first resign myself to the idea that whilst they are unlikely to change their mind it may be beneficial for them to be on the receiving end of a graceful and firm repudiation of their claims. Furthermore, most of these people are really nice people who are, in many cases, pedalling the most appalling trash and have never really had their views repeated back to them by someone who is sceptical. If they claim to be followers of Jesus, it is often curious to note the sense of confusion they have with dealing with the passages in Matthew 5:17-20 which instructs believers in no uncertain terms to adhere with Mosaic Law, and the totalitarian nature of that law. It's funny (in a way) that if a political party produced anything so foul in their manifesto, they would be called out on it in no small measure.

    For me, such arguments have challenged me to refine my thinking whilst honing my skills and manners. It's all good.

    All the best.

    Thu, 14 Jun 2012 17:06:45 UTC | #947423

    pzkrakz's Avatar Comment 20 by pzkrakz

    Seems to me that the best evidence for God not existing (other than the fact that one need not prove such a thing in the first place) is the suffering humans, and other creatures, are capable of by virtue of our nervous system. And how this is put to work throughout history to torment the innocent, whether by malice or pure accident. This DOES NOT COMPUTE in the face of a benevolent creator. Keep going back to that argument; there are so many examples throughout history.

    If that doesn't work, I suggest that you purchase multiple copies of the Brick Testament, which can be had for like $10 on Amazon. As RD has pointed out, religious texts are poetic. They conjure many interpretations. IMO, nothing brings it home better than seeing accurate (yet benign) depictions of described events. For those who profess biblical truth, but fail to read the texts, I think this book is our best resource.

    Tue, 19 Jun 2012 22:08:57 UTC | #947879

    Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 21 by Ignorant Amos

    Comment 20 by pzkrakz

    If that doesn't work, I suggest that you purchase multiple copies of the Brick Testament, which can be had for like $10 on Amazon.

    We, some here, have been advocating 'The Brick Testament' for a while, now 'The Brick Bible', for many years....here's a comment from back in 2007.

    Tue, 19 Jun 2012 23:00:13 UTC | #947882

    VrijVlinder's Avatar Comment 22 by VrijVlinder

    [Removed by moderator]

    There should be a theme park based on all of the horrible things christians have committed and send brainwashed people there so they can remember what they actualy believe in.

    Thu, 21 Jun 2012 21:27:09 UTC | #947949

    Vicar of Art on Earth's Avatar Comment 23 by Vicar of Art on Earth

    My problem is I know more about the Bible and Koran than most believers and the salaried religious people don't want to debate they want to convert. Religion teaches doing what your told so free and critical thinking is not practiced so a debate seems to always be taken as an argument or put down. Nothing I like better than have a argument when I am in a pissy mood, but until a person has made the intellectual journey and feels confident in their own leadership I don't think any discussion works. The couple of friends who have come around, have been because we worked together on causes and rubbed off on each other.

    I think the best show to get people to leave organized religion this year was the Republican Presidential debates, only a true believer would believe these guys about anything. I do wish you the best and your time may be more productive in this than mine ever was.

    Sun, 24 Jun 2012 21:57:41 UTC | #948022

    VrijVlinder's Avatar Comment 24 by VrijVlinder

    Comment 23 by Vicar of Art on Earth My problem is I know more about the Bible and Koran than most believers and the salaried religious people don't want to debate they want to convert.

    Yes it is one giant PONZI scheme. A boiler room Pyramid scheme where the more people you get to invest the more money you make and move up the Pyramid of wealth. As Long as Religion is profitable people will get into the business of selling lies to unwitting people.

    Republican Presidential debates: selling lies to unwitting people. UGH!

    Mon, 25 Jun 2012 01:22:34 UTC | #948027

    AnthonyMiller's Avatar Comment 25 by AnthonyMiller

    link textI fear that today any socratic irony is defined as "trolling"

    http://www.pearshapedcomedy.com/Twitter_and_The_Moving_Finger.html

    Mon, 25 Jun 2012 07:02:07 UTC | #948032

    Anonymous's Avatar Comment 26 by Anonymous

    Comment Removed by Moderator

    Tue, 17 Jul 2012 06:41:01 UTC | #949386