Defending the Faith Part 5: Columbo Step Two

| Saturday, July 9, 2011 | |
Defending the Faith Part 5: Columbo Step Two:

“How did you come to that conclusion?”

by Greg Koukl

The first application of the Columbo tactic helped you understand what a person thinks; the second application known as reversing the burden of proof helps you learn why they think the way they do.

The burden of proof is the responsibility someone has to defend or give evidence for his or her view. The burden of proof has one cardinal rule: Whoever makes the claim bears the burden. Don’t allow yourself to be thrust into a defensive position when the other person is making the claim.

This rule means there are no more free rides. It isn’t the Christian’s responsibility to refute every story a nonbeliever can spin or every claim he can manufacture. When your opponent advances a view, make him or her defend it. Steer the burden of proof back on their shoulders, where it belongs. Make them give you their arguments, not just their points of view.

In the immortal words of Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy, “they’ve got a lot of ‘splaining to do!”

The second Columbo question enforces the burden of proof rule: “Now, how did you come to that conclusion?” This question graciously assumes that the non-believer has actually reached a conclusion that he has reasons for his view and has not merely asserted it carte-blanche.

It will give him a chance to express his rationale, if he has one. It will also give you more material to work with in addressing his objections. It ultimately shifts the burden of proof to the other person, which is where it often belongs.

Since many people have never thought through their views and don’t know why they hold them, don’t be surprised if you get a blank stare after asking this question. Alternate options are, “Why do you say that?” or “What are your reasons for holding that view?”

Sometimes the simplest, most effective question you can ask someone is a variation of the question, “How do you know?” This tactic can also take the form of the following questions:

“Why should I believe what you believe?”
“What makes you think that’s the right way to see it?”
“I’m curious. Why would you say a thing like that?”
“Why should I trust that your organization, the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, the Watchtower speaks for God?”

We can spend hours helping someone carefully work through an issue without ever mentioning God, Jesus, or the Bible. This doesn’t mean we aren’t advancing the Kingdom, though. It’s always a step in the right direction when we help people to discover truth. It gives them tools to assess the bigger questions that will eventually come up.

Further, when we challenge people to think carefully, we acknowledge they bear the image of God. This affirms their intrinsic worth. For a discussion on the value of human beings apart from the cross, see the commentary “Gospel Fodder.”

Remember: The two most important questions you can ever ask are, “What do you believe?” and “Why do you believe it?”

Next time: The Professor's Ploy

For more extensive tactics training go to and look for Tactics in Defending the Faith Mentoring Series or STRi DVD interactive training in our online store or call Stand to Reason at 1-800-2-REASON.


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