Defending the Faith Part 6: The Professor's Ploy

| Saturday, July 16, 2011 | |
by Greg Koukl

When executing the burden of proof tactic, beware of the “professor’s ploy.”

Some professors are fond of taking pot-shots at Christianity with remarks like, “The Bible is just a bunch of fables,” even if the topic matter has nothing to do with religious issues.

Well-meaning believers sometimes take the challenge and attempt a head-to-head duel with the professor, but this approach is rarely successful.

One rule of engagement governs exchanges like these: The person with the microphone wins. Never attempt a frontal assault on a superior force. The professor always has the strategic advantage, and he knows it.

Don’t get into a power play when you’re out-gunned. There’s a better way. Don’t disengage; instead, use your tactics. Raise your hand and ask, “Professor, what do you mean by that?” Next ask, “How did you reach that conclusion?” Make the teacher and the one making the claim shoulder the burden of proof.

This approach enables you to stay engaged while deftly sidestepping the power struggle. The “professor’s ploy” comes into play when he attempts to make you shoulder the burden of proof. He may sense your maneuver and respond by saying, “You must be one of those Christians who thinks the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Okay, since I’m a fair man, why don’t you prove that to the rest of the class?”

In one quick move, he’s cleverly switched the burden of proof back on you, the student. Don’t fall for this unfair move! You aren’t the one making a claim; he is. He must defend his own claim. He’s the teacher, after all.

You can respond to the professor’s ploy with dignity and tact. When he shifts the burden of proof on you, calmly respond by saying, “Professor, first, I haven’t revealed anything about my views. Second, my views don’t really matter right now. You’re the teacher and you’ve made a strong claim about the Bible. I’m just trying to learn your reasons for it.”

If he gives an answer, thank him for it and either ask him another question or let it go. Recognize that the burden of proof tactic takes the pressure off you but still keeps you in the driver’s seat. You don’t have to be the expert on every subject.

If you keep the burden on the other side when they’re making the claim, you don’t have to have all the answers. In fact, you can be effective even when you know very little if you ask the right questions.

Next time: How to properly exploit a weakness in an argument

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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