Dialectic Model in a Real Conversation
Dialectic, particularly the Socratic dialectic, is a term
used to describe a method of teaching through asking questions.
Socrates employed a form of the dialectic to test premises
and answers to demonstrate which premises were true and which
were false. When Plato wrote about Socrates, he often depicted
him in these settings of asking various people questions to
prove that the individuals he was questioning did not know
what they claimed to know. This article records a modern example
of this kind of dialectic at work in an actual, recent conversation.
No portion of what you are about to read was invented. This
is a record of an ACTUAL conversation that took place using
an Internet Instant Message program in early autumn of 2001.
It was not staged, scripted, or prearranged in any way. The
statements recorded reflect the actual sentiments, beliefs,
and opinions of the respective speaker. The dialogue has been
edited for spelling and grammar and some unrelated portions
have been removed in order to maintain the conciseness and
logical flow of the conversation. The context and content
of the dialogue remain intact and unaltered. The names have
been removed. For simplicity, both A
will be referred to in this article using generic male pronouns.
In the actual conversation one participant was female and
the other male.
We are presenting this dialogue as an article on our website
because it is a perfect illustration of the faulty reasoning
very common to how Christians approach the most basic and
central themes of their relationships with God. In particular,
we believe this dialogue reflects the way many Christians
approach the idea of being called by God and set their priorities
regarding what activities they ought to pursue on a daily
Both B and A
are Christians who believe God's word is infallible. The setting
of the conversation is as follows. A
believes he has a particular purpose from God. Since A
believes God's purpose is real and his perception of that
purpose is accurate, A would
theoretically be setting his daily priorities according to
this purpose. And A would
also theoretically be making life decisions based upon his
perception of this divine purpose. As you read, consider whether
or not you would be able to answer B's
questions as good or better than A.
The dialogue you are about to read is a record of an actual
conversation. Following the dialogue are notes intended as
a summary and conclusion. Inserted in green
are brief notes.
B: Can I ask you, what it is that
you have been called by God to do?
A: I think I only
know in part.
B: What do you know? How do you know
what you know? I think the second question is even more significant.
A: I know that it
might involve my being a sort of social leader in another
country and I might be involved with political leaders to
bring about change. And that I might be leading a group of
people for Christ and that I might need to lose my life for
B: How did you learn this?
A: I know what I
know because I feel this very strongly...not only strongly
that it is what I want to do...but I see an ever-sharpening
picture, like when God speaks to me.
[Premise 1: A strong feeling that
gets clearer over time is how we "know" something is from
B: When God speaks to you, how do
you "hear" him? Not an audible voice I presume, but an impression,
a persistent feeling?
A: Yes, a strong
feeling...not a hunch...but an unshakable feeling. If you
ever read stories or biographies about people who accomplish
something great...you may ask them...how did you know that
you were going to do this? They say I don't know...I just
knew. I knew that it was all that mattered in my life.
B: These other people whose biographies
you spoke of were all Christians I assume. If not, it is not
relevant to compare non-Christians with how God relates to
A: I don't know if
they were Christians or not...but people that accomplish great
things...how do they accomplish them?
B: A wide range of innumerable variables
I suppose allow people to accomplish varying things. And,
do you believe that such an unshakable feeling can only come
A: Yes, I believe
it comes only from God.
[Premise 2: An unshakeable strong
feeling of purpose can only come from God.]
B: I think we will both agree that
unshakable feelings do not necessarily come from God. Theoretically
couldn't such feelings come from a variety of other things?
A: I am not sure
if those feelings come from other things or not. But I am
not talking just about unshakable feelings. I'm talking about
unshakable feelings that you are going to accomplish something
[Premise 3: An unshakeable feeling
is from God if it is about doing something great.]
B:Can some have unshakable feelings
of great accomplishment that don't come from God.
A: I think feelings
of great accomplishment for God come from God.
[Premise 4: Unshakeable feelings
to do great things for God are always from God.]
B: Do you believe those who accomplished
ungodly things do not feel an unshakeable feeling that such
things are their purpose?
A: Those obviously
don't come from God.
B: [So, we are] only [talking about]
Christians I assume?
A: No, not necessarily.
B: So, non-Christians can theoretically
have feelings of accomplishing something for God? (Not that
I disagree.) Is that theoretically possible? I'm not arguing
about who to consider Christians, but let's say for example
Muslims or Mormons or Buddhists? Could a person of another
religion have such a feeling of accomplishment for God?
A: No not of another
religion. I don't know. Well, as for Muslims...they may think
B: Sure, so they can have unshakable
feelings of accomplishing something great for God?
A: If someone devoted
their life to Allah...I have no idea. That definitely is something
I don't know about. I don't know if they can or not...or do
or not. How would I know that? Not that I am not interested,
but I cannot pretend to know.
B: But, certainly Muslims believe
they have such feelings of accomplishment for God.
A: Hmm. I guess I
feel I am ill prepared to say whether or not.
B: Certainly Muslims believe that
they have great feelings of purpose from God, that God has
called them to do something great?
A: Maybe. I don't
B: Ok, let's forget that. Jesus said
that the day will come when men who persecute Christians will
believe they are doing God a service. Have you heard that?
A: But how will they
believe that? By pursuing a relationship with God...or by
listening to "Christian" leaders? People have delusions all
the time, of course...but some of those delusions disappear
when we draw close to God, as many in my life have...and some
visions appear when we draw close to God.
B: Certainly Paul is an example [of
what Jesus predicted] and he attests to his own zeal for God
specifically at one point.
A: Hmm. But he did
not know God. He knew to follow religious rituals.
B: No, he did not [know God], but
he thought he did and he thought he was doing God's will for
him. And that is my point. People can be mistaken on such
points and the case is proven by the extreme example of people
who have these feelings when they don't know God.
B: I am simply proving the Muslim
A: Well then, I guess
the difference is between people who know God and who don't
know God. But I don't understand that the desire to kill people
[like Paul did] comes from the same part of the heart that
feels the desire to save and help people.
[Premise 5: Unshakeable feelings
to do great things are always from God if it is a good thing
and if the person is a Christian.]
B: So, then as long as the idea is
benevolent and the individual knows God, it is from God?
A: Well is that the
difference in Paul's case?
B: Paul's case doesn't touch on whether
those who know God can be mistaken about a God-given purpose.
Paul's case only touches on unbelievers. But I want to get
the concept right. Do you believe that so long as the person
is a believer and their purpose is benevolent that their strong
feeling of purpose MUST BE from God?
A: Must? NO.
[Premise 6: Unshakeable feelings
to do great things are not necessarily always from God even
if it is a good thing and even if the person is a Christian.
This directly contradicts Premise 5.]
B: So, a believer may have an unshakable
feeling of a great purpose for God and be wrong?
A: It is not my impression
that God has given me this vision...I KNOW IT. But as for
other people, I do not know.
[This is circular reasoning. The
original question to A was,
"how do you know this is God's purpose for you?" A
has now answered that question with "because I KNOW it.]
B: And how do you know that this
unshakable feeling of great accomplishment for God is from
A: Because I know
[Premise 7: Unshakeable feelings
to do great things are always from God if it is a good thing
and if the person is a Christian and if that person knows
God's voice. The question is, how does A
know God's voice?]
B: So, God spoke to you?
B: Can I ask what he said?
A: He said to keep
studying and learning about things...that is what He wants
me to do right now to prepare me.
[Notice how much more general what A
claims to have heard from God is in comparison to the very
specific purpose that he articulated at the start of the dialog.]
B: But it wasn't an audible voice
or a voice in your head?
A: It wasn't audible.
B: How did you know it was Him?
A: I felt it in my
chest...I don't know. IT just seemed so much like Him...the
voice I've heard before.
[Premise 8: We can determine if
something is God's voice by comparing it to when we've heard
Him before. The question is, the first time we heard God how
did we know it was Him?]
B: And how did you know the first
time it happened that it was God?
A: It was too long
ago to remember. I told my mom things God said when I was
in 2nd grade. At that point I don't remember what He said.
B: Do you remember how you knew it
A: I wonder myself
if it was really Him that long ago. Seems silly.
B: So, are you unsure it was Him?
A: I cannot be sure
it was Him THEN! I don't remember it.
B: So, when was the first time you
were sure it was Him? And how did you know for sure it was
A: Well, I have known
for sure many, many years...but not always. Sometimes I know
for sure...and sometimes I do not. But I have only recently
in the last year or so been able to differentiate the two...messages
I wasn't sure about and those I know are from God.
B: What makes the difference for
you between the sure ones and the unsure ones?
A: I noticed one
thing: when I am trying to hear God's voice...I am never sure.
B: So, it has to happen when you
are not seeking his voice?
A: Yes. God speaks
to me whenever He wants...even when I'm not really listening
B: Other than that, what makes it
sure or unsure?
A: Other than that...I
am not unsure at all.
B: So, when you said, "Well, I have
known for sure many, many years...but not always. Sometimes
I know for sure...and sometimes I do not," did I misunderstand
A: Ok...there have
been times that I have known for sure it was God's voice and
these incidents started occurring many years ago. However,
they would also be interspersed with times I would think I
would hear something but not be sure if it was God's will
or not. Nowadays I don't have those moments, however.
B: What was the difference between
the unsure and the sure occurrences? What made you sure or
unsure at times?
A: I was sure when
God just spoke to me out of the blue...cause I wasn't trying
to get him to speak to me. I am trying to explain this as
best as I can!
[Premise 9: We know it is God's
voice when He speaks to us out of the blue at times when we
are not trying to hear from Him.]
B: I know. I'm trying to understand
how it has happened, how it "works." So, when you have a strong
impression to do something great for God out of the blue,
then you know its from God?
A: (*sigh*) I have
to go now...sorry. I'll talk to you later.
knows God's purpose for him involves "1) being a social
leader 2) in another country 3) involved with
political leaders to bring about change and 4) leading
a group of people for Christ, which will 5) end up
in his loosing his life for this mission" because it is a
strong feeling that was unshakeable, for a great purpose,
for a good purpose, in service of God, and it came out of
the blue when he was not seeking to hear from God.]
Summary and Conclusions
When asked how he knows his perception of his own purpose
is from God and not from himself or some other source, A
gives the following 7 criteria for discerning if a strong
feeling of purpose is from God.
We know a strong feeling of purpose is from God if:
1) it is unshakable
2) it is of something great
3) it is something for God
4) the person is a Christian
5) it is something benevolent
6) the person knows God's voice
7) the feeling comes out of the blue when the person
is not seeking God's council
Notice how A asserts all
of these criteria in a retreating fashion. That is, A
starts with the first criteria, presumably thinking it will
be a sufficient explanation of his certainty. As each new
criteria is shown through questions to be insufficient, A
adds another criteria in an attempt to fix the faulty explanation.
In the end, none of A's additional
criteria are able to bolster the weakness of his initial argument
and produce a sufficient and reliable explanation for his
certainty. A's argument starts
and ends nothing more than a weak, personal assumption.
It is the fact that A's strong
feeling of purpose meets all these 7 criteria that gives A
full confidence it is from God. Or, if we formulate this as
a general model for discerning whether or not a strong feeling
of purpose comes from God, we could put it as follows. We
will call is Model A.
Model A: Every time a Christian
has an unshakable strong feeling of purpose to do something
good and great for God that comes out of the blue when they
aren't seeking God's council, then they can know for sure
this strong feeling of purpose is God's voice telling them
about their purpose.
Or stated another way.
The Rule of Model A: No unshakeable
strong feeling of purpose to do a great thing and a good thing
for God that comes to a Christian out of the blue could come
from another source besides God. Therefore, such an event
should not be doubted and the purpose should be accepted as
If The Rule of Model A is
false, then A would have
no reason to believe that his perception of God's purpose
for him is accurate. However, The Rule
of Model A is a highly dubious assumption. It requires
us to believe when a Christian has an unshakeable strong feeling
of purpose to do a great and good thing for God out of the
blue, such a feeling could come from no source other than
The truth is, when called to explain his certainty, A
can provide no sound reason for it. So, the question remains,
if A has no sound reason
for why he believes this purpose is from God, then why should
he pursue it? Why should he orient his life and his daily
priorities toward it? Why should he make life decisions according
This real life example illustrates the kind of unsound, unexamined
reasoning, which in our experience contributes to the way
many Christians orient their lives and daily priorities. Before
we make large or small life decisions based upon certain conclusions,
we must first examine the underlying premises and assumptions
that lead to them. Anything less is irresponsible and can
lead to trouble.
(NIV) 2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves to see
whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you
not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course,
you fail the test? 6 And I trust that you will discover that
we have not failed the test.