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Illustrating Logic
The 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.

Starting Notes

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 and B 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 basis.

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 this mission.
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 God.]

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 you.
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 from God?
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 great.

[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 of Allah.
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 know. Sure.
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.
A: Hmm.
B: I am simply proving the Muslim example.
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 God?
A: Because I know God's voice.

[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?
A: Yes.
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 was Him?
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 Him?
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 or anything.
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 you?
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.
B: Goodbye.

[Conclusion: A 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 true.

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 God.

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 to it?

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.

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