It is beyond dispute that the left is winning the current culture war and doing so by a landslide. In response to this reality I’ve heard many conservatives say we just need to start making better arguments for our positions. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are not losing because our arguments are inferior. We are losing because of tactics rather than substance. Put simply, the left has learned how to do two things: 1) Control the language in the national debate 2) Get their ideas disseminated and accepted without any evidentiary basis.
There is one Christian apologist who understood this problem long before anyone else. His name is Greg Koukl and he is president of the California based apologetics group “Stand to Reason.” Through his cogent writings, Greg has taught me a valuable lesson that each and every culture warrior needs to know: When someone attacks your ideas or tries to push a false idea on you, start asking questions before you try to make your case.
This advice proved helpful to me when I was recently attacked by a friend who holds contrary political views. Knowing that I teach a course called “First Amendment and Crime,” he suddenly hit me with this accusatory question, which I found to be somewhat insulting: “How do you control your bias when you teach a class like that?”
As someone who has long criticized professors who indoctrinate rather than teach I did not appreciate my friend’s suggestion that I was “one of them.” In fact, it irritated me. So I took a deep breath and asked the first question in a series of three questions Koukl recommends to help get back in the drivers’ seat whenever we are caught off guard in any argument:
1. What do you mean by that?
2. How did you arrive at that conclusion?
3. Have you ever considered the following?
Notice the brilliance of Koukl’s technique. Writing for an audience of people who subscribe to a Christian worldview, he’s telling them to hold off on presenting their affirmative case (in question #3) until they have done two things. First, make sure your opponent understands his terms (question #1). Next, find out whether his argument has any evidentiary basis (question #2).
In the case of my friend who accused me of engaging in biased indoctrination in the classroom, I simply asked, “What do you mean by bias?” Surprisingly, he was able to respond with an accurate definition of bias. To paraphrase him slightly, he defined bias as “only teaching or presenting material that conforms to your beliefs.”
Since he made it through the first question I then asked, “How did you arrive at the conclusion that I am a biased teacher?” His response was fatal to his argument. To once again paraphrase him slightly, he said, “I just assumed you were biased because you’re so conservative.” This set up the kill shot, which was delivered by asking, “Have you ever considered that accusing a person of bias without any evidentiary basis is itself a form of bias?”
It should go without saying that he had no response other than turning red and swallowing nervously. He was obviously embarrassed when he lost control of the argument by having his own terminology used against him. There’s a lesson in that – particularly for those arguing unpopular positions in the debate over so-called gay rights.
Koukl’s three-question technique, which he calls the Colombo tactic, was something one of my former students needed the other day when a gay rights issue (concerning North Carolina’s HB2) came up in the workplace. While at work, she got an email that said the following (this is a paraphrased and condensed version):
Dear (company name withheld) employees:
Recently, there has been much controversy over North Carolina’s HB2, which promotes bigotry and intolerance. We are writing today to reaffirm our commitment to inclusion and to applaud the efforts of companies such as PayPal that have decided to respond aggressively to these basic violations of human rights and human decency. Our company is steadfastly opposed to measures such as HB2 and we intend to respond appropriately in the near future.
My former student’s co-workers began responding to the email in a predictable fashion. They all supported their company’s stance against HB2. But my former student had a different view. So what could she do? And more generally what should people with her views do in response to a similar email? Of course, applying the Colombo tactic is the only reasonable response. And here is how a model response would look:
1. What do you mean by “bigotry and intolerance?” The first response should force the proponent to define the terms he uses in the email. Assuming he could do so the next question would be easy.
2. How did you arrive at the conclusion that HB2 promotes bigotry and intolerance? This question will reveal whether the opponent of HB2 actually read the bill before condemning it. This provides a perfect set up for the kill question.
3. Have you ever considered the possibility that PayPal’s decision to do business with five nations that execute people for the “crime” of homosexuality promotes bigotry and intolerance? And have you also considered the possibility that applauding PayPal for its refusal to do business with North Carolina, a state that does not criminalize homosexuality, undermines our professed commitment to diversity and inclusion?
Game over, ladies and gentlemen. There simply is no way for the anti-HB2 crusaders to recover from that one. Of course, there is the possibility that such an exchange could cause you to win the argument but lose your job. But that brings up another issue altogether. It will be the subject of a future column.
In the meantime, I recommend clicking here and reading Tactics immediately.