by Max Maxwell
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The dialogue below is an example of the Socratic method applied to a modern topic. In this Socratic Dialogue, a Christian preacher states the often claimed idea that atheists cannot be moral because faith in God is the basis of morality. The Socratic Method is used to question this idea in a way that demonstrates it is not religious faith, but secular knowledge that is needed in order to carry out moral deeds and to interpret moral principles.
This dialogue is not intended as an attack on faith, but merely to address the problems that occur when people state things that are beyond the scope of reasonable application. This dialogue demonstrates the ability to use the "scope of application" of a field of knowledge and the principle of the "one example technique" to further a Socratic questioning process. The one example technique allows an idea or definition to stand or fall on the basis of finding one example that is able to stand further examination. This dialogue will be integrated into the essay, "The Fundamentals of Education: PART V". The commentary discussing how to use this type of dialogue for different subjects will be added at that time. In the meantime, the dialogue below will remain the same.
I have used such questions in real conversations. Although the verbal maneuvering of the respondents vary tremendously, the end result is the same as the dialogue you read below. That end result is the inability of religious persons to give one example of faith being able to carry out moral deeds or interpret moral principles without the assistance of ordinary, secular, human knowledge. The implications of this speak for themseves.
Preacher: An atheist cannot be a moral person. Without faith in God, no human being can be moral at all. You must first have faith in God in order to have any capacity for morality. Faith in God is the only true basis of morality.
Socrates: It sounds like being an atheist is an unfortunate state of being.
Preacher: The atheists are most unfortunate Socrates.
Socrates: Sadly, I am more unfortunate than the atheists. I do not even understand the nature of morality. Thus, I could not tell you whether or not you need to first believe in the gods in order to be moral. So I ask you to help me and teach me something important.
Preacher: Of course, Socrates. That is why I am here.
Socrates: Thank you my good friend. I would like you to answer a question. What is morality?
Preacher: Morality is the expression of human behavior that is based on the knowledge of right and wrong.
Socrates: And one must believe in the gods in order to know what is right and wrong?
Preacher: Exactly. It is the knowledge of God, which comes through faith that gives us the ability to know right and wrong. And Socrates, there are no gods. There is only the one almighty God who created all things and redeems us through his son Jesus Christ.
Socrates: I am afraid I have never been very good at understanding all the amazing stories about all the different gods. I must admit that I am very excited about the idea that knowing your God will also give me the knowledge of right and wrong. But there is just one thing I would like to understand, if you could instruct me.
Preacher: What is your question?
Socrates: You say that knowing God will give me the knowledge of right and wrong.
Socrates: In what area of life will the believer know right and wrong as a result of believing in God?
Preacher: The knowledge of God permeates our whole being in every aspect of our lives.
Socrates: By the gods, dear preacher! I declare that nothing could be more useful than to learn right and wrong from a deity who knows! Will the knowledge of God help me know right and wrong pertaining to the calculation of the sums of numbers?
Socrates: Will the knowledge of God give me the knowledge of right and wrong with regard to the practice of medicine?
Socrates: How about right and wrong regarding the architectural design of buildings?
Preacher: No. Morality is not about this kind of right and wrong.
Socrates: Then the knowledge of God does not give us the knowledge of all right and wrong. It just gives us the knowledge of a particular kind of right and wrong that you refer to as moral.
Preacher: That is correct.
Socrates: It seems that we have not defined morality yet and I need to ask my first question again. What is morality? Please have mercy on my stubborn ignorance and define it in a way that does not exceed the scope of its application.
Preacher: Morality is about right and wrong regarding the treatment of other human beings.
Socrates: And does this moral and right treatment serve to benefit a person or does it hurt them?
Preacher: Moral behavior always serves to the benefit of humanity.
Socrates: Then this moral knowledge from God is expressed in behavior that benefits people?
Socrates: Who would know more about the beneficial treatment of people who need a cure for their sickness? Is it the believer in God or a doctor?
Preacher: A doctor, although healing is sometimes possible through prayer.
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© Copyright 2009 Kenneth J. Maxwell Jr.