Steelman Instead of Strawman

Continuing the discussion from A Fool Says in His Heart:

This is excellent advice from that article:

In the past, I have often lamented the way that people exhibit cognitive biases in their critical engagement with opposing views. I have especially noted how Christian apologists are prone to do this (as in this critique of Andy Bannister and this critique of Paul Copan).

But this isn’t just about Christians: non-Christians do it as well. Indeed, for all their talk of “reason” and “evidence,” atheists appear to be as prone as anyone to exhibit bias and caricature the beliefs of others. (In this article, I illustrate how both Christians and atheists caricature their opponents.) In other words, neither believing in God nor disbelieving in God bestows epistemic virtue. Rather, you need to work at it.

In the past, I have also offered a simple but challenging solution: the golden rule. At times, I have adopted the more unwieldy phrase the “golden rule of hospitable dialogue” but the idea is simply this: treat the views of others the way you’d like the others to treat your views. In short, if you want other folks to steelman your views rather than strawman them, then for goodness sake, steelman the views of your interlocutor rather than strawmanning them! This ain’t rocket science.

I often encounter people who insist that they really do this when, in fact, they don’t. (It’s the same old story: we think we’re far more virtuous than we are. Self-serving bias is a killer.) So here’s my question: how can we encourage more people to develop the discipline of the golden rule in their interactions with others? What practical advice might one follow? To that question, I offer a simple and concrete solution. I call it the 50/50 rule:

50/50 rule: devote as much time to (a) defending the beliefs of your opponents and critiquing your own beliefs as you devote to (b) critiquing the beliefs of your opponents and defending your own beliefs.

The problem is that it is natural to focus on (b) and to neglect or completely ignore (a). Do that long enough and you become deeply entrenched in your cognitive biases. So the best solution to breaking out of that vicious cycle is to be intentional about redressing your own biases by intentionally pursuing the defense of the beliefs of others and the critique of your own beliefs.

What an amazing world it would be if just a few of us would follow that advice. I am going to try.


I’m really liking Dr. Rauser. This one is on characturing beliefs: The Golden Rule of Caricaturing the Beliefs of Others - Randal Rauser

People love to caricature the beliefs of others. And it’s not hard to see why. After all, let’s be honest: it’s fun. Caricaturing the beliefs of others makes them look stupid and makes yourself feel smart. It builds your self-confidence at the expense of others. And what could be wrong with that?

Consider, for example, this caricature of atheism:

Now that’s a great way to make atheists look stupid and make yourself feel smart.

(Momentary pause for high fives with Christian friends.)

But there is a downside with all this caricaturing of others: those others might start caricaturing you. For example,

Now wait a minute, that’s not funny. That’s a complete, disrespectful caricature of the Christian doctrines of Trinity, incarnation, and atonement.

(Momentary pause to grumble over the rank injustice with Christian friends.)

So to sum up, caricaturing others can be loads of fun. But, if you do it, you must be prepared to receive caricatures in kind.

Or, as the Golden Rule of caricaturing states, Caricature the beliefs of others only if you would like them to caricature your beliefs.


The God Who embodies perfect justice, mercy and compassion satisfied al these character traits within Himself at great Personal cost. He thus inspires the best in us, and dares us to examine Him for Who He really is. Makes sense.


Randal is great. We talk here and there. He guides me when I need help with things. I’m also close with the atheists he included in his books.


Invite him to an Office Hours? It would really be excited to have him here. Would you do that?

1 Like

Yeah man. I’ll shoot him a message

1 Like

I really need to work on the steelmanning and 50/50 rule, as well.

1 Like

Church historian Bruce Shelley has this arresting quote: “Christianity is unique among the world’s religions, in that it has, at its core, the willing humiliation of its own God.”