Why is someone who challenges what appears to be an obvious truth called a devil’s advocate?

At some point in our lives, we’ve either been contradicted by a devil’s advocate, or we are the devil’s advocate ourselves.  Either way, it’s a very interesting role.  You get to analyze and scrutinize a certain subject in a constructive way, so that the original argument can be improved and enhanced.

Today, the role of a devil’s advocate is evident in a lot of fields.  In the academe where students are required to defend their theses or feasibility studies orally, it helps to appoint someone to play the devil’s advocate to pinpoint the weaknesses and flaws in their study.  This way, they can better prepare for the oral defense and can have their flaws smoothened out by the time they face the real judges and panelists.

A devil’s advocate nowadays is anyone who assumes a position where he or she disagrees with a certain issue, simply for reasons of argument.  It is a constructive way of criticizing someone’s work in order to test its quality and to pinpoint the flaws in its composition.

But in the past, a devil’s advocate is actually a certain role that played a huge importance in the development of the Roman Catholic religion.  Not many people know of the real story behind the name “devil’s advocate,” and some individuals find themselves asking why they are called as such.

In the process of canonization in the Roman Catholic church, a canon lawyer is appointed to make arguments against the canonization of the contender or candidate.  He is called the Promoter of the Faith, or in more popularly recognized as the advocatus diaboli or Devil’s advocate.

The devil’s advocate then looks at the candidate with doubt, scrutinizes his character, and looks for loopholes and errors in the evidence.  He also argues that the miracles brought upon by the candidate are falsified.  It is his task to dispute or challenge the canonization of a candidate.

The devil’s advocate argues with the God’s advocate, who is responsible for making the argument supporting the canonization of the candidate.

That is the story behind the term “devil’s advocate,” and how it came to refer to individuals who challenge what appears to be an obvious truth.  Today, the devil’s advocate may not only refer to the Promoter of the Faith in the Roman Catholic Church, but could also refer to anyone who argues constructively to find flaws in a subject, paving way for improvements and enhancements.