Monday, April 19, 2010

Presuppositions, Frameworks, and Argumentation.

Video on this topic:

And yes, I was having a horrible hair day that day, sue me ;)

Okay, so I have been intermittently been thinking about this topic for some time. The thing of which I am speaking is debate on the subject of relgion. Now, while this could actually pertain to any subject, I would like to frame this within the context of religious discussion. Namely, that which takes place beteen believers and non believers.
So, believers and non believers have two completely different worldviews, or frameworks, from which their arguments on this subject are deployed. Each of these viewpoints, or frameworks, contain beliefs that are fundamentally subscribed to. They are presupposed. For example, the believer will pressupose the existence of god(s). Any discussion regarding religion always takes place with this presupposition in effect.

An atheist will pressupose things as well. For example, if I am to discuss evolution with someone, I absolutely enter the debate with the presupposition that evolution is a fact. Or, to tie in with the example I gave for the theist, an atheist will pressupose that certain arguments for the existence of a deity are false. Speaking for myself, I outright reject the TAG, cosmological, and teleological arguments for the existence of god, and thusly enter into any discussion about them with the idea in mind that they are insufficent/flawed/unacceptable.

So just what the fuck am I driving at here?

Well, presuppositions can change, although it is (notoriously) difficult. So my question is as follows:
Which do you think is the more effective method of argumentation? Working within people's given frameworks, and trying to change their mind on enough non pressuposed issues until one day the presuppositions themselves naturally come under scrutiny (or they are willing to actually consider them)

aka The Top Down Approach (as it was named by my friend and excellent Youtuber


Going right for the presuppositions, knowing that if you strike right at the heart of the matter and are successful, everything else will presumably fall in line?

aka The Bottom Up Approach (also named by my friend and excellent Youtuber

To elucidate this, as an atheist, would you think I'd have more success refuting a theists' notions on several different particulars until their very belief in god comes into question, or going right for the presupposition, knowing that if I can remove the certainty, the rest will crumble the second the belief in god does?

This of course, as I stated, can be applied to anything. Politics is another big one. This does not have to be about religion.

One thing to add was something I stated in the video: Does the fact of whether or not the ideas that follow from the presuppositions are logically consistent/follow from the belief (aka not non sequitors) change the ideal approach? I would think that it does, in that, if Y follows from X, it might be more prudent to go right for X, since you will have a harder time attacking a position which is seemingly steeped in solid logic. And of course, the opposite would be true (in my view, of course). If Y does NOT follow from X, then it is easier to tackle Y. So, if Y and Z both do not logically follow from X, and you strip them away, X is more susceptible to scrutiny (aka the top down approach).

I would love to get some feedback on this, both from theists and atheists. I think this is an interesting topic than could benefit from anyone, on both sides of this debate. Actually, forget that context, anyone, period, in terms of ANY debate. Sometimes I get too steeped in the theist/atheist thing, but what can I say? It's the area of discussion with which I am most fascinated, opinionated, and well, according to a few people.....obsessed.


  1. Top down attack or bottom up? It’s a complicated question because the reasons people hold beliefs vary and the intensity they hold them with varies. So the most effective approach will vary. You also need to consider your goal of the conversation. If your goal is to have them quit believing God hates fags, for example, there may be several avenues to achieving that. Disproving God is probably the longest one.

    Instead you may want to frame it in a way that clashes with as few of their presuppositions as possible. Ex: there are several passages in the bible that you dont believe are literally true perhaps the anti homosexual ones are misunderstood Debates SHOULD start at the earliest point in reasoning where you disagree but depending on your goals that may not be the quickest route.

    I will add that one is much more likely to get someone to question a presupposition if they approach them with respect and avoid triggering defense mechanisms.
    - RelaxGodfolk

  2. Only problem I can forsee is if your presupposed beliefs contradict so greatly that no matter what you say about the ideas that follow from theirs, they will discount it. Which leads into the topic of you latest video. How do you approach someone's ideas when they think they very act of you broaching the subject is a result of you being ''an agent of Satan'' or whatever.

  3. There are many techniques I use and describe in my videos to having an honest, respectful, and hopefully productive conversation with someone who you have differences with. It’ a process of building respect and understanding their underlying motivations. Basically be cool!
    Many who are a 4 (out of 5) on the faith scale can take a great deal of time to change their views, even years. So does one address a 5? It’s a difficult question indeed. Understanding their emotional investment, providing real world arguments they can relate to, and hopefully providing alternative ways to satisfy those emotions/fears are a start.

    Instant results are near impossible but, we must sow that tiny mustard seed of reason with hope it will someday wax a great tree. That coupled with enhancing their respect for us, societal pressure, ridicule from others, and of course time. So whether we go top down or bottom up we must always consider why they hold the positions and not just what positions they hold.

  4. SHIT! I wrote this big ass response and accidentially refreshed the page, I guess. damn computers!

  5. It's alright, I got your comments on youtube :)


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