God's Existence, Science and Faith, Suffering and Evil, Jesus' Resurrection, and Book Reviews

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Misengaged in Battle?

Here's something to think about:

When engaging someone in a discussion or debate, should you focus on their understanding of their own worldview, not the "correct" or "accepted" understanding of their worldview?

Greg Koukl (in his book Tactics) says to focus on the person's understanding. His reasoning is that focusing on another understanding (whether its "correct" or not- it makes no difference) will make the person believe that you are either ignoring their concern, or trying to belittle them by telling them how to believe what they believe.

Part of me wants to disagree for the simple reason that I think one should always focus on the understanding with the strongest evidence and arguments. I say this because it helps prevent committing the "straw man" fallacy (see my previous post "This Argument Is Full of Crap!"). For those who are unfamiliar with the "straw man", it is a misunderstanding of a view that is easy to argue against and tear down. The problem with it is that even though that understanding has been destroyed, the argument doesn't touch the true issue.

But, when I think about it a little further, I realize that the person (whom I'm attempting to persuade my direction) may have a "straw man" of his own worldview in his mind. If I were to attack another view (say, the "correct"), I would be committing the "straw man" fallacy by not understanding his view and attacking that. So, by attacking the "correct" view, I would be committing the "straw man" fallacy on a "straw-man" view. (Confused yet?)

Simply put, I must agree with Koukl. Focus on the person's understanding. After you provide enough doubt to abandon the view, they may move closer to the "correct" view. As they move closer to the "correct" view, you can focus on the new understanding. Eventually, you will have placed enough doubt in them for all their understandings (including the "correct" one) that they will have no choice but to abandon it. Now, that's not to say that they will jump on board with your view. If there is another possibility, expect them to adopt it for a while (the process starts all over again).

Of course, during this whole time, don't forget to provide positive evidence for your own point of view. See my previous post "Positive vs. Negative Arguments" for more on this.

Further resources:

Stand to Reason
Straight Thinking

Stand to Reason

Tactics by Greg Koukl
Come, Let Us Reason by Norman Geisler


  1. "should you focus on their understanding of their own worldview, or the "correct" or "accepted" understanding of their worldview?"

    On something that is ambiguous as to "correctness" how can one even determine what is the "correct" worldview. With +2000 denominations, which is the "correct" Christianity? It seems one not only should but must deal with the individual person's worldview because especially within Protestantism there is no "one correct faith" or to put it in liturgical terms "one holy, apostolic faith".

  2. Oops. Sorry. Typo (big typo)...Corrected.
    "or the 'correct'..." corrected to "not the 'correct'..."

    NOW it should make sense. :)

    Thanks for the catch.


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