Political Gish Gallop: The Fight New Atheists Trained For, Then Forgot

Political Gish Gallop: The Fight New Atheists Trained For, Then Forgot November 19, 2018

Daniel Sandvik, Unsplash.com, CC0 Licensing

Let’s begin with a story. In 2014, Bill Nye did something profoundly ignorant, in the way that only those who trust too much in their own higher reasoning can be ignorant: he debated young-earth-creationist Ken Ham. By the time the event took place, plenty of critical thinkers had already weighed in on how ill-advised the debate was–how it gave a false sense of equivalency to an unscientific body of beliefs–and the debate indeed only improved Ham’s cash flow, and lent prominence to the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

Why did Nye do it? He said he wanted to show Americans that creationist beliefs existed, that they “find [their] way onto school boards” in the contemporary world. He wanted to awaken Americans to this threat–as if they didn’t already know of it.

When this incident happened, I had maybe, oh, a hundred hours of atheist-religious debates in my rearview mirror. I had watched all the “greats”, of course: Hitchens’ indictment of religious people who felt that the suffering of a woman locked in a man’s basement for years, forced to birth children into that terrible prison, was better mitigated by the concept of a loving creator than an indifferent cosmos. Harris’s similar observation about the impotence versus evilness of a divine being, if it existed, that would let millions of children under five die brutally every year. Dawkins’ unfathomable patience when talking with a creationist who believed that evolution meant species waiting millennia for the biological equipment to go to the bathroom. Dennett highlighting the immorality of a system that requires you to profess to believe that which you do not and cannot understand. Shermer’s straightforward evolutionary explanations for how morality naturally emerges in group-oriented species.

And oh, they are great fun, aren’t they, such pieces from the throes of New Atheism? To watch eloquent discourse unfold for an hour or two upon a stage! To cheer when someone says something you’d been thinking all along!

But the very formula had its problems, too, whether debate parameters were more formal or favoured open conversation. And I’d known that before, I had. But for me the announcement of the impending Nye-Ham spectacle cinched it, and by and large turned me off the debate circuit as a path to better discourse.

New Atheism had been training for so long in the shallows of formal debate that some of its greatest champions had forgotten the murky depths beyond it.

Worse yet, one of the most difficult aspects of formal debate–one of the lousiest, most anti-intellectual tricks in the formal-debate playbook–had not sunk in as an even greater danger for discourse communities at large.

We thought ourselves so brilliant, so wise in our arguments from reason, that we forgot the one lesson repeated over and over in even the most controlled discursive settings:

Once the debate begins, the Gish gallop forever triumphs.

The Gish Gallop Being… What Now?

Named after creationist Duane Gish, the Gish gallop is simply that–a volley of specious claims and untruths hurled at such a pace and density in debate that, in its wake, the opposing side could easily need ten times the allotted rebuttal space to explain the absurdity of what has just been claimed. And while the opposing side fumbles–sometimes flabbergasted by the sheer stupidity of what has just been uttered–the “Gish” holds the advantage. Thus, if the opponent fails to address even one part of the Gish’s nonsense, the Gish can crow triumphantly about their opponent’s inability to rebut a given claim.

The Gish gallop, in other words, is rhetorical cynicism at its finest. No effort here exists to represent one’s opponents views in the best possible light, and then offer counterpoint from a place of clear thinking and higher reasoning. In the same vein as the notorious journalist smear question, “When did you stop beating your wife?”–the sort of query that automatically incriminates the target no matter how they respond–the Gish gallop has no interest in truth.

It is only about winning the court of public opinion.

And so, this is one place where New Atheism paints itself–earnestly, at times; self-congratulatorily, at others–into a corner of greater irrelevance.

Yes, it can be deliriously good fun to see a favourite public thinker whip off a brilliant rationalist indictment of the worst of religious ideology.

But the arrogance of always assuming that argument will defeat illogical thinking is part of what brings us to today’s spate of proudly uninformed and regressive leadership.

The Socratic Legacy

To be fair, though, we’ve been making this arrogant assumption for a long time as a species. Readers of Plato might have noticed its manifestation in Socratic discourse… but also, possibly not. Quite a few philosophy grad students I’ve spoken to, for instance, didn’t notice on their own the phenomenon I’m about to illustrate–so entranced were they with Socrates’ ideas themselves (or at least, the role that such ideas play within academic hierarchies of thought). And even after having the following pointed out to them, they still clung to the idea that Socrates’ oratory was simply too good not to deny.

…But have you ever really paid attention to the lines given to Socrates’ counterpoints? Certainly, his conversants hold differing opinions–some quite vehemently, depending on the themes–but in the throes of debate itself… pay attention to precisely how these others are “led” to see Socrates’ greater wisdom. From Book III, for example–a simple matter of musical theory, and Socrates deciding what are good and bad instruments for the State–pay attention to the substance of Glaucon’s replies:

At any rate you can tell that a song or ode has three parts –the words, the melody, and the rhythm; that degree of knowledge I may presuppose?

Yes, he said; so much as that you may.

And as for the words, there surely be no difference words between words which are and which are not set to music; both will conform to the same laws, and these have been already determined by us?

Yes.

And the melody and rhythm will depend upon the words?

Certainly.

We were saying, when we spoke of the subject-matter, that we had no need of lamentations and strains of sorrow?

True.

And which are the harmonies expressive of sorrow? You are musical, and can tell me.

The harmonies which you mean are the mixed or tenor Lydian, and the full-toned or bass Lydian, and such like.

These then, I said, must be banished; even to women who have a character to maintain they are of no use, and much less to men.

Certainly.

In the next place, drunkenness and softness and indolence are utterly unbecoming the character of our guardians.

Utterly unbecoming.

But what do you say to flute-makers and flute-players? Would you admit them into our State when you reflect that in this composite use of harmony the flute is worse than all the stringed instruments put together; even the panharmonic music is only an imitation of the flute?

Clearly not.

There remain then only the lyre and the harp for use in the city, and the shepherds may have a pipe in the country.

That is surely the conclusion to be drawn from the argument.

 

Oh, for a conversational partner in real life even a tenth as accommodating! One who only offers, in the throes of your own argument, neutral statement, echoing sentiment, agreement, and concession!

Is it secular blasphemy to note the failings of Socrates, by virtue of the paucity of the opponents given to him by Plato?

Probably!

But it’s necessary blasphemy, if we’re to confront our infatuation with the power of debate.

Charismatic Leaders and the Public Indifference to Reason

Yesterday was the forty-year anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre, in which over 900 people, a third of them youth, were put to death under the orders of Jim Jones. They drank Flavoraid laced with cyanide, tranquilizers, and sedatives, but far from being completely docile about the process, a key strategy was first employed. It had to be, to make the members of the cult overcome their self-preservation instincts. And so the adults were made to kill the children first. In the wake of that devastation, with all the immediacy of guilt and despair it no doubt created, of course most of the rest then went readily to suicide themselves.

High-minded ideals about building a genuine fraternity of man had brought these people to the cult (along with the charisma of the man extolling those ideals). But in the end, the emotional root of all our decision-making revealed itself in the worst possible way.

And now, as a culture, we tend to hold up the likes of Jim Jones as horrifying oddities. Listening to his recorded speeches, like the “death tape“, we hear and are chilled by the charisma at play–little different than Hitler’s clever transitions from soft-spoken personability to an upswelling of righteous anger that gathered whole audiences up in the frenzy.

How could they–?

Who would ever–?

We want to believe it’s beyond believing. Beyond all reasoning itself.

…Meanwhile, the POTUS continues to rack up thousands of political lies with relative impunity. Indeed, he still finds loyal supporters among many pockets of the U.S., despite the absolute lack of coherence in his contributions to societal discourse. Nor is he the only leader like this on the world stage. In Brazil, in the Philippines, in Venezuela… all too frequently we find others given tremendous power, whose only real claim to “reason” comes from the flexing of raw might.

Gee, thanks for the reminder

You’re welcome.

The problem is, we want so much to believe emotion is an easily overturned force. We cling to the dream of an easy triumph over the forces that drive us from fear and discomfort into unconscionable group loyalties. How could the most logical commentary not win the day, we wonder, when pitted against the most incoherent foes? And so we latch on desperately–emotionally!–to stories favouring the triumph of reason throughout history, from Socratic dialogues straight to the brilliant erudition of New Atheist speakers. We feed ourselves on this delusion, then disdain the real world when it proves us wrong.

But we don’t have to live with such blinders on–and we 21st-century secular folk are especially well situated to choose a different path. Why? Because the New Atheists faced something that Socrates (as depicted by Plato) did not. They faced discursive opponents who were not as generous, supportive, and accommodating as Glaucon. They knew that the only way to counteract the Gish gallop was to cut it off at the pass: to anticipate the absurdity, to name it prior to its utterance, to show its foolishness, and then to refuse any further to engage.

And so we have a real opportunity, in light of this evidence, to grow as a discursive community. In the wake of all that we’ve learned about the limits of debate from tricks like the Gish gallop, we 21st-century atheists are especially well suited to combat its like in other discursive fields. We can take what we’ve learned here, among our classic atheist/theist binaries of debate, into other realms addressing global humanist practice.

So What Do We Know Now?

The real world isn’t a formal debate. It’s a set of communities. The more polarized our communities, the more limited our exposure to different points of view and ways of living. The more limited our exposure sets, the more entrenched we grow within our tribal doctrines. This isn’t rocket science, but then–rocket science is comparatively straightforward, dependent as it is on a far more reliable calculus than the human behaviours underlying personal belief.

The main flaw in our debate fixation, as atheists, is thinking that the wittiest thinkers will naturally trounce the opposition. But if the research shows anything, it’s the opposite: the most everyday, the most down-to-earth, the most proximate of different points of view can all the better sway minds. And not always for the greater good!

Indeed, sometimes such normalizing works against humanist practice. Sometimes we find ourselves inclined to diminish the gravity of anti-humanist thought and action, especially when it emerges close to home. And so we grit our teeth through Aunt Sally’s fearmongering about children from those neighbourhoods attending school with her own. Or Uncle Henry’s suggestion that we should arm refugees and send them back, to take out their governments themselves.

But there’s a midpoint between casting out Aunt Sally and Uncle Henry, and humouring their classist, racist, xenophobic bullshit. The trouble is, this midpoint doesn’t involve bringing your neighbourhood Christopher Hitchens over to dinner. Much as we might love to sort our loved ones out with his level of cutting banter, this is masturbatory “rationalist” fantasy at best.

Fine.

My liquor cabinet trembled at the mere thought of Hitchens anyway.

As it should.

Rather, the solution requires engaging dissenters on a human level–on an emotional level. Even while being firm where necessary, we need to leave the way open for friends, family, and colleagues to return to the humanist fold. But this won’t happen if they come away from confrontation feeling that their tribe is even smaller now. What we’re aiming for, when we engage them in such “debate”, is to broaden their sense of community. To make them feel part of something far bigger than household, neighbourhood, and nation-state. To remind them of the pale blue dot to which we all belong.

And, sure, as I argued on Friday, this won’t always work in practice. Reciprocal kindness requires just that–a willingness to reciprocate– which not everyone has, for whatever reason. As such, when this strategy fails–and it will fail more often than not–we have to remember to draw strength from our own.

But–no, not just by watching more witty lambasting of formal debate opponents–the popcorn viewing of the actively atheistic world! By also being present for other humanists.

…Others struggling emotionally, that is, with how bloody hard it is to improve the world, when deep down we all know that even perfect reasoning is insufficient to get us there.

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  • Sastra

    I disagree with your analysis of the Nye-Ham debate. You’d be absolutely correct if the debate had been held at a university or on neutral territory, with the Voice of Reason hoping to out argue a passionate demagogue and win on the merits of the case in front of people who would then “choose.” But I see two significant factors which redefine the situation.

    First, this wasn’t common ground, and the audience wasn’t evenly split in groups of pro, con, and undecided. Iirc, this was Ham’s church, and it was packed with his fans. The evolutionist went into Enemy Territory and stood before a crowd which had heard, over and over again, what the Theory of Evolution is and what the scientists say — and heard it wrong. And would continue to hear it wrong because why seek out foolishness? Why expose yourself to things which might get you to think, doubt, and weaken your faith? Oh, Ken Ham will keep us safe from having to listen to the other side in their own words.

    Oh, look — a debate. Ham brought it here.

    The second significant factor was how damn likeable Bill Nye is. He oozes friendliness and enthusiasm. He’s skilled at explaining stuff to children without ever talking down. He connects well to any audience. He’s a Nice Guy.

    In my opinion, Nye won the debate as soon as Ham let him on the stage. I don’t care what the arguments were, or the unaddressed points, or what the folks in the seats said right afterwards about their faith being strengthened. They weren’t there to find out how an evolutionist explains abcdef…xyz. They wanted to see the Enemy vanquished — but there was nowhere for Nye to go but up. He could have walked out to the podium and cracked bad jokes the entire time and it would have been a net gain. He smiles, they smile, and their “now I’ll be fair here and grant a little something to the other side” kicks in. And every concession, no matter how tiny, has cracked the bubble of Safety.

    I think Ham played into Nye’s hands, Gish Gallop vs. Bow Tie.

    But I could be wrong.

  • Hi Sastra! Thanks for reading and writing. We all could be wrong, of course!

    I’m surprised that the choice of platform is the determining factor for you, though, because the Creation Museum was struggling for funding before this event, and then… lo and behold… this happens: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/03/01/284397588/creation-museum-bill-nye-debate-sparked-funding-miracle

    How do you feel about that protracted foothold and legitimization of the Creationist forum, as a consequence of Nye’s presence?

    (Meanwhile, 4 years on, Ken Ham still proudly touts the debate and promotes its viewing. https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2018/02/04/bill-nye-ken-ham-debate-still-making-impact-four-years-later/ Unfortunate, of course, that the Bow Tie cannot triumph over all!)

    Cheers!

  • Sastra

    According to Ham, there were many factors at play, but the debate ’miraculously’ “ prompted some people who had registered for the bonds to make sure they followed through with submitting the necessary and sometimes complicated paperwork.” That’s a pretty low level miracle. It’s also a bit thin I think for granting Nye the credit for the Ark Park, which seems to be floundering.

    I’m unsure of whether I ought to bring up the statistics which show increasing amounts of people leaving religion (even conservative sects) over the last few years, since I don’t know enough to connect it directly to Ham’s fans, let alone the debate. But Christianity is not growing. It’s uptick in political power doesn’t track with a cultural Renaissance.

    As for Ham proudly touting the debate, it’s probably safe to assume that he thought he won, and that his loyal followers assured him he won, and recommend the video to nonbelievers with the usual results. Former creationists report that their deconversions never (or almost never) come in a blinding flash of reason, but grow out of ever-widening cracks. Are there more noncreationists who changed to creationists after HvsN, or the other way around? Did the debate have a wider effect in the culture, and which way?

    Along with the fear that a debate promotes respect for bad ideas ought to come the hope that it also promotes respect for the people with the bad ideas. Despite its adversarial nature, it requires upfront the assumption of a common ground, or at least the pretense of one. And without that foundation, or at least the pretense of one, there is no possibility of connecting on a human, emotional, or any other level.

  • TinnyWhistler

    The Gish gallop…I’m glad to know there’s a name for it. A few years ago, when I finished working out my own opinions/beliefs re: cosmology and gained the confidence to actually express them, I ended up in a few conversations with people at a relative’s SDA church.

    (For anyone who doesn’t know, Seventh Day Adventists are a fringe-ish Christian denomination (They’re not generally seen as un-Christian as LDS, but they’re much closer to that line) whose founder (/prophet depending on who you talk to) Ellen G White wrote about how the Biblical Flood shaped the earth in the mid 19th century and was the inspiration for people like George McCready Price (himself SDA) who are generally credited with paving the way for Creation Science to become a Thing in the mid 20th century. So, they’ve cared about YEC as opposition to old-earth geology for ~150 years or so. Not super important, but I find the history kinda interesting)

    Anyway, the frequent problem with talking to YEC folks, especially people who are REALLY into it and whose churches go out of their way to circulate and update literature on YEC, is that they’ll continually pull out zingers that Totally Show Evolution To Be False and Prove Geology A Sham that you’ve never heard of. They don’t want discussion of the scientific process, or of how conclusions are reached to debate the inherent reliability of the scientific process, they have a zinger and proclaim that one fringe interpretation that’s gotten blocked by the eeevils of peer review as completely dismantling hundreds of years of study.

    I love talking about the process of science and how former titans in various fields have fallen or been modified (aether, Newton) but arguing with YEC is ultimately fruitless, in my experience, because they’re not actually interested in what you have to say. The chess-playing pigeon metaphor really does describe it well.

    It’s too bad none of the Socratic dialogues have Socrates arguing with any kind of anti-Socrates. It would’ve been about as productive as these staged “debates”

    I’ve had much more success talking positively about an alternate interpretation of whatever the thing is in question: around the same time I was having these debates I stumbled across the idea of science as worship; marveling at how cool it is that the world is set up to run the way it seems to. That’s how I still talk about the creation debate when I choose to engage with it, though these days I couch everything in a whole bunch of “I like the idea that” and “It makes sense to me that this is the way you could see it” since I’m not exactly “out” as no-longer-Christian and I still want to hang on to the right to a theological opinion within my family haha

  • chemical

    Nye’s real genius with the Nye-Ham debate was that he Gish Galloped a Gish Galloper. Rather than engage with Ham’s “Evolution is wrong because…” arguments, he poked hole after hole into the YEC model, and left Ham scrambling to pick up the pieces. And he did it while being friendly and likable, maintaining a level head the entire time.

  • This is an interesting set of comments, because my first instinct was to try to counter some of your statements as if they were misrepresenting my original post–for instance, by suggesting that I was arguing against debate entirely, or suggesting that the relative growth or decline of Christianity has anything to do with the value of seeking different forms of discourse… but then I remembered, good gravy, this isn’t a debate! So now the conversation is going in new directions, and that’s splendid too. (i am, it seems, sorely out of practice on comment boards.)

    A couple quick notes, then, pursuant to the original post before addressing the rest: Yes, the Creation Museum is floundering now, thank goodness, but it was floundering before the debate, too, and the debate seems to have dragged out its death knell. There’s conflicting data regarding religiosity levels in the world today (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/aug/27/religion-why-is-faith-growing-and-what-happens-next), but even a decline in religiosity would serve my original point, regarding the disconnect between what Nye claimed he wanted to achieve with the debate… and whether or not the debate itself was the best format to achieve those aims. Did we really need air-time and the promotion and funding of the Creation Museum in order to advance the message to average U.S. citizens about the presence of Creationism?

    It was this body of convictions on Nye’s part, which certainly alarmed prominent atheistic scientists at the time as well, that struck me as misguided and myopic. It seemed that he was treating the debate as the be-all and end-all for swaying public opinion–and that impressed upon me the danger of *over-reliance* on debate. There are plenty of other tools in the discursive “kit” to be employed.

    From the comments here, though, I’m quickly grasping that a broader point of contention was piqued with that part of the original post: namely, the value of debating YECs in general. And again, I’m not opposed to debate. I was careful, in my closer, not to say stop watching debates entirely (rather, augment one’s practice with more), and I do think that the debate platform has given us an excellent sense of what we’re up against in the real world. We just… need to apply it there, and differently sometimes, too.

    To this end, I’m charmed by the sentiment in your last paragraph. One can certainly hope that debate promotes respect for people on the opposing sides… but I have to say, the way adversarial debate plays out in political realms does not greatly support that point of view. Rather, we seem taken as a species by easy binaries between good and bad, and having two opposing speakers fits all too well into this reductive framing of reality. This proved true for the U.S. presidential election, and the Colombian presidential election, and the Brazilian presidential election.

    Other debate forums, like the relaxed couch conversation on stage, might be better suited to such a task as humanizing our opponents.

    That said, I hate to write and dash, but my evening teaching schedule is about to begin. Thanks for taking the time comment, Sastra! I hope I haven’t seen the last of you around these parts.

  • I wonder if we can come up with a different term for Gish Galloping when it’s done with facts, not intentional misrepresentations!

  • Sastra

    Did we really need air time and the promotion and funding of the Creation Museum in order to advance the message to average US citizens about the presence of Creationism?

    Nye’s responsibility for the promotion and funding of the Creation Museum/Ark Park is disputable, I think. Even Ham hands him a small role, and he’s likely to exaggerate. And from watching the debate my impression wasn’t that Nye was addressing average citizens, but average creationists — the kind who were already attending Creation “museums.” And the debate was a golden opportunity for a professional science communicator to not just throw out a bunch of facts, but to try to communicate the excitement and wonder of science to the unexposed. He was engaging, relatable, and likeable. I’m not sure what other tool in the discursive kit could have been employed to reach that particular audience.

    The scientists and others who were alarmed at Nye’s foray into the lion’s den seemed to me at the time to be concerned about Dawkins’ warning against allowing creationism an equal platform with evolution and granting it credibility. It’s why he refuses to debate the topic, and urges other scientists and academics to do the same. But, as I said, the circumstances differ. Nye is more of a performer and entertainer, and the venue was weighted heavily in favor of creationism. Ham provided the equal platform. If credibility flowed from it, it went in the opposite direction.

    As for the debate format encouraging a tendency to think of others as adversaries, I fear that the lack of debate encourages a full blown determination to think of others as enemies. If it gets much worse, we may all look fondly back on the days when both sides tried to smash the arguments of the other.

  • “He was engaging, relatable, and likeable. I’m not sure what other tool in the discursive kit could have been employed to reach that particular audience.”

    Here I think we get to the crux of our different impressions, and this offers interesting food for thought. Nye pitched the debate as a way to reach the *rest* of the U.S. with a warning about Creationism, and I certainly remember taking him at his word in 2014 when thinking upon the folly of a debate in the Creation Museum as the best route to achieve that end. But in your comments you have focussed on what in some ways was presented as incidental as the time–though not without merit! Namely: the idea of reaching people who might not otherwise receive such counterpoints. And that’s certainly a valiant endeavour. I wonder if, by presenting his reasoning solely in that manner in 2014, he could have assuaged my and other atheists’ concerns about the optics of the event.

    We shall never know! But I do like the optimistic spin of your reading, so thanks for holding the line on it!

    “As for the debate format encouraging a tendency to think of others as adversaries, I fear that the lack of debate encourages a full blown determination to think of others as enemies.”

    Here we absolutely agree on the importance of engagement, except my whole point is that it’s not a binary between debate/no-debate: there are other ways to engage discursively, outside of the podium, and many offer better tools for the task of shifting a cultural tide.

    “If it gets much worse, we may all look fondly back on the days when both sides tried to smash the arguments of the other.”

    Don’t we already? The vitriol of, say, a Vidal/Buckley debate was at least matched with quite a bit of eloquence currently lacking in the political sphere. Whom would you hold up as standard-bearers of political eloquence for our years of coming nostalgia?

  • What we’re aiming for, when we engage them in such “debate”, is to broaden their sense of community. To make them feel part of something far bigger than household, neighbourhood, and nation-state. To remind them of the pale blue dot to which we all belong.

    Hear, hear! I don’t characterize the debate culture of the New Atheists as pitting rational thinkers against dogmatic obscurantists. The debater mentality is motivated not by rationality, but rather by the emotional need for superiority. Science is just a pretext for a spectacle that resembles a sports battle more than a reasoned discussion or empathetic dialogue.

    Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin recalls a hilarious episode wherein he and Carl Sagan went to Arkansas to debate a prominent creationist and were nearly run out of town on a rail. Lewontin concluded that this matter wasn’t about knowledge and ignorance at all: “For me the confrontation between creationism and the science of evolution was an example of historical, regional, and class differences in culture that could only be understood in the context of American social history.”

    I remember watching the Nye-Ham debate when it took place. My wife said it best: “I don’t know whether Nye won the debate. He just said things I agreed with.” I think it’s obvious that science fans (like your amigo below) inflate Ham’s importance so that he can resemble a legitimate scientific threat. But what offends the New Atheists about creationists is the notion that people they consider their moral, intellectual, and socioeconomic inferiors refuse to submit to the authority of almighty Science.

    And that’s not what I call freethought.

  • Sophotroph

    I’m sorry. I stopped reading when you painted the Gish Gallop as somehow the nuclear weapon of rhetorical debate and how it can never be countered.

    This tells me that you don’t have the rhetorical skill required to keep your opponent from dictating the terms and flow of the argument.

    And that, sadly, is that. It helps to make sure you know (or at least have thoroughly researched) a subject before you blog about how others are doing it wrong.

    I’m sorry if this post seems overly critical, but the difference between rhetorical and dialectical debate, and the weakness of applying the tactics of the latter to the former, should be pretty well understood before you try to weigh in on this sort of thing.

  • Sophotroph

    So what you’re saying is that Sagan and Lewontin made the mistake of expecting that rural Americans could be mature enough to have their bad ideas challenged without turning violent? Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations.

    What offends atheists about creationism is twofold. Creationist subvert democracy in their attempts to legislate their beliefs at all costs, and they abuse their children and others’ by indoctrinating them with their fiction.

    We might be peeved at their personal aversion to truth, but we don’t begrudge them their fantasy world provided they don’t try to leak it into reality.

    Nobody cares if they “submit to almighty Science” as long as they don’t attempt to forcibly induct others into their sick LARP.

  • Sophotroph

    Nye Neighing?

    It keeps the horse theme, but may need work.

  • It’s cute when someone starts a post with “I’m sorry” when they don’t actually mean it.

    Your causal links don’t apply here, because it’s obvious that I’m no stranger to debate from my references to watching hours upon hours of atheist/religious debate in my early adult years. Moreover, I never said that Gish galloping can’t be countered–indeed, the whole post talks about countering it in a far larger sense, outside formal debate, in other discursive realms of our world. Even within the parameters of debate, Gish galloping is best cut off before it happens, by anticipating the rube plays of your opponent–which, as one of the other commenters points out, is precisely what Nye did in the course of his own stand-off with Ham on stage.

    But your comment speaks to a profound indifference to real discourse. You simply wanted to share something snide and dismissive, and did! So, all best wishes to you in your morning!

  • Okay, this one made me laugh. Thanks, Sophotroph!

  • SocraticGadfly

    I’d like to add another thought.

    “Reason Is and Ought Only to Be the Slave of the Passions” — David Hume.

    This is why I also laugh at “listening tours” by people like Arlie Russell Hochschild.

    Shem gets at that below:

    Hear, hear! I don’t characterize the debate culture of the New Atheists as pitting rational thinkers against dogmatic obscurantists. The debater mentality is motivated not by rationality, but rather by the emotional need for superiority.

    The creationist (or in the political case, the ardent Trump Train rider) is driven by passion, not reason. A true appeal to reason will fail. But, a passion-based “look how reasonable I’m trying to be” itself is based on a deep emotional stance. (IMO, so are liberal “listening tours.” Either that, or the likes of Hochschild are really clueless about human nature.)

    Now, Hume did follow by saying the passions then need to be checked up on in the light of reason. But … motivation comes from the passions first.

  • Oh, good point SG! This relates to an attendant myth about clear divisions between reason and the passions that we in the “rationalist” world bafflingly cling to even when the empirical data plainly illustrates the interconnected nature of these two forces in human processing and decision-making. Oh, I feel another essay coming on. 🙂

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  • SocraticGadfly

    Please write away. I jumped in because I’d seen Shem (who I’ve followed for quite some time on Twitter) commenting.

  • Just to add an anecdote here: One “Gospel preacher” I know (Church of Christ) watched the debate online and cautioned afterward on Facebook that folks should not take Nye’s superior performance to mean that he was right. I didn’t watch the debate, but the fact that it worried this preacher gave me hope. If older Christian leaders are still showing that debate to their younger church members here four years later, thinking it’s going to keep them in the pews, then I think it was a win for the real world. What it’ll do is send them to the Internet looking for answers. My 2¢ On that topic.

    Regarding broadening the sense of community: One of our sons is a preacher, and the other is an atheist. He goes to church with his wife, but as far as preacher son is concerned it’s the wrong church and he’s leading his family to Hell. It turns out they’ll both be home in December, and preacher son told us that he really didn’t want to be at our house at the same time. He didn’t refuse, but clearly he was resistant to the idea. Then, atheist son heard that his brother had finished his college coursework (age 32… did his bachelors while working) and called to congratulate him. That simple act really reduced the friction, at least to some degree. (There was friction between them long before the religious conflict, and preacher son has some legitimate gripes, but the religious conflict was beginning to seem like the final tear of a permanent rift.) But a kind word made a huge difference.

    I don’t know what the future holds, but it looks like we’ll have a nice day with our sons, their wives, and our grandchildren. That’s all I want in the world.

  • “I don’t know what the future holds, but it looks like we’ll have a nice day with our sons, their wives, and our grandchildren. That’s all I want in the world.”

    Oh, that was a beautiful anecdote, Lerk!. Thank you so much for sharing. I do hope the optimism you’ve espoused here continues to bear fruit. All best wishes to you and yours!

  • al kimeea

    “I don’t know whether Nye won the debate. He just said things I agreed with.”

    It’s quite unsurprising, and not at all unexpected, that someone who agrees evolution is a good idea will agree with what a celebrity proponent is saying aboot evolution. The true revelation would have been more along the lines of “ya know, Hammy is on to something”.

    As I remember, you’re quite offended by pseudo-scientific numbnuttery. So much so, that you drove off an anti-vaxxer.

    “But what offends the New Atheists about creationists is the notion that people they consider their moral, intellectual, and socioeconomic inferiors refuse to submit to the authority of almighty Science.”

    That bit in bold, is why you sent the woo merchant scurrying for all the unnecessary pain & suffering their bullshit causes…

    Creationism, like vaccine deniers, is woo. It too causes unnecessary harm, like any other branch of pseudo-scientific numbnuttery. Canada recently had creationists as PM & Minister for Science & Tech. They muzzled scientists and shuttered all climate science, legitimately. The creationists we elected turned to higher education and proposed a curriculum of useful subjects, rather than all-around knowledge. Bye bye humanities…

    Woo knows no bounds. Faith in woo crosses all “moral, intellectual, and socioeconomic” & political lines, rendering any mention moot.

    I’m offended by the free ride $ociety grant$ churche$ for telling people they are broken and the church is the cure. “That’s a nice soul ya got there. Shame for sumthin to happen to it”…

    What motivates this atheist is the truly unnecessary pain & suffering inflicted on people by what are, in many cases, unwitting frauds. I’m curious to know how you know what the New Atheists are thinking is any different.