Wednesday, 19 January 2011

YEC / ID / Fundamentalist use of the 'Gish Gallop' and other underhand tactics...

I was alerted by Cabal, a fellow blogger, to some wonderful descriptions of the tactics used by fundamentalists such as those championing YEC and ID.  Here are a few of them with definitions.  Further detail is either in Rationalwiki or Wikipedia:

The Gish Gallop is an informal name for a rhetorical technique in debates that involves drowning the opponent in half-truths, lies, straw men, and bullshit to such a degree that the opponent cannot possibly answer every falsehood that has been raised, usually resulting in many involuntary twitches in frustration as the opponent struggles to decide where to start. It is named after creationism activist and professional debater Duane Gish.

It is often used as an indirect argument from authority, as it often appears to paint the "galloper" as an expert in a broad range of subjects and the opponent as an incompetent bumbler who didn't do their homework before the debate. (Such emphasis on style over substance is why many scientists disdain public debates as a forum for disseminating opinions.

Since they have no scientific model of their own to present, they will spend all of their time in what is known affectionately as the "Gish Gallop", in which they skip around from topic to topic spewing out an unceasing blizzard of baloney and unsupported assertions about evolutionary theory, leaving the poor evolutionist to attempt to catch up and correct them all.

A variant of the Gish Gallop is employed by bloggers who post an endless series of dubious assertions - each of which can be countered, but to no effect, as it will be buried under the cascade of dubious posts.

Proof by intimidation is a jocular term used mainly in mathematics to refer to a style of presenting a purported mathematical proof by giving an argument loaded with jargon, and to appeal to obscure results; so that the audience is simply obliged to accept it lest they have to admit their ignorance and lack of understanding.

More generally, 'proof by intimidation' has also been used by critics of junk science to describe cases in which scientific evidence is thrown aside in favour of a litany of tragic individual cases presented to the public by articulate advocates who pose as experts in their field.

The Ham Hightail is a term invented by P.Z. Myers to describe the arguments presented at Ken Ham's Creation Museum. In contrast to the Gish Gallop, the Ham Hightail consists of hurtling from point to point, ignoring all contrary evidence, and quoting the Bible whenever proof is required.

The objective of the Ham Hightail is not to convince the sceptics, but to reinforce the believers. The science does not have to support creationism, so long as people believe it does. To this end Ham's Answers in Genesis has run a long campaign of presuppositionalism in creation science: You assume the bible is correct and then find the evidence that fits, everything else you just ignore. Minor annoying details, such as radiometric dating and common descent, are brushed aside with comments about them being based on assumptions that are only true depending on your "worldview". If you want to take the Ham Hightail to the lengths the originator has, you can start your own pretend science journal and fill it full of speculative essays, all the while deluding yourself that you are sponsoring real research.

A point refuted a thousand times, commonly abbreviated as PRATT, is a common phrase on Internet forums where debates have a tendency to go in circles. Once people have refuted a point the first thousand times, it's hard for them to muster the motivation to do it again. Once someone has labelled an argument a PRATT, that usually means they have no interest in discussing it. This could itself be a diversionary tactic.

The website acts as a repository of PRATTs commonly used by creationists, and presents (usually in great detail) their refutations and science behind them. The site is a good starting point when facing a PRATT.

I'm sure I'll find more of these gems.  All praise to Cabal for bringing this rich seam of information to our attention. ;-)  His original memtion is in the comments section at:


  1. Just remembered another good one:

  2. Nice one Cabal! Thank you! :-)
    Think I'm going to spend far too long looking for new ones now. Back to work before temptation takes over...