Skeptic views on the “Gish Gallop”by Don Lacey on Oct. 11, 2012, under AZ Politics, Creationism, Critical Thinking, Ethics, Evolution, Freethought, History, Logic, Reason, Skepticism
See the presidential debate a couple of days ago? I missed it…on purpose. I read the reviews. Many debate winners are those with the most effective debating techniques, not necessarily the best person or the one most deserving. They can be entertaining. Beyond the tactics and strategic moves, we should be looking for the truth above all other considerations. Debates should not be another source of entertainment but that’s not us. We’re all about the contests and less about the actual truths involved.
One effective, if not honest debating technique is the “Gish Gallop.” In employing this technique, a “galloper” will list in no particular order of significance a long list of bullet points: some true, some half true, and some completely wrong. The number is usually large, sometimes more than fifty. They will be delivered fast, with confidence. Every point will be delivered with the apparent authority of an expert and debates are fertile ground for successful use of the “Gish Gallop.” In an uninterrupted fifteen or twenty minutes, a “galloper” can lay down so much crap that the opposition couldn’t possibly reply to each point much less refute each one of them. The task is further complicated by the fact that the galloper sprinkles in some true information making it even more difficult the separate the points that need to be addressed without inadvertently arguing against the truthful statements. It’s a very clever technique.
It’s hard to counter the “Gish Gallop” in a debate. That is why it is so effective. In a debate, you can’t stop the “galloper” at each BS claim not like in a normal discussion where you can and should address each point as they are made especially if there are points of disagreement. It does no good to present an argument if the premises are not agreed upon. Bad premises mean a bad argument and bad arguments are a waste of time. In general, debates are a waste of time. With that attitude is it any wonder why I missed the presidential debate?
At a meeting of the Tucson Atheists a couple of days ago, someone new to the group was attempting to make a point about how the Atheist religion is no better than the fundamentalists when it comes to politics. The discussion was about whether or not there should be a political party centered about Atheism. It might have seemed rude to many but I had to interrupt the discussion to argue her first premise that Atheism is a religion. This often comes up in our discussions and it simply isn’t true. The argument from that point forward would be invalid since the starting premise was wrong. We got passed that and she started talking about the Atheist specific laws we might propose if we were in the majority. Once again I had to interrupt and ask her for an example of a law that an Atheist political party might propose. She said, “I’m speaking generally” but I asked her to be specific. I said, “What laws to you anticipate an Atheist to push through the legislature?” I was not making any points with anyone. I was now “the bad guy.” She had plenty of supporters that thought I was being rough on the “new girl.” Someone came to her aid and pitched an example. It was a “straw man” that would never be considered and the situation turned friendly again when the defender stated, “You asked for an example. You didn’t ask for a good one.” It turned out to be a fun exchange and we all left as friends but the point of the discussion is that you can’t allow faulty premises to be accepted just because they’re not challenged. The problem with a debate is that you’re not allowed to address the false premises as they are made.
In doing research for this piece I found it out that the term “Gish Gallop” was coined by Dr. Eugenie Scott the director of the National Center for Science Education. She often argues with Creationists that employ “clever” techniques to score points instead of using logic, reason, or discussions based on brilliant insight. An article about Eugenie Scott’s experience with Duane Gish can be located HERE. It recounts Dr. Scott’s first encounter with Dr. Gish.
A more complete definition for the “Gish Gallop” can be found HERE.