Darwinian Debating Device #3: Moving Goalposts
|October 10, 2014||Posted by Barry Arrington under Darwinian Debating Devices|
One of the Darwinists’ favorite tricks is known as “moving the goalpost.” The essence of this trick is deflecting away from having been defeated in a debate by pretending the debate was about something else. Thus, if the ID proponent meets a Darwinist’s challenge with respect to issue X, the Darwinist will pretend the issue was something else and say “Ah hah, you utterly failed to address issue Y,” thereby deflecting from the fact that the Darwinist has just lost with respect to issue X.
In the following example, a Darwinist insisted that “survival of the fittest” was not central to Darwinian theory. The ID proponent cited a prominent Darwinist (Stephen Jay Gould) for the proposition that “survival of the fittest” is indeed central to Darwinian theory. Instead of admitting his error, the Darwinist moved the goalpost by pretending that the issue the ID proponent was addressing with the Gould quotation was whether that phrase is a tautology:
Well, it’s staggering to me that anyone could spend years arguing about evolution and end up thinking “Survival of the fittest” was a central idea in “Darwinism”, rather than a slightly silly slogan.
So, dear readers, we have [Darwinist] denying that “survival of the fittest” is a central idea in Darwinism. Interesting, because Stephen Jay Gould, one of the leading proponents of evolutionary theory in the last 50 years says this:
Natural selection is the central concept of Darwinian theory – the fittest survive and spread their favored traits through populations. Natural selection is defined by Spencer’s phrase, “survival of the fittest” . . .”
Whom shall we believe about whether “survival of the fittest” is a central concept in Darwinian theory? And here’s another interesting question. Why would Darwinist think he could get away with such an egregious falsehood?
At this point the Darwinist is well and truly stuck. He got caught in a falsehood. Of course, the honorable thing to do would be to admit his error and apologize. Does he do the honorable thing? Of course not. Being a Darwinist means never having to say you are sorry. The story continues:
[ID proponent], I’ll credit you that this little trip to the quote mine was sloppy, rather than a deliberate misrepresentation.
In case it’s not now abundantly clear: if “fittest” means “those that survive” then “survival of the fittest” is not the core idea in Darwinism. For that phrase to adequately describe evolutionary biology “fittest” must mean something else. Most importantly, the theory of natural selection let’s us do science, test ideas svc develop new models (and has been very successful at that ).
Really, the only interfering question that remains is how [ID proponent] can be so ignorant of evolutionary biology, but so sure he is right.
Notice how the Darwinist moved the goalpost. The specific issue under discussion was whether the phrase “survival of the fittest” is a central tenant of Darwinian theory. Darwinist says it is not, that it is just a “silly slogan.” ID proponent crushes that assertion by quoting one of the most prominent Darwinists in the last 75 years saying that the phrase is another way of saying “natural selection,” and that natural selection is a “central concept of Darwinian theory.”
Game over. ID proponent has won the debate.
Goal post moving: Instead of admitting his error, Darwinist retorts that a tautological conception of “survival of the fittest” is not the core idea of Darwinism and implies that a non-tautological scientifically testable conception of the phrase is indeed part of the theory.
Set aside whether the phrase “survival of the fittest” is tautological. That is a discussion we are happy to have, but it was not the issue being debated at this moment. The issue under debate [issue “X”] was Darwinist’s assertion that the phrase “survival of the fittest” is “a slightly silly slogan” instead of a central idea in Darwinian theory. When Darwinist’s falsehood is exposed, instead of admitting his error, he changes the subject and pretends the issue [issue “Y”] was whether a tautological conception of natural selection is part of the theory. The Darwinist adds insult to his deceit by calling the ID proponent “ignorant of evolutionary biology.”
Note that it makes no difference whether this sub-discussion over issue X occurred in the context of a larger discussion about whether natural selection is tautological (issue Y). The specific issue under debate was issue X, whether the phrase “survival of the fittest” was part of Darwinian theory.
Darwinist’s behavior in this example is, of course, equal parts shameful, deceitful and pathetic. Sadly, similar antics from Darwinists are seen all too often in these pages.