Darwinian Debating Device # 7: “Definition Deficit Disorder”
|October 16, 2014||Posted by Barry Arrington under Darwinian Debating Devices|
Update: Republished as part of the Darwinian Debating Devices series.
Thank you to all who contributed to my recent request for comments. There were many excellent comments, and I have attempted to synthesize them into a WAC. (BTW, I like WJM’s name for the syndrome better than my own and have switched to it). Here is the WAC:
Definition Deficit Disorder
Definition Deficit Disorder (“DDD”), also known as the “me no speaka the English distraction” and “definition derby” is a form of sophistry by obfuscation that demands that one’s opponent fulfil unreasonable or even impossible definitional criteria, not to advance the debate but to avoid the debate by claiming one’s opponent cannot adequately define their terms.
ID advocate: Intelligent design theory asserts chance causes cannot account for the generation of novel macroevolutionary features and that the best explanation for complex, functionally specified information beyond a reasonable chance threshold is the “artifact of an intelligent agent.
ID opponent: What do you mean by the terms “intelligent,” “design,” “chance,” “complex,” “functional,” “specified” and “information.” These terms are so vague as to render your argument meaningless.
One can be certain that DDD is being employed when a person involved in a debate displays a convenient lapse of understanding of even the most common terms. In extreme cases ID opponents have even claimed that a term they themselves injected into the debate has no clear meaning. The following is an actual case:
ID opponent. Since humans are not inherently superior to other organisms there is little point to this subject.
ID supporter: I suppose next you’ll assert that it is a scientific fact . . . that humans are not inherently superior to other organisms.
ID opponent: That depends on how you define superior. . . .If you can’t adequately define a term that is central to your argument, then maybe you should reevaluate your argument.
Notice that it was the ID opponent who inserted the term “superior” into the debate. When the ID supporter challenged him, the ID opponent immediately resorted to DDD by claiming the term he had just used has no clear definition.
Here is a classic response to DDD by ID supporter Upright Biped:
“I have no desire to play definition derby with an ideologue . . . when an ideologue rolls up and overplays his position by taking every opportunity to position the argument as incomprehensible, I rightly call [BS] on it. That’s a classic defensive maneuver which is intentionally irresolvable for the purposes of generating rhetoric. It’s the intellectual carcass from defending a weak position.”