by John Ellis
I understand that online comment sections often devolve into a form of the Gish gallop, but my cognitive acceptance doesn’t necessarily require my existential acceptance. In fact, my irritation over this phenomenon is one of the variables that drove me from Facebook and will likely drive me from Twitter once this pandemic is in our rearview mirror. Unfortunately, my knowledge of the tendency for legitimate discussion in comment sections to be choked out by the chaos caused by Gish galloping (as well as other fallacies, poor understandings of dialectic, and the ability for everyone to express themselves whether they should or not) doesn’t always inoculate me from attempting to play dialectic broncobuster anyway. To my frustration (at myself), I found myself entangled in this after writing “Christians Should Reject the Latest Pro-Hydroxychloroquine Video.”
Friends who know me – who really know me – will probably attest to two things about me. Well, obviously more than two things, but for the purpose of this post I’m only thinking of two things: 1. During conversations with me about subjects I’m currently studying, I’m often hard to follow. 2. I love epistemology.
Because of #1, I try to be careful about whom (and where) I have conversations about subjects that have currently piqued my interest and that I’m in the midst of studying. Not everyone can discern between me thinking out loud and me making propositional statements. To be clear, that’s not the fault of potentially confused conversation partners; that’s the fault, if you will, of my mouth that can’t keep up with my brain at times. And, because of #2, it’s important to me that my public arguments are concise, organized, and supported by something other than my brain that’s Gish galloping out of my mouth. By way of example, and then I’ll get back to my thesis, I’m currently studying, among other things, political theory, especially as it relates to Christians and Kingdom ethics. One good friend and I have had discussions via phone and text messages about my thoughts, questions, and evolving opinions. If most people were to eavesdrop on those conversations, they would most likely walk away assuming that I have reached conclusions that, in fact, I have not yet reached. My friend and conversation partner understands this and is an edifying aid as I attempt to organize my research and thoughts into legitimate beliefs. My writing, on the other hand, I think, reflects my conclusions and beliefs in an organized and properly supported manner. That’s my goal when I write, at the least.
I’m not claiming that my writing style and tone aren’t frustrating and/or confusing for some or that I adhere to all the rules and expectations of writing, especially the writing of research papers. But my writing does reflect my conscience effort to organize my thoughts in a manner that presents the propositional statements and conclusions that I want readers to walk away with. To that end, I try to be careful about the words I use. Take the title of my previous article, for example – “Christians Should Reject the Latest Pro-Hydroxychloroquine Video.”
That title is the thesis for the article. The very thesis. And notice what’s not in my thesis. Most importantly, note that my thesis does not contend that Christians (or anyone) should outright reject the possibility that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for COVID-19. To be clear, I do not believe the controversial drug is an effective treatment for COVID-19. I included some legitimate research backing up my belief. But, and referencing #2 from above, note my use of the word “believe.” I do not know that HCQ is not an effective treatment, nor am I qualified to make that truth claim. All I can do is present the best research and evidence available to me and present my conclusions accordingly. And, again, my thesis in that article had little to do with HCQ’s effectiveness. What do I mean by that?
Well, look at my thesis presented in the title and in the final sentence of my opening paragraph – “[I’m] attempting to get people to question the validity of the new pro-hydroxychloroquine video starring Dr. Stella Immanuel.”
If you read – really read – my article, I think you’ll find that I do not make any hard arguments against HCQ itself. In fact, I do not universally dismiss all research, current or future, that presents HCQ in a favorable light. However, I do outright dismiss the video. And, in doing so, I do present my current belief about the drug’s effectiveness based on the best available research. My inclusion of that research is pedagogically related to my thesis – I present an appropriate epistemic approach in contrast to that of the video starring Dr. Immanuel. Even setting that aside, I never slam the door shut on the possibility that hydroxychloroquine may be an effective treatment for COVID-19. As I noted in a comment thread under the posting of my article on an aggregate site, I would love for HCQ to be demonstrated to be an effective treatment. That would ease some of my concerns about my kids going back into the classroom in two weeks.
Alright, with all that serving as a corral, back to the Gish gallop.
With the exception of one comment that acknowledged my thesis, every comment about my article that I’ve read completely ignores my thesis and actual reason for writing the article (not a Gish gallop, for the record). Fine. Well, not really fine, but that’s par for the course in online comment sections. Frankly, a good portion of people who comment on articles never actually read the article. This was demonstrated by a comment left under my wife’s Facebook share of my article, a comment that she promptly deleted. It said something like, “So, we’re supposed to trust reporters over doctors now?”
This is why I rarely wade into comment sections anymore. This time, though, I did and responded to a comment as if it were an honest comment/question even though it had next to nothing to do with my thesis. And, predictably, I got my butt stampeded by a Gish gallop. Pushing down my pride, knowing that refusing to respond means that some drive-by-readers will conclude that I lost the argument, I disengaged. I never should have engaged in the first place.
The thing is, and referencing #2 again, all this ties into the thesis of my article about the HCQ video. Of all people, Christians should strive for a solid epistemology and a legitimate dialectic. The culture of social media aside, we should engage in discussions/arguments that are decent and orderly. I do not believe that ignoring the thesis of articles and Gish gallops are conversations that glorify God and edify others. Those “debate” tactics reveal pride and/or ignorance of epistemology and proper dialectic.
In conclusion, I’ve decided that I will be deleting comments on this blog that ignore the thesis of the article and/or commit the “fallacy” of the Gish gallop. And, please – please, please, please – if you take nothing else away from this blog, please commit to pursuing a better epistemology and a better dialectic. Resist the social imaginary that deceitfully tells us that all of our opinions are valid and that open platforms are a license to dismiss and ignore a legitimate dialectic. And, yes, I’m aware that this article will ultimately amount to little more than me venting my frustration. Spitting into the wind about spitting into the wind. Have a nice day.
 I follow over 100 epidemiologists, virologists, other infectious disease experts, and medical/research journals so that I can stay abreast of what’s happening.
 I know, with “corral” my continued extension of the metaphor is groan worthy.
 Some people reading this may believe that I’m referring to them. If in comments back and forth with me you did not engage in a Gish gallop, I am not. You’re not the only person I responded to.