Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
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NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to put a demagogue in his place?

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to put a demagogue in his place?
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Magnus Zeller. Speaker. 1920


At the convention of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1860, a discussion arose about the theory of evolution. The audience was far from sympathetic to it, and the speech of Bishop Wilberforce, who rudely and sharply criticized this theory, was listened to with sympathy.

Towards the end, Wilberforce became so insolent that he asked Huxley, who defended this theory, from whom he descended from a monkey – a grandfather or a grandmother? The audience giggled and approved.

What did Huxley say?

The answer is a little later.




In 1860, it was difficult to expect a different attitude to the theory of evolution. People from childhood were taught completely different – that all living beings were created by God, moreover, ready-made and almost at the same time: fish, birds and reptiles on the fifth day, animals, reptiles and people – on the sixth.

There is no need to laugh – for its time (and the final edition of the Old Testament dates back to the time of the Babylonian captivity, perceptibly BC) it was a completely progressive concept – it explained the observed facts, and they practically did not contradict it.

Only the most progressive gardeners and pastoralists undermined it a little – they brought out new varieties of plants and breeds of domestic animals, which obviously did not exist before, that is, they were absent in Noah’s ark. It’s good that at that time no one guessed that all these new varieties and breeds were known to be GMOs and, therefore, very harmful – and thanks for that.

Any religion has one common problem – the sacred books. In the era when they are written, they usually do not contradict anything relatively obvious – religion only needs to win adherents, and they may simply not believe something that is obviously irrelevant to reality. But if it has already become stronger and, God forbid, has become a state – then that’s it!

Religious positions then become not theses for discussion, but an undeniable dogma. The priests have a wonderful objection to any, the most inventive opponent – burning over a slow fire. If he is unhappy, let him object after that!




Time is going in the right direction, albeit with hefty zigzags. At first, it became somewhat indecent to burn opponents, and then it was generally illegal. But it was precisely about the constancy of the species living in the world that they did not argue for a long time – the facts seemed to confirm it.

Questions began to arise when bones of unknown creatures, nonexistent at that time, were found here and there in the ground. Sometimes in large quantities – up to 5% of the ivory that entered the world market, in fact, turned out to be the bone of mammoths. And where are those mammoths?

At first, a rather simple explanation helped out – they say, these are the bones of ancient gods and heroes, people of incredible growth and strength, which you will not find now on our sinful planet. Maybe the heroes of the Trojan War, maybe the giants who died during the Flood.

A number of bones have been declared the bones of Adam and Eve. A member of the French Academy even calculated the height of the first people from the bones found. It turned out that Adam was 37 meters 73 centimeters tall, and Eve was 36 meters 19 centimeters tall. The lady, of course, was shorter …




The very idea of ​​the Flood immediately suggested to the scientists of the 18th century some scientific justification for the traces of unseen animals – yes, there were such animals, but Noah did not take them into the ark, or they simply did not fit because of their size, so they all drowned, alone the bones remained.

This catastrophe is described in the Bible, then there were no questions at all with it. But there could have been other cataclysms in ancient times? The great biologist Cuvier even developed a whole theory of catastrophes – terrible disasters in which almost all living things perished and new species came instead of old ones.

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to put a demagogue in his place?
Georges Cuvier/wikipedia.org

Cuvier believed that there were quite a few disasters (his follower d’Orbigny counted as many as 27), and the last of them was the Flood. The question of why only one calamity is described in the Bible has been bypassed – and there is not a word about Cuvier in the Bible, so is it not?

A serious blow to the theory of catastrophes was struck by the father of modern geology, Charles Lyell, who convincingly proved that geological processes always proceeded with approximately the same energy, without any special cataclysms. His views won, and the theory of catastrophes faded into the background.

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to put a demagogue in his place?
Charles Lyell/wikipedia.org

Now they still recognize the likelihood of at least two disasters – the Great Permian extinction at the beginning of the Mesozoic, when 96% of all marine species and 83% of insects died, and the Chikshulub catastrophe at the end of the Cretaceous, which killed the dinosaurs (according to Alvarez’s hypothesis). They are associated with the fall of very large meteorites.

But still, the question was unclear, where did the new species come from? Cuvier assumed that after each catastrophe there was a new act of creation. But this is too convenient an explanation. Anything can be explained by the will of God, but isn’t there a simpler explanation?




Strange as it may seem, the church position on the issue of the immutability of species was undermined not by an inveterate atheist, but by a man who had been planning to become a pastor for a long time, but eventually became a biologist – Charles Darwin. Going on a round-the-world scientific expedition on the ship “Beagle”, he collected the most interesting data and made amazing generalizations.

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to put a demagogue in his place?
Charles Darwin/wikipedia.org

Twenty years after this journey, in 1859, he finally described his findings in the book The Origin of Species by Natural Selection, or Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for life. The first edition of this book was completely sold out in just two days.

The ideas of the evolution of living organisms were expressed earlier (the same Lyell, the French Buffon and Lamarck, the forester Patrick Matthew and many more). But it was Darwin who clearly formulated the idea of ​​natural selection and made it the subject of discussion – unfortunately, not always scientific.

In principle, this theory does not come into conflict with religion at all – the modern church, except for a few rabid sects, does not dispute it and does not consider it to be contrary to the Bible. And the reaction of the then priesthood to Darwin was like the explosion of a volcano. Moreover, the volcano of mud.




The set of unscrupulous polemic tricks has changed little – what then, what now. During discussions on social networks, they can still be observed in all their glory. Here are some common tricks to know that you need to get away from.

Replacing the opponent’s arguments with similar, but deliberately erroneous. “You say species can change. Can a turkey be born from a chicken? Ha ha ha! ” And this despite the fact that you did not say anything like that, but now you have to prove it.

Exclusion of all answer options except “yes” or “no”. “Have you already stopped resorting to lies and fraud to defend your absurd theses?” If they stopped, it means they did it before, if they didn’t stop, they were on guard at all! The answer “Never did it” is not considered.

Falsification of facts. “All monkeys are completely covered with hair, but man is not – how did he descend from a monkey?” That, firstly, the person is different, and secondly, he also has wool – he is not interested. First he shoots, and then draws a target around the hole, fucking sniper!

Intimidation with awful consequences. “If we recognize evolution, first faith will perish, and then morality!” Why this is so, they are not going to prove to you. Now we know for sure that this is not so, but then we did not know, so we used intimidation as best they could.

The transition to personalities. “Here you are for evolution, but you yourself are short, bald, and your suit is unfashionable”. An extremely cheap, but dangerous technique, because it will prove that he is right in everything – about the hairstyle, and about the height, and about the suit. But what does this have to do with the essence of the matter?

Majority appeal. “What are you talking about evolution, the overwhelming majority of people on the street do not even know a word like that. Let’s go and ask!” Well, the vast majority of the appendix cannot be removed, but you, if anything, go not to them, but to the surgeon, right?

Absolutizing personal experience. “You say you found an ancient human skull. Who saw it? I, for example, no!” It may well be a smoker who has lived to old age, but the fact that, on average, a smoker lives about 10 years less than a nonsmoker has already been proven.

These are just the basic techniques of a fraudulent dispute – there are more. It is useless to argue with those who use them in order to convince them to change their minds – you will not achieve anything, only you will be scolded. You can argue with such people only in order to convince third parties, but always expect a catch!


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Huxley’s particular adversary, Bishop Wilberforce, known by the nickname Slippery Sam, was already a well-known polemicist. A boorish merry fellow. They simply do not believe that they can also argue with him. It seems that he used a technique that received a specific name over a century later.

Now this technique is called “Guiche gallop” – in honor of a like-minded Wilberforce, Dwayne Guiche, a modern creationist who, like Wilberforce, is absolutely sure that nothing exists except the species created by God in the days of creation, and he does not care about the facts …

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to put a demagogue in his place?
Bishop Wilberforce/wikipedia.org

This technique is simple, vile and primitive – to fill up the opponent with a bunch of facts, inaccurate, incorrect or simply irrelevant, and triumphantly declare: “Come on, try to refute this!” God forbid to do this – it will take you much more time than him, you will have time to get bored with everyone, the listener will lose the main idea and decide that you are wrong in each case.

This is desighned so that it is always easier and faster to blurt out a deliberate lie than to refute it. Swift also said: “A lie flies like an arrow, and the truth lame after it,” and, unfortunately, he was right. Do not do what the Guiche, who has started galloping at a gallop, wants from you – it is obviously profitable for him!

It helps a good idea to ask your opponent to single out the most important, reliable and true from the heap of the given false arguments, in order to parse it first. If he agrees, he is trapped: the argument will be ridiculed and destroyed very quickly. If not, ask why? There will be no answer.




Wilberforce was a little unlucky – Huxley was in the audience. From the very beginning of his career, he showed himself to be no less talented polemicist than the bishop, but, unlike him, Huxley always spoke to the point, he disdained with farcical tricks and used arguments instead of ridicule.

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: How to put a demagogue in his place?
Thomas Huxley/pinterest

Darwin, on the other hand, was very lucky that it was Huxley who became his ally. Darwin was a typical Victorian, a man of his era – correct, reasonable, avoiding exacerbation. And Huxley was a fiery Victorian who defended the Victorian principles of truthfulness and evidence with vigor and energy, but without going beyond their own framework.

When Wilberforce burst out with the aforementioned phrase about how he wondered through whom Huxley descended from the monkey – through his grandmother or through his grandfather, and the stupidest ladies in the audience began to giggle, Huxley quietly said: “And the Lord gave him into my hands”. His scientist neighbor heard it.

The opening of Huxley’s speech was as serious and calm dignity as Wilberforce’s was of cheeky buffoonery. He extremely succinctly (not a second of extra time!) repeated Darwin’s theses, in passing (there is nothing to draw attention to the opponent!) poked the audience with the nose at Wilberforce’s most terrible mistakes, and then said …




“I would not be ashamed to recognize an ape as my ancestor, but I would consider it shameful to be related to a man who uses an extraordinary talent to overshadow the truth”.




The mood in the audience instantly changed. Huxley was applauded almost as loudly as Bishop Wilberforce (and this is in a hall with a notoriously hostile audience!). Some Wilberforce fan fainted from emotional shock, but quickly recovered.

Joseph Hooker closed the meeting with a short speech in which he finally debunked Wilberforce’s scientific reputation – now it was easy, and Wilberforce could not argue with him. Leaving the hall, Huxley was congratulated by many, including (amazing!) the clergy.

On the way home, Huxley told Hooker that this incident made him change his mind about the benefits of oratory and that he would henceforth improve in it in every possible way and try to overcome his disgust for it. Of course, it was coquetry – he was a wonderful speaker.

His real feelings, most likely, are betrayed by the phrase he said soon: “I restrained myself … and did not take a response until they demanded it from me – and even then I gave myself free rein”. Later, many more brilliant and successful speeches in defense of the theory of evolution awaited him.




The rudeness, rudeness and greed of the opponent are sometimes quite effective (especially when speaking in front of an ignorant audience), but they are fraught with a terrible vulnerability. If you can use it – everything will be OK!

Even in a rejected theory, there are usually correct positions – a higher-quality new theory should consider and explain them. The theory of catastrophes did not resist, but the proposition of a couple of catastrophes that did occur is now recognized as quite probable.

There are clear signs of the controversy’s dishonesty – some are cited above. If you see them, do not argue seriously – this is what is expected of you to confuse. Either stop communicating and give the rogue more rope to hang himself, or spit in his direction and leave.

It is better for good orators to be honest, reasonable and right people than dumb, liars and crooks. You never know when the skill will help you out – better let you have it.

Bishop Wilberforce believed that an insurmountable chasm lay between man and animals, and the animals took revenge on him – he crashed, falling from a horse, and died. This is how it happens …

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