Have you ever debated with someone who says “you Atheists believe we came from a monkey…” or “it’s you who believe this or that”?
Knowing what your opponent thinks or what his/her points are should be the basis of every debate for it to have some merit.
I would like to say that our community is impervious to debating mere assumptions and that it is a bulwark of critical thinking, but, unfortunately, that’s not the case.
I cannot say I haven’t ever assumed what another person believes just by listening to the label that person has chosen to be labeled as, but that’s certainly not an ideal situation.
This is something that occurs when people are fed up with endless discussions and it is easier to dismiss a whole argument just by assuming what the other person will say based on the premise they’ve given than spending time listening or reading to what they are going to say to state their positions on a subject.
One common example is when a theist defends the idea that reality was created by a deity or group of deities and someone opposing that way of thinking assumes what other things that person may believe, like if the person is a young Earth creationist or a Bible thumping southerner who speaks in tongues.
While this may begin just with a misrepresentation of the other person’s position, it can easily devolve into a discussion where the topic at hand is nothing more than a strawman of what was originally being discussed; this situation is especially dangerous when it is a mob against an individual and rationality is not the goal, but bashing the individual who disagrees with the loud majority.
This is something that is prevalent in discussion sites that talk about subjective positions like politics, where each person has a different opinion even within the group, with varying degrees of acceptance between different propositions.
“I believe H”
“Then you are X, Y and Z because most people who believe in H also believe in X, Y & Z; therefore you are evil as I don’t share your opinion.”
As ridiculous as that example may be, plenty of discussions online are managed in such a way, making a cartoon of the other person’s position and then categorizing him or her as wrong or plainly evil due to the disagreement, mixing judgements of value with personal opinions and facts.
The discussion could soon become one side defending his or her own character against accusations about X, Y or Z.
At best this is the result of intellectual laziness or at worst of intellectual dishonesty.
The next example is about a picture of a woman marching in favor of gun control, the response featured in here is against the way the
woman presented her case, not against gun control; the following responses misrepresent the position of the first response and assume what that person thinks of the whole debate, there is even one appealing to emotions.
“To effectively debate someone you have to know their position even better than themselves.”
A common debating principle.
Logical fallacies related to this: