Steven Novella at NeuroLogica has a fantastic top to bottom overview of arguing. I have recently given some thought to the tension between ceding some reasonable points to the opposition versus portraying the other side as off-the-wall batshit crazy. For example, it may be an effective strategy to say, “I understand where you’re coming from; reasonable people can disagree over X, but I see it this way…” Sometimes, it’s impossible to be so conciliatory. Certain arguments demand that the opposition be characterized as totally fucking looney tunes.
It is necessary for religious zealots to adopt that “damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!” approach in several culture war issues, including evolution. The ministry responsible for the Creation Museum cannot admit that the theory of evolution arose from reasonable interpretations of fossil and genetic evidence when the supposedly inerrant Bible describes the origin of life in starkly different terms. To them, the 65-million-year gulf between dinosaur extinction and human emergence must be collapsed so as to conform with the 6,000-year history of the biblical universe. Slap a saddle on a triceratops and you’re good to go. Whatever you do, don’t admit that there’s anything to “Darwinism”.
Here’s another one: the Family Research Councilsays that today’s decision by the Vermont legislature to implement gay marriage is part of “a movement driven by wealthy homosexual activists and a liberal elite determined to destroy not only the institution of marriage, but democracy as well.” It’s not enough to say, “we believe that homosexuality is unethical and ought not to be sanctioned by the state.” Instead, they resort to frothy-mouthed rants about how the supporters of gay marriage are “determined to destroy democracy.”