Propaganda (Latin propaganda feminine ablative gerundive of propago, "I am spreading") is:
- Any idea, fact, rumor, or lie, or a wider body of same, which one circulates, publishes, or otherwise spreads by deliberate conscious effort in order to advance or hinder any given cause.
- The act of circulating, publishing, or otherwise spreading any of the above with the manifest intent to advance or hinder a cause, or help or injure a person.
History of the term
The first recorded use of the term, according to Merriam-Webster, referred to the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, or "Propaganda" for short, or literally, "The congregation for spreading the faith." This group, part of the Vatican staff, is in essence the missions board of the Roman Catholic Church. The founder of this board was Pope Gregory XV.
Today, propaganda is anything under the above headings employed to advance any religious or political cause, or to damage an opposing cause. But the word propaganda today has a limited connotation: whatever is spread must not merely be in aid of one cause and/or opposed to another, but must also be false, misleading, and/or out of its proper context. As such, it includes logical fallacies, unsubstantiated rumors, and other sayings that the teller/spreader knows, or ought to know, are lies.
Types of propaganda
The specific sayings that constitute propaganda do not properly deserve the dignity of the term information. Information is intended to inform. Propaganda is intended to deceive. With that in mind, propaganda typically includes:
- Name calling. This is the crudest and least savory form of argumentum ad hominem. It consists of labeling the other cause, or a generic or particular adherent of that cause, with a noun or adjective having a decidedly negative "buzz" or "charge."
- Half-truths. The hallmark of this is that half the things being said are true and the other half false.
- Testimonials. This is a form of argumentum ab auctoritate. A "celebrity endorsement" is a prime example. So, too, is any speech or essay by one publicly celebrated as an athlete, actor in any form of theater, or other such person, on a subject in which the author has no legitimate expertise.
- Loaded questions.
- Distortions of fact.
- Extreme pronouncements, including over-generalizations.
- Intimidation, concerning either the power of numbers or the power of the particular individual or group engaging in the intimidation.
- Facts told out of context.
- Sayings that, however factual, fall outside the scope or even off the topic at hand.
- Outright lies. The most famous propagandist of all, Dr. Josef Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda for Adolf Hitler, famously observed that if one tells a lie loudly enough and often enough, people will believe it rather than believe that anyone could lie so outrageously.
Uses of propaganda in the evolution debate
By far the most effective tool of propaganda known to civilization is theater in its various forms. Totalitarian societies have always understood this--which is why they typically forbid any productions of any form of theater that they do not own or otherwise directly control.
In addition, established academic communities often decry creationists for "not having any peer-reviewed publications" to their credit, while at the same time ensuring that no peer-reviewed journal will ever accept an article from their foes for publication. (One editor nearly lost his job with the Smithsonian Institution for violating this tacit agreement.) This also is propaganda, made worse by holding someone to an arbitrary standard and then forbidding that someone to do anything that might meet that standard.
In the lay community, the usual instrument of propaganda is a current-events organ that willfully publishes propagandistic content as defined above. In one famous example, a television broadcast network circulated for weeks certain memoranda, the contents of which were damaging to the incumbent President of the United States, though those who obtained those memoranda knew, or ought to have known, that they were forgeries.
The best contrary testimony against propaganda is the truth. This typically means revealing the full, previously undisclosed context and exposing logical fallacies.
Beyond this, it includes discernment of news organs that allow themselves to be utilized for propaganda purposes, and also includes discernment of propagandistic theater projects and refusal to patronize the same.