Adam Gopnik on Darwin’s Brilliant Strategy for Preempting Criticism

I've previously recommended Brainpickings before, where Maria Popova sums up books containing good lessons for the rest of us. Here's one lesson she wrote about, highlighting Darwin's mark of genius, as told in a book by Adam Gopnik. What is it? The habit of "sympathetic summary," what we now call the "principle of charity." Gopnik tells us the heart of Darwin's brilliance "illuminates the secret to all successful critical argument":
A counterargument to your own should first be summarized in its strongest form, with holes caulked as they appear, and minor inconsistencies or infelicities of phrasing looked past. Then, and only then, should a critique begin. This is charitable by name, selfishly constructive in intent: only by putting the best case forward can the refutation be definitive. The idea is to leave the least possible escape space for the “but you didn’t understand…” move. Wiggle room is reduced to a minimum.

Darwin’s special virtue in this enterprise is that he had to summarize, sympathetically, views contrary to his own that did not yet exist except in his own imagination. His special shrewdness lay in making as large an emotional meal of the objections in advance as could be made; he preempted his critics by introjecting their criticisms. He saw what people might say, turned it into what they ought to say, and then answered. LINK.
Over the years as I have engaged Christian intellectuals, I have found that even the best of them cannot do this when critiquing atheism. I have even recommended Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk's book, 50 Great Myths About Atheism, that would help them. But none of them have ever replied, "Yes, I got that book, thanks John, and I intend to read and digest it." I know they haven't got the book, since they keep on saying the same damn ignorant things.