Irrelevant arguments against arguments

Irrelevant arguments against arguments January 24, 2022


Royal Sunset Island Resort at ‘Atata Island, a thirty-minute boat ride from Tongatapu, seen prior to the recent volcanic eruption and tsunami.    (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)




Critics of the Church of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sometimes dismiss articles written by Latter-day Saint scholars and/or published in Latter-day Saint venues on the grounds that they’re Latter-day Saints.  Such dismissals are very common among certain types of critic.


So I’m going to cut to the chase.  Arguments — and I use the term argument here as scholars and logicians typically do, to refer to orderly presentations of evidence intended to support propositions and not to mere “disagreements,” let alone to “fights” — are properly assessed on the basis of two elements:


1)  Is the adduced evidence solid, and adequately representative of the situation?

2)  Is it arranged according to the principles of sound logic?


They aren’t properly evaluated on the basis of who made them.


Thus, if Polyneices says “All men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, so, therefore, Socrates is mortal,” it doesn’t matter whether Polyneices is a Latter-day Saint, or a Jew, or Black, or an adulterer, or a saint, or a serial killer, or an undertaker with a personal financial interest in the mortality of Socrates.  It doesn’t matter whether his assertion has been peer reviewed, whether it’s been published in the prestigious Journal of Truths Acceptable to the Fashionable Elite, or whether it’s merely been inscribed into a watermelon using a dull Swiss Army knife.  What matters is whether or not all men really are mortal, whether Socrates really is a man, and whether the logical syllogism “All A are C, B is a member of the set of A, therefore B is C” is logically valid.  And it is, by the way: The conclusion follows from the premises, and the premises are true.  If the argument is to be overturned, that will require disputing either the truth of the premises or the validity of the logic.  Pointing to Polyneices’s movie preferences, or his hot temper, or his poor taste in shoes, or his bad hair, would be perfectly irrelevant.


By the same token, if Alexandros says “All cacti are mammals, and Paris is in Germany, so, accordingly, William Shakespeare is Thailand’s greatest architect,” that argument will be, um, problematic even if it passed peer review and was published in the Academic Journal Greater than All Other Academic Journals.  Even if Alexandros holds views that most high-status folks share on religion and politics.  And even if a poll of professors of dentistry shows that virtually all orthodontists, whether in North America or Europe, endorse it.  Why?  Because its premises are factually false — cacti aren’t mammals, and Paris isn’t in Germany — and because its logic is invalid.  (“All A are B, C is D, therefore E is F” is a thunderously, screamingly, invalid logical form.)


To pronounce an argument dismissible solely because its author is Jewish, or Catholic, or Republican, or White, or even (as in the case of yours truly) ugly and unpleasant is an instance of the ad hominem logical fallacy — which, despite common misconceptions to the contrary, isn’t about being nasty.  It’s about focusing on irrelevancies.  (Which may explain why it’s often classified as a “fallacy of irrelevance.”)  To dismiss an argument because it wasn’t published in the Right Kind of Journal is similarly irrelevant.  An argument can be sound even without its having been published at all.  In fact, all sound published arguments were, prior to publication, originally sound unpublished arguments.  (Duh.)

I addressed several of the recurring objections to the scholarly legitimacy of the publications of FARMS (e.g., concerning peer review) back in 2006, in an article entitled The Witchcraft Paradigm: On Claims to ‘Second Sight’ by People Who Say It Doesn’t Exist.  These objections still recur, of course, although they’re often focused on the Interpreter Foundation these days (FARMS having since been absorbed into the Maxwell Institute, which has now set its face resolutely against publishing the sorts of things that once generated controversy — and attention, and, in a way, general relevance — for it.)  But I stand by what I wrote in that article, and I encourage those who want to quarrel with me on these matters to read it first.  We’ll all save time that way.




I like and I recommend this Public Square Magazine article, by Cassandra Hedelius and Jeff Bennion:


“Treasuring All That God Has Revealed: It’s unwise to hope for future revelation while rejecting the insight God has brought forth today—especially when it comes to a doctrine that prophets have so emphatically taught will not change.”




Sometimes, if you can believe it, people who hate religious faith actually go several days at a time without hearing really meaty news of serious outrages committed by theists in the name of God.  It can be discouraging.  But today isn’t going to be one of those days.  Thanks to the Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File©, I’m able to share not just one but several such horrors with you, horrors that should fill you with extremely gratifying righteous indignation:


“Tongan Saints on Tongatapu Rush Aid to Outer Islands: Nuku’alofa Latter-day Saints donated tonnes of food, clothes, bedding, fuel and other supplies over the last 48 hours, which was loaded onto a ship on Saturday morning, bound for communities in desperate circumstances on Ha’apai and other outlying islands”


“Elder Ian S. Ardern Talks About Tonga Humanitarian Efforts on BBC Radio”


“Lives Blessed by Lighting the World: Generous donations are made through Light the World Giving Machines”


“3 ways Latter-day Saints in England are serving refugees”


“More than just sewing fabric — Days for Girls service project changes lives of givers and receivers”


“How a JustServe project went viral, leading to thousands of handmade Christmas ornaments for flood victims”




The eruption of that undersea volcano was enormous.  So this article that caught my interest seemed worthy of mention:


“Volcanic Eruptions May Have Contributed to Unrest in Ancient Egypt: A series of eruptions around the world could have led to less Nile River flooding, which is essential for agriculture.”



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