long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Dumb ad hominem arguments

The first element in the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding is clarity. For that reason, from time to time we expose logical fallacies.

We can always tell when people make weak, losing arguments because they resort to ad hominem* attacks, the dumbest of the logical fallacies. An ad hominem argument attacks the person making the argument, not the merits of argument. It's a diversion tactic employed by those who realize their own positions lack merit or rationality. It's an excuse for ignoring the weaknesses of their own arguments.

People who depend on others' ignorance, apathy and/or irrationality to sustain their arguments usually end up resorting to ad hominem arguments because their arguments cannot withstand scrutiny.


It's a common tactic today among critics of the Restoration. They accuse Joseph Smith of personal failings as an excuse to justify their rejection of the Restoration, including the Book of Mormon. As Oliver Cowdery explained, "an excuse was wanted--and an excuse was had."

A month before he died, Joseph Smith responded to the ad hominem arguments made against him throughout his life.

I never told you I was perfect— but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught— must I then be thrown away as a thing of nought?

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/discourse-12-may-1844-as-reported-by-thomas-bullock/2

During Joseph's lifetime, critics made incessant ad hominem arguments against him and his family and associates. The 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed was replete with such arguments. Even today, critics and some faithful scholars reiterate the ad hominem arguments.

In response, Oliver Cowdery wrote Letters II and III. In Letter II, he pointed out that the biblical prophets whom modern Christians claimed to believe had all been persecuted during their lives. He then observed

But in reviewing the lives and acts of men in past generations, whenever we find a righteous man among them, there always were excuses for not giving heed or credence to his testimony. 

The people could see his imperfections; or, if no imperfections, supposed ones, and were always ready to frame an excuse upon that for not believing.— No matter how pure the principles, nor how precious the teachings—an excuse was wanted—and an excuse was had....

The savior came in form and fashion of a man; he ate, drank, and walked about as a man, and they said “Behold, a man gluttonous, and a wine bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!” 

You see an excuse was wanting, but not long wanting till it was found—who would follow a dissipated leader? or who, among the righteous Pharisees would acknowledge a man who would condescend to eat with publicans and sinners? 

This was too much—they could not endure it. 

An individual teaching the doctrines of the kingdom of heaven, and declaring that that kingdom was nigh, or that it had already come, must appear different from others, or he could not be received. 

If he were athirst he must not drink, if faint he must not eat, and if weary he must not rest, because he had assumed the authority to teach the world righteousness, and he must be different in manners, and in constitution, if not in form, that all might be attracted by his singular appearance: that his singular demeanor might gain the reverence of the people, or he was an imposter—a false teacher—a wicked man—a sinner—and an accomplice of Beelzebub, the prince of devils! 

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/58

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The New Testament relates the story of Saul/Paul and how people used his persecution of the saints against him even after his conversion. Even the saints initially rejected him because of his past conduct.

We meet Saul when he participated in the stoning of Timothy.

57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.

59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

(Acts 7:57–60)

1 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Jud├Ža and Samaria, except the apostles.

2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.

(Acts 8:1–3)

1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,

2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

(Acts 9:1–2)

His conversion made him a different person, but both his former colleagues and former targets of persecution had difficulty accepting the change.

10 ¶ And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
 11 And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,
 12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.
13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
 14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
(Acts 9:10–14)

After his conversion, his former colleagues were amazed at his change and tried to kill him, while the saints in Jerusalem were still afraid of him.

17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
 19 And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
 20 And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.

People rejected his message by making an ad hominem argument.

21 But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?
 22 But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
23 ¶ And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:
24 But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.
25 Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.

The saints in Jerusalem didn't believe him because of his past. 

26 And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.
(Acts 9:17–26)


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* from wikipedia:

Ad hominem (Latin for 'to the person'), short for argumentum ad hominem, is a term that refers to several types of arguments, most of which are fallacious. Typically this term refers to a rhetorical strategy where the speaker attacks the character, motive, or some other attribute of the person making an argument rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself. This avoids genuine debate by creating a diversion to some irrelevant but often highly charged issue. The most common form of this fallacy is "A makes a claim x, B asserts that A holds a property that is unwelcome, and hence B concludes that argument x is wrong".

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