Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Three Anti Errors

December 14th, 2011 by G.

Some anti-Mormons are anti-Mormon innocently. They do not sin in their anti-Mormonism. They only err.

Some wiley counter-cult agitator deceived them, perhaps. Behind their error is another’s sin.

More interesting are three classes of errors where no deceit is involved. They all start with some actual truth about Mormons or Mormonism, no lying involved.

The least interesting is over-generalizing. Someone has a genuine bad experience with some Mormons or reads something disturbing some Mormon really wrote* and then applies it to Mormons generally.

Next is assuming a common logic. Someone hears a Mormon belief, translates it into a logically equivalent belief, works out the logical implications of that logically equivalent belief, discovers that the implications are horrible, and is horrified. What this new-minted anti-Mormon doesn’t realize is that Mormons don’t accept that his logically equivalent belief is logically equivalent, or that his logical implications are logically implied. If you are dealing with someone fair-minded, it can be pretty funny watching the dawn of comprehension. To give credit where credit is due, it was a Catholic apologist who first put this error to me succinctly (see here, comments 50-53). Mormons sometimes inadvertently encourage this error by reformulating their beliefs in shocking terms both for rhetorical effect and to stick it to the bourgeois gentiles. The reformulations aren’t what we actually would want to stand by.

Finally, there’s lack of context. Some Mormon belief sounds weird or scary to them because they don’t see how it fits into the whole system of Mormon beliefs or into Mormon practice. Here’s Nate Oman on the subject:

when thinking about the “weirdness” of Mormon beliefs, those beliefs are almost always plucked out of the various historical, narrative, and theological contexts that give them their meaning. The effect is to accentuate the apparent implausibility of the belief and in many cases its apparent silliness and/or meaninglessness.

Here’s an analogy. Suppose that I reject the idea of evolution (for the record I do not), and I wish to explain why I regard evolution as false and absurd. I might say, “Those who subscribe to evolution believe that if one leaves foul smelling slime unattended in the right conditions for a while that the slime will organize itself into Mozart and an orchestra to play his Jupiter Symphony. This is strange, absurd, and implausible!” Note, those who subscribe to evolution do in fact believe something very like the belief attributed to them by the skeptic. Note also that stated in isolation the belief is in fact strange and implausible. What is missing, of course, is the intellectual context that gives the claim about slime and symphonies its meaning and plausibility for the person who subscribes to evolution. Something very much like this is happening when a few Mormon beliefs or practices are taken in isolation and then held up as evidence of the absurdity of the belief system.

Patrick O’Brien illustrates lack of context wonderfully in his Aubrey-Maturin novel The Reverse of the Medal. Captain Aubrey of the Royal Navy is on trial for stockjobbing he didn’t commit. The prosecutor, Pearce, points to the universal naval custom of flying false colors until the last moment before an engagement as evidence that naval captains are professionally prone to deceit and fraud. (An equivalent modern day argument would be that soldiers are particulary untrustworthy because they habitually wear camoflauge):

Then there was the most distasteful question of sailing under false colours. It would be proved by extracts from his own log-books and by other evidence that Captain Aubrey had repeatedly sailed under false colours, and any attempt by the defence to deny it was doomed to ignominious failure. Pearce had nothing to say about false colours in war, except that to plain men, to straightforward city merchants, false colours had an ugly sound – the immortal Nelson did not bear down on the enemy at Trafalgar under false colours, he believed. But was there not a danger that this habit of sailing under false colours – and Captain Aubrey must have ordered them to be hoisted scores or even hundreds of times – might spread to civilian life? That was the only reason that Pearce most reluctantly mentioned the subject.

It sounds plausible enough. But no one believes, and no one should believe, that BDUs make you prone to embezzlement.

I have two cautions to make. First, anti-Mormons do not uniquely err in these three ways. Mormons can err about Catholicism or Islam or anything else** when they overgeneralize, wrongly assume a common logic, or lack context.

Second, men of bad faith can and do use the errors sinfully. They are uniquely plausible, since they rely on a kernel of truth.

*Admittedly, sometimes the Mormon is Brigham Young or one of the Orsons, so the mistake is understandable.
**Except Wiccanism. One really cannot be too prejudiced or too unfair. Err like a trooper.

Comments (3)
Filed under: Birkenhead Drill | Tags: , , ,
December 14th, 2011 00:05:31

December 14, 2011

Not to wander too far off topic, but the local Wiccans have quite deliberately “stuck it to the Catholics” by chosing a name for their local coven, or whatever it’s called, that is a deliberate parody of the name of the local Catholic Church.

On your other points: Well put. And I like that you ended with an action item for ourselves, invoking (if obscurely) the Golden Rule.

I was hoping for an elucidating example of the second error.

December 14, 2011

Totaln: an example of assuming a common logic would be most of the contents of “The God Makers”, such as the claim that exalted (and polygamous) Mormon women will be constantly and eternally pregnant. Which is their logical extension of the belief that exalted beings have spirit children in the “eternities” and use them to populate worlds “without number”.

I prefer to divide antis’ accusations into three categories:

1. Totally false. To which the apologist’s rejoinder is: “That’s just not true.” Example anti claim: Brigham Young ordered the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

2. Mixed truth and falsehood. To which the apologist’s rejoinder is: “That contains a particle of truth, that has been twisted, misrepresented, taken out of context, and mixed with other falsehoods.” Example anti claim: Jesus and Satan are brothers.

(Actually, my favorite “stick it to the gentiles” rejoinder to that is: “No, you’re Satan’s brother.”)

3. Truth. To which the apologist’s rejoinder is: “Yeah, that’s correct. But so what? It’s true, and it’s a good thing.” Example anti claim: Mormon’s claim to be led by a living prophet of God.

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