No One Born on June 8? Context Matters


At the university where I teach there is a convenient website called “Inside Story,” intended for the edification of Biola University Employees. The page is updated daily. There are regular features—Announcements, Community News, a Schedule of Events, the Cafeteria Menu, etc. In one column there is a daily list titled “Happy Birthday!” Today (June 8, 2013) the following cryptic announcement jumped out at me: “No one has a birthday today.”

That is the Inside Story! You have it on Biola’s authority. Anyone born on June 8 will simply have to pick another day to have been born.

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BlogLogic: “Christian Fundamentalist Terrorists” Outed?


It would happen at The Huffington Post. Contributor Shannyn Moore shocks the world today with her post warning us all about “Christian fundamentalist terrorists.” Her contention is that Jim D. Adkisson is a Christian fundamentalist terrorist. He’s the scurrilous individual who killed 2 people at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church as a result of firing 76 rounds and a shotgun.

Her complaint is that this Adkisson guy, who was charged with murder, “should have been charged with terrorism.” This suggests that she believes that terrorist acts are distinguishable from murder in general, that terrorist acts are in the category of worse or worst, and that perpetrators of such acts should be regarded and treated differently, i.e., more severely.

On the face of it, this is an odd thing for someone on the far left to say. Liberals on the far left are better known for rubbing out such distinctions. So it is initially heartening to see one of their own take up this cause.

It is disconcerting, on second thought, that this apparent shift is more likely an expression of the left’s characteristic animosity toward a certain brand of Christianity—the “fundamentalist” brand.

Moore thinks she’s making a sound argument for a definite position. But really she sounds angry, rather than calmly rational. In her post for today she spools out another specimen of BlogLogic. “BlogLogic” is the endearing term I use to denote digitally viral fallacious reasoning spread by bloggers and infecting unsuspecting readers who are ill-equipped to pick out the flaws.

The first problem with Moore’s argument is that her conclusion is too vague to be useful. She doesn’t define this term that she’s applying with such gusto to specific individuals: “Christian fundamentalist terrorist.” Maybe she thinks the meaning of her label is obvious—a Christian fundamentalist terrorist is a Christian fundamentalist who happens to be a terrorist; or maybe a Christian fundamentalist terrorist is a terrorist who happens to be a fundamentalist Christian.

It’s doubtful that this is quite what Moore means. She seems to be plugging for a stronger link between terrorism and Christian fundamentalism. Part of what makes this murderer, Adkisson, a terrorist is that he is a fundamentalist Christian. Otherwise, he would simply be a murderer. It’s as if he killed in the name of, or for the sake of, or out of commitment to Christian fundamentalism.

I’m not sure this is quite a strong enough link to satisfy Moore. Adkisson could be more of a nutcase than a Christian fundamentalist, and still kill in the name of, or for the sake of, or even out of (fanciful) commitment to Christian fundamentalism.

It seems, then, that Shannyn Moore deliberately employs the phrase “Christian fundamentalism” in connection with terrorism in order to shame Christian fundamentalists. And this, it has to be said, is itself shameful. Moore is simply poisoning the well against a block of conservative Christians who do not, as a group, sanction the heinous crimes of Adkisson and others. If she thinks there is something inherent in the belief system of people broadly considered Christian fundamentalists that incites the exceptional and incalculably immoral behavior of persons such as Adkisson, then she needs to demonstrate that with evidence. She, of course, cannot.

So Moore’s conclusion is vague because her use of the phrase “Christian fundamentalist terrorist” is vague—or not. If not, then her reasoning is specious and onerous, because it is maliciously ad hominem.

There are more problems with Moore’s thesis. She does not say precisely what distinguishes an act of terror from any other murderous act. There’s also a confusion in her understanding, both of the law and of ordinary application of the concept of terrorism. Clearly she believes that Adkisson should be tried as a terrorist. But one need not commit a murder to perform an act of terrorism. There are terrorists who do not commit murder, nor even conspire to commit murder. And whether or not Adkisson’s action was a form of terrorism, it was an act of murder. He can and should be tried for murder; he almost certainly will be found guilty.

Moore isn’t satisfied with the charges. They don’t go far enough. Why? Surely things wouldn’t be any worse for Adkisson if he was tried for terrorism rather than murder. So how does Moore calculate that more would be accomplished, as she seems to think? Well, for starters, it would stigmatize a large segment of the Amerian population. It would place them under suspicion. Is that really what Moore wants?

Shannyn Moore seems to confuse hate crimes with terrorism. She should consider the difference. Terrorism, as that concept is applied most broadly today, constitutes a threat to national security. Terrorist acts may be motivated by hatred, but they are not merely “hate crimes.” They usually involve conspirators whose ideology entails a denunciation of all other ideologies, and violent action against those ideologies.

Use of the term “terrorist” has evolved considerably since 9/11. Shannyn Moore would like to see the concept stretched even more broadly to encompass those she calls “Christian fundamentalist terrorists.” If she wants to make her case rsponsibly, she’ll need to tidy up her definitions of key terms, locate incentives to perform acts of terrorism within an ideology that can justly be called “Christian fundamentalism,” demonstrate that Adkisson and similar characters are appropriately affiliated with Christian fundamentalists and not lunatics who can call themselves whatever they want, and establish her generalizations on the basis of a sufficient (i.e., far greater, number of cases).

Meanwhile, she should cease and desist her use of the phrase “Christian fundamentalist” in connection with terrorism. And, consistent with the culture of the left, it seems reasonable to ask that she apologize to Christian fundamentalists nationwide for carelessness in her use of this phrase.

* * *

Note to Shannyn Moore: I’ve linked this post to the comment section of your post with a trackback. If I’ve misrepresented your position, or you wish to add the clarification that I claim is needed for your argument to work, I welcome your response.

“How to Stump Anti-Abortionists”—BlogLogic from Daniel Florien


At the Unreasonable Faith blog, Daniel Florien has posted advice on “How to Stump an Anti-Abortionist with One Simple Question.” Here we have another example of that unfortunate syndrome I call BlogLogic. By his own reasoning he paints himself into a corner. Go here to see his post. Here’s my brief reply:

You’re kidding, right? No, I suppose not. But you should know better than to engage in such hasty generalization. (I believe I know you do know better.) Thoughtful pro-lifers have thought about this and won’t be stumped if you ask them.

Here’s one for you: Suppose abortion IS the murder of an innocent and defenseless human person; what do YOU think should be done about it? It’s silly to say that because nothing should be done about it, it isn’t murder. You’ve got the reductio ad absurdum turned inside out.

Copyright © 2009 by R. Douglas Geivett

Suzie-Q Fears a “Palin Theocracy”


Marjorie Cohn is president of the National Lawyers Guild and professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. In September she warned of a “Palin Theocracy.” Her article was published in the online newsletter CounterPunch, which Out of Bounds Magazine calls “America’s best political newsletter.” A ringing endorsement, maybe, but who reads Out of Bounds? Who even knows about it? I suppose it’s endorsed by CounterPunch as the best magazine of its kind. But I digress.

Suzie-Q is a pro-Obama blog that posted Cohn’s article to give it greater exposure. That’s where I first came across Ms. Cohn’s alarmist piece. (DigitizedRevolution also posted the article.)

Now, I don’t have a personal beef with Suzie-Q or the CounterPunch lads, or even with Marjorie Cohn. But I would like to know what Cohn actually means by “theocracy.” She never says. Her riffs are all about Palin’s religious beliefs, her views on abortion and other social issues, and her candid talk about such things. After yesterday’s Palin interview with James Dobson, Cohn probably has more to add to her list of grievances.

But what do they amount to? Whatever she means by the term, it’s clear that Marjorie Cohn doesn’t like theocracy. Is this because theocracy is incompatible with democracy? I would have thought so. But I can’t find anything in the evidence arrayed against Palin that remotely suggests she’s undemocratic.

On the other hand, if Cohn allows that theocracy, in the sense she has in mind, actually is compatible with democracy, then what precisely is her objection to Palin’s political philosophy?

If Cohn would speak plainly on this matter we might find that she and Sarah Palin agree—that theocracy in the sense so far undefined but envisioned by Marjorie Cohn is a bad thing. Or we might find that Cohn has a very muddled view about the nature of a theocracy, and perhaps even of a democracy.

Ms. Cohn may be president of the National Lawyers Guild. But this doesn’t indemnify her against the peculiar BlogLogic that we’ve explored and exposed in other posts at this blog.

* * *

Ms. Cohn’s article is archived at her own website.

BlogLogic—Rumors of Sarah Palin’s Affiliation with the Alaska Independence Party


It’s been interesting to see how things have unfolded on the Mudflats blog, which purports to be “tiptoeing through the muck of Alaskan politics.”

The host goes by the handle “AKMuckraker.” Today she published a post titled “Palin – Republican Party Infiltrator? Damning Video.” With a title like that, you hardly need to read further to know what’s up:

There’s a video that incriminates Sarah Palin by showing her past ties to the Alaska Independence Party (AIP) and her secret plan to advance that party’s aims by infiltrating the Republican party.

That’s the muckraker’s thesis.

If you want to know what’s so damning about the video, or whether it’s damning at all, then you might want to read the post. The muckraker connects the dots that lead to her conclusion. And she’s remarkably confident of her conclusion.

The only problem is, her evidence doesn’t support her conclusion. Her argument is fallacious. If it’s not a specimen of conscious bias against Palin, it’s at least a case of wishful thinking gone awry.

The video features a small gathering of crazies scheming about how best to achieve the secessionist goals of the Alaska Independence Party. So we’re told. We have to take the muckraker’s word for it that this video is not a setup. We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt here. We’re also told that a key participant seen and heard on the video is Dexter Clark, vice chairman of the Independence party. Fine. We’ll go with that.

The muckraker then provides transcripts of bits of the video. Since these are the portions she uses to make her argument, let’s assume that they are the most damning evidence in support of the muckraker’s conclusion.

The first excerpt shows Dexter Clark estimating the number of American soldiers and dependents who “could be eligible to vote” for Alaska “Statehood.” Of course, Alaska has been a state since 1959. Ah, but it isn’t yet a “State,” as in “independent nation state.” The excerpt doesn’t disambiguate for us, but I take it that Clark is referring to the independent-nation-state kind of state, and he’s calculating the number of votes his party might be able to count on in a referendum on Statehood.

OK?

Well, maybe not. The ensuing paragraph, where the muckraker explains things for us, leaves us in greater suspense. How is “Statehood” really being used here? It isn’t easy to tell.

It might not matter. The basic idea seems to be that the Independence party was shafted by a rigged vote about Alaska Statehood, and the desired result of the AIP went down in smoke.

We come, then, to the next excert, what the muckraker calls “the good part.” Here Clark lauds the election of Sarah Palin to become Alaska’s governor, even though she did so as a Republican. Clark explains why this is good news for his Independence party. Palin had once been a member of the party. The only reason she switched parties and became a Republican was to “get along and go along” (Clark’s words).

At this point, vagueness corrupts the argument. What does Clark mean by “get along and go along”? Presumably, he’s suggesting that at the time of Sarah Palin’s move to the Republican party, she was still an Independence party member at heart and that her new role as a town mayor might work out better if she had the appearance of being a Republican. She couldn’t have been much of a Republican, suggests Dexter Clark, since she discovered that “she all kinds of problems with their ethics.” This is clearly the message that muckraker gleans from Clark’s musings.

The joy in seeing Sarah Palin become governor of Alaska is rooted in Dexter Clark’s perception that Palin remains sympathetic with the AIP cause. And this is based on two things, Palin’s prior membership in the AIP, and Clark’s perception that Palin isn’t a sincere Republican. Clark’s perception that Palin isn’t a sincere Republican is itself based, in part, on Palin’s past association with the AIP. Clark’s perception of Palin’s continued affinities for the AIP is reinforced by his perception of a clash between Sarah Palin and the Republican party over the ethics of the party.

The net effect is supposed to be that Alaskans now have an AIP governor, disguised as a Republican, who can be counted on to reintroduce the issue of Statehood and perhaps facilitate the achievement of the AIP’s primary objective. What makes the whole thing really rich is that, because governor Palin is such a popular figure in her state, many Alaskans would probably vote with the AIP and everything turn out hunky-dory for the AIP.

So strategists in the AIP propose to infiltrate the two mainstream parties, get these pseudo-members elected to municipal and state offices, and watch them use their positions—synchronizing their efforts, of course—to bring about independence for Alaska.

This seems to be the basic trajectory of Clark’s reasoning process.

And the muckraker is floored by this. The video excerpts are so unbelievably damning that the muckraker thinks her readers might want to sit down before they are presented with the evidence she presents.

What’s truly unbelievable is that the muckraker finds the argument so compelling. Indeed, to sort it out you might need to sit down for a spell.

Here’s the argument:

  1. Dexter Clark is the vice chairman of the Alaska Independence Party (AIP). [Fact]
  2. If Dexter Clark is the vice chairman of the AIP, then his proposed strategy for achieving independence has been adopted by the AIP and its members. [Assumption]
  3. Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving independence has been adopted by the AIP and its members. [MP, 1 and 2]
  4. Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving independence is for members of the AIP to switch to one of the two main parties, get elected to government positions, and use their new authority to sponsor independence for Alaska.
  5. Members of the AIP agree to switch to one of the two main parties, get elected to government positions, and use their new authority to sponsor independence for Alaska. [Conjunction of 3 and 4]
  6. No member of the AIP ever leaves the AIP except in pursuit of Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving independence. [Assumption]
  7. If a person who was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party, then that person has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for independence. [Direct implication of 6]
  8. Sarah Palin was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party. [Assumption or fact, as the case may be; that depends on the truth value of the first conjunct; we can safely believe that the second conjunct is true]
  9. Sarah Palin has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for independence. [MP, 7 and 8]
  10. If Sarah Palin has infiltrated the GOP in order to advocate for independence, then Sarah Palin is not a genuine Republican. [Direct implication of 7]
  11. Sarah Palin is not a genuine Republican. [MA, 9 and 10]
  12. If Sarah Palin is not a genuine Republican, then Sarah Palin is unfit to become Vice President of the United State. [Assumption]
  13. Sarah Palin is unfit to become Vice President of the United States. [MP, 11 and 12]
  14. If Sarah Palin is unfit to become Vice President of the United States, then we should not vote for John McCain in this year’s presidential election. [Assumption]
  15. We should not vote for John McCain in this year’s presidential election. [MP, 13 and 14]

Statements 10-15 do not appear in the muckraker’s post. They are gleaned from the tone and content of this and other posts at her blog, and my suspicion that she does not want John McCain to be the next President of the United States. In any case, we can dispense with them here.

The above argument can be simplified by extracting three of the numbered statements, 7-9. The resulting argument is as follows:

  1. If a person was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party, then that person has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for the independence of Alaska. [Assumption]
  2. Sarah Palin was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party. [Assumption or fact, as the case may be; that depends on the truth value of the first conjunct; we can safely believe that the second conjunct is true]
  3. Sarah Palin has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for the independence of Alaska. [MP, 1 and 2]

Notice three things about statement number 1.

First, it is an assumption that is never actually stated in the argument.

Second, it is crucial to the argument, since the muckraker never so much as hints that Sarah Palin was in the room when the video was shot, or even that Sarah Palin has unequivocally embraced Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving Alaska’s independence.

Third, it isn’t true.

How’s that for a specimen of BlogLogic?

* * *

Why have I written this post?

One should not infer from what I’ve said here that I support the McCain/Palin ticket. That would require another instance of specious reasoning.

I have two reasons for writing this post.

First, Sarah Palin should be defended against arguments that violate the principles of sound reasoning. So should any other candidate. But Palin has been the target of incessant, vicious attack with arguments constructed on manufactured evidence. This seems to be the current number one priority of the muckraker. (Again, that’s what muckrakers do.)

Second, I can at least hope that exposing the barrenness of a BlogArgument—or Blogument, if you will—is a contribution to the common good, as a call to sound reasoning in the public square.

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