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Perhaps you could point out some clear examples of ad-hominen arguments in FARMS or FAIR for those of us who aren't so sure what to think about all this?

Dave, the cleverness of your posts only hides the fact that despite having a blog, you are not a trained blogger, and thus not credible, or at least not credible to most people. Thankfully the FAIR article helped me realize that I should have taken this into account before taking your comments at face value.

This next made me realize that I can feel an "extra rational" hidden agenda shaping your remarks. Only by not suppressing this feeling have I become a good historian. :)

Andrew, not sure what to think about all this? I'm guessing you have already formed a few opinions.

The lengthy discussion of Palmer's career at CES was certainly an example of attacking the person rather than the arguments, the FAIR post's view to the contrary notwithstanding. He worked at CES for 34 years teaching and counseling, in various combinations. Correct a misstatement if he or the publisher (on the back cover or the inside flaps) exaggerated his tenure as an Institute Director, but don't write a book about it. Get to the counterarguments.

Note that I'm not against FAIR or LDS apologetics. The problem is that the ad hominem stuff actually works against and distracts from good apologetics.

Andrew, aren't you a FAIR volunteer? (As am I, incidentally, if you count my sporadic contributions to the FAIR Podcast I initiated). I argued in my response at the FAIR blog post (which shouldn't be considered as an official FAIR position, as FAIR is made up of a disparate group of volunteers) that I'm not interested at this point in digging up specific examples. If there were no examples, or even the appearance of examples, then a defense of "ad hominem" approaches in terms of including character and motive assessments would be unnecessary.

In other words, it doesn't make much sense, on the one hand, to defend ad hominem and on the other to deny it occurs. Doing so isn't illogical, per se, but it doesn't inspire much confidence.

Ultimately, I think motives and perspectives of writers become open for discussion especially when said writers place themselves in the discursive realm by appeals to authority, etc. At the same time, I argue that any such examination needs to be overly-sensitive, and oftentimes need not occur at all as it is just as likely to have negative impacts on the discussion.

Dave, the FAIR blog is made up of a variety of opinions. It is simply a forum to express opinions. My take on Lance's post is that it is in response to the many well-poisoning internet posts and facebook comments that claim FARMS engaged in ad hominum-fallacy attacks so they aren't worth reading. (That isn't a straw-man claim as I have responded to that claim myself.)

So, I'm not sure how you jump from that blog post to, "So why is FAIR now gearing up for ad hominem pieces." Do you have some insider information I don't have that FAIR is making a change?

I believe the plans for FAIR are to operate in the same manner they have operated in the past. If a change is planned, I haven't been told.

I also agree with Blair that there may be a place for a discussion of motives when the writers do an appeal to authority, or claim some authority or insider knowledge. But, one must tread lightly if you go down that path. (I believe that is Blair's position. forgive me if I got it wrong.)

I am with FAIR, and I appreciate your including us in your blog post thoughts. It is an interesting topic.

"LDS apologists think almost all critics are disingenuous and have hidden agendas!"

I like to think of myself as an "LDS apologist" (I am a member of FAIR, for full disclosure) but I can't recall when I have thought such of "almost all critics". There are a couple of critics whose behavior has compelled me to think they are disingenuous or hiding an agenda, but not "almost all" of them.

"The lengthy discussion of Palmer's career at CES was certainly an example of attacking the person rather than the arguments, the FAIR post's view to the contrary notwithstanding. He worked at CES for 34 years teaching and counseling, in various combinations. Correct a misstatement if he or the publisher (on the back cover or the inside flaps) exaggerated his tenure as an Institute Director, but don't write a book about it. Get to the counterarguments."

For the single Louis Midgley article discussing Palmer's background, there were another four or five addressing his arguments directly (from Harper, Ashurst-McGee, Bitton, and others). So, what's the problem? FARMS did exactly what you are asking them to do: they corrected an exaggerated misstatement and also provided rebuttals to Palmer's arguments.

Furthermore, as Lance pointed out, Palmer and his publisher made his background fair game when he billed himself as an "insider" with special "insider" privileges to discuss and elaborate upon Mormon history, and that we should trust him because he is an "insider". To illustrate, if the title of the book had been "Some random former CES employee's View of Mormon Origins" instead of "An Insider's View of Mormon Origins" then it wouldn't be as much of an issue. But since he insisted to bring it up, Palmer made his background relevant to his book and the claims therein.

I am not condoning ad hominem, but I don't think Lance's blog post is an example of such, and I agree with Lance that there are times when it is totally relevant and germane to evaluate someone's background in order to more fully assess their claims to scholarship.

Yes, I am a FAIR volunteer. As to the issue of ad hominem (and I ask this in sincerity), is assessing motive necessarily ad hominem?

If the only example of ad hominem in the FARMS review is the review of Palmer's book, I'm not terribly impressed. After all, he is the one that claimed to be an "Insider." Once you claim to be something in your publication, that becomes a fair subject of discussion. If I claimed to be a prophet in something I published (especially if it's the whole premise of the book and in the title), I think it would be fair for that statement to be assessed. Now, was it necessary to address whether Palmer was an "Insider" to the extend they did? Or was it prudent? That's clearly debatable. I don't know. Of course, that's entirely a different issue that should be judged on it's own merits. But was it ad hominem?

Even if one were to grant that the Palmer review was ad hominem, that's the only example anyone has mentioned out of 20 + years of publications (to my knowledge). So it's certainly not fair to characterize or evaluate all of the work FARMS has done by just that or to suggest that "ad hominem" is the "virus" that "killed FARMS."

If there is a virus, where are the symptoms? Let's see some evidence for the claim.

Andrew, fair or not, that's how FARMS was perceived and that's why it became a problem for FARMS. It was a problem and denying it because people don't carry around in their wallet an itemized list of FARMS ad hominemery doesn't solve the problem. People weren't just fantasizing, they got that impression from actually reading the Review. Go read Davis Bitton's review in the same issue -- he was practically frothing at the mouth about Palmer for the entire first half of his review. Just cut out the personal crap and review the *book* if you don't like it. If authors didn't clean it up, editors should have.

Maybe you need to go read the short explanation posted at the Maxwell Institute about the new direction the renamed FARMS Review will be taking. It's written by the guy who runs MI, not some LDS critic. We'd all like to have a clearer explanation of what caused action to finally be taken, but emphasizing that the Institute is "striving to align its work with the academy's highest objectives and standards" clearly suggests, in that context, disappointment that the Review wasn't doing that -- I mean why else do you say that in a short explanation of why you just fired the entire editorial staff and renamed the journal?

"Go read Davis Bitton's review in the same issue -- he was practically frothing at the mouth about Palmer for the entire first half of his review."

Here is the article for everyone to evaluate for themselves:


"Frothing at the mouth"? That's a bit melodramatic, don't you think? Having re-read the article, I don't think you can characterize Bitton as "frothing from the mouth". Upset, maybe? Sure. Aggressive? Again, sure. But rabidly frothing at the mouth? I don't think so. Not by a long shot. No, this is an example of "frothing from the mouth":


And even if he was frothing at the mouth, how is that ad hominem? All it shows is that Bitton has a temper. Having a temper or being aggressive is not ad hominem.

Incidentally, my earlier point is brought up by Bitton himself:

"By raising questions about Grant Palmer, am I guilty of an ad hominem attack? No. You see, Palmer is the one who brings all of this up at the front of his book. Since he is the one who claims to be an insider, it is perfectly fair, in responding to what he has written, to inquire what kind of insider he was or is." (p. 259)

I might even go so far as to say that Bitton's excellent history of scholarship in Mormon history has given him a little room to get upset over the antics of wannabe Mormon historians like Palmer. But if I said that, I might be accused of ad hominem. ;-)

Dave, I do hope that FAIR focuses more on arguments than persons. Honestly as I mentioned at FPR I'm of the opinion that responding directly to people and books can be counterproductive - although I understand why FARMS did it. That said if one is responding to a particular book and the arguments in it how on earth does one respond to testimony (the general kind, not the fast and testimony meeting kind) without dealing with the person themselves? That's not ad hominem.

Now we can debate about when one should do this. And I certainly think we can debate tone - and I think FARMS at times went over the line and FAIR has occasionally although I think they earnestly try much harder not to. I think dealing with testimony and authority issues can be tricky - especially if one has a snarky tone or temper. The danger is that the author writes to fellow apologists as an audience rather than the person with a shaken testimony reading the book in question. The problem FARMS had at times was that they forgot who their audience was supposed to be and wrote to their fellow apologists rather than the person experiencing the trial of faith. Thus the tone was counterproductive. (I think the number of times this happens has been grossly exaggerated mind you)

So I would encourage apologists to consider carefully who their audience is and whether their rhetoric achieves what they want. While it's been years since I last volunteered for FAIR (I wish I had the time) but as I recall the main folks at FAIR were pretty conscious of that and tried to encourage volunteers to keep it in mind.

Dave, so it's come down to "perception" as opposed to some actual real virus. I can handle that. There certainly can be perceptions that aren't particularly founded in fact.

I do agree that the Palmer reviews could be considered somewhat ad hominem. However, as I've said before, I'm not sure how one example (or two?) can characterize the whole. I can see, however, how it can create a certain perception. So, I appreciate your thoughts.

Jesus pointed out that the same words can yield a vastly different harvest, depending on the soil and nurture. And if we don't comprehend that, "how then shall ye know all parables?"

We can't decide how people will react to our words. We can hope. I've tried to be careful with my tone in my FARMS essays and FAIR essays and Dialogue and Sunstone essays and online posts. I've been commended at times, but I don't please everyone every time.

We can't decide which part of which essays by any of the 250 plus authors in the 23 volumes and 40 issues of the Peterson edited review that critics will put forth as paradigmatic, as representative of the whole effort. But we can be sure that when they try to establish a paradigm that it will be one that serves their interests, not those of the FARMS Review writers.

Ad hominem becomes fallacy when it substitutes irrelevance for dialogue on the issues. And that has been major function of the whole FARMS does ad hominem circus. It's a distraction, and it moves the dialogue into a preferred set of grooves.

People can and do bring up money digging, inconsistencies in the First Vision accounts, and polygamy in a discussion of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon on grounds that Joseph Smith's character is relevant context. That does not mean that those issues alone can provide a comprehensive and coherent explanation of the book. Indeed, alone they cannot. But they do form some of the relevant historical background necessary to account for the existence of the book. To ignore it is to be irresponsible and uniformed.

Bitton's essay is one of several that responded to Palmer, and what I notice most about it is that he consistently points out where Palmer has neglected to deal with important sources while claiming to provide insider consensus. If someone goes on Mormon Stories, for example, and complains over and over that "no one ever told me about polygamy or money digging or changes to the D&C or Mountain Meadows," this is not considered ad hominem. It's a human statement in response to a perceived failure by persons in whom they trusted. If Bitton asks why on point after point after point, does Palmer ignores important and well known work, why is that ad hominem? It seems relevant and to the point.

When I read Palmer's book, I found that every page annoyed me because every page demonstrated that he neglected important studies and sources. My review on Amazon reflects to some degree, my annoyance. So I imagine Bitton coming home to find that someone has not only stolen his car, but has crashed it into his home, if not injuring many occupants, certainly putting them in danger. And when Bitton starts to chide him for being irresponsible, Palmer's defenders huddle around and say, "We expected more from Bitton than such rudensss. We hold him to a higher standard."

Thanks for the comment, Kevin. Bitton's comments in the second half (roughly) of the review were certainly productive, it's just unfortunate they were prefaced by several pages of invective. That's the sort of stuff that editors are supposed to edit. Maybe BYU and FARMS is just too chummy for editors to do their job.

I applaud your efforts to "be careful with my tone in my FARMS essays and FAIR essays and Dialogue and Sunstone essays and online posts." I agree that it is unfair that the personal stuff came to define the FARMS approach. But that's just life and it needs to be taken into account.

It's also not fair that a couple of missionaries horsing around at a sacred Catholic shrine or Buddhist temple (then posting photos of their antics) get lots of publicity and overshadow the 99% of missionaries who avoid that sort of irresponsible behavior. What is the Church's response? It sends the missionaries home, reiterates its policies against that behavior to all missionaries, and apologizes profusely to the offended parties. That's a good example to follow, rather than minimizing the fault (hey, we're just joking around) or justifying it (hey, he called himself an insider, so it's okay if I slam him). The Church gets it. FARMS didn't ever really get it.

It's not a slam to examine his claim of insiderness, Dave. There may well be such, but as Palmer inserted himself and claims of his authority into his argument, one can't really refute the arguments without looking at those claims. Can you separate the two?

Thanks for the comment, Ben. I don't think it's the case that Palmer's book stands or falls on his credentials. It is his arguments that need to be refuted, not his resume. In any case, he did work for CES for 34 years -- for most people that makes him "an insider," as far as that loosely defined term is used in general conversation. The response offered by FARMS reviewers seems to be sure, he worked for CES for 34 years, but that doesn't mean he actually knows anything. That's a good argument for disbanding CES; it's not a particularly good argument against the book for someone who has read it.

Look, he could have been an inmate at the Salt Lake County jail rather than a counselor visiting inmates. You would still have to deal with the arguments in the book if there are people out there who read it and find it credible. [If no one reads it or no reader finds it credible, then the book is not of particular concern to an apologist. No need to refute a book that no one reads.]

But Dave, ad hominem consists in two parts, both ignoring the arguments and going after the guy, which is not the case here unless you want to argue that nNone of the reviews dealt with the first vision or plates or other things. None looked at Palmer's treatment of the data? All ignored in favor of irrelevant slams? The claims were indeed reviewed.

As for Palmer, he made his credentials and experience up for review in his claims of insider unity with his "colleagues" at BYU and CES, even extending to his title of "An *Insider's* Guide." If I claim to be a medical insider, and speak for a class of medical people who won't speak up for themselves, it's entirely fair to ask just what kind of medical insider I am (examining my history and qualifications) and do these other medical insiders I've roped in actually agree with me?

Again, I think all the chatter about "ad hominem" is a big red herring anyway. As I said at the FAIR post, I think people are misusing the term. My concern is less about "ad hominem" and more about snarkiness, triumphalism, unwillingness to recognize any commendatory aspects of certain publications, and other tone issues which come across as arrogant.

They are typically excused as being "witty" and complainers are told to "get a sense of humor." And some complainers complain as a way to avoid dealing with the more cogent aspects of the criticism.

My advice is to leave the wit to blogs and message boards (and even there, I think it's better to not act like a prig). Print publications can be used to advance responsible and reasonable-toned scholarship.

And by the way, I think much of the stuff the FARMS Review has put out falls in that reasonable-toned category, but the counter-examples have become synechdotes, or taken to be exemplary of the whole. Kevin Christensen's stuff on paradigms in response to Vogel and Metcalfe were wonderfully toned, and I think were part of what attuned me to the differences in tone I detected in various FARMS pieces. I still recommend them today.

Thanks for the comments, Blair and Ben. I think we agree that the damage done is that ad hominem arguments have distracted some readers from the more relevant arguments.

Ben, I'm not disputing that the Palmer reviews did get to the arguments. That doesn't somehow grant the writers an indulgence for five paragraphs of ad hominem argument elsewhere in the review. I don't think the two-pronged definition you give is how I would describe ad hominem argument.

The whole "insider" thing is puzzling. If someone is offering evidence as a percipient witness, insider status might convey credibility: "I actually saw them throwing barrels of sawdust into the "beef stew" vats. I know because I worked at the plant for twelve years. I'm an insider." That's the sort of insider claim one makes to garner credibility.

Is anyone an insider in this sense for Mormon history? No. Everyone is relying on historical documents or artifacts and a historical methodology for assessing the reliability of various documents and the claims derived from them. There are no historical insiders for events in the 19th century. They're all dead.

Alternatively, the term "insider" might be used or understood as a proxy for being an expert. An expert can offer credible opinion on an event he did not observe or a specific issue within his range of expertise. Palmer is not a historical expert. Professional historians with PhDs who practice in their field have more of a claim to expertise: their opinions on an issue within their narrow range of expertise carry some weight. But even professional historians don't resolve disputes by comparing opinions or credentials. They offer evidence and arguments. Experts disagree. Historical questions are not resolved by consulting experts, they are resolved by examining historical evidence and arguments derived therefrom. And there are plenty of historical books and articles written by those who aren't professional historians with PhDs: journalists, writers, and professionals in other fields all write history. Saying "you are not a professional historian with a PhD" does not refute arguments presented in a paper or a book. It might explain why a book or article offers bad arguments, but in that case what makes them bad arguments is their inherent badness, not the fact that the author was not a professional historian.

The only scenario where the insider discussion makes sense is if there are a lot of people out there who read the title, then held Palmer to be a historical expert because of the claim to be an "insider," and as a consequence accepted everything said in the book as the final word on the events of LDS history. Then you show that Palmer was actually a teacher, not an insider, and they then revamp their conclusions: oh, he's not an insider, I have to rethink my earlier conclusions. I just don't think that's how readers approached the book or its title or Palmer's introductory comments. I have never read of a single person who based their reaction to the book on Palmer's claim (or his publisher's claim) to be an insider.

Long response -- sorry. The authors are probably flattered we're still talking about their reviews.

The whole "insider" thing is puzzling. If someone is offering evidence as a percipient witness, insider status might convey credibility: "I actually saw them throwing barrels of sawdust into the "beef stew" vats. I know because I worked at the plant for twelve years. I'm an insider." That's the sort of insider claim one makes to garner credibility.

Is anyone an insider in this sense for Mormon history? No. Everyone is relying on historical documents or artifacts and a historical methodology for assessing the reliability of various documents and the claims derived from them. There are no historical insiders for events in the 19th century. They're all dead.

But aren't you falling prey to the same problem I pointed to in some FARMs papers? Forgetting your audience. I agree that being an "insider" to CES shouldn't mean anything. However by the very title of the book and the rhetorical style of the text the author clearly thinks it does provide more credibility. Further I think he's probably right. For many readers it will. That's the problem with sophistry. It shouldn't be persuasive but it frequently is. Thus I think if someone chooses to write a review targeting those having a crisis due to the book that needs to be addressed.

Now we can debate how well that addressing was done. And there I think the rhetoric in question in the FARMS review was counterproductive. But I think that's an issue with the snarky style but not the content. I'll agree being snarky is not wise but you are making the stronger claim that even the content should be off limits. I just don't think I can go that far... (Beyond my earlier comment at FPR that I think FARMS would have done better to address arguments more in abstract rather than attacking particular books or people - but I can at least understand why they might disagree with me on that. It's not a clear cut case.)

I haven't really read enough to thoughtfully weigh in on this, but here are some initial impressions:

Palmer claims to be an "insider," and so his insider status is open for discussion. He states, "for thirty-four years I was primarily an Institute director for the Church Educational System (CES)” but it turns out that he was a director for 9 of those years. So what? What are we to draw from this?

Here are some possibilities:

1) He's not an insider.
2) He's not as much of an insider as he's led us to believe.
3) He's dishonest so we shouldn't trust much (or any) of what he actually has to say in the book.

With regards to 1, I fail to see how this would disqualify him as an "insider" (whatever that term might mean). With regards to 2, he might be slightly less of an insider but I don't see why he can no longer make such a claim; it's not like he turned out to be a volunteer institute teacher, someone baptized as a youth that never attended church after the age of 10, etc. (FWIW, I think Palmer's use of the term "insider" is ridiculous). With regards to 3, I just don't see a strong enough breach of honesty to warrant such a claim.

What many apologists who want to make this an issue do not realize is that _making this an issue_ looks petty. This isn't an argument worth winning.

SmallAxe I agree - but if the sophistry is trying to make your text appear more serious because of being this long term employee I think it fair to undercut it. You are just looking at the content of the claim but not the persuasive rhetorical form it's put in. At the least one should explain to the more naive why none of this matters. You are taking for granted that this understanding is obvious to the audience when I just don't think that is likely so.

Once again I agree there are dangers in •how• one explains it. One has to be stylistically careful and I'm not sure the FARMS reviewers were.

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Thanks for weighing in, SmallAxe.

I kind of feel like I'm arguing the wrong issue with the wrong people, given that this started out talking about FAIR, not FARMS, and I think that most of the commenters agree that, despite the FAIR post linked in the OP, FAIR isn't planning on moving away from its established approach and isn't inclined to take up the ad hominem cudgel.

I'm not shying away from a productive discussion, just pointing out that there is more agreement among us than is maybe evident from the discussion.

Good point Dave. FAIR hasn't been perfect but you got to give them credit for trying to avoid the rhetorical excesses that FARMS occasionally hit. I think FAIR is somewhat limited in that it primarily an organization about distributing information to people rather than research as such. (Although the FAIR Conference obviously does a little of that)

I'd suspect (once again no inside info) that FAIR feels the need for an organization like FARMS to give them data to work with. If the MI moves away from that sort of apologetics (which is far from clear) then you can understand FAIR being somewhat worried. Although to be fair not all apologetics were done under FARMS. While it's not apologetics as such, obviously work like Brant Garder's work on the Book of Mormon or Blake Ostler's work on the theology helps them a great deal. In some ways the most interesting "apologetic" material the past years has come more from places like Kofford.

if the sophistry is trying to make your text appear more serious because of being this long term employee I think it fair to undercut it.

Hi Clark, I'm with you on this; and perhaps I wasn't clear enough in my last comment. Palmer makes a claim--"I'm an insider." I think it's fair to investigate that claim. It turns out that he was only a "director" in the CES for 9 years, and he suggested it was 34 years.

I think all of this is "fair game" so to speak, but I don't see how the findings (that he hasn't been a director for 34 years) undermines his claim.

It would be kind of like someone claiming "insider status" at BYU because he graduated summa cum laude, and went on to do an MA and PhD there. But when this claim is investigated it turns out he only graduated cum laude, then went on to do an MA and PhD. Disregarding the silliness of the term "insider," I don't see how such findings would threaten the initial claim.

Leaving the issue of ad hominem on the side, I would classify this more in terms of making a mountain out of a mole hill.

Of course, the irony is that this kind of "point out their motives" thing works really well against FAIR, because pretty much everything they say sounds disingenious when you realize they accept the LDS church's truth claims before anything else and are only looking for evidence and rationalizations which support them.

But because they're on the church's side, they're automatically credible, and those meanie nonmormons just want to tear down people's faith with their "logic" and "questions" and stuff.

Taryn, I think everyone at FAIR would acknowledge their biases. I don't think any of them would say they are "automatically credible" or anything like it. Nor do the people at FAIR I know think non-Mormons "just want to tear down people's faith." There are people in that category but I think most critics are well meaning and most don't really have the faith of members as a concern at all.

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