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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fallacies Which I Used to Find Comforting

We often accuse the Armstrong movement of "proof texting". What does this mean? Well, let's take history as an example. Person A is a legitimate history scholar. He knows precisely what happened in given eras, and there is noticeable depth to his comprehension. He can share incredible detail. When history is being discussed, his overview and insights become invaluable. Person B may or may not have a basic, very general idea, and knows the names of some individuals, or locations, as well as some of the events which transpired during a given period. In a discussion, in support of his side, he knows enough to go back, find a quote which supports his particular contention, and in many cases, this makes him appear equally authoritative. However, his knowledge is not as deep, and because of this, he sometimes misses information which directly counters or reverses what he has posted as his "proof text". One guy knows it cold, the other scurries around looking for information to support his contentions. Who would you trust? How could you ascertain whether there was an agenda at play, guiding the evidentiary trail? Most of us realize that there are fewer Person A types than there are Person B types, yet in a highly polarized environment, it is usually the Person B types that get the "high fives". (Hooray for our side). The problem is that both believers and non-believers do this. It is embedded, learned behavior, a hangover from our Armstrong days.

I've always said that I am not a good welder. But, I do recognize good welding when I see it. And, I believe most of us have a certain gift of discernment. Something deep inside of us tends to either validate, or reject incoming information. But, we've also got the ability to "override" those gut feelings, if we have a preference as to the outcome.

Over the past years, we've all encountered people who lift various myths, personalities, and other little clues from history to support the theory that Jesus Christ never existed. Some have stated that He was either loosely based on some mythological character who in fact predated Christianity, or on a composite of teachers, magicians, or alleged do-gooders or miracle workers from the period, or from word of mouth legendary tradition that would not pass Snopes if we were discussing a possible contemporary character. However, it should raise a cautionary red flag that the broad majority of legitimate historians do not question the historicity of Jesus. There is much dispute over whether He was who He said He was, but little doubt that He existed. In fact, there is a documented progression of teachers and students, one having taught the other, extending from Antenicene Fathers of the first, second, third and fourth centuries back to the original disciples and Jesus Himself. The proto-Catholics, and later the Catholics were incredible record keepers, preserving what they felt was an oracle, much the same as were the Jews before them. Though they can't be the entirely secular sources that non-believers would prefer, the Vatican has amassed and preserved, in addition to the Bible, an incredible number of period documents. The Antenicene Fathers were very prolific writers. And, church historians documented the minutes of council meetings such as Nicea and Laodecea, decisions which were made, and often the activities of those considered as exemplary or leaders. There are some "fringe" or radical historians who have advanced theories involving the non-existence of Jesus, but these are not considered to be completely credible. They bear more similarity to our modern holocaust deniers, or those who believe that the astronauts' walk on the moon was actually faked on some back lot of a movie studio in Burbank, California.

I recently watched an episode of 7th Street Theater, in which a young woman had gotten a speeding ticket, but insisted that she was not going over the speed limit. As she agonized over how to approach this in her court appearance, with the help and commiseration of her theater group, a discovery was made. While driving on the freeway, and keeping pace with the freeway traffic, she noticed that her speedometer stuck at 51 miles per hour. So, she ended up paying her fine rather than asserting her innocence in court. As the story developed, her breaking of the speed limit had been caused by reliance on wrong information, and the consequence was that she was still legally accountable. Of course the moral lesson of the episode was that one must be sure that one's sources are accurate, especially when making critical decisions!

How could one possibly have been part of WCG without having been primed to be receptive to conspiracy theories? HWA actually set the blueprint up for this type of thinking via his Simon Magus theory, in which the first century Gnostics were accused of having hijacked the original teachings of Christ, morphing it into what eventually became the Roman Catholic Church. I think it might behoove us to look at the concept of conspiracy theories, and what they do. In many cases, originators of these theories base them loosely on certain facts, draw conclusions, and then extrapolate wildly, imputing sinister and very scary intentions to people perceived as being in power or control. Often, the people advancing these theories utilize them to leverage conventional wisdom or commonly held opinions, and to alter peoples' intentions. This can be very effective, as we've all witnessed, in destroying individuals' confidence in one thing, and subsequently redirecting that confidence to another. It's usually done to combat a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, and is not unlike a magician's sleight of hand. Right now, breaking news has the Securities and Exchange Commission taking Goldman Sachs to court, allegedly for conspiring, putting together, and selling packages of worthless investments, partially causing the recent meltdown in the global economy. Whether or not they did what is alleged remains to be proven in a court of law. Some astute observers find the timing of this SEC suit questionable, in that it seems to be happening just as Congress considers a new package of regulatory legislation pertaining to banks and investment firms. Thus, speculation as to leverage has already begun!We can nearly guarantee that, regardless as to the outcome of the lawsuit, if this is leverage, it is going to further erode trust. And, this erosion of trust is bound to influence the public's perceptions, and the pending legislation. Just seeing how a conspiracy theory works, I am not encouraged to buy into any of the conspiracy theories which people concoct in support of the alternative origins of the Bible, or of Jesus. For one thing, there are far too many of them! Overkill tends to make me suspicious.

There is what is known as oral law, or oral tradition. The Jews have this, in the form of their Talmud and Cabala, and the Catholics have it as well, supposedly the cumulative effect of the primacy of Peter. The Protestant Reformation was all about shedding much of the Catholic oral tradition, and getting back to the Bible as the basic core or source for human actions, rather than the authority of the church. Coinciding with the Reformation was the translation, mass printing of, and availability of the Holy Bible to the masses, so that each individual believer could be responsible for doing the due diligence required by their faith. In the early stages of this, people were actually killed for making the Bible accessible, because it was seen as eroding the power of the church, and even that of secular Kings and Queens.

There are questions and theories regarding the authenticity of the Bible. The Old Testament was available during Jesus' time in the form of the Septuagint, and today we have the Dead Sea Scrolls, which differ very little from what was available prior to the discovery of these scrolls. That is probably a factor as to why there are more questions and theories surrounding the New Testament than the Old. It becomes difficult to imagine, however, how we, two thousand years removed from the selection and canonization process, would be in a better position to make some of the related decisions today than those who were actually part of that process. Those compiling Christian documents treated the materials at hand very reverently. They felt they were preserving an oracle, and did evaluate them very carefully and even agonized over them! We know this based on conflicts such as that between Marcion and Irenaeus. Canonization seems to have been a gradual process, but regardless as to the timing, those actually involved were closer to the time period of the actual early Christian events which the books and letters describe than are those of us living today. They had testimony, materials, and criteria available to them which have long since been lost to antiquity. So, in many cases, the absence of evidence which seems to pose great problems for us today was not a problem for them. For believers, the authenticity of scripture has an additional basis. We believe it to be Spirit protected.

Because Christians have oft cited Josephus as an authority, his account of Jesus is frequently attacked as having been inserted later, and not conforming to his general writing style. And, frankly, this may or may not be true. But, the bottom line is that Josephus is just one of numerous resources. Jesus most certainly does not rise or fall just based on Josephus. You see,
we don't just need to deal with Jesus, but also with Peter, John, Paul, Pilate, the Ossuary of James and other archaeological artifacts, Egyptian Christian traditions, the Antenicene Fathers, the Jewish Talmud and associated historical records, and even the apocryphal gospels and people attacked as having been heretics. They all, in their own way, give testimony of Jesus' existence. If this were all a huge, global conspiracy, can you imagine all of the people who would need to have been complicit? Even the detractors! Plainly, there are odds and the laws of probability in play here, with both believer and non-believer alike placing their bets. Some derive encouragement from the so-called Dark Ages, and cite it as support for the idea that there could have been an all-encompassing black out and control, but the Dark Ages were not global! Some nations existing today never participated in these Dark Ages! Mohammed and the entire early Islamic movement were seen as being on the cutting edge during this era, as compared to the Catholic nations. It is difficult to imagine this today, but apparently they were quite advanced (Incidentally, they also believed in Jesus! They just saw Him as being a prophet)

And, speaking of some of these other nations, I used to ask, "What about the Chinese people? There are some areas of China where nobody has even heard of Jesus. Would a loving god hold them accountable?" This was supposed to be another one of my escape hatches, but the flaw lies in the fact that it applies to the Chinese, not to me regarding my own situation or salvation. It is nice to have brotherly concern for others, but their plight is their plight, and I am responsible based on my own conditions. Lack of knowledge amongst Chinese people is not something which I could logically present to God on judgment day, and expect Him to cut me some slack!

All of the above was at one time used in constructing my "wall", a protective structure which I had built following my exit from Armstrongism. It was designed to keep me from being fooled and hurt again. Judging from discussions and comments on forums and blogs, I believe that others have also used some or all of these in their own walls of non-belief. As one comes in from that deadly and dangerous "road to Damascus", one's perceptions change. My hope is that there are some nuggets here that might either provide food for thought, or perhaps help some other people, those who may also be in the midst of some important decisions in their lives. Non-belief isn't a bad intermediate stage. It serves as an excellent neutral buffer, and helps clear out all of the old baggage. My opinion, though, is that it is not altogether optimal or satisfying as a final stage.



Retired Prof said...

BB, I have been in the "intermediate" stage of unbelief for fifty years. It may not be optimal, but it feels pretty close to that.

I rejoice for you that you have found satisfaction in faith. But you should rejoice for me too, or at least not worry about me. Rest assured I feel no dissatisfaction in the absence of faith. In fact I glory in exploring questions raised by my doubt.

Ralph said...

BB, when I was being court martialed in the marines, I was guilty by every convention of men. I did the very worst thing that any human in the military should do. I told the marines to go to hell and simply quit, walked away, deserted.

Until that time, I myself would be ready to spit on any human being of shch character I would assiciate with excrement.

And yet, there I was, doing the very thing I viewed with the utmost contempt.

When I sent my letter to my company commander explaining my actions, I made no apologies, and when I went about my life, waiting to see what would happen, I made no deals with God, I made no apologies for my actions, nor did I ever admit to being wrong in any sense. I had looked at those options before I left.

My statement before God was this: "I have looked at all information available, I have made my decison, I believe it to be the correct moral decision under the circumstances. If you choose to deliver me, I will be thankful, but I will not apologize, repent, or make deals with you or anyone else for what I know to be right".

In fact, before i left, the marines had offered to make deals, provided I would accept their authority and "take my medicine". All I had to do was simply follow along, respect their authority, and they would make it up to me.

That was an admission that they were wrong, and if it meant my life, I would stand by the moral decision.

But the real lesson I learned was the example Jesus gave of the publican and the Pharisee. The very thing I had viewed with disgust, the very act I had judged deserving of death, I myself had committed.

My only 'repetance" in the matter was to realize that I had misjudged others by standards of ignorance. My only contriteness before God, or truth, or whatever label you wish to give it, is this:

"Have mercy on me. I am a sinner. I am the very thing I most condemned in others. For that, I ask forgiveness. For my decision to desert, I offer no apologies nor deals for my deliverance. I stand without repentance for that decision, whatever fate falls on me".

So, I don't catre who the authorities are, or the human standards we may offer. All persons are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with inalenable rights. They stand before their creator against all men if necessary, and no human may deprive them of that.

The marines seemed to like that version. The promoted me meritoriously.

Next response, I'd like to deal with the false logic regarding that speeding ticket! :)

Neotherm said...


The theme that runs through your post is the mishandling of information. Proof-texting and conspiracy theories are examples of the misuse of information.

One of the foundational pillars of Armstrongism is the manipulation of information in order to control peoples lives and wallets. To our chargin, many of us fell victim to this manipulation. And now we are very sensitive about the misuse of information and rightly so.

The strategy of this kind of misuse of information is simple. The propagandist selects an objective and tailors information to support that objective. The tailored information may even all be factual. It may be that it is spun in a certain direction or certain affecting pieces of information are excluded.

I recall when the accrediting committee visited AC Big Sandy in the Seventies and concluded that AC was not remotely ready and they would be given a year (or whatever) to straighten up their act. This went out as a letter to the lay membership as a victory that resulted in AC being granted an extension, as if the extension were some kind of merit badge.

But we are all subject to our own tendencies to do the same thing -- playing games with information to support what we want to conclude already. That is one of these reasons I hang out at a blog like this. There are people here who have good vision where I have a blind spot.

-- Neo

Ralph said...

Now(heh,heh), the speeding ticket.

"Entick vs Carrington" 1765. The nature of the law is this:

An individual may do anything except what the law forbids, but the state can only do that which is expressly permitted by the law.

"No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law(5th amendment protection against federal power, and 14th amendment protection against state power)"

What is due process? It is defined by Justice Joseph Story, who ought to know, since he personally knew Madison and the originators of the Constitution, as "lawful judgement of peers, or law of the land(common law)".

The US Constitution does not derive its authority from the common law.

Blackstone tells us in common law that to simply detain a person on the street is "imprisonment" and therefore subject to challenge under habeas corpus, which cannot be suspended except in threats to national security, and then, according to Blackstone, only by the legislature.

Further, the Constitution forbids "Bills of Attainder", which means to deprive a person of his/her life without due process of law. Chief Justice John Marshall points out that "Bills of Pains and Penalties" are included under that prohibition, which means that no person shall be derpived of life, liberty, or property, without due process, which by luck, is exactly what the 5th and 14th amendments say.

That is, no authority, under Bills of Attainder, or by the authority of the 5th and 14th amendments, may deprive any person, citizen or otherwise, of property without due process.

With the principles of "Entick vs Carrington", that is law.

No federal or state authority may do otherwise.

AND YET, state authorities permit you to waive due process. You can pay your fine and admit guilt without due process, in direct violation of constitutional law.

By what authority can they offer it? They cannot offer it. It is not given. Further, unde due process of law, the accused is to be presumede innocent until proven guilty by due process. No law is permitted to presume your guilt without your power to challenge it.

Again, an eggregious violation of law by the state.

Hamilton, in "The Federalist" points out that no lawsuit can proceed against a sovereing against its will. So, if the state says you do not have to accept due process, which is a lawsuit by the state, it is concluding that you are sovereign.

But if your sovereignty permits you to decline a lawsuit, it equally permits you to deline payment of a fine without due process. If the state can waive one, it must by law waive the other.

That is the law.

Neotherm said...

Continuing the theme of the abuse of information:

I just bounced over the Purple Hymnal's website and read the resolution authored by Kilough, et al. I should say, I have no interest in the UCG. In my mind they are just a bunch of people with a worshipful attitude towards HWA who "play church."

I read the resolution and it seemed totally innocuous. Kilough thinks that governance can be improved so he wants to establish an ad hoc committee to do that. So what's the problem? Seems like Clyde is being a good, thorough steward. But I would bet that there is more to this than that and what we are seeing is the varnish over something that may amount to a palace rebellion.

I reviewed the names of the members Kilough proposed and they all look "old guard" but other than that, I can identify nothing alarming. But I do know that the composition of the ad hoc committee is where Kilough's strength lies. The resolution by itself is not a instrument of revolution but of review.

But the truth will out. My guess is that Kilough may want to return to the "Biblical" form of governance (read autocratic) and that he may be smoothing the pathway towards this on behalf of someone waiting in the wings -- very likely someone whom he has not recommended for the ad hoc governance review committee.

I am probably way behind the rest of you on this. I am not really tapped into UCG events.

-- Neo

Ralph said...

Neo, you bring out exactly the points I have been making. Since when do humans ever demonstrate the authority to govern in God's name?

Seems to me that the first thing they would have to do is to demonstrate the existence of a God in whose name they can govern.

But, as I repeatdly point out, once they decide on biblically authority, they are forced to recongize Paul's basic statement that the natural mind is enmity against God and cannot be subject to God's laws.

To claim governance in God's name, therefore, is to claim a power which is simply impossible by their natural or "carnal" mind.

Second, they would have to prove some process of selection demonstrating that they are actually empowered to organize susch a system, when Paul has completely cancelled that in Romans 8:29-30, not to mention Romans 9:16-22.

It is one thing to have faith that there is a God, or that Jesus existed, but to demonstrate authority would specifically require proof of that authority, and Paul completely cancels any possibility of such proof.

Faith in things which are seen is not faith. If we can see it, we can know that there exists proof by which we can develop authority. We can have algorithms or a decision procedure to demonstrate it. But again, Paul has destroyed that possibility.

The argument I presented originally defeats the argument of the professing christian as much as it challenges the atheist.

It is a total waste of time for any person to try and determine the rules by which others should obey God, since their minds cannot be subject to those rules in the first place.

To be subject to a law means that you are under the jurisdiction of that law. But who is authorized to enforce the jurisdiction? Who exercises the "police power"?

The only remote power authorized by Paul was excommunication. If they don't like it, they are free to go.

Paul presents the analogy in this regard: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gives the increase".

If we refer that statement to Romans 8:29-30, the "increase" is very carefully controlled by God and no other, so that whoever does the "planting or watering", the results are fully controlled by God.

That also parallels Jesus' parable of the wheat and tares. The "good seed are the children of the kingdom".

Who "sowed them"? Son of man. The principle message is this: it is impossible to know who are the 'good seed' until the "program has run', until everything has been done. But every attempt by human minds to define "good seed" results in exactly what Jesus predicted in Matthew 10:34-38. Continual splintering and division, and even hatred.

By biblical definitions, the christian can no more define him/her self in a superior position than the atheist. There is no way of knowing. You can't get "there" from "here".

Byker Bob said...

Retired Prof:

Remember, I'm one of the founding members of the ABA (anything but Armstrongism)! Of course, I am happy for you, and I do not worry about you.

The types of person I tend to worry about would be the hyper-angry, the chronically depressed, those who have slipped into various addictions, and the tin-foil people who have bought into the conspiracy movement. Hopefully, some of those folks will hang out with us, we can talk it all out, and they can get some healing, too.


Ralph said...

Are you saying there are no conspiracies?

Corky said...

Ralph said...
Are you saying there are no conspiracies?

That's a pretty good question, not because we don't already know that conspiracies really have existed, but because they have been found out and exposed.

However, conspiracy theories - like no man ever landing on the moon - are not among those conspiracies that have been found out and exposed, they are only examples of common theory, i.e., wild-ass guesses.

Ralph said...

I ask about conspiracies because we live in a nation that has conspired for quite a while to centralize power and gain greater control of people's minds.

Unfortunately, this is the tendency of any system of power.

For example, the "legal tender cases" of Supreme Court history, where the court voted in favor of making paper money legal tender. Why? Because it was ruled that the Constitution was sovereign, and since there was no prohibition against "Bills of Credit" for any power other than the states, paper money would be legal tender.

By what authority? None. James Wilson, a prolific contributor to the Constitution second only to Madison, if he was second to Madison, pointed out that in the US Constitution;

"When the people established the powers of legislation under their separate governments, they invested their representatives with every right and authority which they did not in explicit terms reserve; and therefore upon every question respecting the jurisdiction of the House of Assembly, if the frame of government is silent, the jurisdiction is efficient and complete. But in delegating federal powers, another criterion was necessarily introduced, and the congressional power is to be collected, not from tacit implication, but from the positive grant expressed in the instrument of the union. hence, it is evident, that in the former case, everything which is not reserved is given; but in the latter, the reverse of the proposition prevails, and everything which is not given is reserved."

The 10th Amendment verifies this view.

Under the first draft of the constitution, bills of credit were permitted. In the final draft, they were eliminated. No authority was given, therefore, no legal tender.

The Supreme Court had ruled the constitution so sovereign that it could contradict itself without saying anything at all.

Yet Madison himself had named the forces that destroy sound government in "Federalist #10":

"A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project..."

In "Federalist #10", Madison was focused on the problem of keeping the government federal, divided into sovereign powers of state and federal government. he had named "the rage for paper money" as a force that would destroy that federalism, and it has.

US christianity has followed suit in this attempt to control the masses by homogenizing them into a single force. Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, and later the "conservative ministers" such as Falwell, who have turned the idea of christianity into a nationalist religion, "one nation under God".

HWA himself merely recruited from those who were misfits and turned them into briefcase toting automatons with special colored pencils for marking and studying the collectivist implications of the bible.

What you have rejected is the imposed collectivism that began with the approval of legal tender.

The Painful Truth said...

Ralph said..
"In "Federalist #10", Madison was focused on the problem of keeping the government federal, divided into sovereign powers of state and federal government. he had named "the rage for paper money" as a force that would destroy that federalism, and it has."

Thank the money changers at the Federal Reserve also. Computer servers that serve as the old fashion ledger.

The creation of money and debt by an entry into a ledger. Oh what a scam!

Ralph said...

PT, even worse, a near collapse of the economy by basing "money' on mortgages, and not even sound mortgages at that!

Which brings us to the RSV translation of Habakkuk 2:6:

"Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own--
"For how long?
"And loads himself with pledges!"

The KJV refers to it as thick clay, and it corresponds to the "etherialization" of money as described in Daniel chapter 2, where the money cheapens from gold, to silver, to bronze, and iron mixed with clay.

A confederacy held together by "pledges" of clay, contracts, receipts, statements of value by which an economy extends its power based on debt.

Conspiracy? Nah!

Neotherm said...

I recall a blatant example of prooftexting in the WCG. On an occasion back in the Seventies, HWA spoke to us at the Field House in Big Sandy. During the course of his sermon, he mentioned that a young minister had approached him and explained that HWA was cited in the Book of Revelation. In Rev 3:7, the young minister explained, HWA was the "angel of the church in Philadelphia". Angel meant messenger and HWA had this role. And the message concerning the church in Philadelphia was really intended for he messenger and not for the church at large. HWA was very pleased with this interpretation and stated that the young minister needed to be raised to evangelist rank for such a impressive interpretation.

As I sat there on a steel chair in that dank and humid metal building, I pondered this idiosyncratic prooftexting and HWA's response to it. After all should he not be the one to rightly handle the word of truth more than anyone else? A few things seemed apparent:

1) If you wanted to please HWA, discover a "reference" to him in scripture.

2) If you do this, he will be so impressed by it, he may elevate you to evangelist rank without regard to any other of your credentials.

3) The alleged reference does not need to be subject to careful exegesis, it may be clearly the result of off hand prooftexting.

4) HWA's psychology was such that the idea that he would be mentioned in the Bible was totally unquestionable.

5) This had the bonus effect of putting the lay membership in its place. The message was to HWA not to the lay members.

I never heard anything more about this. I do not know who the young minister was or whether he was ever rewarded with the rank of an evangelist. But I thought that this was an excellent lesson in WCG verbal antics. What I wonder about is whether the other 1,200 people who sat in the Field House learned anything from this. I recall that Clyde Kilough and Les McCullough were both there. I would imagine for most of the ambitious ministers in training at AC, only point 2) above registered.

Even though these concerns emerged disturbingly in my mind, I was a good Armstrongite and quickly set them aside at the time.

-- Neo

Byker Bob said...


Yes, mishandling of information was certainly part of the Armstrong problem. Sometimes the very worst and most effective deceivers are the most subtle ones.

I think the most important thing I learned from my tenure there was the value of our US system of checks and balances. HWA had none.
His board was strictly rubber stamp, as "God's apostle" he claimed to be responsible directly to God, and he left us no avenues to troubleshoot what he said or to seek a second opinion. He was indeed, totally in control of all of the information.


Of course, there are conspiracies. However, there are some who see conspiracy lurking in every bush they happen to pass, much the same as the old WCG saw paganism at every turn. Over my years on the forums, I've encountered a couple of people who appeared barely functional because of their paranoia over alleged conspiracies. I believe WCG fomented this type of thinking through their indoctrination process in which they systematically broke everyone's trust in everything but the church and ministers.

It should be very sobering for all of us to realize that some of our former brethren are now involved in the Christian Patriot movement (commonly referrred to as the militias)


Morris Loess and Les S. Moore said...

If we get involved in a conspiracy, we don't call it that.

It's a collaboration.

Neotherm said...

Conspiracy theories are motivated by many different forces. But I think one main force is the desire people have to be able to make sense out of events in the world. But this has all kinds of negative outcomes.

I read something about the Jivaro Indians in the Amazon rain forest that exemplifies this. A poisonous snake crawled into a village one day and bit a man and he died. The shaman comes out and chants and performs ceremonies and then tells the tribe that the neighboring village sent the snake to bite the man and that revenge must be sought. So an inter-village war begins.

In other words, the shaman developed a conspiracy theory on the spot. His authority was strengthened. His theory gave the villagers an understanding of reality (the plain truth). Everyone got spun up and went to war to exact revenge and feel dutiful and acceptable to their society and their god. The only problem is that it was a total fabrication.

Conspiracy theorists seek to have some of these same effects.

The conspriracy theory that was popoular on the Big Sandy campus back in the Seventies involved the Synagogue of Satan in the book of Revelation. One faculty member was spreading the idea that this referred to the Jews and they were not really Jews but Khazars and Gentiles. They were also in control of the Federal Reserve and other institutions.

Special, limited-access knowledge is a big ego trip to some people. So generally there are plenty of people around to believe most any conspiracy theory.

-- Neo

Ralph said...

There's a lot of the Khzar/Gentile stuff circulating now on the internet. However, I am inclined to believe that the Pharisees did develop a system that bypassed the strict system of law that started out. Their emphasis on the Talmud, which developed as an authoritative system in Babylon, alsoe serves quite well as a "mystery religion".

As for the militia movements, a quick look at the constitution would show them to be illegal. They require state endorsement, since Article 1, Section 8 places them under the training of the US government.

This brings up an interesting point about the second amendment.

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms , shall not be infringed."

The preamble clause to that states clearly the purpose of the right of the people. But this also places the people under the supervision of the federal government.

However, there is no mention of any prohibition to keep and bear arms for personal use anywhere in the constitution, so there is actually no authority that can be claimed by the Supreme Court to regulate personal firearms. Unless you use your arms as part of a militia, neither federal nor state government can claim any authority or control over you.

That's why the movement to get the second amendment to apply to personal firearms is a red herring. Once it is applied to all personal ownership of firearms, the government can claim control.

Anonymous said...

"One faculty member was spreading the idea that this referred to the Jews and they were not really Jews but Khazars and Gentiles."

This idea spread as far as the Canadian West, right down till the mid-80s. I heard this theory from the pulpit more than once.

Ralph said...

Well, as to Jews in charge of the banks, you can read Max DiMont's "The Indestructible Jews".

They pretty much started the banking system we know today. In fact, the Mishna was developed to help adapt to trade and commerce and was used for applying the Torah to such practices, since it remained relatively silent.

The Mishna became a process by which legislation was developed around basic laws, much as the states do in developing statutes which they consider to be in line with the constitution.

The few Jews who returned to Israel after Babylon were financed by Jews who had developed trade routes on the borders of both Persia and Babylon.

The process of using banknotes as representative of actual wealth came because the Jews were constantly scattered and force to travel, and subject to robbery.

They had their own clearinghouse which recognized the "marks" of those Jews who had deposited, so robbing them for banknotes was useless.

Casey Wollberg said...

Your critique of prooftexting is sound, have committed a fallacy of your own! This one:

"However, it should raise a cautionary red flag that the broad majority of *legitimate* historians do not question the historicity of Jesus...There are some "fringe" or radical historians who have advanced theories involving the non-existence of Jesus, but these are not considered to be completely credible [emphasis mine]."

That's a "no true Scotsman," and it doesn't follow. If your test for whether a theory should be taken seriously is the authority of its proponents, then you can't prejudice that granting of authority based on the conclusions they draw. It's circular. Another problem is that you do not address the possibility of religious bias in the historians you favor with the label "legitimate." Let the arguments speak for themselves; anything less is ad hominem, and will lead you (and others) astray.

Byker Bob said...


I take it you don't believe in playing with the odds? Well, in some cases that can be good, because Jesus didn't always believe in playing with the apparent odds either. Discernment should always be a prominent factor in whatever we do.

Fringe ideas do sometimes end up being verifiable, and part of the knowledge bank. However, there is generally a reason why the majority of educated or intelligent people hold a consensus opinion. Obviously there are other criteria for determining veracity of an idea or potential fact, but if all of our posts were required to include every possible factor and disclaimer, only lawyers would be posting here.

Also, I can't imagine why one would think that the act of pointing out that an idea happened to be a minority opinion would be considered an ad hominem attack. Now, if I opined that the people who held a certain opinion all smelled like bananas, that would be an ad hominem attack.


Corky said...

Now, if I opined that the people who held a certain opinion all smelled like bananas, that would be an ad hominem attack.

No, that would be an argument from prejudiced opinion.

If I say, "you are an idiot", that's ad hominem.

Ralph said...

These classifications of types of argument do seem tedious and legalistic, but they do help clarify and focus. I like that"no true scotsman" argument.

In actual physical terms, what will be changed if there was a Jesus who truly died for sins, or if there was no Jesus who died for sins?

We still die. Tyrany and despotism still occurs, even in the very systems that claim to worship Christ. Those of us in the WCG, even realizing that all the other religions were full of crap, learned only that the religion we believed in was equally full of crap.

It seems to me, on the face of it, whether Jesus died for our sins or not, or whether he actually existed or not, you have a group of people who realize, for whatever reasons, that there is no need whatever to follow a religion.

But, based on history and the way it has developed, it really wouldn't matter if there was a Jesus or not, since we would still see the same results.

If you are "forgiven", you will have a certain view of the same proces of evil that has existed since humans stopped swinging from tree limbs, and if you "reject Christ", you will simply have a different view, yet the same evils will still exist, and many of those evils will exist precisely BECAUSE a number of people believe that Jesus died for our sins and made themselves our spiritual authorities.

In either case, every conclusion we reach can be explained in terms of human reason and experience.

Neotherm said...

Here comes some legalism, blossoming like an intrusive
dandelion on the spring lawn.

To say "the broad majority of *legitimate* historians do not question the historicity of Jesus"
is not technically a "no true Scotsman." It is an assertion that is not accompanied by supporting argument and data. (And it can seem circular if we are saying legitimacy means believing in the historicity of Christ.) If we call this a "no true Scotsman", we forever ban the use of simple qualifying adjectives by designating that use to be a fallacy.

If someone found a legitimate historian (however we might define legitimate; I think BB did earlier in his post)who did not believe in Christ and we countered by saying:
"Well no sane, legitimate historian would deny the existence of Jesus", suggesting that the cited historian is not sane, then this statement would be a "no true Scotsman".

-- Neo

Casey Wollberg said...

"Also, I can't imagine why one would think that the act of pointing out that an idea happened to be a minority opinion would be considered an ad hominem attack. Now, if I opined that the people who held a certain opinion all smelled like bananas, that would be an ad hominem attack."

No. Ad hominem means "to the man," i.e., an argument toward the person rather than toward the opposing argument. It isn't an insult, it's pretending to address an argument by pointing out some characteristic of the person making the argument--in this case, the person's supposed "legitimacy" as a historian. You have not addressed the arguments of those who attempt to make the case against a historical Jesus. Without even mentioning what the arguments are, you wave them away with a no true Scotsman, of the form, "no legitimate historian."

Corky: "If I say, "you are an idiot", that's ad hominem."

Again, no. "You are an idiot," is an insult, not ad hominem. If you said, "you are an idiot," in the place of a real argument, then it would be ad hominem. The strategy behind ad hominem is to dismiss an argument without addressing it, by saying something uncharitable about the person making the argument. This is what Bob did, unfortunately.

Ralph said...

Neo, you make yet another good point. As the "no true scotsman" argument is presented by Antony Flew, a man hears that a number of peope have been brutally murdered in Scotland, and he says, "no scotsman would do such a thing".

The next day, he hears that a scotsman has been captured and confessed, and he then says "no true scotsman would do such a thing".

If a historian denies the existence of Jesus, that wouldn't make him a "true" historian nor would it make him a "false" historian, since the evidence is still inconclusive. It would simply make him a historian who bases his judgement on the evidence available.

OTOH, if conclusive evidence were found that confirmed/denied the existence of Jesus, then his denial of the facts would logically make him a "false" historian. One then could logically say "no true historian would deny/confirm the existence of Jesus" based on the clinching evidence.

So, this is not a "no true scotsman" scenario. It is merely a disagreement among professed experts on that which remains inconclusive.

Which brings us to another level of the argument: why the necessity to believe in that which cannot be proven certainly either way?

Casey Wollberg said...

"Obviously there are other criteria for determining veracity of an idea or potential fact, but if all of our posts were required to include every possible factor and disclaimer, only lawyers would be posting here."

Bob, it doesn't take a lawyer to address particular arguments directly. If the arguments are so weak, then why must we avoid them and make an appeal to authority instead? Either they have merit or they don't, regardless of who is making them.

After all, we aren't talking about rocket science here. You can review all the relevant material in a single sitting (there isn't much evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus, and the debate is a relatively small one), and it doesn't take any special scientific knowledge or technical expertise to examine the claims. Just logic.

Casey Wollberg said...

Ralph: "So, this is not a "no true scotsman" scenario. It is merely a disagreement among professed experts on that which remains inconclusive."

No, no, no. I claimed that BOB made a no true Scotsman assertion when he claimed that "no legitimate historian" argues against the existence of a historical Jesus. That *is* a no true Scotsman fallacy.

"If someone found a legitimate historian (however we might define legitimate; I think BB did earlier in his post)who did not believe in Christ and we countered by saying:
"Well no sane, legitimate historian would deny the existence of Jesus", suggesting that the cited historian is not sane, then this statement would be a "no true Scotsman"."

Uh, no. That is not the definition of a no true Scotsman fallacy. It has nothing to do with the specific charge we lay at the metaphorical Scotsman in question. The problem with a no true Scotsman is that it is a form of ad hominem: "No legitimate historian would say that, thus we can dismiss the arguments at hand on that basis." We can't do that. As a rule, we have to examine the arguments regardless of who makes them, otherwise we are being perfectly irrational.

Look at how this went down, and compare it to the correct definition of the fallacy that Ralph provided; they match perfectly. Bob says historians don't argue against a historical Jesus...then he says, well, some do, but they're on the "fringe," so no "legitimate" historian argues against a historical Jesus. It's a classic no true Scotsman.

Byker Bob said...

In your mind, and by your rules, Casey. I hope you aren't implying that your own paridigms are somehow universal. Frankly, if they were all that simple, strong, and convincing, your side would have "won" eons ago, and we wouldn't even be having this discussion.


Byker Bob said...

I guess Congress and the Supreme Court are ad hominem, then. We have the majority and minority parties, and opinion, and dissenting opinion.

I see extreme examples of ad hominem as being undesirable or bad, but not all examples. It's all part of the human discernment thing.

It's been my observation that people use this term in several ways. First, it's an accusation used in derailing an argument, causing someone to need to drop everything to defend. Accusing someone of an ad hominem attack is often, in and of itself, an ad hominem attack. I'm not saying necessarily that this next usage was your intention, but I've also seen it used as one of a handful of phrases meant to assert or imply superior intelligence. The phrase "quantum physics" is often used in a similar manner in discussions.


Casey Wollberg said...

"In your mind, and by your rules, Casey. I hope you aren't implying that your own paridigms are somehow universal."

So--I made up the rules of logic, and they only work in my mind? Listen, I said nothing expressing any opinion, and I made no mention of any paradigms. If you were to look up the fallacies I was talking about you would see what I mean. I'm not trying to grind you down, Bob; I'm just trying to help maintain the clarity here. Haven't we all had enough misrepresentation of the facts in our lives? Enough bad logic?

"Frankly, if they were all that simple, strong, and convincing, your side would have "won" eons ago, and we wouldn't even be having this discussion."

My side? This isn't a contest. Is it? I'm just interested in what the truth is, and in maintaining intellectual integrity for the purpose of getting at it. You have to be aware that a lot of people believe things without adequately examining the evidence for and against. Their reluctance to do so often involves the kind of logical fallacies you were using.

Ralph said...

Basically, any attempt to prove something by appeal to authority, "no legitimate historian would make such a claim" is a form of the ad hominem fallacy. It is an argument directed "to the man" instead of the facts of the argument itself.

For example, the blogger who challenged my legitimacy by asserting that I must be a military experiment gone bad. That is ad hominem, useless in proving any point logically, since the statement is either true or false by its own flaw or merit.

Did Jesus exist? I don't know, and no legitimate historian would know, or claim otherwise, based on the evidence.

The assertion of something as fact, with no confirming evidence, and then saying "no legitimate historian would deny this" is a no true scotsman. I don't think it was your intention, BB, to insist that we MUST believe Jesus existed.

BB you say that sometimes saying something is an ad hominem attack is a form of ad hominem attack, that may have aplications. Purple hymnal uses this strategy against me often without citing specific examples. But by simply making the general accusation without specifics is a form of ad hominem.

Ad hominem is basically an argument "to the man" rather than to the statement itself. "You can't be right, because you're an idiot". It can take many subtle forms, but it is often applied within the general category of "ad hominem fallacy".

A "no true scotsman" is a form of the ad hominem argument because it seeks to justify "the man" no matter the statement made. Rather than an attack, it justifies the person who provides the conclusion agreeing with your own.

Now, is the Supreme Court ad hominem? Oh yes. The "legal tender cases" could be considered a form of ad hominem, because it used the Constitution itself to ensure "sovereignty" to legalize legal tender, even though there was no evidence given for such an act. "The man" in this case was the constitution, and the constitution was used in justification of itself. "No legitimate sovereign constitution would make such a claim" that money could not be legal tender.

Divine right of constitutions.

Your response to Casey might be considered a form of ad hominem.

Actually ad hominem in all its forms, when trying to demonstrate a logical conclusion, is bad. There is no place for ad hominem fallacy in logical discussions. It is bad because it is useless to prove the truth or falsehood of a statement.

Casey Wollberg said...

"I guess Congress and the Supreme Court are ad hominem, then. We have the majority and minority parties, and opinion, and dissenting opinion."

You lost me there, Bob. Again, it is very simple. Ad hominem is this, and only this: speaking about the person making the argument in such a way as to cast doubt on the argument, without actually addressing the argument itself. There is a reason why this is considered fallacious: it is illogical. Simple. You shouldn't do it if you want to be logical. That's not my rule, that's just plain old everyday standard logic. And you committed that fallacy because you made the perfectly arguable claim that some historians are more authoritative than others--but then you went on to claim that the arguments of some should be dismissed because of who they are--namely, those who don't agree with the conclusion you like. It's terrible logic, it's ad hominem and circular. You would have only narrowly escaped my criticism if you had stayed with a borderline appeal to authority (since that is a debatable position). But the claim that an innocent argument can be safely dismissed merely by dint of where it came from, via a no true Scotsman fallacy, is not debatable. Sorry. It is perfectly illogical. And you are misleading people by it. People may very well think, "Well, why should I examine those arguments myself, since this Byker Bob guy says they're wrong?" That's the impression they can get, even though you didn't say the arguments were wrong--since you didn't even present them or address them--you painted them as not worth our time by smearing their proponents with your ex cathedra pronouncement of their inferiority as historians. And on what grounds? Because they supposedly take a minority view. As though it were that simple (and you know it is not). And those are not sufficient grounds. How much would you like to wager against my ability to provide references to well-respected (since that is what you claim is the most important thing in this instance) historians who make the very arguments you have dismissed so unfairly and illogically?

Casey Wollberg said...

Sorry, I forgot to break into paragraphs. And Ralph beat me to the punch and got it right. And also, thanks to Ralph, now I get what you were going for with the comment I quoted.

Listen, for full disclosure, I'm an atheist. I haven't come to this position lightly or without long and deep consideration of the relevant arguments. It is definitely not an emotional response to anything. It is serious.

Now it seems you, Bob, don't take atheism very seriously. But I think you need to, and I won't be shy about making my case whenever it comes up. I hope that's okay with you. All that said, I love your anti-Armstrongist stance; I'm right with you on that one.

Casey Wollberg said...

More disclosure, by the way, I don't necessarily accept all the arguments against a historical Jesus; I just don't think they should be rejected out of hand. I'm in agreement with Ralph, basically. There are good arguments on both sides of the question--and there are bad arguments on both sides of the question. And I can make that judgment by examining the arguments themselves, without reference to the fact that on the supporting side are almost to a man Biblical scholars and Christian historians. Bias, after all, is something one must look for in arguments, not in people, when considering arguments.

Byker Bob said...


If you were to develop some personal skills, people might look more favorably on your opinions.

You do seem to have that whole flamboyance thing going on, but frankly, if this were a ship, and we were in an emergency situation, we'd probably have to get our resident Marine to knock you out until after we'd handled the emergency.

Where the heck did you come from, anyway?


Ralph said...

I like Casey, and he does have the flamboyant thing going, but look at what I had to deal with just for saying I happen to believe in God.

We need people like Casey who are willing to roll up their sleeves and provide some logical argument.

I have to give him this, at least: Casey doesn't go around relying on ad hominem, and he tries to identify the ad hominem flaws. We need that kind of discipline if we're to accomplish anything.

Casey Wollberg said...

@ Bobby:

You're pretty good with that ad hominem gun. Not interested in addressing my arguments? Not even a little? Wonder why.

"If you were to develop some personal skills, people might look more favorably on your opinions."

What opinions? And I think the term you were going for is "inter-personal skills." Trust me, I've got mad "personal skills." Meanwhile, if you were to develop some cogent arguments, people might look more favorably on your positions.

"You do seem to have that whole flamboyance thing going on..."

Really? What "flamboyance thing" would you be referring to? Typing?

"but frankly, if this were a ship, and we were in an emergency situation, we'd probably have to get our resident Marine to knock you out until after we'd handled the emergency."

Wow. Talk about left-field. You're not harboring any campy fantasies, are you, Bob?

"Where the heck did you come from, anyway?"

A common ancestor with chimpanzees. You?

Retired Prof said...

Ralph says we need discipline if we're going to accomplish anything.

Come on, Ralph. People in widely separated locations sitting alone in front of computer screens tapping on keyboards? What hope do we have of accomplishing anything?

Anything other than alleviating a little of the tedium that pervades this dreary interval between birth and death, I mean.

(That sounds pretty gloomy, but I say it in good cheer. I loves me some alleviation of tedium.)

Casey Wollberg said...

@ Ralph:

Thanks. That was reasonable of you. But you need to work a little on your flamboyance. Maybe toss in a few big, flowery phrases here and there; spice up your monologue with some rhetorical questions; that kind of thing.

Ralph said...

Retired Prof, back when I was the editor publisher of that worldwide economics discussion group, we used to talk about "opne door policy" and trying to see others from their own views and seeking consensus.

Frankly, I've never been big on consensus, and we didn;t get it there. But we did generate some independent types who wrote books based on what we did discover, and one or two of them are recognized as authorities now. Who knows, we might make one of these guys some money.

Ralph said...

Casey, I have no problems with atheists or christians, as long as they know their place. :)

I might be the resident marine, and I used to get such jollies from knocking people out.

Oh, the stories I can tell.

Casey Wollberg said...

By the way, after further research, I have discovered that you are basically right, only in that all those I could find supporting the non-historicity theory are actually not historians at all; the majority are philosophers. And it really is a "fringe" view in that regard (which isn't saying much).

On the other hand, all (that's 100%) of the fifteen or so historians I found who support the mainstream view are not secular historians, but Christian Biblical scholars, most of whom happened to have been historians by profession. And I notice several instances of bias in their most acclaimed arguments.

Other rather more convincing rebuttals of non-historicity are to be had once you've waded through all the inane, illogical bullshit surely deriving from religious conviction and a devotion to Christian apologetics. The decent arguments have to do with how the work of historians is "done," or regarding problems with the various non-historicity theories themselves.

I conclude, along with the venerable Dawkins, that Jesus may not have existed, but he probably did--as a man, nothing more (certainly not a writer). Another in a long tradition of pretenders to the title of Messiah. Historical or not, it is an interesting but insignificant debate.

Ralph said...

Casey, I agtree with Dawkins' statements, but further argue that his concept of the 'genetic replicative algorithm" actually support the word attributed to Jesus and Paul, but actually destroys the authority of christianity.

Hoffer points out the basic flaw of christianity and other mass religions. All of them, wrote Hoffer, however different the holy causes they die for, "they perhaps die basically for the same thing".

Further, in describing the proselytizing zeal, Hoffer wrote, "Proselytizing is more a passionate search for something not yet found than a desire to bestow upon the world something we alrready have."

What Hoffer identified corresponds to Dawkin' later definition of the genetic replicative algorithm.

Whatever we seek to do in terms of collective justice tends toward greater centralization, organization, and redu ction of differences, simply because the gene, in order to replicate, will seek to limit changes in its immediate environment.

Christianity never had anything to dow ith truth that brings freedom.

Allen C. Dexter said...

Prof, I agree ... Come on, Ralph. People in widely separated locations sitting alone in front of computer screens tapping on keyboards? What hope do we have of accomplishing anything? ... I loves me some alleviation of tedium.)

We aren't going to accomplish much as far as changing the world, but we do help an occasional refugee see things a little more clearly and realize they aren't all alone in the world.

The main benefit is to ourselves. We can say what's on our minds and share with others who are recovering. I think that's important. It has also helped me appreciate the many differences of opinion and the thinking and pasions behind them.

Ralph said...

Allen, that is my point. See my statement above your own.

The question is, even assuming there is a God, does it actually benefit the world to orgaize and seek to change it?

We all did that with all our hearts in the WCG, and look what happened. Our thinking on this matter is ass backward. The only person you can change to any meaningful degree is you.

You have already pointed out that a lesson learned from the HWA experience is to stand up for yourself and take no crap.

here is the basic point, God or no God: in mathematics, we know from Godel's theorem that any attempt to combine truth into one formal system will not only fail, but will result in an infinity of undecidable propositions.

Law operates according to an analogue of that principle. The attempt to reconcile truth about human behavior in one system will not only fail , but will result in continual splintering toward individuation.

Look at the WCG splinter groups, and look at professing christianity in general. The more freedom they claim to follow "God", the more theyt splinter into individual awareness.

Hoffer has already documented the results of mass movements that seek to make the world a better place to live. It results in that old military malady called FUBAR or SNAFU.

I watched a program on "Nova" the other nioght, and psychologists have suddeenly discovered that in regard to economic decisions, there is a tendency toward "bubbles", driving a price up beyond market value and collapsing of its own weight.

Well, duh.

We've realized that in economics since the days of Adam Smith. That's what free market competition and the idea of states' rights under the constitution was all about.

There will always be bubbles followed by collapses, but the more diversity there, the smaler the bubble, the less damage done.

The bible refers to this principle as "leavening", the growth and spreading of a system until it collapses of its own weight. That also parallels entropy, the greater organization in one area, the greater the creation of chaos in related areas, since we must borrow energy from those other areas.

That is the reason for Matthew 10:34-38, and Romans 8:7. The more people seek ultimate truth, the more they are forced to look at themselves.

Might call that predestination of a sort.

Casey Wollberg said...

Okay, Ralph, now I think I'm starting to get it. It's an interesting concept that I'll have to think about some more. Thanks for the explanation.

Ralph said...

Casey, to me the whole thing was like a slap in the face once I "grokked" it. Utter simplicity.