Sunday, August 27, 2017

Nephite Hymns

Just like every other culture in the world the Nephites had their own songs and would sing as a form of religious observance. In the Book of Mormon there are several references to singing (see Mosiah 2:28, Mosiah 18:30, Alma 5:9, Alma 26:8, Moroni 6:9). Except perhaps the psalm of Nephi, there is nothing obviously set apart as a hymn, but there is no indication that Nephi's psalm was used as a hymn in the Nephite church.

So what were the hymns sung by the Nephites? It is possible that they used some of the psalms found in our Old Testament, though they may not have had the Davidic psalms. Still, there are two places where Mormon records that the Nephites sang, and Mormon may have recorded at the very least the names of the hymns sung.

Just a few years before Jesus visited the Nephites they were engaged in a massive war with the Gadianton Robbers. After the final victorious battle with the robbers the Nephites took the leader of the Gadiantons and executed him. At this point Mormon records,
"And when they had hanged him until he was dead they did fell the tree to the earth, and did cry with a loud voice, saying: May the Lord preserve his people in righteousness and in holiness of heart, that they may cause to be felled to the earth all who shall seek to slay them because of power and secret combinations, even as this man hath been felled to the earth. And they did rejoice and cry again with one voice, saying: May the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, protect this people in righteousness, so long as they shall call on the name of their God for protection. And it came to pass that they did break forth, all as one, in singing, and praising their God for the great thing which he had done for them, in preserving them from falling into the hands of their enemies. Yea, they did cry: Hosanna to the Most High God. And they did cry: Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty, the Most High God." (3 Nephi 4:28-32)
Here Mormon reports the words that were said and then mentions that "they did cry", "Hosanna to the Most High God" and "Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty, the Most High God". While it is certainly possibly that the multitude did yell out those phrases, it is more likely that those phrases refer to the names of specific hymns that were sung. In fact the previous verse explicitly mentions that they were singing.

For example, if I were to say, "Today in church we proclaimed together High on the Mountain Top and The Spirit of God", that would not mean everyone in the congregation said in unison the exact words "high on the mountain top, the spirit of God", but that everyone pulled out their hymn books and sang together hymn number 5 and hymn number 2.

A similar possibility exists for "Hosanna to the Most High God" and "Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty, the Most High God". Those very well may be the names of common hymns known by the Nephites.

Interestingly, in this context if the word translated as "cry" refers to singing, then that means we have the complete text of two short Nephite hymns. The first, apparently written for the occasion, being,
"May the Lord preserve his people in righteousness and in holiness of heart, that they may cause to be felled to the earth all who shall seek to slay them because of power and secret combinations, even as this man hath been felled to the earth."
And the second,
"May the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, protect this people in righteousness, so long as they shall call on the name of their God for protection."
From the perspective of our culture these are not what we normally would think of as typical subject matter for hymns, but these are Nephites we are talking about, not European Christians.

With this in mind we can look at other parts of the Book of Mormon and find three additional possible Nephite hymns. In response to King Benjamin's address his people "all cried aloud with one voice" and together said (or sang),
"O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men."
And then later they said (or sang),
"Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things. And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy. And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God."
As some critics have pointed out it is unrealistic for people to spontaneously say the same words in unison, but this trouble is mitigated if these words were sung to a tune that everyone was familiar with. This may seem odd to us, but singing is one way to get everyone to repeat the same words in unison.

The third possibility is found in 3 Nephi 11. When Jesus came to visit the Nephites Mormon records,
"And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying: Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him."
This leads us to another possible title to a Nephite hymn, "Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God!" So this gives us possible titles of three hymns and the text for four.

Interestingly enough this leads us to another event that may record the songs sung. When Jesus had his triumphal entry into Jerusalem shortly before his crucifixion the Book of Matthew records that,
"A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,"
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
While we might assume that the crowd was shouting these three phrases over and over, based on what we learned from the Book of Mormon, the crowd that gathered to accompany Jesus into Jerusalem may have had three songs or psalms that they were singing. In fact, the second of the three is a line that comes from Psalm 118. So we may not be able to positively identify the other two, but the crowd following Jesus and spreading palm branches in his way was possibly singing Psalm 118.

What makes this even more interesting is that the Book of Matthew was written to a Jewish audience. So the author would have assumed that those who read it would be familiar with Jewish hymns (psalms), including Psalm 118. Thus mentioning that the crowd sang Psalm 118 would have brought the words of it to the minds of those reading the story, and they would have immediately seen the connection when just a few verses later,
"Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
    the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’[h]?"
Some times we reference hymns and the words we say carry extra weight because of the hymn they are associated with. But these subtle references are lost if we are not familiar with the songs they came from. Although we may not know all the hymns sung by believers from a previous era we can catch glimpses of them if we look. When we do find them it adds richness to the context from which we get the scriptures. The people become more alive and more real. The structure of authors' words begins to make sense. The subtle connections become clear, and we begin to see it through their eyes.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Viewing the 2017 Eclipse Safely

[As part of my university's public outreach I was asked to write an article for the local news about how the safely view the eclipse. After a few revisions through the PR department this is the article that went out.]

As viewing a total solar eclipse is a once in a lifetime opportunity, it is important to prepare to safely view the eclipse. While a total solar eclipse is safe to view without a filter, it will only last one or two minutes. Leading up to the total eclipse the moon will only partially cover the sun. Even with 99% of the sun covered by the moon, the visible portion of the sun is bright enough to cause damage to an unprotected eye. Both before and after the total eclipse, or if outside the path of totality, it is still possible to view safely as long as the sun’s light is properly filtered.
Image from NASA.
There are four manufacturers whose handheld filters and eclipse glasses are confirmed to meet the international standard (ISO 12312-2) for safely viewing the sun.
American Paper Optics
TSE 17
Thousand Oaks Optical
Rainbow Symphony

These filters should transmit less than 0.001% of the visible light of the sun. They should also block all harmful UV rays. Normal sunglasses, even polarized sunglasses, do not provide enough protection to safely view a partial eclipse. If you can see any light through the filter in a brightly lit room it will not provide enough protection. A welder’s mask or googles with a shade number 14 can provide enough protection to safely view the eclipse.

If you plan on viewing the eclipse through binoculars or a telescope, you must take extra precautions since the lenses will significantly increase the intensity of the light, which can cause severe and permanent damage to your eyes. Securely fasten the filter on the end pointed at the sun. If the filter is placed after the lenses, the sun’s rays may burn through the filter leaving you unprotected. The filter should always come first. Check carefully that filters are firmly in place, unbroken, and unscratched before looking through a telescope or binoculars.

When viewing the sun directly, always remember, filter first. A good practice is to place the filter or solar glasses in front of your eyes before turning to view the sun. The filter should be in place before looking at the sun. Then turn away from the sun before removing the filter. If using binoculars or a telescope, the filter should come first. The sun’s light should pass through the filter first, and then through the lens of the binoculars or telescope.

A much more common way of viewing an eclipse is indirectly by projecting an image of the sun onto a white piece of paper or a flat surface. The easiest indirect method is called the “pinhole method”. Simply punch a small hole in a piece of paper or cardboard, hold it up and let the light through the pinhole project onto another piece of paper or any flat surface. Bringing the two pieces of paper closer together will make the image brighter, moving them away from each other will make the image larger, but dimmer. The smaller the hole the sharper the image will be. Note, never look at the sun through the pinhole! This is only useful for indirectly viewing the eclipse.

A similar method can be used to view a magnified image of the eclipse. Using a pair of binoculars, a telescope, a magnifying glass, or any lens, you can focus a magnified image of the sun onto any flat surface. It is recommended that you use a stand or tripod to hold the binoculars or lens to make it easier to focus the image. You will need to adjust the distance between the lens and the flat surface until a round image of the sun appears. If the light is focused into a single point then the lens is too close to the flat surface. Note, never look at the sun through a lens without a filter in place.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Frank Cannon and the Three Principles of the Church

This is an excerpt from the book Under the Prophet in Utah by former US Senator from Utah, Frank J. Cannon (with extensive help from co-author Harvey J. O'Higgins), the son of LDS apostle George Q. Cannon. This book was written in 1911 many years after Frank Cannon had left the church and after several years as the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune where he wrote extensively against the church and its policies. What is interesting is the first hand accounts of some of the crucial deliberations among church leaders about the decision to discontinue the practice of polygamy. This excerpt contains a conversation between Frank and his father George, who at the time was a councilor to President Wilford Woodruff. It gives an account of what President Cannon thought was the important work of the church and how it would prove the salvation of the country.

Keep in mind the time that this was written. There are certain words, such as socialism and communism, that carry significant weight now because of significant historical events in the 20th century. This happened before any of that. Also keep in mind that Frank Cannon was a strong proponent of a certain brand of political thought that has no direct equivalent in our current political discourse, though it shares certain words and emphasis with some parts of our current politics.

The closest analogue we have today is libertarianism, which, to reduce it to something woefully simplistic, is to always take position against government in order to preserve personal liberties. Frank Cannon's approach was to always take a position in favor of government in order to preserve personal liberties. This necessitated removing all outside influence from government, whether from corporations, banks, businesses, unions, or churches. It is a position almost entirely missing from current political discourse, and one that can easily be misunderstood.

By 1911 the political party that Frank Cannon had been associated with was disbanded. The party was founded on the ideas of social liberalism and anti-Mormonism (keep in mind that those terms are currently loaded with additional ideas that were not present in 1911). It is in this context that the book was written specifically to attempt to disrupt the political influence of the church in Utah. It was a very different time, very different circumstances, and a very different recent history, though we can see similarities to our situation today.


********************************

[George Q. Cannon] talked a few minutes, affectionately, about family matters, and then—straightening his shoulders to the burden of more gravity—he said: "I have sent for you, my son, to see if you cannot find some way to help us in our difficulties. I have made it a matter of prayer, and I have been led to urge you to activity. You have never performed a Mission for the Church, and I have sometimes wondered if you cared anything about your religion. You have never obeyed the celestial covenant, and you have kept yourself aloof from the duties of the priesthood, but it may have been a providential overruling. I have talked with some of the brethren, and we feel that if relief does not soon appear, our community will be scattered and the great work crushed. The Lord can rescue us, but we must put forth our own efforts. Can you see any light?"

I replied that I had already been in Washington twice, on my own initiative, conferring with some of his Congressional friends. "I am still," I said, "of the opinion I expressed to you and President Taylor four years ago. Plural marriage must be abandoned or our friends in Washington will not defend us." Four years before, when I had offered that opinion, President Taylor had cried out: "No! Plural marriage is the will of God! It's apostasy to question it!" And I paused now with the expectation that my father would say something of this sort. But, as I was afterwards to observe, it was part of his diplomacy, in conference, to pass the obvious opportunity of replying, and to remain silent when he was expected to speak, so that he might not be in the position of following the lead of his opponent's argument, but rather, by waiting his own time, be able to direct the conversation to his own purposes. He listened to me, silently, his eyes fixed on my face.

"Senator Vest of Missouri," I went on, "has always been a strong opponent of what he considered unconstitutional legislation against us, but he tells me he'll no longer oppose proscription if we continue in an attitude of defiance. He says you're putting yourselves beyond assistance, by organized rebellion against the administration of the statutes.' And I continued with instances of others among his friends who had spoken to the same purpose.

When I had done, he took what I had said with a gesture that at once accepted and for the moment dismissed it; and he proceeded to a larger consideration of the situation, in words which I cannot pretend to recall, but to an effect which I wish to outline—because it not only accounts for the preservation of the Mormon people from all their dangers, but contains a reason why the world might have wished to see them preserved.

The Mormons at this time had never written a line on social reform—except as the so-called "revelations" established a new social order—but they had practiced whole volumes. Their community was founded on the three principles of co-operation, contribution, and arbitration. By co-operation of effort they had realized that dream of the Socialists, "equality of opportunity"—not equality of individual capacity, which the accidents of nature prevent, but an equal opportunity for each individual to develop himself to the last reach of his power. By contribution—by requiring each man to give one-tenth of his income to a common fund—they had attained the desired end of modern civilization, the abolition of poverty, and had adjusted the straps of the community burden to the strength of the individual to bear it. By arbitration, they had effected the settlement of every dispute of every kind without litigation; for their High Councils decided all sorts of personal or neighborhood disputes without expense of money to the disputants. The "storehouse of the Lord" had been kept open to fill every need of the poor among "God's people," and opportunities for self-help had been created out of the common fund, so that neither unwilling idleness nor privation might mar the growth of the community or the progress of the individual. But Joseph Smith had gone further. Daring to believe himself the earthly representative of Omnipotence, whose duty it was to see that all had the rights to which he thought them entitled, and assuming that a woman's chief right was that of wifehood and maternity, he had instituted the practice of plural marriage, as a "Prophet of God," on the authority of a direct revelation from the Almighty. It was upon this rock that the whole enterprise, the whole experiment in religious communism, now threatened to split. Not that polygamy was so large an incident in the life of the community—for only a small proportion of the Mormons were living in plural marriage. And not that this practice was the cardinal sin of Mormonism—for among intelligent men, then as now, the great objection to the Church was its assumption of a divine authority to hold the "temporal power," to dictate in politics, to command action and to acquit of responsibility. But polygamy was the offence against civilization which the opponents of Mormonism could always cite in order to direct against the Church the concentrated antagonism of the governments of the Western world. And my father, in authorizing me to proceed to Washington as a sort of ambassador of the Church, evidently wished to impress upon me the larger importance of the value of the social experiment which the Mormons had, to this time, so successfully advanced.

"It would be a cruel waste of human effort," he said, "if, after having attained comfort in these valleys—established our schools of art and science—developed our country and founded our industries—we should now be destroyed as a community, and the value of our experience lost to the world. We have a right to survive. We have a duty to survive. It would be to the profit of the nation that we should survive."

But in order to survive, it was necessary to obtain some immediate mitigation of the enforcement of the laws against us. The manner in which they were being enforced was making compromise impossible, and the men who administered them stood in the way of getting a favorable hearing from the powers of government that alone could authorize a compromise. It was necessary to break this circle; and my father went over the names of the men in Washington who might help us. I could marvel at his understanding of these men and their motives, but we came to no plan of action until I spoke of what had been with me a sort of forlorn hope that I might appeal to President Cleveland himself.

My father said thoughtfully: "What influence could you, a Republican, have with him? It's true that your youth may make an appeal—and the fact that you're pleading for your relatives, while not yourself a polygamist. But he would immediately ask us to abandon plural marriage, and that is established by a revelation from God which we cannot disregard. Even if the Prophet directed us, as a revelation from God, to abandon polygamy, still the nation would have further cause for quarrel because of the Church's temporal rule. No. I can make no promise. I can authorize no pledge. It must be for the Prophet of God to say what is the will of the Lord. You must see President Woodruff, and after he has asked for the will of the Lord I shall be content with his instruction."

Now, I do not wish to say—though I did then believe it—that the First Councillor of the Mormon Church was prepared to have the doctrine of plural marriage abandoned in order to have the people saved. It is impossible to predicate the thoughts of a man so diplomatic, so astute, and at the same time so deeply religious and so credulous of all the miracles of faith. He did believe in Divine guidance. He was sincere in his submission to the "revelations" of the Prophet. But, in the complexity of the mind of man, even such a faith may be complicated with the strategies of foresight, and the priest who bows devoutly to the oracle may yet, even unconsciously, direct the oracle to the utterance of his desire. And if my father was—as I suspected—considering a recession from plural marriage, he had as justification the basic "revelation," given through "Joseph the Prophet," commanding that the people should hold themselves in subjection to the government under which they lived, "until He shall come Whose right it is to rule."

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Please Don't Point Out Logical Fallacies

Pointing out logical fallacies is pointless. Though it is useful to study logical fallacies so that you can analyze your own thinking and make adjustments, but to point out the logical fallacies in someone else's thinking is entirely counter productive.

If you are in a disagreement with someone, by definition they do no view you as an authority on the subject and thus they are unlikely to accept your analysis of whether or not their thought process is fallacious or not. The reason why they think the thoughts they do is because they think their thought process is right, and no one likes to be told they are wrong.

The whole reason why they are disagreeing with you in the first place is because they think your thought process is out of order. So if you attempt to point out an error in their thinking they are not disposed to begin an introspective analysis of their thinking. Almost by definition, your thinking is in error, so any attempt to point out an error in their thinking will be rejected immediately. Thus it is pointless and counter productive to point out the fallacies in someone else's thinking.

This does not mean that you never point out logical fallacies, just do not expect the person you are critiquing to respond positively. It is also justified for certain egregious misuses of logic and reasoning, but not as a tool to convince those afflicted, but to warn those who are unconvinced and can be swayed by your reason, that is, those who have not taken a position yet.

But it is a very good idea to study logical fallacies so that you can improve your own thinking. A good place to start is by analyzing what other people say and see if you can pick out the logical fallacies. First start with arguments you disagree with. Those are the easiest. Next you move to arguments you have no opinion about one way or the other. This allows you to dispassionately assess the arguments. When you are comfortable with those you can move on to arguments that you naturally agree with. Those are the hardest arguments to analyze, with the exception of your own arguments. It takes a lot of humility to analyze your own thinking for fallacies.

Some good fallacies to start with are perhaps the most famous ones such as ad hominem, slippery slope, or the post hoc fallacy. Once you can identify fallacies in arguments that you already disagree with, then you can try moving on to something more difficult. Just remember that pointing out a fallacy in someone else's argument is (almost) never productive. I can think of one, and only one, case when I pointed out someone's fallacious thinking and it actually made an impact on them, and they admitted that I "got them" and for a moment their defenses were down and I was talking to a human being. Unfortunately it did not last.

Remember the point of studying fallacies is to eventually analyze your own thoughts and learn to remove fallacious thinking. When you do that then you can begin to build convincing arguments that can sway people to your position.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Why did Nephi pray?

In response to my post on Laman and Lemuel my mother asked, "Why did Nephi pray?" In my previous post I explained that, based on the culture of the time, Laman and Lemuel may not have considered it proper to pray to ask God to know something. It would have been more in keeping with their culture to seek out a seer, or someone with an item used for divination. Without a seer to answer their questions the only valid way of understanding prophecy would be to figure it out through reason. When reason was inadequate they had no way of gaining further insight into revelation from God.

When we approach the story we usually take note of Laman and Lemuel's failure to pray and identify with Nephi's apparent natural understanding about the role of prayer in revelation. But when we consider Nephi's reaction to his father's vision we have to keep in mind that not only are we reading it through our cultural lens, but also we are reading the version of the story that Nephi wrote many years later. By the time he wrote his story Nephi may have been much more comfortable with praying to receive knowledge through revelation, but it may not have been that way at the time.

We can deduce that there was one particular scripture that impacted how Nephi viewed revelation and prayer because he quoted it to Laman and Lemuel. In 1 Nephi 15:11 Nephi says,
"Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you."
This verse was evidently on the brass plates, but is not found in our Old Testament. We do not know when Nephi first encountered this verse, but it may have only been read by Lehi and his family just a few days before. In retelling this story many years later, Nephi carefully incorporates this verse into his exchange with his brothers (see how verse 10 sets up how verse 11 applies to the situation). But at the time Nephi may have only recently learned of that verse, and much like Joseph Smith with James 1:5, took it seriously. The same verse may not have had the same impact, or even been noticed by Laman and Lemuel.

But in 1 Nephi 11:20-21, Nephi mentions that his brothers were humbled and began to ask sincere questions. They must have found that verse convincing, but that would also mean that they were not familiar with it, so Nephi must have also just learned that verse when they acquired the brass plates.

So why did Nephi pray? He did it because he read the scriptures and found out that he could. It is "obvious" to us now, and it was obvious to Nephi later in life, but at the time it was a new thing.

Monday, July 10, 2017

What happened to the Church of Scotland?

What has happened to the Church of Scotland? I don't mean what is happening to it now, because it is obvious that whatever happened, happened years ago and just now we are seeing the effects.

A recent article from the BBC has the slightly misleading headline, "Religious affiliation in Scotland 'declines sharply'". The title explicitly points to a decrease in the number of Scots who self identify as members of a church. The apparent conclusion is that religion in general in the country is becoming less important. But if we dig into the data we get a slightly different picture.

Right off the bat the article notes that since 1999 the percentage of people reporting "no religion" has increased from 40% to 58%. This definitely makes it look like religion in general is struggling in Scotland. But not until the end of the article do we find out that as a percentage of the overall population all other religions or Christian denominations have remained constant. Within statistical uncertainty there has been no change for everyone other than the Church of Scotland (the Kirk). The entire increase in people reporting "no religion" is driven by former members of the Kirk.

It is interesting to note that while the other denominations are not picking up those leaving the Kirk, their membership is keeping pace with population growth. They may have a hard time bringing in new converts but they are not in the state of crisis seen in the Kirk. From the data the number of people who self identify as members of the Kirk has decreased by a half since 1999. If half the members of the church of Scotland chose to leave in 18 years while all other religions and denominations have continued to grow, albeit at the rate of population growth, then that indicates that there is, or was, something about the Church of Scotland that resulted in this sudden drop that was not present in other denominations and religions.

This kind of thing does not just happen overnight, or even in just a few years. In order for there to be this dramatic of a decrease over the last 20 years means that the seeds of this crisis were sown long ago. That is why at the beginning I said that it is not happening now but happened years ago.

So there was something about the culture or the teachings of the Church of Scotland that brought it to this crisis. I do not have enough insight or data to determine how it got to this point. But it is also interesting to note that there is data that shows that similar trends hold for the church of England. Since 1983 the number of people in England who self report as Anglican has dropped from 40% to 17%, while the number of non-religious has climbed from 31% to 48%. The proportion of people from other Christian denominations have remained roughly constant, with some fluctuation, but the number of non-Christians has climbed from 2% to 8%.

But this is not isolated data. I recently read an article from The West Australian entitled, "We’re losing our religion". This article followed the format set by the BBC article by noting that the number of people reporting "No Religion" has increased, but when we look at the data the same trend holds. The percentage of Anglicans has declined, while all other denominations have stayed the same (with the exception of Catholics, whose representation declined by 5% of the population).

So while there are definitely more people who self identify as having "No Religion" the vast majority have come from either the Church of Scotland or the Church of England. This massive shift in social attitudes definitely has put pressure on other denominations, but the data indicate that at least in Scotland, England and Australia, religion in general is not going away, just a particular form of it.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Ad Hominem Arguments vs. Ad Hominem Fallacies

In almost any internet debate there invariably comes a moment when someone will accuse another of using an ad hominem attack or argument. Unfortunately on the internet, any disagreement or attempt to disprove someone's argument is perceived as an attack on the person. But that fundamentally misunderstands what an ad hominem argument is. The key to identifying an ad hominem argument is to consider whether or not the response is responding to the original argument, or if it is ignoring the argument and responding directly to the source of the argument.

While it is common for people to mistakenly interpret an argument against their position as an attack on themselves, what is almost universally misunderstood is that not all ad hominem arguments are fallacious.

To put it simply, all ad hominem fallacies are ad hominem arguments, but not all ad hominem arguments are ad hominem fallacies.

What many people don't realize is that an ad hominem argument is a perfectly valid way of arguing. For example, say there was a video on the internet of someone dressed in University of Utah clothing giving a negative critique of BYU's football team. We could easily dismiss a negative argument about BYU football from the Ute fan based solely on the fact that they are a Ute fan, and not unbiased in their assessment of BYU football. Saying, "Well they are a Ute fan, so of course they will say that." is an ad hominem argument. It does not respond to what was said, but only attacks the person making the argument in order to undermine their argument. This can be a perfectly valid argument.

Now if the person in U of U clothing turned out to be the U of U football coach, then dismissing them as a Ute fan would turn the ad hominem argument into a fallacy. A football coach probably has a sound basis for his argument, and refusing to address his arguments would make it a fallacy.

Sound ad hominem arguments are used more frequently than people realize. Statements such as, "They are paid to say that." or, "They are an advocate for [blank] so of course they would say that." Looking at the source of an argument and dismissing it based solely on the source is an ad hominem argument. Whether or not it is a fallacy is another matter.

So despite what many people on the internet immediately assume, to be dismissive of someone because they lack the necessary expertise can be a valid argument, and is not automatically a fallacy. But if the argument is not considered at all you better have a good reason for dismissing the source and not considering the argument. If not you run the risk of committing an ad hominem fallacy in your argument.