Sunday, October 3, 2010

"If only 10% is true...": One thing to consider when presented with a host of arguments

This post grew out of my thoughts that I had when I was reading a post on the Mormanity blog. In the post the author, Jeff Lindsay, shares an experience that he had where someone he knew was struggling with her testimony about whether or not the Church was true. At one point she pointed to an anti-Mormon book and asked the question, "Even if only 10% of that book is true, that's enough to prove the Church is false." Jeff then went on to explain in the post the fallacy of quantity versus quality. Which is, mistaking the fact that there are a lot of arguments for the fact that the arguments are not valid. He explained that one of the common themes of anti-Mormon literature is they always present a host of arguments, most of which can very easily be debunked, in the hope that people will be overwhelmed by the seer volume of arguments rather than being convinced by the quality, or the veracity of the arguments. In other words, they want to convince people by using a lot of words, and are not concerned about whether or not the words are correct.

As I was reading the post I started thinking about how I would respond in that situation. One of the points that Jeff mentioned was that in some cases there are so many arguments against the church that it would be a full time job to respond to all of them. Some of the arguments can easily be discounted as they are quite silly, but there are others that take more thought and more research to explain. And then there are others that are not disputes about certain events, or even the interpretation of certain events, but are theological disagreements that are not so easily settled through argument and may require other means before they are settled. But in some cases when we are presented with a very large number of arguments then there has to be some way to sort through the large volume of arguments to determine if the arguments are of sufficient quality to even consider. So in the case when we are confronted with such a large number of arguments we must look at the sources and determine if the sources of the arguments are trustworthy. This approach is especially helpful if we are confronted with a number of arguments that we would have a difficult time answering, explaining, or even understanding.

If we take the case mentioned by Jeff and are confronted with a whole host of arguments where we would have a hard time determining their truthfulness, we can see that many of the arguments are rather disingenuous, but the question is whether or not that "10%" might exist that will disprove our beliefs. So if we take that number, 10%, as a starting point, we can say that if we are presented with a host of arguments and most of them are rather poor quality, then we say that at most 10% of the arguments may have merit. This is to say that at least 90% of the arguments presented by the source are complete bunk. Thus if we are presented with a host of anti-Mormon arguments, for example, and we can readily discern that about 90% (+/- 10%) are of questionable quality, then before we ask about whether or not we should proceed and investigate the remaining 10% we must first ask the question, "If our source is of such questionable trustworthiness that he has no problem making his case where at least 90% of his arguments are untrue, then why should we believe the other 10%?" If our source for these arguments is willing to give us a host of arguments where the vast majority of them are questionable, then what does that say about his intentions? Surely they are not honorable. You would think that if he were so intent on convincing us of the "truth" of his position and of the falsity of ours, then you would expect him to present arguments that have been checked for their validity and soundness. The presence of a lot of false arguments casts serious doubts as to his devotion to the "truth" of the matter.

If we look at it in this light then we see that the burden of proof has shifted from us to our source of anti-Mormon literature. It becomes necessary for him to produce a coherent and rational argument, and we do not have the duty to respond to all of his arguments, or even to consider them. If our source is willing to throw out any and every argument he can think of, even if it is easily falsifiable, then if we are to take him seriously then he must first attempt to show some minimum commitment to using valid and sound arguments. If not then there is not much reason to listen to what he has to say.

I should point out that while this method works for most of the anti-Mormon material out there, there are some that do not fall victim to the fallacy of quantity over quality, but those tend to be more rational and open to a reasonable dialogue.

1 comment:

Jared said...

I think you've written one of the best and most important responses to anti-Mormon literature in general. There's nothing I really can add.