Mormonism and apologetics/"ad hominem"/Case study/An attempt to dismiss Rosalynde Welch because of who she is related to

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A case study in "ad hominem": An attempt to dismiss Rosalynde Welch because of who she is related to

For those of you who have found value in Mormon Stories....it would be awesome if you could let Rosalynde Welch hear about it. For the record -- she's the daughter-in-law of Jack Welch....founder of FARMS, and chief sponsor of the Daniel Peterson/Lou Midgley apologetic reign at the Maxwell Institute that just ended somewhat unceremoniously...so I can understand the family pain/angst in all this. Rosalynde is a sharp cookie. Great person. I just think she's blinded by family loyalties on this one.

—John Dehlin, webmaster of Mormon Stories[1]
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This is a textbook example of an ad hominem response. Specifically, this is the ad hominem circumstantial, in which one claims that one’s opponent makes a claim because she “is in circumstances such that [s]he is disposed to take a particular position. Ad hominem circumstantial constitutes an attack on the bias of a source. This is fallacious because a disposition to make a certain argument does not make the argument false.”[2]

Now, it could be that Dehlin is right—it could be that Welch’s family associations bias her reading of the data. If family connections mean anything in assessing her argument, Welch’s father is on the board of the Miller-Eccles study group in California. This group has drawn upon a wide spectrum of LDS and ex-LDS voices, and can hardly be called “apologetic.”[3]

Such facts illustrate the perils of ad hominem: Dehlin ignores factors that could influence Welch in the opposite direction. To create a valid counter-argument, Dehlin must first demonstrate that the bias exists and that it significantly distorts how she presents data. He must then rebut her arguments with this bias corrected, not simply resort to ad hominem dismissal. If he can show that her biases have skewed how she presents or interprets data, then family connections or other ideological biases may explain why, and such analysis would not be guilty of the ad hominem fallacy.

In a variety of the same tactic, Dehlin elsewhere declares that much of Rosalynn Welch’s father-in-law’s life’s work has been judged a waste because of the actions of LDS leaders.[4]


Notes

  1. John Dehlin, post on Dehlin’s Facebook wall. The original has been removed; it is cited at Hamilton Porter, “Ya Gotta Love John Dehlin’s Reasoning,” post at mormondialogue, 2 July 2012 (8:45 AM).
  2. Ad hominem: circumstantial,” Wikipedia (accessed 3 July 2012).
  3. See “Past Speakers (Page 1),” http://www.millereccles.org/?page_id=49 and “Past Speakers (Page 2),” http://www.millereccles.org/?page_id=379 (accessed 7 July 2012).
  4. John Dehlin, post on mormondiscussions.com, 8 May 2012 (7:54 AM), http://mormondiscussions.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?p=584595#p584595