Earlier today a well-known critic of FAIR made the following statement on an Internet message board:
“MI/FAIR/FARMS has a history of nasty ad hominem attacks (see the Simon Southerton adultery accusations)…”
We at FAIR have been asking, for a long, long time, for concrete examples of where we have engaged in ad hominem fallacies, as we don’t really want to do so. (I know; that may seem incredulous to some. But it really is true.) This statement, by the critic on the message board, was the first concrete example I’ve noticed.
To start with, I do know that Southerton was excommunicated from the Church for adultery in 2005. It was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) on July 21, 2005. (An archive copy of the article can be found online.) According to the article, it was Southerton who announced the allegation to the reporter. So the accusation is a matter of public record, placed into that record by Southerton himself.
Even so, the fact that he was charged with adultery could be used as an ad hominem fallacy if (and only if) it is presented as a reason to disregard the arguments of a person. Such a usage would be wrong, and definitely a logical fallacy. It plainly should not be done in scholarly discourse. Was this how FAIR and FARMS had used accusations of adultery—to get people to ignore things that Southeron said? Good question!
So I went searching.
First, I did a search on the FARMS/MI site for the phrase “Southerton adultery,” and it turns up exactly once—in a slide used by John Butler for Education Week in 2008. (It is a tag under the picture of Southerton and says, in part, “Excommunicated in 2005 for adultery.”)
Forgetting for a moment that John Butler doesn’t work for FARMS and that Education Week is not a FARMS venue, the phrase doesn’t come up anywhere else, and in any other publication. None.
I then did a search on FAIR’s websites for the same phrase, “Southerton adultery.” It appears exactly once, in one of our reviews of Rodney Meldrum’s material. It appears in both the short version (as just linked) and in the longer version, which is a PDF. It was used then to correct Meldrum, not to address anything that Southerton ever said.
I think that there are a few things to consider here. First, Southerton’s book contesting the historicity of the Book of Mormon was published in 2004, and the arguments that Southerton made have been discussed long and hard in many venues. Both of the “search hits” on the FAIR and FARMS websites were for singular statements made in 2008, four years later and, honestly, after the intensity of the discussion regarding Southerton’s arguments. One of the mentions wasn’t even directed at Southerton, at all.
Which still leaves me puzzled. Where do the “Simon Southerton adultery accusations” (as our critic states them) get hung around the necks of FAIR and FARMS? Perhaps someone with more in-depth searching skills can point out where there are any ad hominem statements (constituting an ad hominem fallacy) in this regard. I, for one, would welcome someone pointing them out.
In fact, going back to my statement earlier in this post, we at FAIR have been asking, for a long, long, LONG time, for concrete examples of all the meanness attributed to us, as an organization. Understanding that it is possible to not see the forest for the trees, please consider this an open, standing invitation. If anyone can point them out to us, I’d be glad to make sure someone takes a look at what is brought up.