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Mormonism LIVE: 044: Straw Man vs Steel Man: A Lesson In Rational Thinking

Today we take a look at the Logical Fallacy of the Straw Man argument and juxtapose it against what it means to Steel Man someone. A Straw Man argument is when you misrepresent someone’s argument to make it easier to attack. We define a Straw Man argument, share an example, discuss how to incorporate good faith in a disagreement by instead choosing to Steel Man the disagreement, and then show how Mormonism holds up to the actual argument being made when that argument is represented fairly. RESOURCES:


8 thoughts on “Mormonism LIVE: 044: Straw Man vs Steel Man: A Lesson In Rational Thinking”

  1. I haven’t listened to this episode yet, but I’m glad you’re talking about this. Since you’re addressing this topic, I’d like to bring up something that I feel is a bit of a straw man sometimes used by those critical of the church. When critiquing the stockpile of wealth that the church has accumulated (which is surely deserving of critique), I’ve heard a lot of numbers used that are wildly inflated above what is known. 200 billion. 300 billion. I’ve heard it said that the church is “soon to be a trillion dollar church”. I assume what is going on with those numbers is (1) people are lumping in estimates of the church’s other real estate assets, church buildings, universities, temples and the like, and (2) people are assuming gains made on the Ensign Peak assets during the time since their existence was revealed, a period in which the financial markets have indeed performed very well for investors. The church would respond to the first point by saying that those are money consuming assets, and they would be correct. They are also assets that are arguably core to the mission of the church in a way that the Ensign Peak assets clearly are not. On the second point, it’s completely reasonable to assume that the $100 billion revealed by the whistleblower has grown, but we don’t know how much, and if someone overestimates the number they are allowing defenders of the church to accurately argue that they are exaggerating. It turns out, $100 billion in wealth sitting unused is easy to critique without needing to exaggerate the number. It’s more than twice the size of the Gates Foundation endowment of $40 billion, and as far as I’m aware nobody has yet announced an initiative to use the Ensign Peak investments to eradicate malaria. So let’s focus on critiquing the $100 billion until we have reliable information that it really is more than that.

    1. I suggest there are steel man assertions that can be made about the growth of the fund since David Nielsen’s departure:
      – I suggest that the average run of the mill investor can average 7% annual return over time.
      – The whistle blower stated that the Church adds $1B to the fund annually.
      As such, (100B+1B) @ 7% = $108,070M by end of 2019
      (108,070M+1B) @7% = $115,635M by end of 2020
      (115,635M+1B) @7% – almost $125B by end of 21021
      When that much money is involved, even at a conservative rate is grows quickly.

  2. Members of the LDS church have experiences, which they interpret as spiritual experiences and which they believe demonstrate that the LDS church’s doctrines are true.

    Members of other faiths have experiences, which they interpret as spiritual experiences and which they believe demonstrate that their faith’s doctrines are true.

    Where the LDS church’s doctrines and these other faiths’ doctrines are mutually exclusive, either the LDS church members, the other faiths’ members, or both are mistaken about their interpretations of their experiences.

    The LDS church member cannot provide any rational reason for privileging their interpretation of their own experiences over the contradictory interpretation of others’ experiences.

    Likewise, the member of another faith cannot provide any rational reason for privileging their interpretation of their own experiences over the contradictory interpretation of LDS church members’ experiences.

    At most, one can point to the other and say “they did it incorrectly but I did it correctly” (much like Dallin Oaks asserting revelation occurred, but the revelation was from the wrong source). But that’s circular logic because one can’t claim which was done correctly or incorrectly without assuming the conclusion that their own doctrine defines the correct/incorrect means for ascertaining truth. That’s why the apologists’ observation (that only the LDS church promotes prayer about the true church) holds no water.

    An honest person should admit that their own interpretations of their own experiences are no more reliable than others’ interpretations of their experiences. If others’ interpretations of alleged spiritual experiences can be horribly wrong, their own interpretations of their own alleged spiritual experiences can be horribly too.

    1. Nicely put. But as they did to the Book of Mormon in 1837 to change the doctrine on the godhead, by inserting the words “the Son of” between “is” and “the”, you might insert the word “wrong” between the words “horribly” and “too” at the end of your post.

  3. IMO: the GAs co-opted the discussion to suit their own ends. They turn everything into a question about the authenticity of the LDS church. If that’s all the “young people” wanted to be verified, then the answers they got would be appropriate. But that’s not what young people pray about. They pray about who to marry, what college major to pursue and what job offer to accept. They wanted to know how to tell the voice of God in these matters, and ultimately to know if God cares about their personal lives. That is the question the GAs need to answer. We all know they are wholly incapable of giving a real answer, so they end up answering the question the audience “should” have asked, which in every case is, “Is the Mormon Church true?”. Thank you.

  4. A short story from my mission.

    My companion and I tracted into a young man just a few years older than we were. He was quite nice and polite to us, and eagerly invited us in to hear our message.

    During our visit he was excited to share with us his own conversion story. On his shelf he had a copy of a book I’d not heard of before, and only rarely heard of since: The Urantia Book.

    I took some time to read a few pages while there. It was … quite different than the Book of Mormon. IIRC, the book claims to be the words of a group of archangels, channeled by some unnamed group of people, adding to and clarifying the bible, and giving a history of and exposition on the Earth. For Mormons, maybe it’s most closely similar to the Book of Abraham, though significantly longer.

    His conversion story was interesting. He claimed that while in a high school class he was spelling out (out loud? or just mentally? I think mentally) the word Uranus, as he was studying that planet, but as he spelled it in his mind he heard a voice telling him to stop spelling and start over, and after spelling out the U-r-a-n the voice completed: -t-i-a. Previous to this the man claimed to have had no knowledge of the book.

    And, in fact, according to our tractee, he had no knowledge of the book for several years after this experience, until one day finding the book – oh, somewhere. Maybe a book store? I don’t remember. Anyway, the point was that it took him several years from the initial experience to actually find out what the experience was for.

    What was interesting to me was not just that this man was presenting a competing experience to the one my companion and I were trying to share, but that, if this guy was to be believed, it involved having knowledge revealed to him that was all but impossible for him to know at the time, in a way that confirmed he had received revelation external to himself. Something more than just a feeling, or “spiritual confirmation”.

    Maybe this made his claim to faith in some way stronger than ours.

  5. Ralph simmons 909-768-1982

    The cuts in the true order of prayer represent the way a lamb was sacrificed in Abraham’s day. The shedding of the blood of the lamb or the shedding of the blood of Christ. This is most holy. It is in the covenant of the Father giving you atonement for your sinful nature. Repent and do the prayer to Elohim or parish ,would be a good way to put it. Let the righteous of Christ pay the debt !

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