Jamin Hubner, a close affiliate with Calvinist* James White and Alpha & Omega Ministries, recently posted a piece entitled, “Lessons in Logic and Argumentation: Structures and Forms of Arguments – I.” It appears on both RealApologetics.org and the A&O website. My interest lies not in Hubner’s fondness for formal logic**; rather my interest is in Hubner’s logical guinea pig—me>>>
I must say while I’m entirely flattered Hubner would choose yours truly as a public example of “bad argument” I’m a tad confused why he chose the post he did to employ his surgical blade. Back in July of O-10, I wrote a piece expressing my puzzlement that since James White saw no reason to protect the identity of those who criticize him in private letters, why would he be reluctant to identify those who commend him in private letters? Indeed as the reader can clearly see, I judged White’s practice as,
- “very odd” to me
- “[making me] a little confused”
- “[and consequently,] really, really bazaar (sic) [bizarre] to me”
- “[irony, and therefore, humorous to me, indicative of the long list of potential encouragers I recorded including James White’s dog]
Even so, despite these obvious indicators that I was publishing more of an expressed opinion concerning James White’s practice rather than a formal argument stating why James White was wrong, Hubner nevertheless treats my piece as if it was a sophisticated formal argument with several premises—many of which were unstated—premises demanding certain conclusions. In fact, when Hubner got through with his “standardizing” my “argument,” it was filled with one “therefore” after another.
Again, I beg Hubner’s pardon—my piece had few, if any, marks of being a formal argument based on logical deductions from evidences presented. And, while there surely are some overlapping factors involved between formal arguments on the one hand and opinion pieces on the other, most rhetoricians allow enough difference to distinguish between the two literary devices.
If I am correct, Hubner’s firecracker explodes in his face.*** Popping off about logically deduced conclusions which certain premises demand--as Hubner characterizes my little piece--rather than viewing a piece like mine which explicitly expresses one man’s opinion about what constitutes that which is odd to him; that which is confusing to him; that which is bizarre to him; and that which is humorous to him remains a textbook illustration of how not to employ formal logic.
Nevertheless, I would like to address one single aspect of Hubner’s logic lesson. After supposedly “standardizing” by “formal argument” by listing four premises which logically demanded two conclusions, Hubner writes:
Premises 1-3 seem true, but are they? Premises have to be carefully evaluated. And when we look at premises 1-3, we see the somewhat ambiguous word "private." What comprises a "private letter" and a non-private letter according to Lumpkins?
I agree with Hubner that premises must be “carefully evaluated” and that “private” can be an ambiguous term. On the other hand, I think another “lesson in logic” about which Hubner should inform his readers is to be sure one states the premises correctly during the so-called “standardization” process. Let me show you what I mean.
Hubner states my premise #1 as follows:
Dr. White said in a blog post that contained several private letters of encouragement that he didn’t attach the author’s name of one of the letters because that person was a student of Liberty University, and didn’t want to cause him trouble. (premise 1)
Hubner goes on to curiously elaborate on A&O Ministries’ policy on contacting them, including quoting its claim that all emails to them “becomes the property of Alpha and Omega Ministries and may be used in public.” Hence, his conclusion is, “even if the letters (any of them) were sent to Dr. White in “private,” they could have just as well been intended to be posted in public…” In other words, because the letters became the property of A&O, no breach of privacy occurred since the letters were ipso facto public (after all, Hubner says “AOmin is a public ministry, not a “private” website or what have you; there is more than one person sorting through the mail”). From this, Hubner judges my premises false since the “entire idea of “private” seems meaningless.”
Well, I can only say, if Hubner wants to teach logic, he really needs to polish up a bit more before he hopes to well teach others himself.
First, I had no idea of the contact form and its claims about property rights and public consumption of information recorded in it. Hence, I can only plead ignorance here.
Second, since White did not record in the post under question whether the letters came via his private email or his website, why would Hubner’s conclusion follow that the entire idea of “private” seems meaningless”? My assumption that the encouraging emails went to White's private account holds as much validity as Hubner's assumption the emails went through his website (and I have good reason to assume my position as I make clear below). Indeed *if* the encouraging letters were private emails, then wouldn’t Hubner’s conclusion become absurd?
Third, on the other hand, *if* Hubner is correct, and the encouraging letters did come through the website, then ipso facto the encouraging letters would be public. Several people would already know precisely who the encouragers were not to mention the encouragement was the sole property of A&O Ministries.
Fourth, Hubner seems to assume that when I spoke of letters which criticized rather then commended, I was speaking of letters which were funneled through the website, and hence became the property of A&O Ministries. Hubner appears highly confident:
“…But I doubt Lumpkins can provide any actual evidence for that assertion [that critical emails were sent to Dr. White’s private email address and were never intended to be public material]”
Consequently, Hubner reasons,
“if he [Lumpkins] is not making that assertion, the entire idea of “private” seems meaningless”
Well, Mr. Hubner, I’m sorry to inform you: you are wrong. Indeed posting private emails written to James White’s personal email address was precisely what I referenced. And, yes, I most certainly can attest to the fact the email was *not* written through the contact form of A&O Ministries and have the goods to prove it. Indeed White even says so on his own site! In addition, I am aware of others who have contacted White personally and had their private emails show up on his site. They too have the goods to demonstrate it. So, regardless of Hubner’s confidence to the contrary, yes, I can cook the soup with actual ingredients.
Fifth, since Hubner has made such a huge deal out of making emails (either critical or commendable) to the A&O site into the property of A&O Ministries, and therefore viewable for public consumption, this places James White in an even more unbecoming light. How?
Assuming Hubner to be correct concerning the commendable emails, now we have White deliberately withholding names from emails which were already public (since several A&O Ministries people had sifted through them as Hubner informed us) and therefore defies sober explanation. On the other hand, we have White revealing the names of those writing critical correspondence. But why would he choose to reveal the names criticizing him and not the names of the people commending him? A&O Ministries owns all the correspondence which goes through the site. Besides, all are already public anyway according to Hubner.
Even so, if Hubner is correct about the commendable correspondence being the property of A&O Ministries, what does that say about his mentor's practice of deliberately withholding the names of encouragers who were already public anyway while revealing the identities of personal email exchange which did *not* go through his website but to his personal email account presumed not to be for public consumption? Does this not defy scrupled explanation?
More problematic for Hubner's little lesson in logic is, if both commendable and critical correspondence to James White bypassed his website and went to his personally private email--email presumed by the sender as not to be for public consumption--we have White protecting those who commend him (protection from what is another question altogether) and ruthlessly breaching privacy of those who question him. Now I happen to personally know for a fact White holds no reservations publicly posting critical emails sent to his private email account. Someone else would have to verify whether he posts commendable emails (with identities attached) from his private email.
In either case, for my money--albeit Hubner’s analysis to the contrary--I’d still judge the interpersonal tactics of James White in dealing with public correspondence as odd, confusing, bizarre, unscrupulous, and not a little ironical.
Lesson in logic, anyone?
With that, I am…
*some theologians are convinced James White embraces historic Hyper-Calvinism and consequently falls completely out of the theological spectrum of mainstream Reformed soteriology
**I’m reminded of philosopher Gordon Clark’s insistence on learning all the truth tables in formal logic until one can say them backwards in their sleep and then never thinking about them again
***to be fair to Hubner, he does, at the end, suggest the possibility that my piece was not intended to be an argument but “just talk”. However, if ambiguity is conceded, Hubner’s “lesson” is little more than him writing a heck of a lot of words about nothing