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Olasky and the Argumentum Ad Labelum

Marvin Olasky, editor of the Christian publication WORLD magazine, has written a column to defend that magazine’s handling of David Barton over the years. And he basically says that he paid no attention to previous criticism of Barton’s work because it came from “left-wing historians.”

Left-wing historians for years have criticized Barton. We haven’t spotlighted those criticisms because we know the biases behind them. It’s different when Christian conservatives point out inaccuracies. The Bible tells us that “iron sharpens iron,” and that’s our goal in reporting this controversy. As the great Puritan poet John Milton wrote concerning Truth, “Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”

That last quote from Milton is what shows the rest of what he said to be absurd. This is the essence of what I call the argumentum ad labelum — we can just dismiss any criticisms of Barton if they come from anyone we can apply what we think is a negative label to. But this is highly irrational. The only thing that matters is whether those criticisms of Barton’s work are accurate, not whether the person pointing out the inaccuracies is a liberal, conservative, Christian, atheist or Muslim or communist. But Olasky had no interest in letting “truth and falsehood grapple,” despite his repetition of that quote.

If Barton is dishonest in his distortion of the Donald Lutz study — and he is — he was dishonest when Chris Rodda was the one pointing it out too. It didn’t suddenly become dishonest when Warren Throckmorton used her research to repeat the same point, or when John Fea decided to jump in to the controversy (Ed. Note: Warren Throckmorton emailed to say the following: “I really respect Chris’ abilities and her work, but Coulter and I did our own research. We reached similar claims and came to the same conclusions which is a validation of the truth of what we all found. However, we did not use her research in the way that you have asserted.” I see no good reason to doubt him on this, so I retract my unsupported assertion and apologize to both authors for it). An empirical claim is either true or false; it isn’t false if said by a liberal and suddenly true if said by a conservative.

David Barton should not be, nor does he want to be, defended as if he were inerrant: If his history writing does include some inaccuracies, I trust he’ll make corrections.

You clearly haven’t been paying attention.

Comments

  1. says

    The only thing that matters is whether those criticisms of Barton’s work are accurate, not whether the person pointing out the inaccuracies is a liberal, conservative, Christian, atheist or Muslim or communist.

    The never ending war we fight: Objective truth versus tribal subjectivism.

    Also, if “iron sharpens iron,” why do people use whetstones to sharpen knives?

    Naturally, science (and I consider history to be a science with some unique oddities) takes the opposite approach via peer review: If your research does have some important flaw, you can count on your scientific rivals to find it so you can learn from it, correct it, and prevent yourself from performing it again.

  2. Jordan Genso says

    Hey, Ed’s trying to coin a term. In order to do so, it’s needs to be memorable.

    “Labelum” is much easier to remember than “Praes…” I already forgot.

    Although I’m in the camp that doesn’t know how it defers from an ad Hominem.

  3. DaveL says

    Left-wing historians for years have criticized Barton. We haven’t spotlighted those criticisms because we know the biases behind them.

    Do they mean to imply they were unaware of the biases behind Barton’s work?

  4. says

    Historians that have a political agenda (“left wing” or “right wing”) are not really historians – they’re propagandists. That’s where Olasky made his mistake! As a propagandist, himself, he chose to ignore the other historians’ complaints about Barton (a propagandist masquerading as a historian) – that all makes sense.

    Shorter Olasky: I prefer lies.

  5. says

    Although I’m in the camp that doesn’t know how it defers from an ad Hominem.

    I’d say it’s a subtype of ad hominem. An ad hominem uses the person’s attributes to dismiss his arguments, and ad labelum is an ad hominem that specifically uses the personal attribute of political affiliation.

  6. alanb says

    The problem with getting the truth only from people that you agree with is that most conservatives (political and religious) live in the same echo chamber that you do. I have seen some comments from people who were a bit surprised and confused that someone like Jay Richards or Warren Throckmorton would attack fellow Christian David Barton. Loyalty and ideological purity seem more important and truth takes second place.

  7. dingojack says

    Jordan Genso – if that’s too difficult, try argumentum ad titulum – an argument that appeals to a title.
    Hope that helps –
    Canis lupus dingo

  8. nooneinparticular says

    Ed Brayton said;

    “….the essence of what I call the argumentum ad labelum — we can just dismiss any criticisms of Barton if they come from anyone we can apply what we think is a negative label to. But this is highly irrational. The only thing that matters is whether those criticisms of Barton’s work are accurate, not whether the person pointing out the inaccuracies is a liberal, conservative, Christian, atheist or Muslim or communist.

    Excellent sentiment. Perhaps FTB and friends will embrace it and work to reduce banning, dismissing out of hand and accusing people of being misogynists, rape-apologists or gender traitors because they have a different perception of events or because they simply disagree. Maybe if more focus on the arguments of those who disagree rather than on the label we attach to them, there will be better debate and less anger and spittle. It is encouraging to see this sentiment from the blog network’s co-founder and leader.

  9. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    @dingojack:

    I made the exact same suggestion the last time Ed talked about labela, and IIRC I’m not the only one. It appears Ed’s not interested.

  10. ArtK says

    If his history writing does include some inaccuracies, I trust he’ll make corrections.

    Do me a favor, Marvin. Hold your breath until Barton does make a correction.

  11. Reginald Selkirk says

    As the great Puritan poet John Milton wrote concerning Truth, “Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”

    So, in order to facilitate “a free and open encounter,” Olavsky has been publishing views critical of Barton so that readers can check it out, right? I have in my own life “knew Truth put to the worse,” a I suspect all of you could think up examples as well.

  12. d cwilson says

    They will continue to use argumentum ad labelum because it works with authoritarians. This is why rationalists will never be able to persuade people who ascribe the authoritarian mindset, whether the issue is creationism, global warming, or Barton’s lies. To an authoritarian, evidence is irrelevant. If a trusted authority tells them it’s true, it’s true. Conversely, if you can attack the messenger for being part of the “other”, the messenge is automatically untrue.

    And you can bet that Barton’s defenders will come up with some “No True Scotsman” fallacy to dismiss every one of his critics who happen to be conservative Christians.

  13. cjcolucci says

    Commenters 10 and 11 miss the point: it’s not an argumentum ad labelum just because you’re giving someone a label. After all, the label might be true. It’s fair argument — though it could be incorrect — to say that someone who thinks “X” is a misogynist; the fallacy is to say that someone is a misogynist, and, therefore, X, which the misogynist advocates, is wrong. Olavsky was correct to say of Barton’s earlier critics that they were left-wing historians. Where he went wrong was not in calling them left-wing historians, which, for certain valuea of “left” and “right” they were, but to argue from that label that what they said could be ignored.

  14. says

    OK … here’s what makes this even worse. In April 2011, well over a year ago, Marvin Olasky requested a review copy of my book Liars For Jesus. I sent him one at that time. This means that he’s had my book for over a year and presumably read it and saw my documentation, since he’s the one who requested it. So, he’s known for over a year that Barton is a liar, and never wrote a word about it until some Christians started criticizing Barton. I now think he probably wanted the review copy of my book to try to debunk it, and when he saw that he couldn’t debunk it he just ignored it.

  15. says

    Regarding Ed’s retraction of his statement about Throckmorton, I understand why Ed did it. I, however, don’t believe a word that Throckmorton says, and as soon as I get my own debunking of Barton’s Jefferson book out, I intend to show why I don’t believe him. This goes back to a series of blog posts he wrote last year in which he cranked out a post every few days “debunking” Barton lies that I had already debunked. Nobody – I don’t care how good a researcher they are – could possibly have gone from never having done any prior work on debunking Barton to cranking out a debunking of a major Barton lie every couple of days, with the particular lies just coincidentally being lies that I had debunked that nobody else, in all the years of people debunking Barton, had ever even realized were lies before, let alone tried to debunk.

    Here’s an example:

    From a post on Throckmorton’s blog dated September 19, 2011:

    “Earlier this year, I demonstrated that a document on the Wallbuilders website dated 1807 and signed by Thomas Jefferson is a passport, also called a sea letter, needed by ships at the time to indicate that they were no threat to friend or foe as a combat ship. The wording of the sea letter signed by Jefferson was required by a treaty with Holland. Sea letters were in common use, so much so that Congress authorized the printing of a form for this use with the treaty language preprinted. The language specified in the treaty with Holland included the phrase, “In the year of our Lord Christ” and only required the person completing the form to include information about the ship, the cargo, the destination and the correct date.”

    In his September 19, 2011 post, Throckmorton was referring back to a post he wrote on April 20, 2011, when he was cranking out a post every few days “debunking” things that I had already debunked. Am I really to believe that, out of all the hundreds of lies that Barton has told, Throckmorton just happened to pick the same ones that I had not only debunked already, but that nobody except me had ever even realized were lies or thought to look into before in all the years that people have been debunking Barton?

    In that April post, Throckmorton claimed to have “uncovered” that Jefferson was required to use the “in the year of our Lord Christ” language on pre-printed documents known as ships’ papers because that language was mandated by an obscure 1782 treaty with Holland. There is no universe in which I will believe that Throckmorton discovered, in a mere day or two of research, that this treaty was the reason for that language being on that 1807 document. There was just too long of a trail of other discoveries necessary to arrive at the connection between the language on that 1807 form and the 1782 treaty. I know this because I spent what was probably weeks actually following the trail of congressional documents, old newspaper articles, etc., that eventually led to that 1782 treaty before making my 2010 video debunking that particular lie. Did Throckmorton got unbelievably lucky and just happened to, for some inexplicable reason, been reading obscure treaties from 1782 while investigating a seemingly completely unrelated document from 1807? Or did he find out about the1782 treaty when he watched my video? I believe it was the latter.

    That’s just one example of the Barton lies the Throckmorton claims to have debunked through his own original research. There are others that are equally unbelievable if you know the amount of research that was actually involved to debunk them, as I do since I actually did the work to debunk them. Eight chapters of Throckmorton’s Jefferson book contain his “original” work from his blog posts like this one where he claims he just “came to the same conclusions” as me.

    But the bigger problem I have with Throckmorton’s book is that it legitimizes two revisionist sources, one of whom was just cited on David Barton’s radio show by Mat Staver to freakin’ defend Barton’s book! This actually bothers me more than his presenting of already debunked lies as his original work, and why I’m glad that (based on it’s ranking on Amazon) hardly anybody seems to be reading his book.

    Anyway, enough time wasted on freakin’ Warren Throckmorton. I am quite close to finishing my book debunking Barton’s Jefferson Lies, which has taken me four months to write rather than the month it took Throckmorton to crank out his book, since I had to do the research to debunk all the many NEW lies in Barton’s book that Throckmorton somehow missed when doing all his “original” research.

  16. raven says

    If their religion was true, they wouldn’t have to lie all the time.

    Xians are one of many proofs that the xian god doesn’t exist.

  17. godlesspanther says

    Chris Rodda:

    I do find the information in your above post to be quite convincing. I do believe that Throckmorton’s debunking of Barton over the past year reveal without doubt that he did use your research as a basis for his debunking, backed up with documentation that appears on his blog.

    Having said that, I can understand why Throckmorton chose to lie about this. Not that it is right to do so, but I can understand his motive. Throckmorton’s motive is demonstrated in the bit from Alaski. These people are so partisan that, as Ed pointed out, information from the out-group is wrong, information from the in-group. Your research is still wrong according to them. The identical information is correct when it comes from Throckmorton. As Olasky and (name escapes me — new head of Colson’s cult)demonstrate that the partisanship has to come first and truth can only be accepted by the in-group.

    If Hitler believed that 2+2=4 (and it’s reasonable to assume that he did) and I said that Hitler was correct about that and I have to agree with him, then does that make me a Nazi? According to their way of thinking — it does.

    Barton, along with Bryan Fischer, used the tacic in which they force Throckmorton into the out-group because, and only because, he criticized Barton. Barton has many followers who will eat this up off the floor. Barton and Fischer attacked Throckmorton with a barrage of hate that makes Fred Phelps look like Fred Rogers. It appears that Thockmorton can handle that. Though he has alienated some of his former followers, he can’t alienate all of them which is exactly what would happen if he were to admit that he used your research (extensively if not almost exclusively) for his conclusions. He would the alienate Olasky et. al. In their minds agreeing with you about anything would make Warren a godless, liberal, secularist communist.

    Throckmorton had some guts — but only so far.

  18. says

    godlesspanther @ 21

    The funny thing is that if that ever was the reason someone wanted to use stuff from my work but keep my name out of it, all they’d have to do is ask me and I’d say yes.

  19. Ichthyic says

    we can just dismiss any criticisms of Barton if they come from anyone we can apply what we think is a negative label to

    which of course, is a key feature of the authoritarian personality.

    hell, it’s nearly the DEFINITION of it.

  20. Ichthyic says

    The never ending war we fight: Objective truth versus tribal subjectivism.

    it’s much simpler than that even.

    the war is between authoritarians and non-authoritarians.

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