Monday, December 26, 2011

A Trivium of Responses to Jamin

Let's tackle Jamin's recent post in three parts, which we will style rhetoric, grammar, and logic.  Those familiar with classical education will catch the allusion.   The labels don't perfectly fit, but we'll shoe-horn the arguments into those labels.  We'll also take them out of the traditional order, addressing Jamin's rhetoric first (but immediately I will start abusing my outline by using rhetoric in a more conventional sense).


Jamin begins his post by what appears to be an appeal to pity (argumentum ad misericordiam fallacy).   He claims he will try to clarify the record "without repeating Tur’s condescending tone ... ." Of course, that doesn't stop him from using a form of "absurd" and "silly" twice each in his post as a substitute for an argument.  But leaving aside any hypocrisy of the tone complaint, the tone of my criticisms of Jamin is totally irrelevant to the truth of the criticisms.  Moreover, in this case, Jamin sounds like the parricide who seeks the court's mercy because he's now an orphan.  He's complaining about something he brought on himself.

As for the tone, what exactly does Jamin want the tone of my criticism to be?  He gets upset when Steve Hays lampoons him with sharp criticism and he gets upset when I criticize him "condescendingly".  Is there some tone of criticism that Jamin would accept?

I recognize that a few people who - like myself - appreciate and value Jamin and Jamin's effort may get upset that my criticism is now taking a more sharp turn.  And, they may rightly point out that Jamin's ability (or lack thereof) to take criticism is not relevant to the validity of arguments.

And that's mostly true.  Whether Jamin is dispassionate rock or a crybaby (he's not at either extreme) is irrelevant to whether his conclusions follow from his premises.  On the other hand, Jamin seems to want to make it an issue by bringing it up from the very outset of the post.  So, he made it an issue - we're just responding.


Except that these points seem rather fundamental, they do not really fit the "grammar" tag well, as they have little to do with the mechanics of language.  Perhaps you could say that they have to do with the mechanics of knowledge, but that might seem a stretch.

Jamin asks:
But seriously, can you imagine if our judgments on people’s character and the reliability of their work was based solely on the reading of other people‘s opinions of them? 
Yes, that is one reason why people write book reviews, because other people wish to form judgments solely based on reading other people's opinions of the work, without having to read the work themselves.  We have an expression, "Don't judge a book by its cover," but people quite often do.

Jamin again:
Take for example Dr. James White and his work. Could you imagine the kind of picture of his work and character that would emerge if all I were to read were what other people online wrote?
Yes, I can imagine that. Dr. White has both critics and fans on-line.  The critics criticize, the fans praise.  In point of fact, some of Dr. White's books have reviews/endorsements printed on the outside cover for the very purpose of leading people to form a (positive) conclusion about what Dr. White wrote, so that they will be inclined to purchase and/or read the book.

Jamin himself has three posts under his "book review" tag on his blog, in which he has reviewed five books (three in one post).  So, you might think he'd understand the concept of people forming judgments about books based solely on reviews.  It's not as though reading any of those reviews intellectually commits the reader to subsequently buying and reading the work.  And if one does not have such an intellectual commitment, then it follows that people can and do (in many cases) form conclusions based solely on reviews.


One might think "logic" would better fit my identification of Jamin's fallacy above.  However, I have selected the following points for the "logic" tag, because they deal with how Jamin actually addresses the substance of the argument regarding his use of sources.

As for the problem with Jamin's sources (something that Steve Hays has dogged him about for a while), Jamin gets the closest yet to actually dealing with what Steve has presented.  Don't get your hopes too high, though, for Jamin admits: "I haven’t addressed any of the reviews Steve proffered ... ." 

Jamin, however, offers several reasons, justifications, or excuses for why he hasn't addressed any of the reviews Steve proffered.

1) Steve's Thesis "is absurd"

Jamin begins his argument by asserting that Steve's contention (he often seems to attribute that contention to me, but we'll leave that problem aside for now) that Jamin's source is essentially propaganda for Hamas is "absurd."

He claims that it is absurd because "The book is little more than a good Bible study on “Israel” (!), with some middle-eastern history on the side ... " (emphasis and exclamation point in the original)  How that's supposed to render a propaganda thesis "absurd" is not explained.  Such a book falls within the genre of books that a Hamas' propagandist (even a knowing, intentional one, though that wasn't Steve's claim) would produce.

Jamin further supports his claim by vouching for the history in the book: "the vast majority of which is accurate by other historians’ (Israeli!) accounts ... ."  Jamin seems here to be grasping the concept of source bias.  Had he cited to the Israeli accounts, Steve wouldn't be able to allege source bias.  As for Jamin's vouch, that rests on his credibility.

As for whether the book is a "good" study, we simply are given Jamin's own vouching for the matter.

2) "Anyone who has read the book knows that."

Then one would expect that all the on-line reviews would reflect that, no?  I mean, assuming those reviewers read the book.  Otherwise, this just seems like Jamin vouching more dogmatically.

3) "But that’s just the problem: Tur and Hays haven’t read it, don’t intend to, and remain at the mercy of online reviewers"

Of course, it is totally irrelevant to the criticism that Jamin is receiving whether or not Steve or I read the book.  Neither Steve's arguments nor my criticism require such a premise.  Jamin is fallaciously reasoning when he insists that "the problem" is that his critics haven't read the book he cites.

Even Jamin's own review of the book suggests that middle eastern history is just a side topic of the book, and that some unspecified portion of that history is not accurate according to other historians (perhaps the portion cited by Jamin, perhaps some other portion, we're not told).

Most importantly, though, whether or not Jamin's source is biased is true whether or not Steve or I ever read the book, much less whether we intend to read the book.  Do I have to read "the Protocols of the Elders of Zion" to know that it is an anti-Semitic propaganda piece?  Do I have to intend to do so?  Certainly not.

Jamin knows that, he's just not reasoning logically.

4) "online reviewers – certainly many who are as biased as Burge or anyone else"

Huh?  So, is Burge biased or not?  Are his critics biased or not?  Is no one biased?  This seems to be an attempted "your mother is too" argument without the actual support for the assertion about your mother.  In other words, Jamin does not identify any particular bias of any particular online (or offline) reviewer, but simply waves his hands.

5) "The burden of proof is to demonstrate that so-called pro-Hamas’ propaganda actually is pro-Hamas propaganda – if that’s what all of this is really about."

Steve already offered evidence in support of that contention.  That shifts the burden back to Jamin to revitalize his source by addressing the evidence (something Jamin admits he has refused to do).  While Steve cannot just claim that Jamin's source is biased, Steve didn't just claim - he also provided supporting evidence.

6) "For me, it’s obviously more than that, esp. since I know that Burge’s assertions can/could have been substantiated by a number of other sources, as Burge says nothing profoundly new in the larger scheme of things."

a) That's a demonstration of why it was not particularly wise to cite Burge for this particular point.  Jamin didn't have to cite him for that point, and Burge isn't really "the authority" on that point.  As Jamin seems to concede above, middle east history wasn't even the focal point of Burge's book.

b) Jamin's attempt to get past this issue would proceed a lot more smoothly if he would just say to to Steve, "You're right - that was a bad source for that point.  However, here is a good source for that point."  Then Steve would have nothing left except to drag up a mistake that Jamin has already acknowledged.  I can understand Jamin's desire to deal with other topics, but he keeps posting about this one, leading to reply posts.

7) "It’s about the truth of what I was discussing in that original article the first place: the atrocities behind and consequences of the establishment of Israel and that the Israel of today is the Israel of the OT"

No doubt that is the subject Jamin would prefer to discuss, rather than whether his source was bad a source, but see above.

8) "Tur says “people are capable of knowing what an author’s intention was without having read the original book.” Then perhaps Tur should inform us about what Burge’s intention really is in Whose Land?"

Of course, this is a non sequitur.  Just because it is true that in general one can know an author's intention without having read the original book does not mean that I personally know it in every case or in any particular case.  Also, see below.

9) "if not simply to briefly portray middle-eastern conflict from the eyes of Palestinians (that’s primarily a geographical group, not ethnic group) and examine what Scripture has to say about “Israel.”"

I'm not sure if Jamin knows this, but we now have Jamin's thesis conveyed to us about the author's intention (without us having to read the book).  That supports my contention that people are capable of knowing what an author's intention was without having read the original.

10) "If there is some hidden pro-terrorist agenda behind this Wheaton NT professor’s work that we should know about, then perhaps that should be demonstrated before going any further."

a) "Hidden pro-terrorist agenda" puts too intentional a turn on the matter.
b) But Steve has already provided the demonstration that Jamin has refused to address.
c) Given that Steve has already proffered evidence and Jamin refuses to address it, it's disingenuous for Jamin to continue to demand demonstration.

11) "I haven’t addressed any of the reviews Steve proffered because it’s entirely unnecessary: I’ve read the book!"

Jamin's confused.  Reading the reviews might be unnecessary if one has already read the book.  However, if the reviews are presented as the evidence that the book is biased, and if Jamin wants to maintain that the book is not biased, based on more than just his personal vouching, he needs to address the evidence.

Obviously, Jamin is free to vouch for the book himself (as he seems to be doing over and over again), but simply vouching for the book himself isn't really addressing the opposing reviews.

12) "I know what’s in it. I don’t have to consult secondary sources on the work since I’m one to produce them."

This is just a continuation of the same confusion already addressed at (11).

13) "Nevertheless, it is certainly possible that other people see things that slip my attention and expertise."

Expertise?  In any event, this is just a concession that reading of the reviews might be helpful even to a person who read the book.  However, this line of thought is confused, as explained at (11).

14) "But do any of these “reviews” (which I have looked at) really establish through adequate facts and documentation that this college professor is intentionally helping terrorists ... through his work or otherwise?"

a) Jamin adds in a layer of intentionality and specific intentionality that's not really necessary (As Steve explained: "Obviously Burge doesn't see it that way. That's the nature of dupery. If you knew you were being duped, you wouldn't be a dupe.").  And Steve further suggests just looking at Burge's recent blog posts (link) with topics like "Five Frustrations When You Debate Israel and the Palestinians" and "When Will 3.5 Million Palestinians Get Their Chance For Freedom?" Burge (or whoever titles his blog posts) does not seem to try to present himself as an unbiased source on the matter.

b) More importantly, until Jamin actually addresses the reviews, we won't have a counter-argument as to why they fall short of meeting the standard that is necessary (whether the standard is that Burge is an unwitting or intentional propagandist for Hamas).

15) "That’s why I ignored this tangent on sources and sought to address the underlying presuppositions behind Hays’ violent reaction by asking him 3 simple questions, all three of which Hays (to my knowledge) has not to this day answered himself."

a) Why on earth should Hays answer three admittedly irrelevant questions?  This is a gigantic red herring.

b) What Jamin has actually done is to impugn Steve's motive.  But, of course, Steve's motives are not relevant to the truth of Steve's arguments.  Whether Steve is an evil "Zionist" or not does not make his criticism of Jamin's sources true or false.

16) "I wanted to get past the silly (and I mean silly) assertions about Hamas shills, Britney Spears, man-crushes and Lord knows what else (recount some of it here) and hopefully have a meaningful discussion on something substantive."

a) Hays' raised an objection to a use of a source.  It seems like Jamin has three options: (1) to address the criticism by rebutting the source; (2) to withdraw the source; or (3) to ignore the criticism.  But to respond to the criticism by trying to force the critic to talk about something else is just irrational.

b) Calling the criticism he receives "silly" isn't really a substitute for an argument as to why it is silly.  Steve's lampoon regarding the overly sympathetic fan of Britney Spears may well have been over the top, but that is the nature of lampoons.

17) "But it has been clear that anything but that will happen – whether Tur’s mockery or Hays’ absurd comparison of Dr. White to Norman Geisler."

Hubner would rather discuss "anything but" Hubner's mistakes.  We get that.  That's totally natural.  However, that doesn't justify styling criticism "mockery" and "absurd."  The comparison of Dr. White to Dr. Geisler was just that neither seems to hold their protege accountable.  As Steve's post put it: "Geisler syndrome is when a mentor automatically covers for his protégé"  As Steve's latest comment states: "Jamin continues to suffer from lack of responsible mentoring."  That comparison could be made absurd by suggesting that Jamin's use of sources is the moral equivalent of Caner's behavior, but Steve did not make that suggestion.  Perhaps Dr. White took it that way, which would be unfortunate, but if you carefully read Steve's post (as Dr. White himself suggested) it becomes clear what Steve's very narrow criticism was.  Namely: "Because Caner isn’t White’s own protégé, White can clearly see the problem with Geisler. But because Hubner is White’s protégé, he lacks the same objectivity in that case."  Incidentally, you'll find me disagreeing with some of Steve's points in the comment box of that post.  Moreover, whether or not Steve's comparison is correct is different from whether or not it is absurd.

18) "How unfortunate, indeed, that any of this has to be written."

You might think that Hays had a gun to Hubner's head, forcing him to double down on his mistakes instead of retracting them.  Or even forcing Hubner to respond to the criticism of his position.  That's not the case.  Ultimately, "this" gets written because Hubner doesn't want to just say, "Sorry, it was a bad source.  However, the same points can be documented from Israeli sources X, Y, and Z."  "This" gets written because (apparently) Hubner wants to write about it.

19) "Oh, and I did just notice that this ‘Hamas Shill’ and Hamas ‘propagandist’ just wrote a new book endorsed by Craig Blomberg, Marshall, Longenecker and others"

Ironically, those are the concluding words of Jamin's post.  I'm not sure whether the tone police will be asking for his badge and gun.

More significantly, of course, he's referring us to the endorsement/review of the book by three men, so we can form a judgment about the author without having to have read the book, conceding the very point he disputes above.


Where can we go from here?  It's up to Jamin.  He can continue to complain that he's getting criticized, he can retract, he can address the evidence Steve has presented, or he can just let it go.  I don't really see what point there would be in my continued involvement in the discussion, unless - of course - Jamin drags me back into the discussion of Jamin.



Truth Unites... and Divides said...

I don't know what's wrong with Jamin. He should just thank you and Steve for the instruction he's receiving.

Shotgun said...

... Meanwhile, the West is dying...