Get Thee to a Grad School

In recent weeks both TT and Chris have each made controversial posts. By this I mean no criticism, but simply that each has created entries on “hot” issues that invite responses from a wide variety of readers. I could tell from reading the responses that many folks had spent a great deal of time thinking about these issues. All in all, I have really enjoyed those threads.

But alas, I am Mogget the Bible dork and teacher. And the teacher in me also noticed quite a spread in the level of the arguments. I am not talking about who is right or wrong, but a matter of how each writer “sold” his or her ideas. For example, when it comes to time to take account of feelings, those who have experienced something have a natural lead. And in talking about the legal aspects we accord those with the appropriate credentials some respect. These are all issues of credibility.

Credibility has other aspects, however. On a more fundamental level it is also carried by things such as syntax and diction. Almost without being conscious of it we accord credibility to those who can choose precisely the right word or expression for an idea. Likewise, we are intuitively sensitive to sentences and paragraphs that are well-formed. And we always appreciate variety, that is, writers who “mix up” the form of their sentences and the structure of their paragraphs. No one likes to drive the same road three or four times in a day, much less in three minutes.

A third aspect of credibility is carried by the ability of a writer to anticipate and respond beforehand to the potential objections of a reader. When we encounter this in argumentative prose we know that the writer has done some serious thinking. And if these potential objections are framed sensitively, in language that does not offend, then we know that we are interacting with someone who genuinely cares about the well-being of others. I cannot overemphasize the boost that this gives credibility, particularly on “hot” issues.

This awareness of the potential audience leads to another aspect of credibility, the self-awareness of the author. Writers who are aware of their own limitations engender credibility in a reader. Folks who are experts in a field can recognize a poseur almost immediately. And I know from reading outside my field that folks who are not experts also “catch on” pretty quickly. We recognize clues such as over-reliance on a single source or a failure to anticipate potential objections, and we draw the appropriate conclusions. But writers who employ a judicious caveat give a sense of their own internal balance and humility that we often find attractive.

There is, I think, another distinction that maps relatively easily onto the effectiveness of arguments. This is the difference between some of our bloggernacle autodidacts and those who have some experience with graduate schools. Almost without exception, the latter group are more persuasive. This is not, I think, a reflection of either raw intelligence or the validity of the point being made. At least to some extent it is a product of the grad school experience.

Perhaps there are folks who can execute a personal reading program that gives them balanced insights rather than reading only what they agree with. And perhaps there are folks who can articulate their opinions persuasively without feedback. But for most, time in a graduate program is critical. Grad school is place where you get the context of the discipline from someone who knows more about it. It’s where you learn to take all the sides of an issue with alacrity. And finally, it’s the place where you defend your opinions before peers, who don’t much care about your authority, or any authority for that matter.

So get thee to a grad school. Instead of reading a limited selection of books with ideas that you find congenial, expose yourself to ideas that are less familiar and friendly. Learn to be a productive member of a discussion, which in many instances means eschewing the argument from authority. Figure out how to advance your own ideas with confidence and without callousness. Find out how to spot the nuances. Let your classmates help you lose the desire to pose as something you are not. Find your limits precisely so as to be effective when operating on either side of them. And besides all this, do it just to have fun!


Filed under Marginalia, Personal Issues

166 responses to “Get Thee to a Grad School

  1. Mogget, I am not so sure that it is necessarily grad school that matters per se, so much as the exposure to contrary viewpoints and the constant reinforcement of being articulate. I could imagine people gaining some experience in the real world that would enable them to learn how to formulate arguments and articulate complex viewpoints. Say, in the Army.

  2. hear hear!

    well said. and I know that the church presidency (and the General Authorities) would agree with you there.

  3. I can’t apply until next year. Maybe I will figure out by then what I want to specialize in.

  4. Moggett writes good.

  5. Mogget

    RE: #1

    Yes, of course you are right and I have probably considered the issue too narrowly. Another example might be working as an editor. And there are undergraduate degrees that also prepare a student well, such as philosophy.

    One of the side issues that engendered this post is my sense that my fellow conservatives and right-of-center folks sometimes feel that they don’t get a fair hearing around here. Perhaps. But some [many] times it’s just that they experience difficulty making effective arguments.

    Also in the back of my mind is the question of whether the Saints have a disproportionately higher number of autodidacts. And if this is so, why might this be?

    I could imagine that since we espouse the ideal of a one-breadwinner household, we might inadvertently discourage young men from pursuing their intellectual “first love” in favor of something that pays more. When they gain some standing in their field, they also find the resources to return to the world of ideas, this time through self-study rather than formal education. But self-study can be flawed, or at least inferior in some aspects to a more integrated approach.

    But of course I lack the ability to pursue the issue much further, so I toss it out for discussion and hope that no one is too offended.


  6. “…which in many instances means eschewing the argument from authority.”

    Can you explain what you mean by this?

  7. TT

    By “graduate school,” I presume that you would include technical trade schools such as my VCR repairman training…right?

  8. FHL

    I’d consider getting an advanced degree if I didn’t hate going to school so much. =P (As it was, took me close to 20 years after graduating high school to get my 4-year. Who knows how long to get the next one. Oy vey.)

    I’ll tell you this, though. It’s hard to read outside of your sphere sometimes. When I grow up *wink*, I want to be a novelist. I mostly read mysteries, maybe some fantasy and sci-fi. On advice, I’ve tried reading a couple of romances. Sure, they were well-written, but not that much fun for me. I would imagine it’s the same for certain schools of thought. “Why would I read so-and-so’s book, he totally disagrees with me!”

    Of course, everybody thinks they have an open mind, even if they don’t. (paraphrasing My Blue Heaven)

  9. TT

    I didn’t think my Euhemerism post was that controversial, and certainly not persuasive…

  10. Mogget


    The argument from authority, or appeal to authority as it is sometimes called, is an error in logic. Those who use such arguments insist that the truth of the proposition is guaranteed by the credibility of the authority who makes the assertion. In fact, this confuses cause and effect. Authority comes from making assertions that are true, or that are supported by arguments appropriate to the discipline or discussion (given that truth is a very complex topic).


    Your precise VCR program is problematical since it seems to be concentrated only on VCRs in South Dakota. But I am an open-minded person and willing to listen to your point of view. Sometimes. 😉

  11. Mogget

    #9, 11,

    If we were to list out TT’s post and bin them by their ability to create controversy then that Euhemerism post would be indeed be part of the left-hand two-sigma tail…

  12. Mogget,

    Show me one paper, just one, where Hugh Nibley did not appeal to an authority. Shouldn’t be that hard to find one if it is truly an “error in logic” to do so. Nibley wouldn’t have appealed so illogically, would he?

  13. Where is the error in appealing to an authority who has made an assertion that is true, or which is supported by arguments appropriate to the discipline or discussion?

  14. oudenos

    And by comment number 13 we see an example of the problem itself…and of relying to heavily one a narrow corpus of sources.

  15. Bryce, your references to Nibley fail, because (a) it is an attempt to appeal to authority and (b) Nibley’s not an authority.

  16. oudenos

    *too heavily on*

  17. Julie M. Smith

    Bryce, I’m hoping #13 is a joke.

  18. No, it’s not a joke. And why isn’t Nibley an authority, with a lower case “a”?

  19. How about, because he just wasn’t that great.

  20. oudenos

    Perhaps Mogget might add that the self-taught tend to be unable to access primary sources on their own terms through original languages of composition?

  21. lol… you’re great Steve.

  22. Julie M. Smith

    In the first place, Nibley relies on almost exclusively on primary sources (now, whether he reads those fairly is the topic for another post), which is entirely different from an appeal to authority. He doesn’t say: “Prof X says the ancient Egyptians said X and we should believe him because he has a lot of letters after his name,” he cites the text itself.

    Second, by holding Nibley up as an example of what to do or not do, you are appealing to his authority (“if Nibley does it, it must be OK”).

    Despite my own grad degree, I’m not entirely comfortable with this post because (1) not all grad students get this kind of training–business and science and professional people aren’t necessarily good at making arguments and (2) it doesn’t acknowledge the reality that “get thee to grad school” isn’t possible for most people, so it would have been better to offer up alternative routes for learning both form and content of good argumentation. (In my own experience, I learned more about it in high school debate than in grad school.)

    Nonetheless, your comment is a good example of exactly the problem Mogget writes about and explains one reason people often don’t take your positions seriously.

  23. Mogget


    It is possible that I do not understand the thrust of your comment. It seems to me, however, that you misunderstand the matter. The nuance created by the word “guaranteed,” which I italicized so it wouldn’t be missed, is important. We expect experts to be correct but their status as experts does not ensure that they are inevitably so. Instead, they are recognized as experts because we judge that they most often are on target.

    Would you like me to delete your comment in #13 and those that follow from it? I sense that it was perhaps written in haste.


    There is no error in appealing to an assertion that is true, or that is supported by appropriate arguments regardless of its source. The fallacy arises when we insist that the assertion is beyond criticism simply because of the credibility of the person who makes the assertion.

    We do in fact rely on experts, and especially so in certain decisions such as medicine or law. We do so because we judge that education and experience have given them insight we might lack. The fallacy arises when we insist that their status makes them infallible.


  24. And this is coming from “grad students” who have to write book-length dissertations and theses backed up with endless footnotes and sources… I don’t get it.

  25. Julie M. Smith

    Bryce, not every reference is an appeal to authority:

    If I write, “A study conducted by Dr. Q showed that 87% of moms just want to take a nap, and you shouldn’t dispute that because it was a double-blind study with over 1M moms,” I’m not appealing to anyone’s authority. That’s OK.

    If I write, “Dr. Q said that most moms just want to take a nap, and you shouldn’t dispute that because she’s really smart and well-respected,” I’ve rested my argument on her authority. Not OK.

  26. oudenos


    Grad students and scholars acknowledge arguments, assess expert interpretations, and draw their own conclusions based upon their interaction with academic tools and text–thus the copious footnotes. Why the ” ” around grad students? Are those ” ” of irony or ” ” of citation?

  27. DKL

    Bryce, the irony in you’re comment #13 is brilliant!

    If I’d have thought to justify appeals to authority with an appeal to authority, I’d have botched it by said something like,

    “Show me just one paper where Garfield the Cat did not appeal to authority. Shouldn’t be hard to find one if it is truly an ‘error in logic’!”

    But using Nibley is perfect!

  28. DKL

    (Shit. I hope that last comment didn’t appear to be from someone who was not a graduate-school graduate — otherwise, I’ll be completely humiliated. Bryce clearly went to graduate school, since he though of Nibley and all I could think of was Garfield the Cat. I wish I sounded more like Bryce.)

  29. Emerson

    DKL: At least your comment would have brought chuckles rather than sighs.

    This is seriously a textbook example of not understanding a scholarly craft.

  30. The only problem was the apostrophe misuse, which is a dead giveaway for an undergrad hack.

  31. DKL

    (Damn. I wish my web browser’s text-input window had grammar correction like MS Word does. I’ll bet Bryce doesn’t even need grammar correction. Oh Lord, why can’t I be more like Bryce?!?!)

  32. Mogget,

    While I know that I am one of the people who could benefit from grad school and thus one of the people admonished by this post, I have to chime in to say how much I liked your first five paragraphs. Excellent. I appreciate you articulating these points so well.

  33. Mogget

    Geez I can’t keep up with this and still work.

    Yes, there are indeed other ways to learn to participate more effectively in something like the bloggernacle. Steve got that in right at the first and I acknowledged his insight in #5, as I acknowledge all those make the same point. Feel free to point them out, because that would indeed be helpful. For example, if you become involved in local political issues or government, you will need these sorts of skills.


    Yes, good point. There are disciplines in which there are skills that are very unlikely to come via self-study. The languages of a Bible dork are one example. Every translation is an interpretation. However, the recent round of posts by TT and Chris don’t seem to require that same sort or level of preparation in order to be persuasive.

  34. Mogget

    #33 Jacob,

    As I said, not all of our wonderful bloogernacle autodidacts experience difficulties. Some do not; these tend to be the folks who watch carefully, post slowly, speak gently, and learn from the mistakes of others. You, I think, tend to fit in this group.


  35. DKL

    Mogget: these tend to be the folks who watch carefully, post slowly, speak gently, and learn from the mistakes of others.

    I don’t know whether you’re talking specifically about blogs or referring to general behavior, but if these are the general qualifications for having completed graduate school, then none of my favorite scholars went to graduate school; e.g., A.J. Ayer, Betrand Russell, Rudolf Carnap, Karl Popper.

    I had no idea. No wonder so few people go to graduate school. Doing so means filling your head with tome upon tome of slow, boring, and carefully constructed crap.

  36. #27 – I was appealing to the authority of the so-called “grad students” here who know so much, which apparently I shouldn’t have done. Sorry.

    Those who think it odd or strange or stupid to appeal to authority greater than their own are setting themselves up for failure, in my opinion, but don’t quote me on that. Or can you, since I’m not an authority…?

  37. DKL

    I still believe in you, Bryce!

  38. Mogget

    Hello DKL,

    Actually, I was replying to Jacob by way of indicating another way that folks might learn effective ways to make an argument. Once they have learned, however, we might well expect that their efforts will have more pizzaz than their earliest contributions.

    tome of slow, boring, and carefully constructed crap

    Sounds like you’ve read my dissy!


  39. Julie #23 …not all grad students get this kind of training–business and science and professional people aren’t necessarily good at making arguments…

    I was right there with you until you went and mentioned science. Well, not a few grad students are good not at anything; that being said, how dare you malign the dignity of the sciences!

  40. Mogget


    Note the fourth paragraph of #24. Once again, the fallacy arises when we assert that a position is beyond criticism because of the credibility of the source.


  41. Mogget

    #23, #40,

    Your insights lead us, I believe, into the question of what sorts of logic and argumentation are appropriate to a given discipline. I have two grad degrees in the sciences and it was my experience that we did learn to create appropriate arguments. It would seem to me that business folks also learn to make their points based on available evidence. In both cases, though, I sense that it is somehow distinct from those of the humanities.

    Perhaps it is a matter of learning to credibly weigh evidence that is not quantitative?


  42. #41 – When did I ever suggest that authorities are infallible?

  43. “so-called “grad students””

    Thing is Bryce, one is either a grad student or one is not. There’s no purpose to scare quotes or ‘so-called’ in this context. That’s like saying “so-called ‘coffee mug'”.

    That’s the first thing they teach you.

  44. The first thing Nibley taught me was that credentials mean absolutely nothing. (Sorry for the appeal to authority).

  45. …particularly academic ones.

  46. Bryce, can you see the irony in your own sentence? Classic. Seriously, man. Even Nibley knew when he was out of his depth.

  47. Steve, the point is, you don’t gain knowledge by becoming a grad student. You don’t gain knowledge by hanging a diploma on the wall.

  48. #43

    When did I ever suggest that authorities are infallible?

    So far, you have only suggested that Nibley’s logic is infallible. The only reason I point this out is that I am sure that half the bloggernacle will be along directly to make the same point.

    More to the point, in #37 you wrote:

    Those who think it odd or strange or stupid to appeal to authority greater than their own are setting themselves up for failure…

    What my reply points out is that you misunderstand the nuances of my position. It appears that you persist in the belief that I have ruled out any use of expert opinion. That is not the case as the fourth paragraph of #24 makes clear.


  49. “You don’t gain knowledge by hanging a diploma on the wall.”

    Sure, you learn how to hang stuff.

    Bryce, an academic environment is engineered to encourage critical thinking, research from primary sources and argumentation that is ultimately truth-seeking. This is one reason why Nibley himself lived in an academic environment and (for the most part) loved it. For you to blithely eschew it shows (a) that notwithstanding having read Nibley, you do not understand the man and (b) that you have bad academic mojo.

  50. TrevorM

    Bryce, I humbly submit that you are missing the point.

    The point is this: It is a logical fallacy to say that an argument is valid based on the credentials of the person who made it.

    Arguments stand and fall by their merits, not by their proponents.

    It is not folly to look to an expert to learn things and bolster an opinion. It IS folly to believe in the value of an idea based solely on the credentials of the person proposing it.

  51. #49 – When did I suggest that Nibley’s logic is infallible?

    #50 – Nibley himself said that a university is set up only for eminence. That’s its whole purpose. Those that want to learn will learn, but a large majority believe that solely by going there they will get their license to work in the corner office.

    #51 – I would agree with you, to some extent. But those with true authority have more credence in their arguments than those who don’t (e.g. Christ). So the question comes then, what constitutes true authority?

  52. “a large majority believe that solely by going there they will get their license to work in the corner office.”

    On what are you basing this, Bryce? I mean, do you have any evidence for this claim at all? Otherwise it’s just a ridiculous sound bite.

  53. Also, the structure of your parenthetical suggests that Christ’s arguments did not have credence. Just sayin’.

  54. To some degree I think Bryce is arguing a version of: “Is a thing good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?”

    Julie #23: you’re right that scientists are not trained at making good arguments. They are, however, trained at critical thinking, questioning presuppositions, challenging paradigms, etc. Those are, I think, at the heart of Mogget’s admonition.

  55. TrevorM

    Bryce I understand where you are coming from, obviously we value the opinions of those we view as connected to the divine. However Christ’s inherent goodness doesn’t make and argument that appeals to him valid. The devil can misuse scripture while appealing to the authority of God.

    Once again, Arguments stand and fall by their merits, not their proponents.

    This is all being discussed in a scholarly context. Authority in argument(correct me please, wise grad students if I err in definition here) comes from the ability of an assertion to withstand criticism, avoid logical fallacy, and stand on evidence, not credentials.

  56. Brian J, TrevorM,

    Well said, gentlemen!


  57. “Julie #23 …not all grad students get this kind of training”

    Indeed, my own program has been fairly light on this kind of thing, to my detriment.

  58. Howard

    Grad school. The Pharisees and Sadducees might have preferred it, but I don’t recall Jesus going.

  59. TT

    Howard, I couldn’t agree more. If more people just followed Jesus’s example by wandering around from town to town and then getting killed, the world would be a better place.

  60. TrevorM


    Good one!

  61. TT

    I know this is way past now, but it wasn’t until later that the joke in #2 hit me (I think it is meant to be funny, sorry if it wasn’t)! Hilarious!

  62. Howard

    So, is that supposed to be an example of grad school logic?

  63. I think it’s grad school humor, Howard. Or at least I laughed so hard that the upstairs neighbors came down to join the fun.


  64. Kade

    “you’re right that scientists are not trained at making good arguments.” I must have missed that study:)

    Mogs, your post fascinated me. It is interesting in that I perceived that the form of the argument was the indicator of advanced education and deep thought rather than the content (I’d not considered the notion).

    TT, you’re posts blow me away (seriously). I’m guessing that you graduated number one in your VCR repairman class. That pretty much means that you kick Nibley’s butt. I humbly submit that any appeal to your credentials be given special dispensation in subsequent discussion on this thread.

  65. TT

    First, there were no graduate schools in antiquity, so trying to look to Jesus as an example in this regard is about as useful as looking to Jesus as an example of home teaching or family home evening.
    Second, my comment was meant to raise the interpretive problems of looking to Jesus’s life. When someone in the third century tried to live like Jesus, that meant they should die a violent death under the hand of the Romans. If in the 21st century we take Jesus’ life to mean that we shouldn’t go to grad school, while a remarkable claim, it forces us to ask how we come to evaluate what about Jesus’ life is worth emulating, and what we ignore.
    Finally, if anyone is still missing the point here, the injunction to go to grad school is not made because grad students are greater authorities. Quite the opposite. The injunction to go to grad school is to learn how to evaluate arguments so that you don’t have to rely on authorities.

  66. TT

    Thanks Kade! That is very generous of you!

  67. Howard

    Thanks for clearing that up, I was unsure as to the educational choices in antiquity but I suspected someone with your VCR background would be able to set me straight.

    Actually I was thinking that Jesus might be a good example of someone who understood the gospel and communicated it on many different levels to many different kinds of people despite his humble education.

  68. Ah, Howard, if you wish to make a “straight” point such as the one you describe in #68 then the sarcasm of #59 is an ineffective choice of form. In addition, when it fails to make the desired impact you leave the reader with a feeling that your judgment may be inferior. Dark humor such as sarcasm, the snark, or parody create vulnerabilities that almost always outweigh the potential gain.

    And of course, I don’t believe for a minute that when you wrote #59 you had #68 in mind.


  69. I have heard the opinion expressed that graduate school is a vocational program for college professors. There may be various reasons why even someone with a great interest in a subject may choose not to pursue academia as a career. While possession of a graduate degree may not instantly convey “credibility” to those who also have one, the lack of polish and the appearance of amateurishness are certainly a barrier.
    I’ve compared the difference between the grad student or the post-grad student and the autodidact to those who mostly are following a well-marked and regularly traveled highway, and those who mostly bushwhack their way across country. Each way has its advantages, and its disadvangages.

  70. TrevorM

    Howard, Perhaps Jesus is not a good example in this case because he was the greatest intellect this world has ever known (also perhaps he had a great deal of angelic instruction). Certainly humble, uneducated people have done many amazing things, but there is a lot to be said for a good education, especially for how it gives one an ability to articulate their thoughts and ideas effectively.

    I think Mogget’s post is intended to be an “in general” point.

  71. But those with true authority have more credence in their arguments than those who don’t (e.g. Christ). So the question comes then, what constitutes true authority?

    I think this does raise at least one important issue.

    First of all, ‘authority’ can be used in different (yet related) senses. It can refer to one’s ability to speak as a professional in a particular field (an ‘expert’). It can also refer to jurisdiction one has to act with a certain power (as in ‘the powers that be’). In what sense do General Authorities have ‘authority’? And what is the relation between these two senses as it relates to GAs?

    Perhaps not directly related, but relevant is that we in fact rely on authorities/authority in many aspects of our lives. It’s obviously impossible for one person to be an expert in every field.

  72. I have heard the opinion expressed that graduate school is a vocational program for college professors.

    There are a good many more career choices for advanced degrees than academia. One of the biggest “consumers” of advanced degrees is the US military since critical thinking, decision-making, and articulate behaviors are at a premium. The medical and legal professions are another instance of grad degrees outside of the university.

    In the end, if you can read closely, think critically, and write clearly, you have a great many choices in life. Grad school is one avenue in which we can develop these qualities.


  73. Julie M. Smith

    “And what is the relation between these two senses as it relates to GAs?”

    I love what Elder McConkie’s brother [supposedly] said to him: “You might be a General Authority, but that doesn’t mean you are an authority in general.”

  74. Howard

    So, what did I have in mind?

    If the example Jesus set is out of reach, why are we admonished to follow it?

  75. TT

    Thanks for clarifying your point. In response to your question to TrevorM: We are admonished to follow his “example” with respect to what? His hair-length? His pattern of being conceived? His nomadic life? His language? His carpentry profession? Why are we privileging his lack of education as a thing to follow, and not other aspects of his life?

  76. #75

    Who knows? But a mulligan is only needed when the original shot has gone awry.

    And I think that both TrevorM and TT are both trying to explain to you that an appeal to Jesus is not always a good argument. Why don’t you take the remainder of the evening and think on what they’ve already said? We can certainly come back to these issues in the AM.


  77. Howard

    I’ve never seen a compressive list but understanding the gospel and being able to communicate it are reasonable goals.

  78. TrevorM

    Howard, I don’t think you are addressing my point. I never said Jesus’ example is “out of reach” or anything like that at all. I said that using the example of Jesus having no documented educational experience was probably not applicable. I stand by the point. Jesus never repented either, but I still have to do it like crazy! I suggested that Jesus was the greatest intellect the world had ever known. If we are “trying to be like Jesus” might not one good way to follow him be to develop our intellectual skills? Certainly not the only way to follow him, or an essential way to follow him, but no one ever made that point. Also, I fail to see how attending grad school does not help one reach your stated goal Christlike goals of “understanding the gospel and being able to communicate it.” It seems like Mogget’s point is that grad school helps one learn to communicate better. I have yet to see any offer a substantive argument against this point.

  79. TrevorM

    Speaking of grad school, I need to take a graduate level typing class so I can learn to proofread and eliminate errors. Maybe I can get my MA in Keyboard Operation.

  80. (Just popping in to say that both the original post and the subsequent comments are fantastic. Each in it’s own way. Ok, carry on.)

  81. I have a grad degree, and Julie is write, we didn’t learn nothing bout your new fangled writing.

    That being said, I’ve met lots of people who went to grad school and were still complete idiots. Lots of facts, but complete A-holes, that sort of thing.

    No one here has ever rubbed me that way, but lots of people I went to school with gave me that attitude of “Well if you aren’t smart enough to be in my grad program, you aren’t worth talking too.”

  82. Howard

    “I fail to see how attending grad school does not help one reach…”

    My point is the inverse of yours; grad school isn’t necessary to understand the gospel and communicate it well. My example was Jesus but we can add many of his Apostles and many of our missionaries as well. All of them would be capable of debating the best FPR has to offer.

    “might not one good way to follow him be to develop our intellectual skills?
    “Mogget’s point is that grad school helps one learn to communicate better.”

    Yes, I agree.

  83. Steve Evans

    Howard, forgive me for the blasphemy but I don’t think the apostles or missionaries would do very well in your average moderated debate. Some of them would; most of them would not. Can you imagine debating Richard G. Scott? Or John the Beloved? Anciently their confrontations ended with imprisonment or miracle, neither of which the debate moderator is bound to appreciate. Latter-day apostolic debates are too infrequent to draw any preliminary guesses as to outcome.

    As for Jesus, well, I think omniscience is a bit of cheating.

    And Wonderful Mogget — I don’t seem to recall Jesus ever telling someone to take the remainder of the evening and think about what’s been said! Oh.

  84. Howard

    Steve Evans,
    “Some of them would; most of them would not.”
    Which is why I chose to use the word “many”.

  85. This thread totally rules.

    (Carry on)

  86. TrevorM


    I am having trouble seeing where your disagreement lies then. Or did you just stop by to add that Jesus did not have his masters degree in Exegesis, and that he didn’t need one to perform his trademark Pharisee intellectual beatdown? Your appearance here seems to have been started by a comment that Grad school is un-Christlike and would have been popular with Pharisees and Sadducees. Then you shifted the boundaries of the argument to imply that someone had suggested that successful argument or Gospel understanding required a graduate degree; this is a point which no one has made here.

    Now you are saying that Grad School could be a good option in the pursuit of a Christlike life and that it could help people be better at making arguments and engaging in critical thinking.

    Do you actually disagree with any point being made here?

    Also, just for fun: You did actually use the word “all” and suggested that “all of them”, meaning the missionaries and every apostle could easily best anyone who posts at FPR in critical argument. Unless you meant “all” of the “many” missionaries and apostles, which is a strange nuance indeed. 🙂

  87. Peter LLC

    I am of the view that “our wonderful bloogernacle autodidacts” are well served by Mogget’s voluntary display of courtesy to them and their intellectual well-being. It is an especially welcoming sight against the backdrop of a bloogernacle oft riven by dispute. I side with Geoff J in urging all to carry on.

  88. Jordan

    There are a couple of misconceptions above which I would like to dispel, previous attempts to do so notwithstanding:

    1. Mogget is not claiming that grad school makes one’s opinion more worthwhile, but that it helps one to argue those opinions more persuasively. Nor do I think Mog means to imply that this is the only way to gain experience in constructing a compelling argument.

    2. Accepting that individuals—such as Nibley, perhaps—who have a great depth of knowledge and training in their field are better equipped than the man-on-the-street to draw conclusions is not the same as an appeal to authority (also known as argumentum ad verecundiam). The fallacy is when one uses exploits authority as an insulation from criticism. Simply, if you say, “Stephen Hawking is wrong about black holes, because of [complicated mathematical argument],” and I respond, “Well, Stephen Hawking is a world-renowned physicist, and you are not; therefore your repudiation is not worthy of consideration,” I am guilty of making an appeal to authority.

    In the above example, if you are wrong it is because your argument itself is flawed, not because Stephen Hawking commands greater renown. Heuristically speaking, it makes sense to direct one’s attention to individuals who have earned respect in their field, but this in itself does not mean that their arguments are intrinsically more correct. This is the fundamental distinction between merely respecting authority and the argumentum ad vericundiam fallacy.

  89. Mogget mentions in #73

    “…read closely, think critically, and write clearly…”

    I think that studying a foreign (preferably ancient! 🙂 ) language is very relevant to developing these skills. At least this has been the case for me personally.


  90. Mark IV

    Late to the party, as usual, but what a great party.

    Mogs mentioned it in the original post, but it is worth emphasizing again. People who actually are experts often are very aware of the limitations of their positions, and so there is often a tentativeness to their arguments. Mogget called it a judicious caveat. So there is a lot of irony when someone comes along and makes claims in the expert’s name which the expert himself would be embarrassed to make. Since the sacred name of Nibley has already been invoked, it is worth noting that he himself said that he refused to be held responsible for anything he said more than ten years ago. Let’s do him the honor of taking him at his word.

    It is literally cringe-inducing, at least for me, to see someone make idiotic assertions and then, when they are challenged, revert to the persecution excuse, as in: “You’re just against me because I’m Mormon/liberal/conservative/whatever.” But sometimes, it’s pretty funny, too.

  91. Re 72 on the “authority” in General Authority, Elder McConkie himself had this to say.

    “Though general authorities are authorities in the sense of having power to administer church affairs, they may or may not be authorities in the sense of doctrinal knowledge, the intricacies of church procedures, or the receipt of the promptings of the Spirit. A call to an administrative position of itself adds little knowledge or power of discernment to an individual, although every person called to a position in the Church does grow in grace, knowledge and power by magnifying the calling given him.” MoDoc, “General Authorities”

  92. Howard

    “Then you shifted the boundaries of the argument to imply that someone had suggested that successful argument or Gospel understanding required a graduate degree; this is a point which no one has made here.”

    Why do you ignore the rest of my point “and communicate it well”?

    Mogs is critical of the writing and persuasion skills of those without grad school experience; So get thee to a grad school. Learn to be a productive member of a discussion.

    “Now you are saying that Grad School could be a good option in the pursuit of a Christlike life and that it could help people be better at making arguments and engaging in critical thinking.”

    Better yes. Example; I meant “all” of the “many”. Grad school might have eliminated this strange nuance improving the efficiency of our conversation.

    My point is simple, grad school isn’t necessary to understand the gospel and communicate it well.

  93. Howard

    Mogs enjoyed the “hot” issue threads that invited a wide variety of readers. More participants offer a wider viewpoint, broader content. But it sounds like it was more work for her to deal with their less skilled arguments and presentations.

    Fair enough, but “Get thee to a grad school”? Many people will not be able to get to a grad school for a broad variety of reasons. Those who do will be busy for the next few years learning those skills and more. Either way you have narrowed participation for some time to come. Perhaps this was the goal. If not, dropping grad school from this post while retaining tips for improving ones writing and persuasion skills might have been more effective.

  94. #93, #94

    I do believe, Howard, that you are feeling a bit threatened by the subject. There are some excellent autodidacts around here who do not share your vulnerabilities, so I remain confident that my post and most of the ensuing comments lie within the bounds of acceptable discourse. You, however, have wandered from merely unpersuasive and shifting argument into an area that has the potential for personal insult. Since you don’t like the points made here and cannot effectively rebut them, why not just let it go?


  95. Howard

    Mogs, you presume to know what I think and feel.

  96. Steve Evans

    Howard, it’s not much of a a presumption. You should have slept on it as per Jesus’ Mogget’s counsel.

  97. Howard

    “There are some excellent autodidacts around here…”
    Makes my point, doesn’t it?

  98. Going back to #72, #92; Smallaxe and Nitsav:

    First of all, ‘authority’ can be used in different (yet related) senses. It can refer to one’s ability to speak as a professional in a particular field (an ‘expert’). It can also refer to jurisdiction one has to act with a certain power (as in ‘the powers that be’). In what sense do General Authorities have ‘authority’? And what is the relation between these two senses as it relates to GAs?

    These are points on which I could use some discussion, as I have been thinking about them since #2. Nitsav provided an insightful quotation, as usual:

    “Though general authorities are authorities in the sense of having power to administer church affairs, they may or may not be authorities in the sense of doctrinal knowledge, the intricacies of church procedures, or the receipt of the promptings of the Spirit. A call to an administrative position of itself adds little knowledge or power of discernment to an individual, although every person called to a position in the Church does grow in grace, knowledge and power by magnifying the calling given him.” MoDoc, “General Authorities”

    I read “General Authority” in opposition to “local authority.” By this, I understand that there are a distinctions between those who function within local boundaries and those who have responsibility for either:

    1) Wider geographical areas.
    2) Decisions that are explicitly reserved to certain levels of the church.

    It is very striking that Elder McConkie referred to these positions as “administrative.” I can’t say that that idea has ever crossed my mind. I would like to trust that the gentlemen in those positions do enjoy unrestricted access to the Spirit. Do Elder McConkie’s comments allow me to do so?

  99. Mogget

    #84, Steve,

    I don’t seem to recall Jesus ever telling someone to take the remainder of the evening and think about what’s been said!

    I hope that you do not believe that I was intentionally proof texting from 3 Nephi at 10 PM last night when I wrote that. Would that I were so creative.


  100. jupiterschild

    I think we should follow Jesus’ example. (Jesus could read scriptures in their original languages and discuss them with people who could also read them in their original languages.)

  101. TrevorM

    Howard, if it makes you feel any better, I am one of the unwashed masses as well (assuming you haven’t gone to grad school I suppose), I’m a slack-jawed yokel if you will.

  102. TrevorM

    Also, what is your argument, Howard?

    Grad school is unnecessary to having the above skills, but could help a person develop them anyway? If so, why the comparison of those with (or seeking) advanced degrees to hypocritical, un-Christlike pharisees?

  103. Moggety, I don’t believe that anyone who went to grad school would intentionally prooftext. At least, not from the BoM.

  104. Howard

    “Also, what is your argument, Howard?”

    Grad school isn’t necessary to understand the gospel and communicate it well. Grad school isn’t necessary to take advantage of Mogs criticisms.

    A few exceptions have been noted up thread, but admonishing people to get to grad school so they can “learn to be a productive member of a discussion” comes very close to inviting them out of the discussion.

  105. Howard, those aren’t arguments — those are naked conclusions without argument. Naked, shivering, cold poor conclusions with no home. Give them a home, Howard. GIVE THEM A HOME!

  106. TrevorM

    Ok Howard, why the Graduate degrees are for evil pharisees comment?

  107. TrevorM

    Steve lovely to see you here, I was wondering why I was hearing 2livecrew in my head.

    Everyone who comes to this thread needs a little Zen I think. I humble submit this for your Zenful consumption (not a 2livecrew link I promise):

  108. smallaxe: “Perhaps not directly related, but relevant is that we in fact rely on authorities/authority in many aspects of our lives. It’s obviously impossible for one person to be an expert in every field.”

    Yeah, not directly related…. Still, I think you bring up an important point: we are (almost) forced to rely on authority when we make decisions:

    Q “Why are you taking those pills?”
    A “My doctor told me to.”
    Q “How do you know that they’ll work?”
    A “I don’t.”
    Q “Then why are you doing what he said?”
    A “Because he’s a doctor.”

    Obviously, it’s not the doctor’s MD that makes the pills work; the efficacy of the drug (i.e., “validity of the argument” ) does not rest on the doc’s authority.

  109. Curse you, emoticon, for messing up my parenthesis! [Edit: fixed for Brian]

  110. Howard

    The Pharisees were a learned scholarly group, They probably would have preferred dealing with a learned scholarly Jesus.

  111. TrevorM I reject your attempts at Zen as being derived from an utterly inferior source. In an attempt to reform this blog I provide you the True Zen Link.

  112. TrevorM

    Howard, in the realm of pointless speculation the pharisees would have gotten their trash kicked no matter what Jesus was. Jesus could have been a VCR repairman or a wandering Rabbi or Dean of the Harvard Divinity School. He was the son of God and they were no match for him. That is why I keep insisting that Christ references aren’t terribly effective in this case. Also, I imagine that neither you or I has any clue what the Pharisees would have “preferred” to deal with

    Everyone agrees that it is possible to be good at critical argument, and at communicating, in gospels circles and otherwise, without grad school. It seems everyone agrees that grad school can help with the above-mentioned.

    Are you still defending your point that Grad School is for the un-Christlike? Your point in 111 is actually related to a wikipedia article I have been wanting to link.

    In this case your argument is along the same lines as this fallacy, except yours is “reductio ad Phariseum”

  113. Someone should really do a weekly podcast on strict Mormons, called “Pharisee Beatdown” 🙂

  114. I would like to thrust that the gentlemen in those positions do enjoy unrestricted access to the Spirit. Do Elder McConkie’s comments allow me to do so?

    Har! Nicely done.

  115. Howard

    Grad School being for the un-Christlike? As TT points out there were no graduate schools in antiquity so we don’t know.

  116. TrevorM

    Howard, have you forgotten what you said? I quote for you,

    “Grad school. The Pharisees and Sadducees might have preferred it, but I don’t recall Jesus going.”

    It’s a lovely retreat you’ve made from their to now. I agree with you, no grad schools in antiquity. at least not as we conceive of them.

    In your defense you did say, the pharisees “might” have preferred it. I will grant you that nuance!

    TT, as a Pharisee sympathizer you are clearly also a Nazi sympathizer!

    Nitsav, I would love to moderate that podcast with you! Maybe we could choose a condescending insult of the week for our beatdown: “liberal pseudo-mormon” for week 1, then maybe, “I weep for you” for week 2. Week 3? “sweet spirit”.

  117. Howard

    Thanks for reading carefully Trevor.

  118. TrevorM

    Thanks for playing along, Howard.

    also Steve I will one up you in the Zen category:

  119. Mogget

    #119 Howard

    These little one-liners that you so favor are not really adding much to the discussion. Normally we look to a dialogue partner to capture a snapshot of our argument and then respond. (In your case, however, a high-speed video camera is required.) If you believe that you have been misrepresented in some significant fashion it is your job to support that assertion.


  120. Jordan

    Ok Howard, why the Graduate degrees are for evil pharisees comment?

    I suspect that the changes in Howard’s arguments (from the “Pharisees and Sadducees” comment to a more reasonable observation about the inaccessibility of graduate education) are a good sign, and indicate that he has modified his opinion on the matter. It might, therefore, be best simply to drop his earlier (probably hasty) comment, and trust in his intelligence to modify his opinion.

    His observations in comment 94 seem fairly on-the-button, to me. The “hot issues” being discussed recently have attracted attention to the site (indeed, the recent post on gay marriage was linked to on a forum I participate in, thus my participation), and not all of that attention is eloquent and well-expressed. (Although I will note that, generally, the comments here are of a higher calibre to those I have seen on many other blogs which allow public comments.) Good comment discussions attract good commentators and encourage readers, so bloggers have a vested interest in ensuring the quality of third-party contributions. In addition, Mogget seems to be genuinely concerned that some individuals may be selling their arguments short because they are not well-presented, and thus lead others to discount their credibility for reasons other than validity. Both of these are rational and respectable motivations.

    Nevertheless, Howard has a good point that graduate education is a rather lofty aspiration, and certainly one which an extremely large population cannot hope to fulfil in short order. Certainly, I cannot afford it, and doubt I will be able to for many years! Thus, in my opinion, it is not particularly good advice for the majority of individuals that they should “get [themselves] to a grad school.” On this point I agree with Howard.

    Specifically, Howard indicates that he appreciated Mog’s general observations on what constitutes good rhetoric. Again, I concur with Howard that Mog’s remarks are excellent and germane, and think that it might be more valuable to expand upon these points than to focus on what is, for many, an unattainable goal.

    I am trying to remember an excellent book which, as a youth, helped me to hone my own modest capacity for critical analysis and discussion. It was a small volume titled, simply, How To Think, and over the course of a few chapters it covered some of the most common pitfalls which one might commit—or fall for oneself. It concluded with some brief advice on the use of persuasive rhetoric to empower one’s own arguments. I am quite serious when I state that this book led me to rethink my entire approach to debate; if I should uncover this treasure on Amazon, I shall be sure to provide a link.

  121. Howard

    Mogs # 121,
    “If you believe that you have been misrepresented in some significant fashion it is your job to support that assertion.”

    Well, I did support it, I thanked Trevor for reading carefully and finally noticing the word “might” in # 59. Sorry if that was too brief.

  122. #120: I was wondering how long it would take before we got rickrolled.

  123. TrevorM

    Ok Howard, the word “might” does not magically erase the intended implications of your statements, nor do your subsequent comments represent a support of your point, or of the idea of you being misrepresented. The whole point here is mean what you say and say what you mean. You can’t hide behind probability words and pretend you were espousing something different than you were, especially when you never actually amended the point when called on it.

    BrianJ, It is all about timing. I can’t unleash the Zen of the RickRoll before the time is right!

  124. TrevorM

    Jordan is an eloquent example of what we’re talking about here. Thanks for adding to the conversation and good points!

  125. Mogget

    I find myself saddened that some folks didn’t seem to get what they wanted out of grad school and even more so that so many think it is relatively unattainable. With respect to the latter point I can only hope that you will remain actively open to the possibilities. It really is a good, productive, experience.

    The former point, however, elicits some resistance. For a fact, we all went to different schools and studied different disciplines. We are not all philosophers and lawyers. Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that rude or callous responses, assertions without evidence, and logically fallacious arguments would have been easily tolerated. And a reductions these behaviors, it seems to me, would be quite helpful in avoiding being banned and presenting a more persuasive argument.


  126. Howard

    TrevorM #125
    The Pharisees were a learned scholarly group. When I say they might have preferred a learned scholarly Jesus, I was basing it on the difficulty they had agreeing with him and he with them.

    In Mark 8 the Pharisees came forth, and began to question Jesus, seeking a sign. Jesus sighed deeply asking why doth this generation seek after a sign? Clearly they weren’t on the same page. Jesus’ position of course was right, but from the Pharisees perspective Jesus might have been easier to deal with if he was learned and scholarly as well.

  127. I inexplicably just read all 127 comments and I have absolutely no clue what people are arguing. I reread the original post again and got Steve’s comment in #1 (which I agree with). But beyond that…

  128. Mogget

    #129, Clark

    You’ve got 98% of it, then. And since it’s Friday you have my permission to start the weekend without the other 2%.


  129. TrevorM

    Clark my advice is to pay particular attention to posts: 108, 112, and 120.

    On the subject of critical argument. I may be having a bit too much fun with the thread.

    Howard 128, I think this is a nice clarification, I don’t think the point stands though. Your point makes an assumption that doesn’t necessarily follow: that education levels and being scholarly/not scholarly were the things inhibiting mutual (gospel) understanding. I don’t think the text supports this, It seems that pride and sin were what were the way of the Pharisees’ understanding, but even this is likely to be a bad oversimplification. There are many other possible causes of communication problems. Also from a faith context I am not sure that Jesus had any trouble understanding the Pharisees.

    I also am not understanding the implications of this new point. Are you attempting to suggest that learning is a barrier to Gospel understanding, or that different levels of learning between people are a barrier? How is this relating to your point that one can succeed at critical argument etc without grad school, or your point that grad school is not a good/attainable goal for everyone, if it is supposed to relate at all?

  130. FHL

    I’d just like to paraphrase Tracy M:

    I heart Mogget! =)

    Every comment you make here (and there are quite a few in this thread) comes across with patience, reasoning, understanding. Your responses indicate long-suffering, perhaps in more ways than one.

  131. Howard

    In the Mark 8 example the Pharisees were not seeking gospel understanding, had this been the case Jesus could have quickly supplied it. They were seeking proof in the form of a sign. In other words, they wanted Jesus to conform to their frame of reference by answering them in the way they had been taught.

    Education itself did not get in the way; it was the Pharisees insistence that their way was superior to Jesus’ that created the problem. Sure, pride was involved.

  132. Hey Howard, do you even have a point to make in this thread?

    At first you made a snide sounding comment that obviously implied there is some sort of wickedness associated with having a grad school education but then when people called you out on it you started parrying with one liners and generally playing coy. Why not just swallow your pride a bit say “yeah I made a snide remark that carried an unfair and unsupportable implication — my bad”?

  133. TrevorM

    Howard I love you! you keep changing the subject 🙂

  134. Howard

    Geoff J,
    Please identify the snide remark and show the obvious implication tying wickedness with a grad school education.

  135. Hehe. I strongly suspect you are still being coy Howard but I’ll bite.

    In your very first comment in this thread (#59) you said:

    “Grad school. The Pharisees and Sadducees might have preferred it, but I don’t recall Jesus going.”

    First, there are obvious implications of using those symbols to make a point. “The Pharisees and Sadducees” symbolize the wicked. Jesus represent our most righteous exemplar. So the implication of your comment could be restated like this:

    “Grad school. The Wicked might have preferred it, but I don’t recall our most righteous exemplar going.”

    Now of course the meaning of this one liner is not very clear. It could mean that the wicked prefer grad school but the righteous avoid it. That is false and snide if that is what you meant (it is how I read your comment at first and if it is what you meant you were tying the wicked with grad school).

    Now you could have meant that the Pharisees and Sadduccees might have been happier with Jesus if he had gone to grad school. If that is what you meant it doesn’t even make sense to me. Here’s why:

    1. There was no such thing as grad school then so the assertion is nonsense to begin with
    2. If you mean they might have been converted if Jesus was more educated then it seems you are taking a swipe at Jesus’s ability to communicate clearly with them — that seems problematic
    3. If you meant that Pharisees and Sadduccees would have liked Jesus more if he had their same training it still makes no sense. They hated his ideas and teachings. Why would they have liked them any more if he had their same training?

    Whatever your point was, it was not presented clearly or backed up. That is the kind of thing Moggett is lamenting in this post. She prescribes grad school as the solution. (I suspect that while grad school attendance wouldn’t hurt, it would not be as much of a universal cure to the problem as Moggs implies.)

  136. Jordan

    In retrospect, I think that we may well be doing Howard an injustice by insisting upon an improper interpretation of his initial remark. Truthfully, I first understood it as a disparagement of grad schoolers, but I think we were wrong to read it this way. (By “we.” I am particularly including Geoff and Trevor. Not because I want to pick on either of you, but because you both apparently read him the same way that I did.)

    Howard later clarified that his point is that, while he agrees that graduate school can be a valuable learning experience (he has acknowledged this at least twice), it is not a realistic expectation for many people. He also believes that it is not always necessary to attend graduate school in order to understand and communicate gospel truths. (Admittedly, Jesus might not be the best example; the genius Son of God may have certain, ah, “advantages” which most people will not!)

    Accepting that this is his position, I reviewed all of his past comments to see if they were consonant with such a reading. Indeed, they do, and I invite anyone who doubts this to conduct the experiment themselves. Particularly, his first comment struck us as implying more than Howard meant to imply, but when read from the perspective of Howard’s later claims the perceived insult dissipates. Ironically, this is a good example of what Mog was talking about: writing which implies both less and more than it should, and thus reduces the credibility of the writer.

    His immediately following comments are sarcastic and unhelpful, but in no way do they contradict Howard’s avowed intent. This tone (and I hope you are reading, Howard) probably contributed to antagonism, making it even more difficult to believe a more reasonable intent on Howard’s part. Nevertheless, he has consistently voiced the same sentiments I outlined above. Other commentators are repeatedly calling him to order for his very first comment. Indeed, people don’t even think he has a point—but in fact, he has been defending the same points over and over.

    In light of this, I propose the following:

    1. Those who insist that Howard should recognise how poorly he communicated, and the implicit snideness in his remark: let it drop. I implore you to consider offering a brief apology for misinterpreting him; you may rankle at this suggestion, but I think it would go some way to building a bridge towards Howard.

    2. Howard, please recognise that your initial comment was opaque, and thus perceived as insulting by many readers. Maybe you are unimpressed, but when a large number of intelligent individuals are sure you meant something you did not, you need to consider the possibility that your phrasing was partly to blame. Again, in the interest of building bridges, it would be good for you to recognise this.

    I understand that this will require discarding some pride. Personally, I consider this a reasonable price if it will put an amicable end to this unproductive, circuitous discussion. So I’ll conclude by saying: Howard, I’m sorry I misread you. I can see now that you did not intend to insult anyone with your first comment.

  137. Howard

    Geoff J,
    #59 was not a snide comment.

    Sure, the Pharisees and Sadducees symbolize the wicked but they also symbolize the learned and scholarly. The subject of this post is grad school as it relates to communication, not the righteous vs. the wicked.

    Clearly there was a communication problem between the educated Pharisees and Jesus.

    As you point out they hated his ideas and teachings. They wanted to discredit him. My comment speculated that they might have been more successful in their effort to discredit him had he been trained to play by their learned and scholarly rules. See 128 & 133.

    “Whatever your point was, it was not presented clearly or backed up. That is the kind of thing Moggett is lamenting in this post.”

    Apparently it was not presented clearly. But, it was eventually backed up in 128 & 133, the reader has some responsibility here as well.

    I was fairly criticized by you on your blog for posting scripture and GA quotes without exegesis. I am not a scholar, I did not attend grad school but after your brief tutoring my posts improved.

    Mogs tutored me in this thread; If you have been misrepresented in some significant fashion it is your job to support that assertion. I listened and applied her comment to my later posts including 128 & 133.

    Mogs’ criticizism is well founded but her conclusion that grad school is necessary is not. My posts serve as an example of both.

    Yes, my initial comment was opaque, deliberately so, I wanted the reader to think. Obviously I missed the mark by more than a mile.

    Many simply locked on to their own formula; Pharisees = wicked and would not let go even when I repeatedly attempted to correct it to Pharisees = learned and scholarly. Readers were opaque as well, so blinded that I was even accused of being disingenuous.

    Few it seems wanted to be identified in any way with the Pharisees.

    Thank you for your well thought out eloquent comments and your skilled bridge building.

  138. Mogget

    At the risk of extending this sometimes tedious thread, let me expand a bit on some of Jordan’s points. Jordan has constructed a bit of a narrative here that portrays Howard in a favorable light. Other narratives could be constructed. In this regard Howard is lucky not skillful, because in order to be seen favorably by a significant number of skillful readers he required someone else to make his case.

    When we enter a discussion, it is our responsibility to establish our “creds” as fruitful dialogue partners, and then as experts of some sort if that is part of our contribution. Sarcasm is a bad, bad choice for a first comment unless we are well-known and others are favorably inclined toward us. There’s some kind of a saying around, to the effect that no one cares how much we know until they know how much we care. Sarcasm and most forms of dark humor do not indicate how much we care to folks who don’t already know us.

    The same goes for one-liners. Who wants to talk with someone that can’t or won’t string two or three sentences together or create a transition? And what is it with the need to “score points” on others, like animals teenage males at the dinner table? You may never recover from this sort of behavior because no one will be inclined to extend much trust in the future.

    It is not the responsibility of our readers to somehow pry our real thoughts from us. It is our responsibility to be as clear and transparent as possible if we wish to be heard and appreciated.

    I know I sound like a broken record, but clear, coherent, concise writing comes with practice, not magic. The standard is that our remarks should be clear in one quick reading. If we make the reader work too hard, he or she is unlikely to continue to give us the attention our ideas deserve.

    And if we make a mistake, speak in haste, exhibit poor critical thinking skills or whatever, there’s no shame in admitting our need to re-think the issues. We need to admit the flaw, beg everyone’s pardon, and get on with life. We actually like humility best when it is displayed in others…

    Now I don’t really care whether you pick up these skills in grad school, high school, at work, or watching others here on the bloggernacle. But too many good thoughts go unappreciated because their authors can’t or won’t take the time to present them so that readers see what they have to say in a favorable light.


  139. Howard

    “Clear, coherent, concise writing comes with practice, not magic.”

    Mogs I agree.

    But communication problems can be caused by other things that are not necessarily taught in grad school.

    For instance, we all have blind spots. I recall reading about the concept of “lock on lock out”. This can get in the way of our quickly seeing both images in an optical illusion; we tend to lock on to one image while locking out the other.

    The trait is not necessarily bad, it is frequently found among successful founding entrepreneurs. Apparently they tend to lock on to a concept they believe in while locking out contrary information allowing them to focus on success even when others may think it’s a crazy idea.

    Self-awareness allows us to monitor ourselves for this trait and can prevent us from jumping to conclusions or arriving at the wrong conclusion.

  140. Jordan

    Thank you, Mogget, for your continued, articulate tutelage on the importance of good, clear, sensitive writing in establishing credibility.

    Howard, I’m glad that you are applying Mogs’ criticism to grow in strength and skill as a rhetorician, and that you accept my apology.

  141. Peter LLC


    If the pedantic approach selected by a teacher does not work for a difficult student, is not there some wisdom in adopting a different approach rather than, as you say, extending a tedious thread or risk sounding like a broken record?

    There’s some kind of saying around, to the effect that one of the definitions of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

  142. Howard: Yes, my initial comment was opaque, deliberately so, I wanted the reader to think.

    Ah yes, the old “say something largely meaningless but in a mysterious/profound sounding way” trick; a technique used in gospel doctrine classes the world over.

    Of course that trick works much better in Sunday school because the Mormon aversion to “contention” at church keeps people from saying “Huh? What on earth are you even talking about?”

  143. Howard

    Geoff J,
    Well, I disagree with your description.

    But, yes like SS I was trying to say it softly but keep it thought provoking and avoid an argument over the value of credentials. I expected to amplify my points later.

  144. Jordan

    As a web developer, can I just mention a few little things which will help people to express themselves better on blogs like this?

    First, use the em and strong tags to give <em>emphasis</em> and <strong>strong emphasis</strong> to text.

    To quote a passage of text, use blockquote:

    <blockquote>Anything you quote between these tags is indented.

    You can even quote more than one paragraph!</blockquote>

    Finally, if you want a special character, use this list to find the correct entity. For example, to do an em-dash, type &mdash; and you will get this: —

    Professionally speaking, it pains me to see that this page has an XHTML 1.1 doctype, but is served with a “text/html” MIME type, but I doubt even the blog owners have a clue what I’m talking about, or how to fix it! 😉

  145. Jordan

    (And, above, is a perfect illustration of why you should be extra-careful about using HTML on someone’s blog. If either Mog/TT could go to the second paragraph and add a closing-slash to the emphasis tag…?) [Done]

  146. Mogget


    There are a variety of pedagogical choices, several of which have already been deployed in this thread. What I have been watching for is a sense that Howard understands that the challenges he’s facing were created by his rhetorical choices and should be resolved by him. For the record, he and I posted at the same time this AM. At this point, there are indeed a number of ways to proceed.


    Sorry for the extended absence but it’s that time of year for Bible dorks who teach. I enjoyed freshman convocation but the heels I wore made my feet hurt.

    Ironically, this thread contains at least one and perhaps two classic examples of precisely what my original post tried to avert. At this point, perhaps it is best to take a “clean slate” approach and see what the future holds. I intend to post again on rhetoric, probably on legitimation strategies.


  147. Howard

    When/if you can find the time, I would love to see your rewording of my opening comment 59 based on 128, 133 & 140.

  148. What, can’t you call someone a Pharisee without them taking it poorly? Kids these days.

  149. Howard

    Actually, I think there is a little Pharisee in all of us, our inability to see.

    Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth. These Pharisees were wicked because they were not blind.

    When Jesus called the Pharisees blind guides he was not referring to their wickedness, he was addressing their inability to see, their spiritual blindness.

    Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees means be careful, the mindset of the Pharisees may negatively influence you. Leaven was their teachings, their hypocrisy and their pride. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments.

    But one could also be lead astray by their innocent blindness.

    A current example of this might be the academic exclusion of Jesus Christ as our exemplar because he is the genius Son of God. President Hinckley cites Matthew 19:21 calling Jesus Christ our great Exemplar.

    Bruce R. McConkie offered an interesting opinion that I agree with:

    It does not concern me very much that somebody evaluates either a doctrinal or a Church problem of any sort when he does it from the standpoint of intellect alone. Everything spiritual is in total and complete accord with the intellectual realities that we arrive at through reason. But when the two are compared as to their relative merits, the things that are important are spiritual things and not intellectual things.

  150. Howard,
    I’m no Mogget but I can give it a shot.

    “I think what we may be dealing with is an issue of communication or the lack thereof. If Jesus had been trained in the grad schools of his day (the rabbinic schools that the Pharisees and Sadduccees attended), he may have done a better job of communicating to them in their own jargon, but I don’t believe that the thrust of his arguments would have been as effective. Jesus’s choice to approach the Gospel colloquially allowed him to communicate with those who would condescend to listen, humbling themselves in a way that those insisting on a given level of discourse might find impossible.”

    It isn’t as pithy, but I think it makes the point more clearly and less offensively.

  151. Howard

    John C,
    Thank you for this thoughtful effort. This format is new for me. Just reading someone else’s draft is helps to focus my ideas.

  152. Howard

    Regarding the academic exclusion of Jesus Christ as our exemplar:
    It was suggested that an appeal to Jesus may not be a good argument because the genius Son of God he has certain advantages.

    Jesus needed those advantages. His mission was to become Christ, our redeemer. This required him to be born into an eye for an eye Old Testament world and single-handedly create Christianity. It required him to live a sinless life, to kneel in Gesthemane to take on our sins and our afflictions and to be crucified.

    We are not expected to what he did, we are only expected to follow his example. In this case we are admonished to beware of mindset of the Pharisees and cautioned that they can be blind guides.

  153. Howard,
    I don’t believe that there is an academic exclusion of Christ as our exemplar. Certainly there are many church-going, sincere, academic Christians. Further, academics don’t exclude discussion of Christ or perceptions of his teachings; they do, however, tend to approach claims to authoritative interpretations critically. Since Christ is not immediately available for participation in public discussion regarding specific interpretations of His word or His will, it behooves us to test the interpretations that are presented to us as seems best to us.

  154. Howard

    John C,
    Are you aware of other ways to successfully defend using Christ as our exemplar?

  155. Howard,
    I’m not sure what you mean. Could you elaborate?

  156. TT

    Howard, I raise the question to you again that I raised earlier: Exemplar with respect to what? Miracle performing? Maleness? Beardedness? Breaking of the Sabbath? Being a martyr? Being a Messiah? Contending against contemporary religious authorities who seem to miss the point?

  157. Howard

    John C,
    Sure, I attempted to introduce Jesus Christ into this thread, but it was challenged; Jesus may not be a good argument because he has certain advantages as the genius Son of God.

    Critical arguments are new to me; it took some time to think through 155 defending his use as an exemplar. I’m wondering if there are other ways to defend this.

  158. Howard

    Jesus did not buy into the Pharisees’ frame of reference. In this case we are admonished to beware of their mindset and we are cautioned that they can be blind guides.

  159. smallaxe


    It’s about how you invoke Jesus that makes the difference. We all accept the claim that he is our exemplar, but that statement itself needs further refinement. Why does he provide an example of how to pray, but not of what occupation to have? There are some cases in which we follow Jesus in doing what he has done, and many cases in which we do not. Simply saying “Jesus did not study as the Pharisees did” does not automatically mean that we should do likewise. Similar to the way that Jesus had no job, yet we all most likely should. If you want to claim that we should follow the example of Jesus in not studying (or in any other case), you have to provide a reason for following Jesus in this instance but not in others.

  160. Howard,
    I tend to approach Jesus as an exemplar regarding personal moral behavior and decision making. I don’t think that requires a defense to anyone but myself.

  161. Howard

    So, the defense must be specific to the claim. Thank you for the explanation.

    Just to be clear, I am not simply saying “Jesus did not study as the Pharisees did”. I think he is warning us, telling us not to be fooled by credentials or academic trappings. Beware, teachings can be false. Caution, teachers can be hypocritical, prideful and/or blind.

    Thanks John.

  162. smallaxe

    Just to be clear, I am not simply saying “Jesus did not study as the Pharisees did”. I think he is warning us, telling us not to be fooled by credentials or academic trappings. Beware, teachings can be false. Caution, teachers can be hypocritical, prideful and/or blind.

    Thank you for clarifying. For what it’s worth these are two very different kinds of arguments. The first is basically saying, “We should do as Jesus did”, the second says, “We should listen to Jesus’ advice.” Depending on which one you are making, you will have to back it up different ways. In #162 I explained how to back up the first, but it seems that you are also making the second argument. In order to justify this you would have to A) Show that this is a correct interpretation of something that Jesus said (usually done by citing scripture). B) Explain why we should listen to Jesus. HOWEVER, since we a) Already likely accept this is a correct interpretation of something that Jesus said, and b) Believe that we should generally listen to Jesus, there is probably no need to do A and B.

  163. Howard

    Well, this has been a bumpy but enlightening thread.

    Mogs, thank you for your patience and tutoring. TT, sorry I mistook your “grad school humor” and examples for sarcasm. Please accept my apology. TrevorM, your comment; “mean what you say and say what you mean” was very helpful causing me to look much deeper for clarity. Jordan, thank you for saying what I couldn’t so eloquently. Geoff J, we seem to have improved our game, wrapping it up in just a few comments this time. John C, thank you for helping me clarify my thoughts. SmallAxe, thanks again for your clear well thought out answers.