November 24th, 2013

On Appealing to Authority

In any debate, it is common to encounter a logical fallacy—an error in reasoning that weakens, if not negates, the individual’s argument. There are many of them, and knowing what they are and how to avoid them can help to strengthen a person’s ability to engage in discussion on any topic.

One such logical fallacy is the appeal to authority, when somebody claims that because a certain authoritative figure has stated that X is true, it therefore follows (without question) that X is true. This claim sidesteps logical analysis of X, instead concluding with certainty that it must be true because it has been affirmed by somebody who claims to know about it. John Locke described it this way: “When men are established in any kind of dignity, it is thought a breach of modesty for others to derogate any way from it, and question the authority of men who are in possession of it.”

In religious discussion, critics often cite this logical fallacy as a reason why Christians—and more particularly Mormons, with their belief in modern-day prophets—are errant for believing things merely because some authority figure has spoken them. Especially in social media discussions, such critics will respond to any scripture or prophetic statement with a dismissive “appeal to authority!” comment, indicating their supposed logical superiority.

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November 17th, 2013

How to Defeat the Utah Data Center

The following is an op-ed I had published in this weekend’s Salt Lake Tribune.

“Concealed within his fortress, the lord of Mordor sees all. His gaze pierces cloud, shadow, earth, and flesh.” —Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Like the eye of Sauron, the NSA’s new facility in Utah overlooks hundreds of thousands of people in the valley below. Perched on a mountainside fortress of concrete and barricades, the one million square foot complex exists solely to allow the NSA to “see all.”

In the wake of the Snowden leaks and widespread concern with the pervasive surveillance activities of the federal government, many Americans have been wondering how to fight back. Can an effective opposition even be mounted against the power of the NSA? What can be done to restore privacy and protect our rights?

The strategy to succeed is quite simple. When fully operational, the NSA facility is expected to require a staggering 1.7 million gallons of water every day to cool down the computers harvesting information on people worldwide. That water is supplied by Bluffdale City. Without it, the facility cannot function.

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November 15th, 2013

The Misguided Movement to Restrict Internet Porn

A new citizen petition on the White House website asks the Obama administration to “require porn to be an ‘opt in’ feature with Internet Service Providers rather than a standard feature.” In an effort to collect enough signatures, proponents of this request are heavily promoting it on email lists and social media. Their efforts are misguided and in fact dangerous.

As a person whose livelihood requires using the internet on a regular basis, I have, like many others, encountered content I find objectionable without my actively looking for it. This is the basis of the petition’s request: people who want pornography should be allowed to opt in and get it, but the rest of us—and especially our children—should not have to stumble upon it accidentally, subjecting ourselves to images that cannot be forgotten, and whose effect can be psychologically and spiritually detrimental.

As a parent, I can sympathize with this desire. I, too, want to protect my children. I, too, want to shield them from illicit images and degrading content. I want the same results that the petition’s proponents want, and yet cannot in any way support their methods of pursuing those results. Let’s look at a few reasons why.

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October 24th, 2013

The Peril of Pre-Existing Conditions

In a case study highlighting how off course many Republicans have become from their professed ideals of free enterprise, limited government, and low taxes, the former spokeswoman for the Utah Governor, Angie Welling, recently railed against Mike Lee for his efforts to obstruct “Obamacare.”

Welling, a Republican, writes that her mother, a 16-year breast cancer survivor, is “uninsured and uninsurable.” Her cancer constitutes a pre-existing condition that “prevents her from obtaining health insurance.”

Today, God willing, Mom will sign up for health insurance on the federal health exchange. She will finally have coverage. That is, if you and your group of obstructionist legislators don’t ultimately get your way. You and your ilk are acting like schoolyard bullies – stomping your feet and making threats to upend the entire country if you don’t get what you want.

The debate over pre-existing conditions has been passionate and exhaustive. Those with a medical condition, past or current, feel slighted by insurance companies who refuse to provide them coverage. They largely consider medical coverage as a basic human right being denied them by greedy corporations, and therefore see their circumstance as unjust. Such persons—along with their family members and friends who are sympathetic to their situation—petition the government to intercede on their behalf, thereby compelling insurance companies to take customers that they otherwise would choose not to assist.

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October 21st, 2013

Should Libertarians Support War to Defend the Defenseless?

Libertarians apply the non-aggression principle to both interpersonal and geopolitical conflicts. This means that self-defense is justified against a threat of any size, whether it be from an individual or an entire army. Put simply, we are morally justified in employing violence only to deter an attack.

Of course, not all wars involved groups of people with similar size, skill, and supplies. Those being attacked are, in many cases, ill-equipped and largely defenseless, leading to outright slaughter, and in some scenarios, borderline genocide. Many libertarians struggle to reconcile their political philosophy with this very real circumstance. It’s a question we must all ponder: is war justified when it’s being done in defense of a defenseless, victimized third party?

A strict interpretation of just war theory and the non-aggression principle would lead most people to conclude that the answer is no. My answer is a qualified yes.

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October 11th, 2013

No Caucus Means Flyover Counties

The following is an op-ed I had published in today’s Deseret News.

For years, former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt led a failed effort to create a presidential primary in the West, hoping to remedy the longstanding concern that Utah and other surrounding states are “fly-over states,” meaning that candidates don’t spend much time or attention here. Now, Leavitt and his like-minded associates are promoting an effort to create this same problem in Utah.

The “Count My Vote” initiative—a proposal to dismantle Utah’s hybrid caucus/convention and primary system and move to primaries alone—would disenfranchise rural counties with sparse populations around the state, thus creating “fly-over counties” that would fail to attract candidates for state-wide office during a primary or general election.

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October 6th, 2013

Doubting Your Doubts Before Doubting Your Faith

I know many people who have struggled with or completely abandoned the Mormon faith. Some have problems with the Church’s doctrinal claims, others grew apathetic to the gospel’s lifestyle requirements, and a select few allowed a personality conflict or other evidence of a Church leader’s fallibility fester until they could not separate the gospel of Christ from the actions of His followers.

These challenges are not new, having existed since the Church was established. As Joseph Smith erected the structure of the Latter-day Church, even his closest confidants sometimes strongly disagreed with his decisions and doctrinal proclamations to the point of breaking away altogether from the Church. But after nearly two centuries of precedent and practice, combined with the rise of the information age and new media whereby people can research and write about any topic they desire, doctrinal disputes have astronomically outpaced the other reasons for disaffection from the Church.

From its inception, the Church of Jesus Christ has been criticized and attacked. Scholarly attempts to undermine its central claims have fallen short, time and again. As Elder Holland said regarding the keystone of the religion, the Book of Mormon:

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October 5th, 2013

Women and the Priesthood: Separate but Equal

The so-called “separate but equal” legal doctrine purported to empower state governments to discriminate against individuals on the basis of their race. Cruel stories highlighting the problem with such an approach fill volumes of books, all pointing to the evident injustice of the law.

In the landmark SCOTUS case Brown v. Board of Education the justices opined, “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”—thus beginning to dismantle the inequality perpetuated by the state through its favorable treatment of one group over another.

The underlying reason for which such a legal system was so egregious is that the government is comprised of the citizens over which it governs. Thus, no unjustly discriminatory action can be undertaken that favors one class of citizens over another. No authority exists to restrict government services or offerings to one group and exclude them from another, when all pay taxes to fund them, and when said government only legitimately operates with the collectively delegated authority of every class of citizen.

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September 23rd, 2013

Time to Decriminalize Polygamy

The following is an op-ed I had published in this weekend’s Salt Lake Tribune.

On May 15, 1945, fifteen men in suits and ties gathered for a photo opportunity on the steps of the Utah State Prison as they began their indeterminate sentences of up to five years. The supposed crime for which they were being incarcerated was “unlawful cohabitation.”

Put differently, the freedom of fifteen men was severely restricted, with taxpayers footing the bill for their prosecution and incarceration, because the men had strayed outside society’s norm by consensually choosing to love, support, and live with more than one female companion and their subsequent children.

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September 19th, 2013

Marriage and the Church, Sitting in a Tree, playing D-E-F-E-N-S-E

The fight for Proposition 8 was a mess. The effort to uphold heterosexual marriage through law gave the LDS Church a political and cultural black eye. As a result of the political and financial capital exhausted in the unsuccessful effort, and given the continuing trend of increased support for same-sex marriage nationwide, the Church is evidently seeking to employ a new stratagem.

This new tactic is entirely a defensive one. Rather than investing time, money, and talents (in select locations only) to enforce a political definition of marriage that is in harmony with current church doctrine, Latter-day Saints are being asked to voice their views (whatever they may be) and in doing so seek exemptions for the Church.

Mormons in Hawaii, for example, have been asked to fight for “a strong exemption for people and organizations of faith” including protection for “religious organizations and officials from being required to support or perform same-sex marriages or from having to host same-sex marriages or celebrations in their facilities” and protection for “individuals and small businesses from being required to assist in promoting or celebrating same-sex marriages.”

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September 9th, 2013

Rumors of Wars

In a private discussion with Jesus, some of his disciples asked him about events preceding his Second Coming. In addition to warnings of false Christs and widespread deception, Jesus notes that the calamities occurring before his arrival would begin in an atmosphere of “wars and rumors of war.”

Many other scriptures make reference to this same concept. For example, in his vision of his posterity Nephi “beheld wars, and rumors of wars.” In a later vision of the latter days, Nephi likewise “beheld… that there were wars and rumors of wars among all the nations and kindreds of the earth.” His use of the term, as a descriptor of his visionary experience, provides the context it so often lacks. One cannot really behold, or see, what today is considered a rumor—false information verbally conveyed by one person to another.

Noah Webster’s wonderful 1828 dictionary offers insight into the meaning of the term as used in the vernacular of the time when the Book of Mormon and other books of scripture were published. It defines ‘rumor’ as:

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September 5th, 2013

Are Foreign Interventions in America’s National Security Interest?

As talking heads and political elites manufacture support for yet another war, this time in Syria, they are employing the standard interventionist justification for military aggression. “It’s in our national interest,” we are emphatically and persistently told.

Almost every single supporter of the intervention has robotically repeated this refrain. While it has been sufficiently convincing over the years, embedding itself into the American psyche as a reference point upon which wars are now justified, it is fundamentally illegitimate.

To explain why, imagine applying the same standard to police work. What if, rather than requiring probable cause, law enforcement officers could detain and arrest people if it was in their “law enforcement interest”? What if judges and juries could determine guilt not as something being beyond a reasonable doubt, but based on the “interests” of the justice system?

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