King of the Faeries

Sometimes it gets rather tiresome sorting through the nuanced yet sloppy reasoning of the typical national newspaper pundit, so let's just gaze with wonder at how bad things could be.  Enter Pastor John Hagee, unrepudiated and unrejected friend and supporter of John McCain, maverick:

HAGEE: All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are — were recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. And the promise of that parade was that it was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other Gay Pride parades. So I believe that the judgment of God is a very real thing. I know that there are people who demur from that, but I believe that the Bible teaches that when you violate the law of God, that God brings punishment sometimes before the day of judgment. And I believe that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.

Let's say it was.  Now the parade might have been canceled, but lots of non-gay people had their lives and homes destroyed.  I suppose they were just collateral damage. 

UPDATE 4/26/2008

Pastor Hagee has retracted this claim.

29 thoughts on “King of the Faeries”

  1. Amazing.
    Generally, though, dissecting the logic of our bretheren on the religious far-right has all of the challenge and appeal of beating up a four year old child. While it may be tiresome to repeatedly hammer pundits and media figures, at least doing so doesn’t leave me with the shameful feeling that I’m mocking the mentally retarded.

  2. Sometimes I think that, Ed, but then I’m reminded of what one of my students said (after I made a similar comment).  She said, not everyone is a philosophy professor.  

    Aside from that, there are lots of people whose necks hurt from nodding–such is their agreement with the reasoning of the Reverend Hagee.   

  3. It’s a disservice to Hagee to assume that he is mentally deficient. In many ways, I think Hagee knows exactly what he is doing. In other ways, he is just plain immoral and hateful. But mentally challenged, I think not. He has the capacity to understand basic logic, like almost every human. But rhetoric is usually more expedient than argument. Assuming Hagee naturally lacks intelligence (like Bush, for example), reduces his culpability for his actions and words. 

  4. I’m not so sure Hagee’s reasoning is flawed, per se. He’s more-or-less starting with premises such as "All hurricanes are acts of God." If that’s your starting point, it seems to follow that God (assuming omnipotence and omniscience) intended a hurricane to devastate New Orleans.Nowhere does Hagee say that the parade was the reason for the Hurricane. It’s only implicated as the "sin that broke the camel’s back," by Hagee’s best belief. Here, though, he gets to sketchier logical ground.Your best chance to bring him up on charges of fallacious reasoning is his conclusion ("Hurricane Katrina was the judgment of God"), with its attribution of a judicial motive. It only follows that God intended the devastation–who knows for what reason. But most likely Hagee has theological premises which entail this move as well.I generally see this sort of stuff as bad and unfalsifiable premises, rather than, as you have it here, an instance of the Post hoc fallacy.
    Totally non-sequitious PS: My spell check is insisting on premisses, rather than premises, for the plural. What’s up with that? Is the double-‘s’ premiss British? (The OED sez, without specification of either side of the Atlantic: "In Logic still freq. in form premiss, but in general use now usu. in form premise.")

  5. Don’t know Jeremy.  How about this: granted God controls the weather; granted also there was to be the gayest of all gay pride parades.  Now there was a hurricane, so the gay pride parade with all of the planned gayness was the cause, on account of the simple fact that the one, the gay pride parade planning, preceded the other–God’s hurricane.  God, of course, causes the hurricane, but here if we look at the evidence, the hurricane happens because of the gayness.  The gayness brought about God’s hurricane like wrath (onto a bunch of poor people).

  6. So, it is really an argument to the best explanation, something like:

    a) God controls the weather.

    b) God dislikes homosexuals (and destroys the cities they live in).

    c) The weather destroyed N.O.

    d) There were homosexuals in N.O.

    e) Therefore, it is plausible that God destroyed N.O. because of the gay people there.

    The logic looks fine in one sense. If offers a plausible explanation given the premises at first glance. Premises a and b seem likely to be false to me. But if they were true, it would seem to be a decent explanation. But more work would be needed to strengthen the conclusion: One wonders of course why other cities were spared. Or why N.O. (other than the parade on Monday) was put at the top of the list. And, one wonders why such an inefficient means of smiting was chosen. Lightning would have more “surgical precision” and wouldn’t also hurt all those sparrows falling from the trees, etc.

    So, even if it is logically coherent (in some narrow sense), it seems to have a somewhat ridiculous task of trying to render this explanatory principle plausible more generally. Of course, there is always the mysterious ways of God, or Hagee’s God, to be appealed to.

  7. I think we may grant a, b, c, and d and still not see them as minimally sufficient for e in that there are lots of cities with gay pride parades, and no consequent destruction.  If a-d are to have the kind of explanatory value they ought to have for this inference pattern to work, there ought to be more regularity.  In the absence of such regularity, it seems he’s just isolating an incidental temporal relation as the basis of his explanatory causal inference.  But maybe that’s what you meant.  Or maybe I have you wrong.


    In other matters, I have no idea about this comment thing.  Perhaps we need a better comment window.

  8. [Is there an easy way for you to enable a preview comment button? Let’s see if my paragraph breaks are eaten again.]

    I still think the heart of his argument is unrelated to the parade. I think it’s meant as one piece of a plethora of evidence for the premise, "New Orleans is sinful," which is probably a valid bit of induction given the moral tenets in play here. I see the Post Hoc that you’re talking about now. What if we granted him another premise,

    1. All those who suffer are made to suffer for their sin.

    Perhaps I’m being too charitable to his argument, or too malicious to his theology. But does this save the logic? I suspect something like this is in play. I’m operating here under a sort of conviction that religious fundamentalism and its views could not have become such a powerful force if it was in blatant violation of logic, and thus it’s worth searching for the premise which explains the logic he’s proposing, rather than dismiss it.

    Premise (1) seems to accord with some of what I’ve heard in fundamentalist rhetoric. It seems to me that a problem with critiquing this sort of religious dialogue is that you might have to dig up some weird hidden premises that much of his audience shares–perhaps only implicitly. Can’t these shared, unstated premises be the basis for valid logical deductions? At what point do unstated premises in an argument make it invalid? In any real argument, much is assumed of the audience. And one suspects Hagee has a particular audience in mind.

  9. Well, let’s say that I notice that someone has written anti-redhead grafitti on a wall. And I believe that Nicodemus has written grafitti before and dislikes redheads. I might infer that Nicodemus wrote that grafitti to express his dislike of redheads.

    Is there something wrong with this inference? Is it analogous to Hagee’s argument? 


    I suppose the big difference is that we are already granting that it is an expression of anti-redheaded sentiment. So let’s change it to has smashed the windows of a house.

  10. Jeremy you raise some interesting points–ones we have been discussing around here recently.  David, a frequent commenter, wondered about the extent of charity due to such charlatans as Hagee.  I think some is due.  But not more than is due to anyone else. 

    You’re certainly right to suggest that perhaps it would be useful to go looking for the logic of his claim.  I’d hardly suggest that Hagee lacks it altogether and as such should be dismissed.  Dismissing anyone, after all, is the last thing I would advocate as the proper response to any criticism offered here.  At most, if we’re right, then one ought to reject the claims being offered as without ground.

    I suppose finally the claim that all who suffer are made to suffer on account of their sin might be something worth considering.  It has an air of the irrefutable, however, and as such doesn’t explain much.  Besides, I wouldn’t know how to go about seeing if it’s true.  It has a kind of intentional feature to it (are made to suffer) that we can’t really even begin to ascertain, given our wayfarer intellects. 


  11. I think the difference between a causal regularity and a divine expression of vengeance and anger is that the latter does not need to be generalizable in order to explain. Natural explanations seem to require regularity etc., supernatural do not. God might just wake up one day and smite cities filled with redheads with fog and drizzle.

  12. Hey Colin, as to the first above, that seems like a reasonable inference (f—ing Nicodemus), if you live in a very very small Athenian deme.  But if you live in Athens proper, then there are lots of malcontents.

    The divine expression of vengeance, as Jeremy points out, could be invoked to explain any instance of suffering–earthquakes, Tsunamis, etc.  It’s just not particularly enlightening, especially when it’s so inconsistent that we cannot infer any kind of general rule from it.   Sometimes people are punished here (like the poor people suffering for the gay pride parade in New Orleans) sometimes not.  What’s a child of the Lord to make of it? 


  13. Yep. It’s not ultimately a good explanation for most of us. Makes you feel a bit verificationist or something. Why do tornadoes hit straight america (just guessing about that)? God must be testing them. Why does a Hurricane hit N.O? God doesn’t like homosexuals.

    For many of us, it is ultimately either a non-explanation, or an entirely superfluous one. But, if you grant that it is a possible explanatory principle ("So I believe that the judgment of God is a very real
    thing), its application to this case seems relatively coherent (as a matter of logic, but not, obviously as science, or theology, or just plain human decency).

  14. Hm.  There are lots of possible explanatory principles available.  One could potentially invoke any one of them to explain the arrival of the hurricane at precisely that time (or any time).  More things are needed, I think, to make this particular (and very contentious) causal claim of his stick.

  15. Not necessarily. If you are talking to people who do not accept the principle and you are trying to explain that the principle holds, then yes. I suspect that isn’t his intention here, but rather to affirm his beliefs and show how they can or might explain the destruction of N.O.

  16. Aside from the vacuousness of his initial principle (God is punishing when bad stuff happens), it seems this method of explanatory justification allows too much.  As long as what Hagee asserts is consistent with some other principle of his, then we’re fine, and we have to challenge him on other grounds (if we disagree with him).

    My objection, however, is that he hasn’t done enough (even on his assumptions) to demonstrate that God’s wrath explains the various relevant features of this hurricane. 

    But perhaps I’m being obtuse. 

    A bit of semi-relevant context: Hagee was speaking on NPR (of all places).  Having said that, I see your point about argument context.  Had Hagee been talking to a group of his congregation, then he can’t take a lot more for granted.  When he moves out onto NPR, then maybe a little less. 

  17. Regarding taking less for granted on NPR: supposing Hagee does hold my proposed premise, then, as Jem brought up, avoiding stating it outright might be a rhetorical maneuver. It doesn’t strike me as a very popular position to take  I agree with the discussion above though. It’s unfalsifiable and, for me, not a very good explanation. But being the relativist that I am about noetic structures, I can’t specifically fault his logic.

  18. John said: "Enter Paster John Hagee" First of all, John, I don’t know if that is just a misspelling or it is was you wanted to convey, but I like it. I think he’s more of a paster then a pastor :)It is a mark of most of tele-evangelist to claim that they have some special revelation. And it seems that he is no exception. To claim to know why was N.O. hit by hurricane and why God allowed/chosen to do it is to claim to have a special revelation from God.  Also, it’s interesting that the primary gay neighborhoods were spared the flooding and destruction. So, unless God missed the target, his explanation is not an accurate one. Somebody should force John Hagee to say it out loud: "I am a false prophet" (There will be blood).  I would like to add that we should be careful when we do some ad hominem and hasty generalization  (see first 2 comments).  You don’t want to fight bad logic with bad logic! 

  19. I believe, given the unanimity of opinion on what we describe as the ‘religious right’ in this country, that generalizations are viable here. It is a group defined by rigid, unwavering adherence to a specific dogma.
    And for Mr. Casey, I think my favorite in-class moment happened during a discussion about immigration reform. A young scholar from the Greek System raised his hand and claimed that we should encourage as many "Mexicans" (I assume he meant Latinos as opposed to Mexican nationals in particular) as possible to enter the US because a larger supply would drive down the wages of his "help" at home. He noted that sometimes "the help" can get a little uppity and it would be nice to have more potential replacements standing by.
    I resisted the urge to hurdle the first four rows of seats and throttle him, but not by much.

  20. So, let me see if I understand you Ed. You are defending your original fallacy (ad hominem) with another fallacy: ad populum … not very logical, my friend. 

  21. Your sense that it is an ad populum argument stems from a typo on my part. Replace "opinion on" with "opinion in". Good catch.
    If you don’t think it’s appropriate to make generalizations about the beliefs a group of people who share a set of core beliefs, I suppose we will have to disagree there.

  22. So let me get this right, BN, you accused Ed of committing an ad hominem fallacy by committing the fallacy of amphiboly yourself.  And now we’re both guilty of tu quoque….

  23. The main problem I had was with this comment: "dissecting the logic of our bretheren on the religious far-right has all
    of the challenge and appeal of beating up a four year old child." (Ed – 1st comment). Also, John’s comment:"Aside from that, there are lots of people whose necks hurt from
    nodding–such is their agreement with the reasoning of the Reverend
    Hagee."(2nd comment).  The first, is a clear example of an ad hominem fallacy, and the second one is an example of a hasty generalization unless John can prove his statement. As for my last accusation: that Ed committed an ad populum fallacy, I still stand by that. Ed’s conclusion might be true:"It is a group defined by rigid, unwavering adherence to a specific dogma." However, you don’t prove it this way: "given the unanimity of opinion in what we describe as the ‘religious right’ in this country…"  The number of how many people define religious right the way you do, is not relevant to proving that your definition is right or wrong. Even if it was agreed by everyone that 1+1=4 that still does not make it so.  So, Phil, you might be right about the "amphiboly" fallacy. My "beef" was mostly with the first two comments. And having a "rigid, unwavering adherence to a specific dogma" is not the same thing as thinking as "a four year old child".

  24. I have to disagree that it’s an ad hominem. It’s an analogy, and while I’m not doing a point-by-point rebuttal of Hagee’s argument I’m addressing it to the extent that it’s ridiculous on its face.
    I did not state "This argument is invalid because Hagee is as dumb as a four year-old." What I stated was that, in general, the exercise of pointing out the logical fallacies in fundamentalist christian dogma is approximately as challenging as slapping around a toddler.

  25. BN– There’s something of a lack in your notion of the ad hominem fallacy; it’s not a fallacy if the arguer doesn’t draw a conclusion from it. If Ed had argues that the religious right is incredibly stupid and therefore their arguments were false,  on the face of that fact alon, then he’s committing a fallacy, but he wasn’t, therefore he didn’t. The key to recognizing most fallacies is to look whether or not there’s a fallacious inference drawn. Ed didn’t draw any inferences from his statement; he just said they were idiots. That’s not a fallacy, it’s a statement of belief. On the second, I think you’re again failing to note that Ed drew no fallacious inference from the generalization he made. He simply said that bad arguments need to be confronted because a lot of people don’t think they are bad arguments. If he had said, "All these people that agree with Hagee are sheep, therefore their claims are groundless," he’d have reasoned fallaciously. But he didn’t. Not every insult is an ad hominem, nor is every generalization necessarily false or fallacious. Look for the inference drawn from the personal attack or the generalization, and there you will find, or not find, the fallacious claim.  

  26. pmayo, that might be a nice way to dance around the problem. I agree with you, not every insult is an ad hominem, and not every generalization is a fallacy. Maybe the way I read his 1st comment was something like this: "But of course Hagee is wrong because after all they’re all idiots". Not every inference is explicit. It’s probably my fault for expecting arguments instead of general insults on this site. For Ed’s 2nd argument, I think you’re missing the argument he is making: P1) There is unanimity of opinion in what we describe as the ‘religious right’ in this country. P2) This opinion is that religious right is a "group defined by rigid, unwavering adherence to a specific dogma". C) Religious Right is a "group defined by rigid, unwavering adherence to a specific dogma". I don’t want this to get personal at all, so I’m sorry if I offended any of you guys. I think this is a good logical exercise. Using our brains will pay off one day 🙂

  27. BN– Just be sure to distinguish between the inference you’re drawing and the what the arguer is actually inferring. I think Ed, by his own admission was not make the claim you have inferred. There’s no such implicit claim in Ed’s argument, as far as I can tell. That’s not dancing around a problem, it’s simply a matter of fact.  As for the second claim you make, I’m failing to see how this function as a hasty generalization. There’s no fallacy there. Perhaps if Ed is actually arguing what you say, then he may be factually incorrect, i.e. there is no such unanimous opinion, but he hasn’t necessarily committed a fallacy.  

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