The Burden of Proof

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[ Author: Kathy Petersen ]

When talking to people, it is common for them to make an assertion which they don’t support, then when you ask them, they insist that it’s up to you to disprove it, rather than for them to prove it.

Occasionally, there may be a valid reason for someone to require a disproof from the other person rather than give a proof. For instance, if you say that there are no all-black cats, you can post thousands of pictures of cats that don’t have solid black fur, but until and unless you can post a picture of every single cat in existence, none of which are solid black, you cannot prove that no cats have all-black fur. But all the other person has to do to disprove you is to post a single picture of a single all-black cat. Still, those occasions are very few and far between.

Making blind assertions

Far more common, is it for someone to assert something without proof, then for the other person not even to request a source to confirm it. Be aware of that, so that you will notice when it happens, so that you can call the other person on it. You might think that it’s something that would be obvious, and that you would notice it and call the other person on it, but the fact is, these assertions are usually made in the context of other, larger comments, and the focus tends to be on the rest of the comment, with the assertion essentially ignored, which means it’s tacitly accepted.

The problem is that people often present opinion as if it’s fact—probably because they have been told it’s true, so think it’s true, but what if it isn’t?

When I talk to Mormons online, they often do this – they make assertions that may or may not be true, based on things that they’ve read from LDS websites. But what if the websites are not exactly true, but instead are skewed to be faith-building, rather than being brutally honest?

Here’s one example directly from the LDS website:

“In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination. At the same time, President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would “have [all] the privilege and more” enjoyed by other members.” 1

This is pretty much all most LDSs know – that Brigham Young said that blacks couldn’t hold the priesthood, but that it would be temporary. Let’s look at the actual speech, as it was recorded for posterity, and see what he said about the “temporary” nature of the ban, and when that “some future day” would be, when blacks would enjoy the full privileges of whites (all misspellings in the original, but the emphasis is mine):

“…the Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the preisthood nor his see, until the last of the posterity of Able had received the preisthood, until the redemtion of the earth. If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the preisthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon the, until the resedue of the posterity of Michal and his wife receive the blessings, the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed; and hold the keys of the preisthood, until the times of the restitution shall come, and the curse be wiped off from the earth, and from michals seed. Then Cain’s seed will be had in rememberance, and the time come when that curse should be wiped off.

…thus saith the Eternal I am, what I am, I take it off at my pleasure, and not one partical of power can that posterity of Cain have, until the time comes the says he will have it taken away. That time will come when they will have the privilege of all we have the privelege of and more. In the kingdom of God on the earth the Affricans cannot hold one partical of power in Government.

“….The moment we consent to mingle with the seed of Cain the Church must go to desstruction,–we should receive the curse which has been placed upon the seed of Cain, and never more be numbered with the children of Adam who are heirs to the priesthood until that curse be removed.” 2

There is much more in the original speech (including that Brigham Young declared – as a prophet of God, mind you! – that if the LDS Church ever accepted interracial marriage, that the Church would lose its priesthood), but that is getting ever-more tangential to the main point.

So, the LDS website didn’t outright lie, in the strictest sense of the term, because it is barely true that Brigham Young did say that the curse of Cain (manifested as the black skin of Africans) would come to an end at a certain point. However, since that “certain point” was said to be at the end of the world, most people wouldn’t consider that as being “temporary”. Thus it would appear to be deceitful, if not an outright lie.

Check the source

Changing gears slightly, I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to read your own resources the way that I encourage you to read their resources. I’ve seen many posts and articles (well-meaning, undoubtedly!) in which a Christian posts something that isn’t exactly true, but it’s shared without being vetted, and then an opponent does the vetting, and makes the Christian look like a liar. So read your own resources as if you were your opponent – look at them thoroughly, and check the statements to make sure they hold up to scrutiny.

One such post was something like “a dozen things that Mormons can’t answer”, and it quoted or referenced a lot of past LDS writings. I nearly posted it to some LDS group, but decided to vet it first. I’m glad I did. When I read the original source, I found that it was indeed quoted correctly, but the quote didn’t include any other context, and the context did change the meaning, softening it quite a bit.

We don’t like it when other people take Bible verses or quotes from Christian leaders out of context, so we need to be just as careful and honest with their sources as we want them to be with ours. Just like we would bristle at a person who says, “Jesus says not to judge in Matt. 7:1”, as if that’s the sum total of the Bible’s teaching on judging, even so, we shouldn’t take their statements out of context. It’s tempting and it’s easy, but we must not do it, or else we’ll end up looking like the LDSs who insist that Brigham Young always taught that the black priesthood ban was only temporary, when he said it would last until the end of the world.

Don’t be afraid of their sources. Often the full story is quite different from the sanitized version that the members are given. Read their sources, then read the sources behind the sources – that is, go ahead and read the articles on LDS.org or wherever, but then find the original sources as well, and make sure that they line up with the summary given. Often they won’t. But you won’t know that unless you make them cite their sources, and then you must read them for yourself.

 

Endnotes

1. “Race and the Priesthood.” LDS.org, https://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng (Accessed 2/14/18)

2. Brigham Young Address to Legislature – Feb 5, 1852. Archive.org, https://archive.org/details/CR100317B0001F0017 (Accessed 2/14/18)

About Razor Swift

The mission of Razor Swift is to open hearts and minds through apologetics, sharing the Christian worldview with reasoned answers while encouraging those in the faith.
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