August 16, 2013

A critical response to another critic: Joseph Kugelmass

Apologia, etc.
By Hendrik van der Breggen
August 14, 2013

A critical response to another critic: Joseph Kugelmass

Another critic—Joseph Kugelmass—has attempted to defend Aaron Hildebrandt from my criticisms of his (Hildebrandt's) shoddy work wherein Hildebrandt fails miserably in his attempt to critique my column "Is promoting same-sex sex wise?" My criticism of Hildebrandt is here. Kugelmass's defence of Hildebrandt (and Kugelmass's further criticism of my work) is here. Kugelmass notified me of his defence of Hildebrandt in the comment section of my July 30, 2013, column. And I responded in the comment section.

Below I present Kugelmass's comment and my replies. Why? Simply to make our arguments more readily accessible to the general public, especially those persons interested in careful thinking and truth-seeking.

At first blush, Kugelmass seems to be a formidable critic. He has three degrees (which he immediately flaunts for all to behold):  B.A. (Stanford University), M.A. (University of California, Irvine), Ph.D. (University of California, Irvine). Interestingly, however, he doesn't point out that his academic area of expertise is English. Why is this interesting? Because, as becomes painfully clear in his assessment, Kugelmass lacks expertise in logic and critical thinking. But don't believe me because I say so. Believe on the basis of the evidence and careful reasoning therefrom.

Please see my five critical thinking points below. Please read slowly and carefully—Dr. Kugelmass is a master of using rhetoric in the service of obfuscation.


Dear Dr. van der Breggen,

Here's my response to your initial article and your subsequent conversation with Mr. Hildebrandt. I will now embark on earnestly praying that it may be helpful and useful to you.


Joseph Kugelmass
B.A. (Stanford University)
M.A. (University of California, Irvine)
Ph.D. (University of California, Irvine)


Joseph Kugelmass,

Thanks for your comment. Your post over at your blog has a catchy title (though my first name is not spelled correctly): "WHAT TO DO WITH HENRIK VAN DER BREGGEN? IT'S SIMPLE. FIRE HIM."

You say that I should be fired from my teaching position. You say that my doctoral degree should be stripped from me. You say that I'm not interested in truth. You say that I'm "so driven by hate that [I'm] incapable of basic logical reasoning."

These are serious charges! I will take some time to think about your arguments to see whether they make your charges reasonable to believe to be true.

Hendrik van der Breggen



May I suggest that Dr. Kugelmass is not worth your time? He writes in a hateful and scornful tone, says ridiculous and indefensible things about Scripture, and doesn't attend to or even attempt to respond to any of your arguments.

His dismissive ridicule of you as a "homophobe" is obviously fallacious - on many levels. (Does his disagreement with Orthodox Jews and the Hebrew Scriptures make him an antisemite? Of course not, but that's the same kind of charge 'homophobe' is as directed to you. At least you communicate your care for gays, whereas he shows disdain for the Torah and any who agree with it).

Fire you? Seriously? Is that how academic freedom works at the University of California?

Simply not worth your time.

[Note by Hendrik: My friend and colleague Patrick Franklin has the following credentials: B.A. (Psychology), Wilfrid Laurier University; M.Div., Tyndale Seminary; Th.M. (Theology) Regent College; Ph.D. (Christian Theology), McMaster Divinity College.]


I have looked carefully at Joseph Kugelmass's blog post, and I think that, from the point of view of careful reasoning and truth, it's a failure. In view of the blog post's inflammatory, insulting, and uncivil nature, I have decided that a dialogue with Kugelmass personally on his blog or on my blog would be a waste of time. Nevertheless, I believe that I have a responsibility to readers of Apologia to encourage careful thinking and the seeking of truth. Therefore, I will set out five Critical Thinking Points. These points will help readers navigate the stormy and murky waters of Kugelmass's "WHAT TO DO WITH HENRIK VAN DER BREGGEN? IT'S SIMPLE. FIRE HIM".

Note: Kugelmass has commented that he wishes to discredit me. I am not happy about that, to be sure. But I am happy that we live in a society that allows freedom of speech. This means that good, careful thinking and truth-seeking are deeply important.

My five Critical Thinking Points will encourage readers to seek reasonable answers to the following questions: Are Kugelmass's arguments good enough to truly discredit VDB, or not? If they aren't good, do they discredit Kugelmass? More importantly, if Kugelmass's arguments are weak (from the point of view of truth and careful reasoning) whereas VDB's are strong, should further investigation into the health concerns associated with same-sex sex be encouraged (as VDB concludes in "Is promoting same-sex sex wise?"), or not?

For the record: In spite of the presently pervasive pro-gay ideology that scorns, derides, and labels as "bigots" and "homophobes" any persons who raise questions about same-sex sex, I believe that thinking adults have a moral responsibility to children, grandchildren, and future generations to question the wisdom of promoting same-sex sex. Asking such questions does not entail hating those who have same-sex attractions. Asking such questions can be done in love. Asking such questions is required by love.

Critical Thinking Point 1

Kugelmass writes: "Hildebrandt has done a great job discrediting van der Breggen (here), but out of courtesy, he (i.e. Hildebrandt) perhaps says a little too much. He invites too much quibbling, which is, naturally, exactly how van der Breggen responds here."

Notice that Kugelmass directs readers to Hildebrandt's extended critique, but not to my extended critique of Hildebrandt's extended critique. Instead, Kugelmass directs readers to my short critique of a short letter Hildebrandt sent to the editor of the newspaper in which my column appears.

Notice, too, that my extended critique is not mere "quibbling." I set out 15+ pages in which I argue that Hildebrandt's critique is an abject failure. I argue that Hildebrandt committed at least 10 major fallacies, plus succumbed to an important misunderstanding in science, plus engaged in various instances of manipulative rhetoric and sophistry. Three of these major fallacies consist of a gross misrepresentation of my overall argument, a gross misrepresentation of the Mayo Clinic's claims about the risks of same-sex sex, and a gross misrepresentation of the goings-on in an academic journal. Again, this isn't "quibbling."

I encourage readers interested in truth and careful reasoning to read my extended critique of Hildebrandt's extended critique.

Here are some critical thinking questions to ponder:

Kugelmass claims that "Hildebrandt has done a great job discrediting van der Breggen." Does VDB's extended critique count against the truth of Kugelmass's claim?

By providing no explicit reference to VDB's extended critique, is Kugelmass misleading his readers?

Critical Thinking Point 2

Kugelmass quotes me as follows: "Also, Hildebrandt has been guilty of earlier obfuscations over at Citizens Concerned About Manitoba Bill 18, a Facebook group from which Hildebrandt was banned. As a result of these obfuscations, I banned Hildebrandt from my blog. I suspect that this doesn’t sit well with Hildebrandt, so now he seems bent on continuing his 'critique' of my work with further obfuscation coupled with an attempt to smear my academic and personal reputation."

Kugelmass then sets out the following criticism: "This overuses the word 'obfuscation.' The effect is obfuscatory. Thus it is guilty of the 'obfuscation through obsession with obfuscation' fallacy, which is a well-known derivative of the argumentum verbosium."

Okay, I used the word "obfuscation" a total of three times in three sentences. Perhaps my sentences would have been more aesthetically appealing if I had substituted an instance or two of "obfuscate" with a word such as "confuse" or a phrase such as "muddy the intellectual waters." Kugelmass has the Ph.D. in English, so I'm happy to learn from him here. Writing is a skill, and it takes work.

But critical thinking is a skill, too, and it also takes work. From the point of view of critical thinking, the deeper, more important issue at hand is not whether I should have used the word "obfuscations" three times, but whether my use of the word "obfuscation" (even three times) is justified by evidence. (Note: The meaning of "obfuscation" is clear, even though I used the word three times.)

The careful thinker should ask:

Is there good evidence for VDB's claim that Hildebrandt obfuscated (i.e., that Hildebrandt added confusion, muddied the intellectual waters) over at the Facebook group VDB mentioned in the above quote from Kugelmass? And what about the evidence for VDB's claim that Hildebrandt obfuscated over at VDB's blog, a claim that Kugelmass doesn't quote? Is this evidence for Hildebrandt's obfuscation good, too?

In VDB's extended critique of Hildebrandt's extended critique, VDB argues that Hildebrandt commits 10 major logical fallacies as well as other errors—do Hildebrandt's multiple mistakes constitute further obfuscation/ muddying the intellectual waters?

By taking the focus off the more important matters, is Kugelmass's fuss over three instances of the term "obfuscation" a case of obfuscation as well?

Critical Thinking Point 3

Kugelmass quotes me as follows: "For the sake of clarity, I think that the Bible teaches that it is sin/ immoral to engage in sexual relations outside of a one-man-one-woman marriage relationship."

As a critique of my view, Kugelmass writes: "And yet, it totally doesn’t. See, for example, The Book of Genesis, Chapter 19 (incidentally, it’s easy to find Genesis, since it’s the first book)."

To substantiate his point that the Bible "totally doesn't" teach what I claim it teaches, Kugelmass quotes Genesis 19: 30-36 (the passage in which Lot's daughters get Lot drunk and have sex with him):
30 And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters. 31 And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth: 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. 33 And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. 34 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. 35 And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. 36 Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.

Clearly, Kugelmass takes Genesis 19 to be a counterexample to my claim that the Bible teaches that sexual relations outside of a one-man-one-woman marriage relationship are sin/ immoral. (In a comment to Jeremy Bergen, Kugelmass says he—Kugelmass—is using the passage to illustrate that the biblical text and my view are contradictory.)

Questions for further thought:

VDB's claim that the Bible teaches sex outside of one-man-one-woman marriage is sin/ immoral means that the Bible prescribes sexual relations to occur in one-man-one-woman marriage only (and proscribes deviations). Is there a contradiction occurring between, on the one hand, the claim that the Bible prescribes sex occurs only in one-man-one-woman marriage, and, on the other hand, a biblical text that describes Lot's daughters having sex with Lot? (Hint: A contradiction occurs when something is both asserted and denied at the same time and in the same sense/ respect.)

The passage Kugelmass quotes describes the sexual relations that Lot's daughters had with their father when he was drunk—does the passage also prescribe these sexual relations? The passage records an incident—does the passage also say the incident ought to occur?

For Kugelmass's contradiction charge to stick requires that there isn't a shift in sense of the assertions at hand—so is Kugelmass misunderstanding a descriptive passage as a prescriptive passage?

(In another comment Kugelmass says the passage tacitly accepts incest. Yeah right. In another comment Kugelmass says he doesn't take the Bible as an authority on sexual conduct. Okay, but this doesn't justify misinterpreting a descriptive text as a prescriptive text.)

Critical Thinking Point 4

Kugelmass dismisses my appeal to cumulative case arguments as absurd.

I wrote (as Kugelmass quotes): "Keep in mind, too, that (as I mention in my column) my argument is a cumulative case argument. In a cumulative case argument the individual arguments needn’t be 100% demonstrative; they only need to carry some force, which accumulates. In the case at hand, the arguments only need to carry enough force to raise reasonable questions that will encourage further investigation."

Kugelmass writes: "Don’t be fooled by van der Breggen’s absurd reference to 'cumulative case arguments.' This is sheer kettle logic — the belief that many fallacious arguments for the same untrue proposition demonstrate collectively something they do not demonstrate individually. 'Carry some force' is a weasel phrase that conflates his appeals to homophobic prejudice with demonstrations of the truth."

Before I ask some critical thinking questions, let's get clear on kettle logic, cumulative case arguments, and weasel words.

● Kettle logic

The term "kettle logic" applies to the mistake in reasoning in which multiple arguments are used to defend a claim but the arguments are inconsistent with each other. The idea of kettle in "kettle logic" comes from Sigmund Freud, who is well known for explaining the fallaciousness of this sort of argument by making reference to a tea kettle. Here's the argument (and here I quote from Wikipedia):
Freud relates the story of a man who was accused by his neighbour of having returned a kettle in a damaged condition and the three arguments he offers. 1. That he had returned the kettle undamaged;  2. That it was already damaged when he borrowed it;  3. That he had never borrowed it in the first place.  The three arguments are inconsistent, and Freud notes that it would have been better if he had only used one.
● Cumulative case arguments

Now let's look at cumulative case arguments. The idea here is that there are multiple lines of argument or evidence which point to a particular conclusion. Each argument/ sub-argument isn't decisive, yet they work together (converge) as support for the conclusion. Sometimes cumulative case arguments are construed as an inference-to-best-explanation argument. The philosopher and logician Trudy Govier, in her popular university textbook A Practical Study of Argument 7th edition (Wadsworth/ Cengage 2010), uses the terms "conductive argument" and "cumulation of consideration arguments." She points out that in such arguments the premises/ sub-arguments are "put forth as being separately relevant to the conclusion," and that the arguments' "collective bearing on the conclusion should be taken into account." Govier points out that "each premise [sub-argument] considered by itself provides some reason to accept the conclusion…. Taken together—as they should be, because they are put forward to support on single conclusion—they provide better support, though not proving for certain that the conclusion is true." (Govier, pp. 353-354.)

Cumulative case arguments are often used in science, history, law, and everyday life. Philosophers Richard Swinburne and William Lane Craig often set out cumulative case arguments for the existence of God; their opponents sometimes set out cumulative case arguments for the non-existence of God. The notion of a cumulative case argument is nicely explained by Maverick Philosopher (if you're a pacifist, don't get sidetracked by the war example).

● Weasel words/phrases

Now let's examine the notion of a "weasel" word or phrase. It's a qualifier that somehow goes unnoticed and dupes us. Think of the word "help" in advertisements for toothpaste: "Colgate helps fight cavities." We tend to overlook the word "helps" and advertisers bank on our doing so. The advertisement's claim isn't false, but it misleads us into ignoring the many other factors that help too (and probably more so): e.g., brushing, flossing, regularity of brushing and flossing, quality of brushing and flossing, diet, etc.

Okay, here are some questions for the reader to think about:

Kugelmass claims VDB's reference to cumulative case arguments is "absurd," and Kugelmass defends his absurdity charge by claiming that VDB's cumulative case argument is "sheer kettle logic"—is Kugelmass correct in saying VDB's cumulative case argument is "sheer kettle logic"? (Hint/ reminder: An essential feature of kettle logic is that the arguments contradict each other. Additional hint: Answer the next question first.)

Do the arguments in VDB's cumulative case contradict each other? (Hint: They don't.)

Is VDB's phrase, "carry some force," an instance of a weasel phrase—especially in view of the fact that VDB also says that "the arguments only need to carry enough force to raise reasonable questions that will encourage further investigation"? (Hint: VDB is qualifying/ clarifying his phrase with the additional sentence, so the answer is No.)

VDB has acknowledged that cumulative case arguments aren't a "demonstration of truth" (contrary to what Kugelmass seems to think), and VDB sets out claims in his cumulative case from various sources (pro-gay included)—so is VDB conflating his appeals to a cumulative case argument with a homophobic attitude, as Kugelmass asserts? (Hint: Not at all.)

Kugelmass's understandings of kettle logic and cumulative case arguments don't fit with what kettle logic and cumulative case arguments actually are—does Kugelmass show that he knows what he's talking about, or not? (Hint: Review above clarifications and compare to Kugelmass's claims.

Critical Thinking Point 5

Kugelmass writes: "'Further investigation' into the supposed dangers of gay sex is not warranted, and van der Breggen is not arguing in good faith. People like him try to establish 'scientific controversies' where none exist, like people who don’t 'believe' in global warming or evolution. They see this as a first step towards making the more definitive claims they always, already, intend to make. (Techically [sic], this is known as an 'inflation of conflict' fallacy.)"

Let's review some background before I ask questions about Kugelmass's dismissal of further investigation and my not arguing in good faith.

Keep in mind that in my initial article "Is promoting same-sex sex wise?" I set out several appeals to people and groups (with considerable expertise on the subject under discussion) which have differing religious backgrounds and which take differing views on the moral status of same-sex sex. Keep in mind that I set out those appeals to provide some support for reasonably thinking that there is evidence of an association between same-sex sex and various health concerns. Keep in mind that in my extended critique, in response to Hildebrandt's appeal to an alleged "majority consensus in the scientific community," I set out considerable evidence for thinking that the alleged scientific consensus is fractured and dubious—that is, I set out reasonable evidence for thinking there is in fact a scientific controversy. (Recall that even a former president of the American Psychological Association has spoken up and said the APA is promoting ideology instead of science.) Also, keep in mind that in my extended critique of Hildebrandt's arguments, I showed that Hildebrandt misrepresented my and others' arguments on multiple occasions, plus Hildebrandt engaged in several sophistries and other confusions.

Keeping the above in mind, here are some questions for the reader to think about:

Kugelmass lumps VDB into the negative, pejorative category "people like him…"—is Kugelmass engaging in a form of stereotyping/ prejudgment/ prejudice-mongering?

It's clear that Kugelmass doesn't like the direction VDB's arguments take—but what justifies Kugelmass's claim that VDB is "not arguing in good faith"?

In view of Kugelmass's vitriol, name-calling, etc., is Kugelmass arguing in good faith?

In view of the fact that VDB has set out some reasonable evidence for concern, what justifies Kugelmass's claim that further investigation is not warranted? Are Kugelmass's criticisms of VDB's arguments so good, from the perspective of critical thinking and truth-seeking, that further investigation should be shut down?


I hope that the above Critical Thinking Points are helpful in encouraging careful thinking on the emotionally charged question: Is promoting same-sex sex wise? I was going to list a few more Critical Thinking Points, but I think that the five points should suffice (also, I'm tired).

Comments are now closed. I'm on sabbatical, and I've got other projects to attend to.

No doubt Kugelmass and company will make an effort to answer the questions I've raised in my Critical Thinking Points. I encourage this (but they can do this on their own blogs). More importantly, I encourage readers to think carefully—please don't let flair in creative writing trump truth and reason.


For further thought:

The following passage is from Miriam Grossman's You're Teaching My Child WHAT? A Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex Education and How They Harm Your Child (Regnery 2009), pp. 142-143. (This book has been recommended by Nicholas Cummings, a former president of the American Psychological Association, and Robert George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University.)
Individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual report more problems with mental health too: higher rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts. While I'm sure that for some people, societal bias contributes to their distress, the entire onus for these difficulties—emotional and physical—cannot be placed at the feet of a 'heterosexist' society. It's just not intellectually honest.
The Netherlands is probably the world's most open-minded and sexually tolerant country in the world. At the vanguard of homosexual rights for decades, gay marriage was legalized there in 2001, with over 75 percent of the population supporting the bill. A 1998 study examining sexual attitudes in 24 countries asked the question, 'Is homosexual sex wrong?' Only 26 percent of U.S. respondents indicated 'not wrong at all' or 'only sometimes wrong'; the corresponding number in the Netherlands was 77 percent.
In light of that country's stance, it is worth noting that, as in the United States, young gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals in the Netherlands report more high risk sexual behaviors, higher rates of infection with HIV, syphilis, and gonorrhea, and more mental health problems than their heterosexual counterparts. In these studies, younger age was not protective; even as Dutch society became more accepting of sexual minorities, the health disparities persisted. Clearly, societal bias is not to blame for the disproportionately higher numbers in the homosexual populations in the Netherlands.

I ask again: Is promoting same-sex sex wise? My answer remains the same: I recommend further inquiry into the effects of same-sex sex—and greater public awareness of these effects.

- Hendrik van der Breggen

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