S. D. Bruce
Last week we started a new series here at Armstrong Delusion called Friday Fallacy. Every week we feature a logical fallacy, briefly describe it, and discuss the cult’s reliance on it in specific statements or doctrines.
This week’s fallacy is Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc. That’s Latin for “After the fact, therefore because of the fact,” and it’s also been called a false-cause or questionable cause argument.
Here’s how it works: There’s a freak hailstorm in Cincinnati, and only two weeks later–bam!–all of the geese migrate west. Your friendly neighborhood ornithologist confidently proclaims that all of the geese sustained brain damage in the hailstorm and as a result their internal compasses have been so badly dented that they’re now guiding the geese west, instead of south, for the winter. There’s no actual evidence–the two events are unrelated–but that’s the nature of logical fallacy. It makes sense only on the surface…and only if you’ve been repeatedly concussed by large high-velocity hailstones.
Another great example of a post hoc argument which was eventually vanquished by deductive reasoning is the story of The Pontiac that was Allergic to Vanilla Ice Cream. (Go ahead, check out the link. We’ll wait.)
Post hoc is a favorite fallacy among cult leaders because it’s so simple. Just pick a horrifying, cataclysmic event, shuffle through your archives for a suitably vague ‘prophecy’ which predates it and voila! You too can lead hundreds of people to think you’re a brilliant holy man because you were right–you ‘predicted’ this huge catastrophe in advance and ‘God’ made it happen! If only more people had listened to you (and provided a suitable financial compensation to get those prophetic wheels turning) they might have been spared their unfortunate demise by earthquake/tsunami/flash flood/demented homicidal muskrats.
Let’s look at a few timeless examples of the classic post hoc argument as it’s been employed by the leadership of the PCG.
In the November 2005 Philadelphia Trumpet, Stephen Flurry published an article entitled “Tragedy of Biblical Proportions.” He wrote:
“Earlier this year, on June 4 , our editor in chief [Gerald Flurry] announced in a sermon that the world had now entered the last half of the last hour. Less than five months after his 2001 announcement [of the beginning of the last hour], 9/11 jolted the United States. After the June announcement, in less than three months, Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast. God, in His mercy, is trying to shake our peoples out of their drunken stupor before the real Armageddon-like events hit home!”
Stephen Flurry, who is arguably the heir apparent and second-in-command under his father, Gerald “That Prophet” Flurry, makes the claim that the 9/11 terror attacks and the catastrophe in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina were the direct result of his father’s announcements of “The Last Hour” and the “The Last Half of the Last Hour.” This is post hoc in its purest most ridiculous form. Flurry’s pronouncement didn’t precipitate the 9/11 attacks, as dozens of government reports have enumerated, because Al Quaeda spent years planning them out in detail. But of course the argument will come back that it was God who precipitated these events “in his mercy” as a warning that everybody should take “That Prophet” seriously. Seriously. How could any rational ‘worldly’ person be expected to draw a parallel between Flurry’s insular little pronouncement and a geopolitically monumental attack perpetrated by Islamic extremists 1,453 miles away and five months later? It’s ludicrous. The causal relationship simply isn’t there and, as we’ve pointed out, 9/11 actually caught Flurry with his pants down.
But as for the claim that Gerald Flurry’s second proclamation precipitated the roughly 4,000 deaths in New Orleans, I believe there may be some truth to that conclusion! The massive columns of hot air which rise daily from Flurry’s TV studio in Edmond, Oklahoma could have heated the atmosphere enough to create a tremendous low-pressure system over the Atlantic, thereby spawning Katrina and ensuring the path of mayhem and destruction which ensued. In fact, I believe government officials should immediately enforce a cease-and-desist order to prevent further hurricane damage, and litigate against Flurry for the catastrophic costs of hurricanes Katrina, Ike, Gustave, Dolly, Humberto, Wilma and Rita. Just on principle. In fact, through the use of a little creative post hoc ‘logic’ I’m pretty sure we can get BP off the hook for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as well…I’d be willing to bet Flurry made a proclamation about some sort of impending ‘environmental disaster’ in the months proceeding the April 20 blowout. He’s clearly at fault for all those tarred-and-feathered Louisiana fishermen.
But, ridicule aside, the use of post hoc reasoning by the PCG leadership has led to dangerous, even murderous, delusions. There is no clearer example than the so-called ‘healing doctrine.’ In world-wide church announcements at least five to seven times a year, ministers proclaim the ‘miraculous’ healing of church members afflicted with terminal or near-terminal illnesses. The cause? Prayer. They proclaim that these lives were saved by the power of prayer and faith–laying aside all medical treatment, which is anathema to the official church doctrine. But unfortunately there is no demonstrable link between prayer and healing, and statistically speaking the opposite is almost universally true. Several examples come to mind. One is Jake Winters, the son of a prominent PCG regional director, who had Addisons disease. Addison’s disease is an uncommon condition caused by the failure of the adrenal cortex resulting in a chronic deficiency of cortisol, aldosterone and adrenal androgens. When the body is deficient in these hormones, the result can be high levels of potassium and low levels of salt, causing an electrolyte imbalance in the body and resulting in incessant vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, dehydration, loss of blood pressure and eventually death due to starvation. Under pressure from his father and other church officials Jake, who was 24, decided to forego the standard steroid treatment which had been proven effective countless times–and he literally wasted away to nothing. I saw him at the PCG Feast in late 2001, just a few months before his death in January 2002. He was barely conscious in a hotel bed, emaciated, skeletal, jaundiced and clearly in pain, but his parents were stalwart in their blind faith–all because of the post hoc nonsense which was spoon fed from the pulpet every week. Even at the end they were convinced God would step in to heal Jake because ‘it had happened before.’ This cognitive dissonance pitted a warped post hoc ‘precedent’ against visible facts and led directly to the preventable death of their son.
My own father died in a similar manner, during a blinding winter snowstorm in December, 2003. I was 15. My dad had been diagnosed with colon cancer two years before, but he was convinced that prayer and faith would lead God to heal him–again thanks to the post hoc arguments and ‘examples’ paraded from the pulpit by the ministry. He was literally a skeleton at the end, gray skin stretched taut over loose bones, and in the final months of his two-year ordeal without even the most basic medical attention he was unable to speak, feed himself or even rise to use the bathroom. He died at age 53, with five children under the age of 16. He is buried in a quiet cemetery in Southern Oregon. The PCG ministry (including Craig Winters, Jake’s father, who was in our house the day my father died) commiserated quietly and, just as quietly, swept this failure of the healing doctrine under the rug. I’m sure more people have died of treatable diseases since that time because the true statistics were never broadcast. Only the (extremely rare) recoveries were announced, and the conclusion that those ‘healings’ were the result of prayer was drawn directly from post hoc fallacy. That’s the dark end of the spectrum, but it shows exactly what can happen when people set aside rational thought in favor of logical fallacy and fantasy.
But that’s not all. Post hoc can be a versatile tool for the inspiration of fear, and cult leaders have shamelessly capitalized on that fact. Here’s a recent example: Jason Bacon was an all-around great guy and a brilliant musician. I knew him for several years, and considered him a friend; we were in the same dorm at summer camp several times and he was only a few months younger than me. He was also a PCG member, but unlike many within the cult he had a sense of independence. This past spring he landed the first real gig of his musical career with one of his best friends and they went to Las Vegas to celebrate. That sort of thing was frowned upon, so they went without telling anyone in the cult. Jason explored the city with the same unabashed enthusiasm he applied to everything, but late one night all of that came to a sudden, violent halt. Jason stepped out onto the balcony of his 8th floor hotel room and somehow overbalanced, plummeting to the pool deck far below. His spine was severed on impact, and on April 25, 2010 he succumbed to his injuries. Most people would look at this as a tragic accident, a freak event in which a young and promising life was cut mercilessly short–but not the PCG ministry. Wayne Turgeon, a leading PCG evangelist, had the gall to stand at the pulpit the very next week and berate young church members who asked for prayers on Jason’s behalf without ministerial sanction. But that wasn’t enough. Turgeon used a post hoc fallacy to take things a step further: he insinuated that Jason’s death was a punishment from God for defying church policy, and for ignoring ministerial orders when he accepted his new job in the music business. Turgeon implied that because Jason’s accident happened after he defied cult leaders, his death was the result of that defiance–courtesy of a vengeful act of God–and he warned other youths not to rebel lest they share Jason’s fate. This is a glaring example of post hoc fallacy used in the perpetration of emotional terrorism–callous, cold and completely bereft of logic! Of course the ministers who employ such tactics never mention the thousands of people (the authors of this blog included) who left the cult, defied its tyrannical leadership and openly flouted its oppressive rules only to enjoy better health, greater financial security, deeper relationships and more profound peace of mind than they ever experienced while enthralled in that fear-laced dogmatism.
So here’s the point: There is absolutely no verifiable empirical evidence to reinforce the post hoc ‘arguments’ presented by the cult in order to legitimize a pseudo-prophet, engender terror and secure an even greater hold on people rendered vulnerable by disease and suffering. Such arguments are only effective when logic is suspended in favor of emotion. Logical fallacies damage lives precisely because they present lies in the guise of reasoned arguments. That’s why it is so important to see them for what they are–pull them kicking and screaming into the light of day–and demand to know why the truth wasn’t good enough.