6

Caleb asked a very good question about Catholic bibles. Say that Caleb meets a Catholic priest and has the burning desire to ask the Catholic priest a question about where the Catholic church procures most of its bibles, and let's suppose that Caleb gets a reply from the priest by word of mouth. Now what? How do you cite word-of-mouth sources?

Also, are sources cited by the article or by theological tradition? What happens if there are disagreements within a denomination (i.e. Presbyterianism, Catholicism, Anglicanism)?

4
  • 2
    don't have the time for a full answer, but my argument is going to be "if it's not written down, it doesn't exist"
    – wax eagle
    Aug 11 '13 at 20:40
  • @waxeagle So, what to do about the question then? Delete it or keep it?
    – Double U
    Aug 11 '13 at 20:41
  • 2
    oh definitely keep it. Just because it's not answered yet doesn't mean it won't be
    – wax eagle
    Aug 11 '13 at 21:58
5

In your example, I'm pretty sure that once Caleb heard the name of the source of the Catholic Bibles, he'd be able to find that source online and post a link to it. The same can be said for almost every sourced answer applicable to this site.

We're pretty open about the allowable sources, and a Google search could provide a source to link to on just about any doctrinal statement, or belief taught by any group, regardless of how tiny the group, or how bizarre the belief.

That said, it would be perfectly reasonable to quote a printed work, book, magazine,or otherwise. Cite the publication in such a way that it can be looked up and verified. Given the wealth of information available online, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a better source than "some guy I met said". Given the ease of finding information online in this day and age, it would be pure laziness not to take the time to find a decent reference.

5

Sources need not be online: regrettably, there are many books, journals, and newspapers which are not yet available on the Internet. (Or they may be online, but behind a paywall.) If the best source is a book from your friendly local library, then by all means use it and cite it. Even if other people can't click the link to see your source, they could still - at least in principle - go to their own libraries.

If the source is "a conversation I had" then this is not possible. While there are standard ways to cite private letters and conversations, that doesn't mean that it's a good idea. It does at least let people know the provenance of your information, but it doesn't do much to help them verify it. Indeed, there are all kinds of things that unscrupulous users could try to pass off, if they're allowed to cite a conversation rather than an accessible source. 1 These kinds of appeal to authority just end up as empty rhetorical devices, if there's no reasonable way to verify them. 2

For this site, there can't be many questions where personal communication is the only source available. Even if you have to talk to an offline expert, they should still be able to point you to a reliable written source. Then you can cite that, and acknowledge the expert.

(I'm not sure what your second paragraph is asking, so I haven't tried to answer it.)

1. N. T. Wright. Personal communication.
2. God. Personal communication.

2
  • A somewhat humorous example would be a case where a person reports that he/she has a conversation with God, and God tells him/her the answers to his questions through prayers, which probably will never work for this type of website, because it is difficult to verify God's words.
    – Double U
    Aug 12 '13 at 2:13
  • 2
    I would say that for print books, a link to amazon, the publisher's website or similar (if the book is still available) is a really nice breadcrumb for folks who are interested.
    – wax eagle
    Aug 12 '13 at 13:18
3

Facts are facts in any given situation - but not all facts are equal in their power to persuade.

Imagine these statements, purposely done for effect:

  1. I think that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  2. John Boy over there told me that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  3. Fox News told me that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  4. MSNBC reports that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  5. The Secretary of State of Hawaii thinks that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  6. The Secretary of State of Hawaii found no birth certificate for Obama, leading him to conclude that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  7. The President of Kenya has found Obama's birth certificate in Kenya, proving that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  8. The President of Kenya has found Obama's birth certificate in Kenya, proving that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

Now, let's look at how persuasive each one is:

I think that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  1. Let's face it - who cares what you think.

    John Boy over there told me that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  2. Who cares what John Boy thinks?

    Fox News told me that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  3. Fox News? Yeah, like they are so fair and balanced. In the theological arena, did you just ask a question about Calvinsts? Then why are you basing your answer on facts given by Catholics who are being killed by them?. Lesson: What agenda does your source have?

    MSNBC reports that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  4. MSNBC? Now that's finally interesting. An organization that normally supports Obama. Hmmm.. At least this is actally verifiable. Can you send me the link? I really want to see this for myself. Lesson: A source that should be supporting you but isn't is really interesting.

    The Secretary of State of Hawaii thinks that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  5. Much more credible, but really, what does he base this on? His job is to hold records. When he has evidence, then I listen. Lesson: Is it really the expert's job? Or is it just something they think?

    The Secretary of State of Hawaii found no birth certificate for Obama, leading him to conclude that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  6. Ok, here's an expert who has done some investigation. Maybe there's something to this. Still, how do I know you're not joshing me - unless, oh, every news organization out there is reporting it. Lesson: Lack of evidence is hard, but interesting.

    The President of Kenya has found Obama's birth certificate in Kenya, proving that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  7. Really interesting. You've got my attention. Lesson: This is compelling - when there is a smoking gun, do whatever you can. If someone's only resort is to say "Prove it" it's compelling - but you better be able to!

    The President of Kenya has found Obama's birth certificate in Kenya, proving that Obama was actually born in Kenya. He can't be our president!

  8. Wow - You've given me a link. I'm convinced! Let's call the Court. Lesson: Although, you might want too actually click it, just in case...

See how there is a spectrum of proof? I purposely arranged these in increasing "truthiness" to show that all arguments made by appeal to authority are not created equally. You can only really be as good as your argument. Be honest about your sourcing - use other evidence if need be - and make the call about how to present your argument.

Oh, and the final lesson? 62,400 repetitions does not make a proof!

5
  • I wonder what happens if both parents are American citizens, and the child is born in a foreign country, such as Kenya. In that case, can the child become president?
    – Double U
    Aug 12 '13 at 12:42
  • @Anonymous he'd be a natural born US citizen. That's what the constitution says. (even if one parent is)
    – wax eagle
    Aug 12 '13 at 13:21
  • You know, you could always ask over at [politics.stackexchange.com]. The moderator is a jerk, but the people are nice. Aug 12 '13 at 13:48
  • Why is the moderator a jerk? And why is there only one moderator on the politics.stacksexchange.com? Though, if there is more than one moderator, which one is "the moderator"?
    – Double U
    Aug 12 '13 at 17:30
  • @Anonymous Affable Geek is a moderator there--he was poking fun at himself! I think a U.S. embassy would be considered "U.S. soil", so rushing to an embassy rather than a hospital might preserve candidacy potential. :-/ Aug 13 '13 at 14:26

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .