Logical Theology

…considered thoughts and opinions

Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem Part 2

Now that we understand what the Ad Hominem fallacy is, let us consider how the Ad Hominem fallacy can appear in Christian discourse. Consider the following example:

Example 1:  Thomas says, “I am not sure I agree with that denomination’s theology. I favor the belief that the Bible teaches ‘X’.”  Barbara responds, “So you don’t accept the plain teaching of the Bible?! Well, I don’t need to listen to anything you have to say about the scriptures!”

It would be a mistake to think that Barbara’s response provides a valid reason to reject what Thomas said. All Barbara did was to use a blatant Ad Hominem insult. Even if Thomas was rejecting what seems to be the plainest interpretation of the Bible, Barbara’s attitude was dismissive and rude. In essence, Barbara was stating that because Thomas does not interpret all the Scriptures in the same way as she does, none of his beliefs need to be given serious consideration.

This is BIG mistake for the following reasons:

  • Barbara has not offered a defense of her belief that the Scriptures always need to be interpreted in the plainest way. Because many theologians disagree with such an opinion, Barbara must offer a defense of this belief, which she did not.
  • Even if Barbara could convincingly demonstrate that her method of interpreting the Bible is best, she was rude and insulting. It is always a mistake not to take your opponent’s views seriously simply because you do not agree with them.
  • Even if Thomas’ acceptance of doctrine X is mistaken, it hardly follows that Thomas is unreliable in whatever else he says about the Bible.

Unfortunately, Ad Hominems are often used as a substitute for presenting a good argument because the individual using them does not want to deal with something that challenges his beliefs or forces him to question his own world view.  An insult is all too often used to shut down conversation because it’s much more convenient than actually evaluating and presenting a logical argument. You see this all the time when people resort to name-calling in religious discourse, using offensive labels such as “Papists,” “Legalists,” “Compromisers,” “Holy Rollers,” “Bible-Thumpers” and so on.

In conclusion, using Ad Hominems as a substitute for providing a good argument for your position is unacceptable; furthermore, an insulting and dismissive attitude does not promote open discussion.

Remember, if you sincerely respect your opponent’s arguments, it is much more likely that they will, in turn, respect (and be open to) yours.  


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