ARCHIVE: The Logical Fallacy of Ad Hominem—Attacking the Person Rather than Engaging the Argument

(Originally posted on October 25, 2010.)

I am teaching apologetics to juniors at Blue Grass Baptist School.  It’s been good to see these students interact with various aspects of differing philosophies and worldviews—and all the while understanding Christianity all the better.

We spent a couple weeks discussing various logical fallacies.  A fallacy is incorrect reasoning in argumentation resulting in a misconception.  In other words, you try to make your point in a way that does not directly deal with the argument itself, but brings in other factors not related to the issue at hand.

The first logical fallacy and most common is that which is called “Ad hominem” which is Latin for ‘to the man.’  In this method of argumentation, one attacks the individual making the argument, rather than the argument itself.

For example, one could say, “You have no college degrees—so what you are saying could not possibly be true.”  In church world, one could say, “They didn’t get a seminary degree, so they are not able to preach truth from the pulpit.”  This logic does not follow.  College degrees are not the way one understands truth.

One example I found on the Internet is classic:

Bill: “I believe that abortion is morally wrong.”

Dave: “Of course you would say that, you’re a priest.”

Bill: “What about the arguments I gave to support my position?”

Dave: “Those don’t count. Like I said, you’re a priest, so you have to say that abortion is wrong. Further, you are just a lackey to the Pope, so I can’t believe what you say.”

See the problem here?  Dave goes to the person, and disregards actually issues Bill brings up.  Christians do the same thing toward non-believers.

Mike: “I believe in natural selection and macro-evolution.”

Ron:  “That figures—you teach biology at university.”

Mike: “Will you listen to my arguments?”

Ron:  “Why would I?  You’ve been brainwashed by those pagan scientists and institutions.”

Even Christians are guilty of the infighting:

Jim:  “I believe there is only one true version of the Bible.”

Ben:  “Of course you would—you’re just one of those ‘hardshell Baptists.’

Jim:  “Would you consider listening to my position?”

Ben:  “Why would I?  You all are just so narrow-minded.  I’ll pass.”

Samuel Coleridge once said:  “The first defense of weak minds is to recriminate.”

Questions to Ponder:

    1. Have there been times when you’ve been on the giving or receiving end of an ad hominen argument?
    2. What steps can you take to avoid this when engaging with someone with a differing belief or worldview?
    3. How does ad hominem violate the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) and the Great Commandment (Matthew 28:18-20)?

I look forward to your comments.

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Categories: apologetics | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “ARCHIVE: The Logical Fallacy of Ad Hominem—Attacking the Person Rather than Engaging the Argument

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