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Ad Hominem: Every False Teacher's Favorite Defense

It's been awhile since we wrote something for our "Germans Like Latin" category so I suppose it's only fitting that this next entry has been rearing its ugly heard in my life in recent days.

You may have heard the words "Ad Hominem" before today as in "Ad Hominem Attacks" and probably heard the phrase on some cable news program or in the context of a political debate and discussion if I were to guess. That's its most common playground.

Well, believe it or not, ad hominem attacks can and most certainly do take place quite often within the context of a religious debate.

Sadly, you might even encounter them from time-to-time coming from other dear brothers and sisters in Christ like your family members and friends who simply refuse to discuss agreed upon doctrines all because we should be living under the banner of "Deeds Not Creeds!" since "Doctrine Divides!" anyway they'll claim.

The phrase ad hominem is Latin and means “to the man.” The fallacy is so named because it directs an argument against the person making a claim rather than the claim itself. The critic hopes that people will believe the claim in question is false simply on the basis that there is something objectionable about the person making the claim. For example, “You cannot honestly accept John’s claims about politics because he can’t even find a job!” However, John’s inability to find employment is logically irrelevant to the political claim he is making. 
The fallacy comes in two varieties: abusive ad hominem and circumstantial ad hominem. In the abusive ad hominem, the critic attacks his opponent’s character or insults him in an attempt to discredit him in the eyes of the audience. This tactic is common in politics, and it may psychologically sway people. However, it is logically fallacious because a person’s character (or lack thereof) is logically irrelevant to the validity of his argument. Even if the critic’s negative claims about his opponent are true (e.g., he really is a draft-dodger, or he really did spend time in jail), this has no bearing on the position he is advocating. 
Name-calling is perhaps the most obvious form of the abusive ad hominem fallacy. When children have a heated disagreement, they sometimes engage in such behavior. As we grow up, we are supposed to become rational and learn to make arguments based on logical reasoning. However, since there is no rationally sound argument for evolution, evolutionists are increasingly resorting to name-calling. I recall a particular instance where an evolutionist launched into a name-calling diatribe against Ken Ham.1 Such immature behavior reminds us that the evolutionary worldview is utterly intellectually bankrupt.2 
The circumstantial ad hominem fallacy is when a critic simply dismisses a person’s argument based on the arguer’s circumstances. Suppose Susie makes an argument that taxes on gasoline should be increased. Her opponent, Bobby, tries to refute this by pointing out that Susie’s job is tax-supported, so she is strongly motivated to argue for higher taxes. Bobby concludes that Susie’s argument is wrong since Susie has a bias. Bobby has committed the circumstantial ad hominem fallacy—just because Susie is strongly motivated to defend a particular position does not mean that her argument is faulty. 
A non-Christian might argue: “Christianity isn’t true. You just believe in Christianity because you were brought up in a Christian home. If you were brought up in the Islam religion, you would be a Muslim now.”  
This is the circumstantial ad hominem fallacy because the circumstances by which the person became a Christian are not relevant to his or her argument for Christianity. While it may be true that I am much more likely to become a Christian by virtue of being reared in a Christian home, this is utterly irrelevant to whether or not I have a really good logical argument for Christianity. It would be just like saying, “You just believe in the multiplication table because you were taught it in school!” It is true that I probably would not have discovered the multiplication table without someone teaching it to me, but this does not mean that I don’t have some really good reasons to continue to believe in the multiplication table! 
An evolutionist might argue: “Creation isn’t true. You just believe in creation because you read that stuff on the Answers in Genesis website!” 
Although the information on the website may have helped people to see the truth of creation and how to argue for it (we hope so!), the person’s argument should be evaluated on its own merit, not on how he arrived at it. The evolutionist is wrong to simply dismiss an argument because he doesn’t like the source.3 The source is not relevant to the argument’s validity. 
It may help to note that there is often a difference between a cause and a reason. What is the cause of a person believing in the Christian worldview? Many factors may have contributed: conversations with family, a sermon, prayers of friends, and ultimately the Holy Spirit.4 
What is the reason (i.e., the rational justification) for a person believing in the Christian worldview? One really good reason would be that Christianity alone can account laws of logic,5 and science.6 In the above examples, the critic is arbitrarily dismissing a reason for a position on the basis that he does not like the cause of the person coming to that position. But such a dismissal is logically unwarranted and fallacious. 
Not all references to a person’s character are necessarily ad hominem fallacies. For example, if a person makes a particular assertion (not an argument, but merely an assertion), and if it can be demonstrated that the person is generally dishonest, it would be perfectly appropriate and relevant to point out that his dishonesty calls into question his credibility on the claim.7 However, even this does not disprove the person’s assertion, since a generally dishonest person will sometimes tell the truth. Moreover, if the person makes an argument, his or her alleged dishonesty is totally irrelevant to the validity of that argument. (An argument is not the same as an assertion.)8 The key is to remember that an argument should be based on its merit, not on the alleged character defects or the circumstances of the person making the argument.  
1.See Evolving Tactics. 
2.Evolution cannot account for rationality, morality, or the success of science, as documented in The Ultimate Proof of Creation. 
3.Phrased this way, such a mistake in reasoning is called the genetic fallacy. 
4.1 Corinthians 12:3. 
5.See Atheism: An Irrational Worldview. 
6.See Evolution: The Anti-science. 
7.However, people cannot rationally assert that their opponent is lying on the basis that they disagree on the very claim at issue—that would be begging the question. As an example, consider the evolutionist who says, “Creationists are liars because they teach that the universe is only thousands of years old and that the first life on earth was supernaturally created.” The evolutionist’s assertion is only true if evolution is, but that is the very claim at issue. So, the evolutionist has simply begged the question. 
8.An assertion is a proposition, whereas an argument is a chain of propositions where the truth of one is claimed to follow from the others. Logical fallacies concern the “chain of reasoning” between propositions, not the truthfulness of the propositions themselves. See Introduction. 

I hope that helps to give you a better idea of what ad hominem is.

Ironically, I'm sure there are even some who are reading this right now who will question this accurate and detailed definition simply because I cited the one that was given by the Answers In Genesis website (if that's you, then your reaction clearly demonstrates the points I'm trying to make here today).

Bottom line? Most people will resort to ad hominem attacks when they feel cornered, and that's typically an indication that they know you have a point and just can't bring themselves to accept or admit it yet.  
Look, the truth is, we've all done it at one point or another, but that doesn't make it ok, especially when it comes to contending for and defending "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).

John 17:17 (ESV) Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

God sets His people apart from the world by means of His Word.

As another Christian blogger once put it...

"In a world filled with intellectuals, defense of the Christian faith and principles can become both a difficult and emotionally exhausting task. This is especially true when Christians are attacked with what are known as 'Ad Hominem' arguments that aim to do three things: place the original arguer in a ridiculous position never taken, attack that position, and destroy the character of the arguer."

Ad Hominem's best friend is the "Straw Man" and we'll get to him later at another time.

For now, we just need to realize that the ad hominem attack is one of the most commonly used arguments against those who defend the Christian faith. To put it another way, it is the single most commonly used argument against the Christian faith and apologist.

As previously stated, there were many times in the past where I have done this myself without even realizing it, and I have been so grateful to my fellow brothers in sisters in Christ (some who I have never even met in person!) who lovingly called me out on it, pointed out my sin, and led me to repentance for them (Ephesians 4:15).

Why is that important? Remember, it's because the ad hominem attack is every false teacher's favorite defense ("Did God actually say...?" asked the serpent in Genesis 3:1).

In a Lutheran layman's terms, this is why it's extremely important to understand the structure of these arguments so they can be captured and corrected before the argument turns into an attack on each person's character rather than addressing the true substance (a.k.a. the "spiritual meat-and-potatoes") of the argument.

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that aren't that big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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