Professing Themselves to be Wise, They Became Fools Part 4

Today’s post will be on the ad hominem fallacy.

This fallacy occurs when someone attempts to persuade by attacking their opponent’s personal character rather than responding to their argument. Here is an example:

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Even if it turned out to be the case that the pro-life protester had a foul body odor, it would have nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of the pro-life position. The same goes for similar attacks, such as the objection to Christianity on the basis of hypocrisy, dismissing someone’s personal opinion because of their level of education, or the accusation that someone who is outspoken in their stance against homosexual behavior must be a closet homosexual.

It should be pointed out that not all personal attacks commit the ad hominem fallacy. When the opponent’s character is the argument, pointing out character flaws may actually be justified. For example, arguing that a person with a history of automobile accidents should not be hired as a bus driver is not fallacious and is probably the most logical conclusion.

In our search for truth, we must be guided by the facts. Even if the person making a truth claim is arrogant, abusive, unintelligent, smelly, or otherwise deficient in character, we must judge the claim based on its own merits. The personal character of the claimant is (usually) irrelevant to the truth of the claim.

The next post will be about a very similar mistake, the genetic fallacy. Now that my daughter has been born, I should be writing regularly again, so stay tuned to Think On These Things blog.

Ecclesiastes 7:19 ESV

Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.

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2 thoughts on “Professing Themselves to be Wise, They Became Fools Part 4

  1. Congrats on your daughter’s birth!

    This ad hominem fallacy is a sticky one. Someone claimed that I was seeing an ad hominem fallacy where there wasn’t one in Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. I know that the traditional stance is that if one states that a personal character flaw means that their argument is invalid, that person is using the ad hom fallacy. However, I’d state that Dawkins in his work displayed his prejudice and dismissed any theistic argument because of his view of Christians. NOT based on actual evidence for theistic arguments. I forget the actual quote from Dawkins, but it could have been given him an out but anyways this is a tough issue to deal with and I hear it quite a bit.

    1. Thank you, Sam! I’m sure Dawkins and most of the other New Atheists are given to ad hominem and other fallacies. At the very least, Dawkins encouraged the ad hominem fallacy at the atheist Reason Rally a few years back when he encouraged his audience to ridicule Christians.

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