This picture describes how some people argue.
Today I want to show an example of a fallacious use versus a proper use of ad hominem argument.
Ad, Add What?
The phrase “ad hominem” comes from the Latin, “against the man.”
It is a logical fallacy when an argument ends up being a personal attack on a person’s character that logically add no merit or support for the conclusion being argued for. An example of this is when someone has to resort to name calling instead of interacting reasonably concerning the subject at hand. Just because someone makes a claim that the floor is wet and happens to be annoying, a Marxist or a Christian doesn’t make the the claim automatically false.
However, there are possible instances in which an ad hominem argument would not be fallacious as a rebuttal in the circumstance of appealing to that person’s own set authority/advice that they put forth and then showing how that person fail to be bound by it. It is not use to argue for one’s own position as true per se but strictly as a rebuttal.
What’s an example of an ad hominem fallacy? I will use an example from a recent exchange on our blog with a guy name “Descriptive Grace” at the comment section of EvangelZ’s post on Gospel calling. (You can go over there and read the short back and forth if you like).
After I asked him for another example of when Paul was wrong our guest “Descriptive Grace” wrote the following comment:
Do you not agree that Paul thought the second coming was going to take place in his lifetime? I thought everyone acknowledged this! Wow, I found a few fundamentalist who are so far off into their fundamentalism they can’t even acknowledge this despite every other fundie on earth acknowledging it.
Its a much bigger waste of time to try and reason with anyone so fossilized in traditional errors as to not acknowledge that Paul taught the second coming was going to happen in his own time.
Note how he did not answer my question but proceed to just label us as fundamentalists, say that I’m “fossilized” and imply that we are extreme “fundie.” All this does not deal with the issue or the question at hand, which is quite descriptive of a fallacy (as opposed to being gracious, the irony).
Proper Ad Hominem rebuttal
Looking back at the exchange, I would have responded to our guest “Descriptive Grace” with the following comment in these words:
Descriptive Grace, I just asked you a question about what other mistakes you believe Paul has made and note how our view of the Bible will shape our view of soteriology. Your response committed an ad hominem fallacy here and you know it. Calling someone a fundamentalist does not end the debate on Paul and whether or not his words in the Bible are inerrant, no matter what you may think. This is nothing but an ad hominem fallacy tactic.
My point here would be that he is committing an ad hominem fallacy and he knows better not to commit it.
I would be curious to see how he respond to these words.
Especially since what I have in bold are the exact words he wrote for his post on his blog on Feb. 16th, 2013; but with different referents plugged in and a correction when he incorrectly identified a straw man fallacy for an ad hominem fallacy. In the original comment he was talking about Calvinists and Pelagians:
Calling someone a Pelagian does not end the debate on grace, no matter what the Calvinists may think. This is nothing but a strawman tactic. And the fact is, Pelagius himself has been strawmanned.
He should know better than to commit an ad hominem fallacy in light of his own words arguing against some unnamed Calvinists that he’s shadowboxing. That’s the point of this proper use of an ad hominem rebuttal.