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Fallacy Friday: The Ubiquitous Ad Hominem

February 5th, 2011 by Matt

In my previous posts, What is an Argument? and Assessing Arguments, I spelt out some basics as to what an argument is and how to assess arguments. There I noted that a sound argument is one where the premises of the argument is true and the argument is valid. It is impossible for an argument which is sound to have a false premise, this fact means that one cannot rationally reject the conclusion of an argument unless one also rejects either one of the premises or the argument’s validity.

These concepts are essential to understanding fallacies because fallacies frequently involve rejecting a person’s conclusion or their argument on grounds other than their lack of soundness. Thus, a fallacy is an error in reasoning.

Logicians have characterised and named the most common mistakes. Most have Latin names due to the fact that logic was a prerequisite to studying theology in the middle ages; Latin was the language of scholarship at that time so the classifications of fallacies were done in Latin.

The first and perhaps most infamous fallacy that I want to look at today is the ad hominem fallacy. Ad hominem means “against the man.” An argument is ad hominem when the thrust of the argument is not made at against the  conclusion one is denying and neither is it made against the soundness of the argument by challenging either its validity or the truth of its premises, an ad hominem argument is one where the attack on the argument is directed against the person who has offered the argument or who has asserted its conclusion.

Example
A good example on an ad hominem occurred on MandM this week. The issue as to whether New Zealand has an established religion surfaced in a comment thread. Madeleine claimed,

“I refer you to this guest post written by lawyer David Simpkin who sets out the law showing New Zealand does have an official state religion and denomination – the Church of England (Anglican). His legal analysis is dead right. Guest Post: No Official Religion in God’s Own?.”

Here Madeleine referred the reader to an argument, made by a lawyer, which argued from certain premises to the conclusion that New Zealand has an official religion. Julian the Apostate responded to this as follows:

“Could I also note Mr Simpkin’s former role as a member of Youth for New Zealand, a front group for the Christian Heritage Party?”

Here Julian does not address the premises of Simpkin’s original argument, nor does Julian claim that the argument is invalid, instead he dismisses both the argument and its conclusion on the basis that the author of the argument, was once a member of a youth group connected with the Christian Heritage Party.

Now regardless of what one thinks of the Christian Heritage Party and regardless of whether Simpkin’s legal analysis was correct, the fact is that his past involvement in a political organisation for youth has no bearing on whether his argument is sound.

The soundness of his argument depends on whether it is possible for the premises of his argument to be true and yet the conclusion false; and, whether the premises are, in fact, true. This latter condition depends on facts about the law, facts which hold independently of whether the person offering the argument was a member of a political organisation.

One can grasp this point by doing a simple experiment. Imagine that a person who was never a member of any youth organisation connected with the Christian Heritage Party offered the same argument as Simpkin. Now, would the argument be sound? If the answer is yes then the original argument is sound. The arguments are the same, the same premises and inferences are made, so Simpkin’s former political affiliations make no difference to the argument. Likewise, if the argument was, in fact, unsound then Simpkin’s political affiliation would still be irrelevant because the argument would be unsound even if someone who is not a Christian Heritage Party affiliate made it. The political affiliation of the person making the argument makes no difference to the argument whether it is sound or unsound.

An ad hominem argument seeks to persuade by using psychological or emotional transference; the hearer is fooled into transferring their disapproval of a person onto the argument or its conclusion. The problem is that the criteria for what makes a person good is not the same as the criteria for a what makes an argument good. Failing to meet the criteria for being a good person has no bearing on whether the argument the person offers is sound or unsound.

Two Major Forms
Ad hominem fallacies come in two major forms. The first is ad hominem abusive, the second is ad hominem circumstantial.

Ad Hominem Abusive
An ad hominem abusive argument typically involves an attack on the character or integrity of the person making the argument or proposing the conclusion. He will be attacked morally or his intellectual competence is called into question or he might be smeared with a kind of guilt by association argument, whereby it is claimed his position links him in some way with the Nazis or the communists or the political right or left or the youth wing of a Christian political party, etc. Even if true, none of these attacks have any relevance to the truth or falsity of the argument or conclusion he is offering.

Suppose someone claims that the world is round. This claim will be true if the world is, in fact, round or false if it is, in fact, not round. Whether one is a Nazi, a communist, an evil rapist or a murderer does not change the shape of the earth. It is the shape of the earth alone that determines the truth or falsity of the claim that the world is round.

Ad Hominem Circumstantial
An ad hominen circumstantial is a little more subtle. This fallacy occurs when someone tries to dismiss the truth of a conclusion or rejects an argument for a conclusion on the basis of the circumstances under which the conclusion is held.

For example, a person who offers an argument for free-market capitalism, is told “you’re a wealthy business woman, it is in your interests to believe that.” This is an ad hominem circumstantial argument. Even if it is true that the person offering the argument is wealthy and even if self-interest in the real motivator for the business woman’s conclusion, the truth or falsity of her conclusion depends on whether what it affirms is, in fact, the case.

The question still arises as to whether the argument is sound. An argument does not cease to be a good argument just because someone has dubious motives for offering it or offers it under certain circumstances. It is unsound if it is invalid or if one of its premises is false. A person’s motives for adopting a conclusion or the circumstances of their supporting that conclusion tells us about the psychology of that person but it does not tell us about the truth or falsity of their argument.

But It’s True!
An ad hominem argument does not become valid just because the attack on the maker’s character is accurate. Sometimes people defend ad hominem arguments by stating “but it’s true”; they make the case that the person does possess the character flaw they are accused of holding or that the person’s belief is held under the circumstances claimed.

This response misses the point. What makes ad hominem arguments fallacious is not that the accusation made is false, it is that even if it is true it is not relevant to the truth of the conclusion under discussion or the soundness of the argument being proposed. An ad hominem argument essentially changes the subject from the claims in contention to the character of the person. However accurate or insightful this subject change may be, this new subject does not address the question that is at issue.

When Character is in Play
A final point is that there are certain circumstances in which criticising the person is not a fallacy. This is important to grasp. I noted above that what makes an ad hominen argument fallacious is that it is irrelevant to the question at hand. And ad hominem argument does not provide reasons for thinking the conclusion in question is false or that the argument is unsound. There is one situation where this is not the case. This is where the reason proposed for accepting a conclusion is the credibility of the proposer.

Celebrity endorsements are a good example of this. If a product or concept is being pitched to the public solely on the basis that the celebrity endorses it, then the credibility of the celebrity is the ground for accepting the conclusion.

Examples
Keisha Castle-HughesNew Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key, took some of flack for his public dismissal of Whalerider actress Keisha Castle-Hughes; he said she should “stick to the acting” over her stance on climate change. At the time, Castle-Hughes was an ambassador for Greenpeace’s Sign On campaign, which saw her featured on TV, radio and print media advertisements advocating for a 40% reduction in New Zealand emissions by 2020. She had also recently visited the Cook Islands to see the impact of climate change and returned saying she wanted to meet Prime Minister Key to discuss it. Now, given that Keisha was using her Hollywood status to add authority and credibility to Greenpeace’s campaign, and she is not in fact a climatologist nor did she, in the advertisements I saw, offer any argument for her position, Key’s response “my advice to Keisha is this: stick to acting” was addressing the argument. Whatever else it may have been, it was not ad hominem.

Another example is that of the expert witness. Sometime in a court case the prosecution will call an expert witness on the stand. The jury will be asked to believe that a certain claim is true on the grounds that the witness is an expert and is telling the truth. In situations like this the prosecution has made the witness’ credibility or honesty part of the argument. The defence can legitimately attack the witness’ credibility by showing he does not have the relevant expertise or by showing his character means his testimony cannot be trusted because these approaches address the argument being made.

However, if the expert witness goes on to provide some arguments for his conclusion which move beyond merely his say so, then it is these arguments that need to be addressed; attacking his character would no longer be an attack on the argument and would not be an example of the ad hominem fallacy.

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37 responses so far ↓

  • “I refer you to this guest post written by lawyer David Simpkin who sets out the law showing New Zealand does have an official state religion and denomination – the Church of England (Anglican). His legal analysis is dead right.

    argumentum ad verecundiam?

  • No it is not because the truth of the claim that New Zealand has an official state religion is not related to the authority of Mr Simpkin.

    For it to be an argumentum ad verecundiam, I would have had to have argued:

    1. Simpkin says that it is true NZ has a state religion
    2. Simpkin is authoritative.
    3. Therefore, it is true NZ has a state religion.

    This argument relies on the authority of Simpkin. But I argued:

    1. An authority argued that it is true NZ has a state religion.
    2. The authority’s argument was “dead right”
    3. Therefore, it is true NZ has a state religion.

    The reference to Simpkin’s authority was not a premise of the argument. My conclusion did not rely on Simpkin’s status as a lawyer, it relied on the correctness of his argument. His legal argument being correct does not rely on his being a lawyer – lay people can get the law right (sometimes!). There is no fallacy in simply arguing that the argument made by an authority is true.

  • I’m not sure it’s so simple.

    The inclusion of Simpkin’s authority is there to back up the claim. It’s otherwise unnecessary.

    David says X is the case.
    David is right when he says X is the case
    Therefore X is the case

    Isn’t much of an argument.

  • Graeme, a person’s status or qualifications can certainly serve as reasons to take their arguments seriously.

    An ad hominem is fallacious when the comment on the person is not relevant to the argument. In the case of a lawyer making a legal case, clearly the person’s status is relevant. So in that case it’s not fallacious for two reasons: 1) David’s qualifications are relevant to whether or not we should expect a good legal argument from him, and 2) the appeal was to David’s argument itself.

  • Cue sounds of atheists claiming appeal to authority when you appeal to someone who actually is an authority.

    Appealing to Craig Blomberg as an expert in New Testament studies is not a fallacy because he is an expert in New Testament studies. To rebut him you need arguments from people equally expert who disagree with him.

    Appealing to Richard Dawkins as an authority on the philosophy of religion is a fallacy because regardless of what else he may be good at, he is not an expert in the philosophy of religion.

    An atheist armed with a logical fallacy is like the proverbial man with a hammer. Every problem looks like a nail.

    Perhaps that was an example of the ad hominem known as poisoning the well. Not every atheist is like that, merely the ones who appeal to Richard Dawkins as an authority in the philosophy of religion.

  • An ad hominem is fallacious when the comment on the person is not relevant to the argument.

    I was not asserting there was an ad hominem.

    Appealing to Craig Blomberg as an expert in New Testament studies is not a fallacy because he is an expert in New Testament studies.

    I disagree. Just because he is an expert doesn’t make him right. That’s (I understand) the point of the fallacy: expert X say Y does not imply Y.

    To rebut him you need arguments from people equally expert who disagree with him.

    You don’t need arguments from experts at all. You need a valid argument, based on sound premises. Have one of those, and it doesn’t matter how much of an expert he is, or how little of one you are.

  • I agree with Graeme,

    A valid argument is a valid argument, regardless of the status or the qualifications of the person putting it forward.

    Otherwise, according to the logic being argued for here, Emily Pankhurst’s perspective with regard to womens rights should have been ignored when she argued for women’s suffrage, due to her lack of status or qualifications in that particular area.

  • This article seems to be confusing what we might call ‘logical deduction’ with practical reasoning.

    On a strict reading of a fallacy as ‘any argument that permits the possibility of the premises being true and conclusion being false’, then stuff like (valid) authority is fallacious. ‘Cos even experts can be wrong about stuff.

    But so what? We’re surely aiming at something a bit wider than deductive validity. Expertise is good fodder for an inductive argument, and practical reasoning. Experts are less likely to be wrong about the area of their expertise than non-experts, and thus we should pay heed to expert opinion. The problem is that in these wider senses, facts about the speaker are – potentially – fair argumentative game. The tail of the post suggests cases where ‘ad hom’ is a licit move. Yet on this wider conception of argumentative ‘goodness’, circumstantial or abusive ad homs can be good arguments too.

    Take Simpkins. Suppose Simpkins was the member of some wacky group: the flat-earth society say (or, if you think Christianity is epistemically discredited, Christianity). Then one could say “Given Simpkins past record of being wacky, it’s unlikely the reasons he’s got is going to be any good.” Or suppose Simpkins was indoctrinated into whatever set of beliefs he’s defending (or is getting a fat paycheck from a special interest group). Then one could say “Given it’s in Simpkins’ interest to argue for this conclusion, we shouldn’t take what he says seriously”.In short, one is trying to show that Simpkins’ having an argument for X doesn’t track the truth of X: he’d still find an argument for X even if it was wrong because (in the first case) he’s a nutter, or (in the second case) he has a vested interest in claiming X.

    Of course, neither of these concerns (even if they were true) would show whatever argument Simpkins has for X must be bad. They would, however, incline us to take whatever argument Simpkins has less seriously, or to dismiss him an audience with our intellect out of hand. Doing so is only a short step from plainly bad epistemic practice (equating opponent’s disagreement with your conclusions as epistemic fault to relieve yourself the trouble of arguing with them). But, so long as that step isn’t taken, these considerations are on a par with appeals to expertise (or lack thereof). So if the examples at the end of the post aren’t fallacious, the examples at the beginning aren’t either.

  • I recommend the following link for a succinct overview of the top 20 logical fallacies: http://www.theskepticsguide.org/resources/logicalfallacies.aspx

    Their summary of the ad hominem fallacy:

    An ad hominem argument is any that attempts to counter another’s claims or conclusions by attacking the person, rather than addressing the argument itself. True believers will often commit this fallacy by countering the arguments of skeptics by stating that skeptics are closed minded. Skeptics, on the other hand, may fall into the trap of dismissing the claims of UFO believers, for example, by stating that people who believe in UFO’s are crazy or stupid. A common form of this fallacy is also frequently present in the arguments of conspiracy theorists (who also rely heavily on ad-hoc reasoning). For example, they may argue that the government must be lying because they are corrupt. It should be noted that simply calling someone a name or otherwise making an ad hominem attack is not in itself a logical fallacy. It is only a fallacy to claim that an argument is wrong because of a negative attribute of someone making the argument. (i.e. “John is a jerk.” is not a fallacy. “John is wrong because he is a jerk.” is a logical fallacy.) The term “poisoning the well” also refers to a form of ad hominem fallacy. This is an attempt to discredit the argument of another by implying that they possess an unsavory trait, or that they are affiliated with other beliefs or people that are wrong or unpopular. A common form of this also has its own name – Godwin’s Law or the reductio ad Hitlerum. This refers to an attempt at poisoning the well by drawing an analogy between another’s position and Hitler or the Nazis.

  • Great article. it immediately reminded me of these two lines in C.S. Lewis:

    “Logic! said the professor half to himself. “why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities …” (THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, p. 45)

    and in looking for where this quote was, I found also found the following quote (but not the source):

    “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
    C. S. Lewis

  • Graeme, first even if Madeleine’s comment was argumentum ad verecundiam that is really irrelevant to my post, because nowhere in the post did I say Madeleine’s argument was sound, I pointed out that Julian the Apostate’s rebuttal was fallacious. Even if an argument is unsound it does not follow that every or any objection to it is non fallacious, people can make fallacious objections to unsound arguments.

    But second’ I don’t think Madeleine’s comment was an argumentum ad verecundiam The mere fact she notes David Simpkin was a lawyer is not enough for this to be argumentum ad verecundiam. As you note an argumentum ad verecundiam has the form, expert X say Y, therefore Y, to be such an argument then Madeleine needs to not just mention the person is an expert she must infer the conclusion in question from the sole premise that David said the conclusion. That’s not what Madeleine did though she stated

    I refer you to this guest post written by lawyer David Simpkin who sets out the law showing New Zealand does have an official state religion and denomination – the Church of England (Anglican). His legal analysis is dead right.

    As I said above Here Madeleine referred the reader to an argument, made by a lawyer, which argued from certain premises to the conclusion that New Zealand has an official religion. Madeleine did not claim the conclusion was correct because David said so, she claimed it was correct on the basis of an argument David had made which she believes is correct.

    This is no more fallacious than referring a person to the latest definitive study in Science, to respond to an assertion that a particular scientific claim is false. If the study provides an argument against the assertion then one has responded with an argument. One does not have to respond with a sound argument, you yourself came up with, as opposed to someone else, for your rejoinder to be sound.

  • Graeme, you’ve not appreciated my point at all.

    No fallacy is committed where a person appeals to an expert in the field being discussed. Where a person appeals to a person only because of their qualifications, that is indeed an ad hominem fallacy because the appeal is made because of who somebody is and not what they say.

    However where a person appeals to a relevantly qualified person’s argument, there’s no problem at all. The person’s qualifications should call us to listen carefully because they have relevant experience, and the fact that there’s an argument being used to persuade us indicates that the appeal is not fallacious.

  • […] have critiqued a fair number of people in the last week or so for using ad hominem arguments. Matt has a tutorial for those of you who did not have exposure to Latin at school… or philosophy before […]

  • Although I think most of the comments here are valid, I think the true error here is in what Matt has made of Julian the Apostate’s comment. It was an accurate sideline comment, highlighting an aspect of David Simpkins point of view; it was not not a complete rebuttal of David Simpkin’s argument, and nor was it stated to be so.

    It seems plain as day to me that Matt has used this (apparent) misinterpretation of what Julian the Apostate has said, to attack Julian. Thumbs down, Matt.

  • In actual fact what went on was two “fallacies” which kind of canceled each other out.

    Madelaine quoted this persons argument and in order to try to make the argument sound stronger pointed out that he was a law expert… an irrelevant detail – ie. we should look at the content of the argument not the person himself.

    The replier then said basically – yes he may be a lawyer – bu he has ulterior motives, so i agree – lets forget about who the person is and just look at the strength of the argument.

    Well that is how I read it now.

  • I find the ease with which you guys launch the ad hominem attack somewhat hypocritical (and incidentally humorous).

    After all you invite examination of individuals you use as authorities if you must resort to using that particular “way of knowing”. 

    The reliability of an “expert witness” depends on their interests and qualifications. Especially anything which could cloud their objectivity or expertise. By using that particular “method of knowing” you of necessity open up your “expert” to scrutiny.

    It is disingenuous, then, when your witness turns out not to be objective or expert to accuse others of ad hominem. 

    Mind you it is a way of diverting the argument and maybe of doing a bit of ad hominem yourself by implying that the critic is unfair.

    I think this particular case of using Simpkin as the expert witness and then using the ad hominem label when his objectivity was questioned is typical of the dishonest diversionary tactics you guys use.

    If you must use an expert witness then you must allow the objectivity and qualifications to be tested.  

    That is the honest approach anyway.

  • This highlights an error in Jason’s comment: where he said that “Appealing to Richard Dawkins as an authority on the philosophy of religion is a fallacy because regardless of what else he may be good at, he is not an expert in the philosophy of religion.”

    Well, it depends how you define expert. Compared to most laypeople, he IS a relative expert on the philosophy of religion. He has written books on the topic. However, this is an aside – if his arguments are accurate, then his conclusions should be respected. One doesn’t have to believe in a god to be an expert at philosophy of religion.

  • Clint, you write: Although I think most of the comments here are valid, I think the true error here is in what Matt has made of Julian the Apostate’s comment. It was an accurate sideline comment, highlighting an aspect of David Simpkins point of view; it was not not a complete rebuttal of David Simpkin’s argument, and nor was it stated to be so.

    Actually Clint here is the entire response:

    “Could I also note Mr Simpkin’s former role as a member of Youth for New Zealand, a front group for the Christian Heritage Party?

    Added to which, Mrs Flannagan, if you get to delete Maori animism from official ceremonies, then please allow the rest of us to delete other residual pieces of religious observance from certain other legislation. And Lewis…one more argument for republicanism!”

    In fact the claim about Simpkin was not a “side line” it was the only substantive response Julian made to Madeliene’s citation of Simpkin’s argument.

    Sorry Clint, but if the only response to an argument you give is to point out the person who made the argument once was a member of a political party you have commited the ad hominen fallacy.

  • Ken, actually your criticism of my comments about the ad hominen fallacy commit the tu quoque fallacy, you don’t get to defend one fallacy by using another.

    Clint on Dawkins, I agree that where he gives an argument his position stands or falls on the soundness of the argument.

    When however he merely asserts something and expects us to take his word for it, his expertise on the subject as a reliable source is at issue.

    Dawkins does both. For example he asserts that religious people have made certain arguments for Gods existence and then offers rebuttals of those arguments. Even if the rebuttals he offers are sound, the problem arises as to whether we should accept Dawkins word about whether the arguments typically offered by religious believers are the ones he says they are, and here, his relevant expertise in philosophy of religion is an an issue.

    No one says you have to be a philosopher of religion to believe in God, but if your going to comment on and address the arguments for the existence of God, You actually need to be familiar with what the arguments for God’s existence are. Similarly, if you are going to claim the concept of God has no application in reality, you need to not what the concept of God is and hence be familiar with the discussion of this.

  • I think this particular case of using Simpkin as the expert witness and then using the ad hominem label when his objectivity was questioned is typical of the dishonest diversionary tactics you guys use.
    If you must use an expert witness then you must allow the objectivity and qualifications to be tested.

    Ok two things here,

    First, as has been pointed out Madeliene refered the reader to Simpkin’s argument not to his testimony as an expert.

    Second, even if Madeleine had offered an argument from authority, in this instance this would have been on the basis that Simpkin was a qualified lawyer. Julian’s comments in no way call this into question, what they esthablish is that in his youth he was a member of a particular political party. This does not show that Simpkin, is not a qualified lawyer, does not have an has not passed the requiste legal papers to get an LLB, has not passed profs, has not been admitted to the bar, and does not have years working as a reputable lawyer for firms.

    So on both counts you are mistaken.

  • Matt, in the article above you claim that Julian: “…dismisses both the argument and its conclusion on the basis that the author of the argument, was once a member of a youth group connected with the Christian Heritage Party.” And in your last post you have then said “Sorry Clint, but if the only response to an argument you give is to point out the person who made the argument once was a member of a political party you have commited the ad hominen fallacy.” These are most definitely not the same thing. Julian did the second item, but not the first – and your second statement is wrong, according to your first definition.

    When you look at Julian he actually said, he doesn’t say that he dismisses the argument or its conclusion. He only notes an aspect of Mr Simpkins background. Yes, you’re right, it was his only “rebuttal”, but as he was simply noting a fact about Mr Simpkins and not claiming that it dismisses his argument, I don’t think it’s a good example of an ad hominem argument. I agree with your description of the ad hominem fallacy; I simply disagree about your interpretation of what Julian said, and I think it’s a bad example. If you’d used another example, I probably wouldn’t have taken issue with it.

    I agree with what you’ve said about Dawkins; my only note would be that although you’re right, Dawkins generally quotes and references arguments from religious believers that appear in his books. Probably due to his science background, he is very meticulous about getting his references straight.

  • Clint, you wrote: “These are most definitely not the same thing. Julian did the second item, but not the first.” Both are versions of the fallacy so it does not matter which one he did.

    “he doesn’t say that he dismisses the argument or its conclusion. He only notes an aspect of Mr Simpkins background. Yes, you’re right, it was his only “rebuttal”, but as he was simply noting a fact about Mr Simpkins and not claiming that it dismisses his argument, I don’t think it’s a good example of an ad hominem argument.”

    This seems to assume that unless someone prefaces a response with ‘I am offering this as a decisive argument’ or overtly states that they are doing so then one is not offering an ad hominem, that’s quite implausible.

    “I agree with what you’ve said about Dawkins; my only note would be that although you’re right, Dawkins generally quotes and references arguments from religious believers that appear in his books. Probably due to his science background, he is very meticulous about getting his references straight.”

    Citing your sources accurately is something done in most disciplines, the idea that its somehow evidence of “scientific rigor” is simply false.

    As to your comments about Dawkin’s here I simply disagree, I have read the chapter of the “God delusion” where Dawkin’s offers rebuttals to the standard arguments for Gods existence, he does not respond to any argument that is actually offered in the literature today, he cites a sarcastic dismissal of the ontological argument, and he refers to Aquinas five ways, the latter he gets completely wrong, he suggests that Aquinas is offering an argument for the beginning of the universe, and suggests the different versions of the cosmological argument are the same. He also raises an objection and states no one has responded to it, in fact every defender of the cosmological argument I know of has responded to it. Moreover dawkin’s simply ignores the numerous cosmological arguments that have been made in the literature. No where does he cite any contemporary defenders of these arguments to back up his claim.

    In Dawkin’s review of Swinburne, about the only time he actually addresses the arguments actually made in the literature. He cites a popular tract Swinburne wrote and not any of his scholarly works, moreover he gets Swinburne’s position completely wrong, one only needs to compare what Dawkin’s says with the original. He also fails to note Swinburne’s important distinction between a P inductive and C inductive argument, something Swinburne spends several chapters elaborating. Moreover, Dawkin’s mistakenly asserts that God is complex, despite the fact that the simplicity of God has been a central issued debated and defended by Theologians for centuries. Dawkins simply ignores these arguments and contends God is complex.

    One gets the impression of a scientist who has waded into another field with minimal research or understanding.

  • Matt – what a strange response: “actually your criticism of my comments about the ad hominem fallacy commit the tu quoque fallacy, you don’t get to defend one fallacy by using another” And then you later try to argue away the situation (which is more sensible if still misleading).

    Madeleine was quite clearly using the argument from authority by referring to “lawyer David Simpkin who sets out the law”. She is quite justified in doing so.Simpkins religious attitudes are important to this authority. And after all in the post Madeleine refers to, you guys provide the information “He [Simpkin] attends Whitiora Bible Church in Hamilton.” So it’s not as if you were trying to hide the guy’s religious beliefs which, after all, are relevant to his argument and comments.

    She was also using the argument from authority by appealing, in a previous comment on this issue, to “Paul Rishworth, Professor and outgoing Dean of Law at the University of Auckland, arguably New Zealand’s top legal scholar on Rights and Freedoms law.”

    I have absolutely no problem with such appeals to authority (use of expert witness). But one has to apply this correctly. My description in “Other ways of knowing” – some sense at last is relevant:

    “Expert testimony is essentially derivative of the other methods. For example scientific experts may derive their authority from actual involvement in the scientific, logical and mathematical methods.

    Experts will clearly provide more reliable and trustworthy knowledge that non-experts. This places importance on criteria for determining the reliability of experts. Its worth “testing” them for reliability.

    For example:

    • Are their qualifications relevant to the questions at hand;
    • Is their testimony confirmed by other reliable experts
    • Is their evidence that the experts adhere to reliable methods of gaining their knowledge
    • Do the experts make an effort to avoid or correct for their personal biases.

    Clearly experts can be wrong and ideally their advice should be checked by other more reliable methods where possible. Their expertise counts for nothing if their advice conflicts with knowledge obtained logically, mathematically and scientifically.”

    So, clearly when someone of authority is appealed to that person’s authority is validly7 open to inspection. Not to do so is foolish.

    And accusing people who do so of “ad hominem” attacks is an attempt to those people of their right to make proper judgement.

    It’s a diversion.

  • Ken.

    1. You suggest that pointing out your argument is fallicous is “strange response” sorry, but you don’t get to engage in fallicous reasoning by using the term “strange” to describe opposition to it.

    2. You then suggest I am “arguing away” the situation and denigrade this as misleading. What I infact did was argue against your position and again simply asserting a person’s motives are deceptive is not a response, it’s a fallacy.

    3. I pointed out that Madeliene’s argument was not an argument for authority, and I gave reasons for this conclusion. Your response does not address these reasons, instead you simply note that Madeliene refered to Simpkin as a lawyer, the problem is as I already argued simply referring to a persons qualifications does not make your comment an argument from authority, for something to be an argument from authority one needs to argue that a certain conclusion is true from the premise that an authority says so. Madeliene suggested did not do this, she refered readers to an argument Simpkin had made.

    4. You assert that Simpkins religious attitudes are relevant to his authority, but as I argued above this is false, again you ignore my argument. If this were an argument from authority, then the question would be whether Simpkin was a qualified lawyer, whether he had expertise in interpreting the law, a persons religious beliefs do not tell us anything about there legal expertise.

    5. Your comments about expert testimony are irrelevant, nowhere did I say that one cannot learn things from expert testimony ( I agree you can) nor do I deny that such expertise is derivative from other methods ( I agree here as well), and I explicitly said in the above post that if a person calls into question the credentials of an expert in the context of beliefs based on expert testimony, this is not an ad hominem. What I dispute is that one can validly refute a legal argument by noting the political or religious affiliation of the lawyer.

    6. Pointing out the logic of the situation might be a “diversion” to you. But its not in reality.

  • Matt, I have never had time for theological “logic” and yours doesn’t impress me now. It is purely driven by your need to “justify” your own claim.

    This is silly to deny that ” noting the political or religious affiliation of the lawyer” is irrelevant to the legal claim of a lawyer. If she is making a legal-religious claim (as was Simpkin) or a legal-political claim this information is indeed relevant. It warns the listener to apply some critical thought to the argument or perhaps canvass other opinions.

    That is certainly sensible. It is not controversial. And for you to use the ad hominem slur is simply a diversion.

  • Ad Hominem: typical secular liberal tactic. Find one mistake someone made and use it to try to discredit whatever they say the rest of their lives. These people are vicious.

  • Ken, nothing in the above is “theological” logic. Its the basics of logic per se,

    Interestingly, most of what you say is fallicous, for example you dismiss my reference to the ad hominen by claiming I have a certain motive, and that what I say is silly, and that the word ad hominen is a “slur” these themselves are ad hominens.

    As to your suggestion that its not fallicous to reject an argument, simply by noting the author has a political or religious motive for offering it and this claim is “uncontroversial” that’s simply false.

  • Matt – I use the word “theological” to describe the sort of logic you guys indulge in.

    You are never objective, you start with a position and then will use anything to justify it. This post is a clear example.

    Come on – accuse me of attacking you! That will prevent any real discussion.

  • Here we go again…

  • Is it a formal fallacy when someone simply says “your argument is stupid”?

    If so, what is the name of the fallacy?

  • Ken, its called “classical logic” and simply making false assertions really proves nothing.

  • […] Fellow blogger Matthew Flannagan has been posting on logic and fallacies on his blog, and featured a great post about Ad Hominem. (HT: Apologetics 315 via […]

  • My point Matt, and you illustrate it yet again, is that simply accusing me of ” making false assertions [and therefore] really proves nothing” is itself a fallacy. By refusing to consider your discussion partner’s arguments and making false accusations about them you are attempting to divert or close down discussion.

    It’s a tactic you use all the time, Matt. It comes across as arrogant and it displays a weakness on your part. An unwillingness to consider issues properly and simply declare a position by announcement. A common theological approach.

    It doesn’t fool me at all.

  • Weekly Apologetics Bonus Links (02/04 – 02/11)…

    Here are this week’s recommended apologetics links. Enjoy. •Fallacy Friday: The Ubiquitous Ad Hominem…

  • Glenn said: “An ad hominem is fallacious when the comment on the person is not relevant to the argument.”

    So, to make sure I understand, suppose I said:
    “Dan is a proven liar who lied about X and Y, so I don’t take his word about Z.”
    That sentence would be an ad hominem, but not a logic fallacy?

  • Fallacy Friday: Ad Hominem…

    The Fallacy Friday Podcast is the weekly audio version of Matthew Flannagan’s Fallacy Friday posts over at the MandM blog. Apologetics315 is producing the audio version, released every Friday as well….

  • Fallacy Friday: The Ubiquitous Ad Hominem…

    Brian Auten has teamed up with Matthew Flannagan to produce a series of podcasts/blog articles enumerating and describing logical fallacies and things about logic in general. This last Friday Matthew Flannagan covered ” Ad Hominem” arguments. He did …