Christianity and Ad Hominem

Watch it with the aspersions. 

The fifth post in our examination of Neil Carter’s article, “How Faith Breaks Your Thinker” takes us to the accusation of ad hominem fallacy. 

Neil writes,

In discussions where logical reasoning is held to any kind of consistent standard, ad hominem (“to the man”) arguments are considered a change of subject… because that’s actually what they are. Instead of addressing the argument itself, this tactic involves pivoting to the person and impugning his or her character or motives in making the argument.

Yeah. Okay. I can agree with that. But just how do believing Christians supposedly do this?

Neil writes, giving an example of his charge,

Me: “I don’t see why the cosmos has to have a cause but an invisible person doesn’t.”

Them: “You just want to be free to have more sex.”

Me: “Wait. What just happened?”

I’ve responded to Neil on his causation accusation here, but I’m willing to let the example go unchallenged… for now. He continues,

I’ve noticed that when devotees to other religions like Islam critically evaluate the assumptions undergirding their own faiths, Christians don’t disparage their lines of questioning as attempts to be free to do as they please. On the contrary, they support the seekers’ conclusions because, obviously, it gives them an open door to suggesting their own faith as the only reasonable alternative.

I’ve got to let him run just a little farther,

But when someone questions the Christian faith, the Bible gives them a clear excuse for dismissing anything the person has to say:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. (Neil’s emphasis)

What this tells them is that people only reject Christianity because they want to live in sin. Elsewhere the Bible asserts that human hearts are darkened by their own desires, which means you cannot trust your own perceptions about anything. So no matter what part of the belief system you question, in the end your resistance is futile because your own reasoning cannot be trusted since the purity of your motive is in question.

Now we’re getting into a straw man. 

First, Paul’s point in Romans 1 is to demonstrate why all men live in sin: they know that God exists and suppress that knowledge. This passage is describing why man is under God’s wrath, and goes on to discuss how men behave in their suppression of the truth by describing all sorts of vile and destructive behaviors which are expressions of God’s wrath against the suppression of the truth. The thing that the Christian must remember is that he was like that too. He was under God’s wrath, but was shown mercy. He was desperately wicked, deceived by his own heart, and due the just penalty for his sin. 

Second, this say nothing about why “people reject Christianity”. It explains why people need a savior from the wrath of God and how they manifest their rebellion against the God they know exists. Jeremiah’s point is that the heart of man, in its natural state, that it wants to be deceived, it loves to be deceived and loves to deceive others.

Neil continues,

It’s a clever way to keep people from asking hard questions about the faith. You just teach them to feel so guilty for having questions in the first place that they learn to stuff them down and keep them to themselves because how dare they be so presumptuous? Who do they think they are? Don’t they know they’re just wretched vermin without God’s grace, incapable of accurately perceiving anything at all?

Neil clearly needs to follow my blog, as well as people like Dr. James R. White, Dr. Michael Brown, Dr. Michael Heiser, because that’s all that we deal with are tough questions. I have an entire series on hard questions. Now, I will admit that there is a rather sizable portion of those in the faith who have some really simplistic views about matters that really don’t think through such matters (King James Onlyists for example). 

But there’s an additional straw man buried in there: no thoughtful Christian claims that one cannot perceive anything accurately apart from God’s grace. Rather, any claims about our perceptions are dependent upon God in order to be accurate or true. Right now, as this is being written, in front of me is a parked truck. The only coherent basis that I have to believe that I am actually seeing this truck is found in the being of God, as the necessary foundation for knowledge. I have no positive justification to believe anything that I perceive, or even conceive of, apart from God’s divine superintendency of his creation. That is why people, all people, know that God exists, and in that knowledge they know that there are certain things that should be done to honor him as God and that they should give thanks. The sense of gratitude that permeates people’s attitudes, and the worth that they ascribe to themselves and others are direct testimony to this fact. Now, people will conceive of all manner of contrivances in order to get around this fact, but in order for their conclusions to make sense, only the existence of God provides coherence for all human experience and knowledge. 

Neil writes,

In my next post, by the way, I hope to lay out all the ways I see the Christian faith normalizing tactics of emotional manipulation (e.g. blameshifting, “gaslighting,” etc) like this one until you’re unable to recognize when someone uses the same sleights of hand for other things as well.

Um, Neil, I hate to break it to you but you’ve got to provide a coherent justification in order to say that there’s anything wrong with those practices. I would probably agree that it’s wrong to do those things, but then I have a coherent foundation in order to speak to them. But, you’re straying from your subject. 

He closes this section,

Outside of religion—and now, apparently, presidential debates—ad hominem attacks are considered logical fallacies because they represent a change of subject from the thing being questioned to the motives and character of the questioner himself or herself. But the church validates this line of reasoning, or rather of failing to reason at all.

Aren’t you now attacking the motives of others, Neil? I see that you’ve set up a few straw men, and I’ve responded to you when you’re dishonest in your handling of the facts. It’s almost like atheism has broken your thinker. 

Neil goes on in his post to name the off several “runners up”, but these are also dependent upon similar misunderstandings that fuel up similar misrepresentations. It’s pretty clear that in 20 years in the church that Neil didn’t actually learn anything about what Christians actually believe. I’m not saying that most Christians have an accurate understanding either. Christians have a responsibility to know their faith so that they can respond to nonsense like this. 

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