January 04, 2005

Why do I let myself get dragged into these things?

Dave Armstrong is a Roman "Catholic" apologist. One of his more recent efforts is a newly published book titled The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants: 95 supposed proof-texts that we Protestants can't handle.

In my experience, whenever someone claims to have an unanswerable argument, it isn't long before it is, in fact, answered. So I can't say I'm surprised to see James White begin to respond to Armstrong's claims. (White's blog makes use of blog categories, but at this point he seems to be applying them somewhat inconsistently. Nonetheless, a good bit of the DA material appears under the Roman Catholic category, so it's a good start.)

Then the meltdown started.

DA declared that he had had enough and wasn't going to argue with anti-Catholics any more. Complaining about the tone of the debate, he listed a number of "personal attacks" that he had endured. The problem is, none of them were in fact personal attacks.

An ad hominem argument is one in which the person rather than his point is attacked. For example:

  • "John Smith is an idiot; don't listen to him" is ad hominem. It is personal abuse.
  • "John Smith is no different from the people he criticizes" is ad hominem. It is a tu quoques (Latin for "you're another").
  • "John Smith disagrees with me here, but he agrees with me there, there, there, and there" is ad hominem: an accusation of inconsistency.
  • "If John Smith really believed this, he wouldn't have said that" is ad hominem: an accusation of irrationality.
  • "John Smith is an anti-Catholic, and you know how they are" is ad hominem. It "poisons the well" by associating Smith with something bad.

And so forth. There are multiple forms of the ad hominem fallacy.

On the other hand, saying that Dave Armstrong "doesn't even seem to understand what would be necessary for him to establish such a claim," as I quoted James White from DA's complaint page, is not an ad hominem. It says that DA's argumentation, not his person, is lacking - not that he is stupid, or that he does what he accuses others of, or that he is inconsistent or irrational or runs with the wrong crowd.

So, after having pointed out the obvious myself, one thing led to another and I found myself the privileged recipient of a trademarked Armstrong bloviated response,1 pointing out the many times that James White had, in fact, used an ad hominem argumentation. Disregarding the fact that out of about a dozen citations, only one of them was a clear-cut case of ad hominem, DA completely missed my point: that what he was billing as a "personal attack" was not, in fact, a personal attack.

What really gets DA going, I think, is that not only is White answering his "unanswerable" 95 proof-texts, but he's making it look easy and showing up DA's shoddy methodology to boot. So DA's packed up his ball and gone home.

1 Now that is an ad hominem argument.