Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ad Hominem (Abuse)

Ad hominem is Latin for "to the man." An ad hominem argument is one that is directed against the person, rather than his arguments.

This fallacy takes many forms, as we'll see. However, the abuse variant is easily the most blatant of its kind. Inventing examples of abuse is all too easy. This should be pretty self-explanatory:

If you believe in God, you're an idiot.


Years ago I was fairly active in various Christian forums on Yahoo! Groups. In its heyday, groups devoted to the KJV were plentiful. Today, with the ubiquity of forum software, Yahoo! Groups has declined, and while there are still a fair number of "King James Bible" groups there, they appear to either be dormant, overrun with spam, or restricted to members only - mainly, I suspect, to keep people like me out. Nonetheless, I've managed to keep a few good samples of ad hominem (abuse) from those days - not that it's difficult to find contemprary examples, mind you.

In the very early 2000s, I had had some dealings with a KJV-onlyist named Scott Cowie. I think he is probably the earliest example of a "9/11 Truther" that I encountered, because I had been posting responses to his conspiracy theories concerning the destruction of the World Trade Center a mere two weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. As a rebuttal of sorts, Cowie managed to tie in his Trutherism with his KJV-onlyism and respond to me:

As for my posting "conspiracy theories" it is obvious Mr. McClare you are a gullible fool who will believe anything BUT the truth. You are just goosestepping to the NWO tune of our fearless leaders.

Note that Cowie has sidestepped the issue of his "conspiracy theories," which I had previously addressed directly, and come after me personally, accusing me of being a "gullible fool" and a New World Order lackey. Abuse of this kind is, in fact, a very common form of "argument" used by conspiracy theorists when confronted with skepticism: disagreeing with their theories is proof that you're on the payroll of someone even more insidious.

A couple months later on another Yahoo! group, a KJV-onlyist named Chuck Hilton (going by the handle "kjbhilton") posted the following after another poster answered a common claim by KJV-onlyists, that modern version users don't believe the KJV is the Word of God:

Well then if you do beleive [sic] that the KJV is God's word, you can't possibly beleive [sic] the other versions are Gods [sic] word, unless you have the IQ of a sled track!

I don't know what the IQ of a sled track is, but Hilton is ignoring the issue at hand (correcting his error) in favour of insulting someone's intelligence.

I suspect I'm not alone in this, but this is the fallacy that the KJV-onlyists have tried on me more than any other. Rather than attempt to deal with any substantial issues I have raised, the first thing the KJV-only zealots want to do is rush off to Google and dig up a whole bunch of dirt. (Since I've had a presence on the Web since 1996, there's no shortage of personal information about me out there!) They will discover that I am a fan of 70s progressive rock such as Pink Floyd, and rather than debate KJV-onlyism, will declare me "worldly." They learn that some bands I enjoy contain members who are homosexuals, and rather than debate KJV-onlyism, will call me a "limp-wristed supporter of queers." They find out I enjoy beer and wine, and rather than debate KJV-onlyism, will denounce me as a drunkard.

Over the years I have had KJV-onlyists call me, amongst other things, "liberal," "apostate," a "heretic" (or, just as commonly, a "heretick" as many of these folks seem to like to affect the archaic spellings of the KJV). These are accusations of theological error, and yet when pressed for the specific errors I am guilty of, my accusers are strangely silent. I have been accused of both "Romanism" and "Calvinism" in the same thread, the contradictory nature of these two accusations apparently going completely unnoticed. (I am a Calvinist, and don't know why being accused of it should bother me.) And because I won't accept the must absurd unreason preented as Christian fundamentalism, I've been called stupid, idiotic, and (as we see above) a "gullible fool."

The key to understanding this raving is simply to remember this rule of thumb: To a KJV-onlyist, these labels don't actually mean anything. A KJV-onlyist calling me a "liberal" is not accusing me of liberalism. "Scott is a liberal" has no more content to it than "Scott is a poop head."

It's too bad. You'd think that attacking a person rather than his opinions would be the last resort, but for the "defenders" of the King James Bible, it's often the first weapon they fire. It's good evidence that KJV-onlyism is unsupported by facts or logic.


My favourite response to ad hominem (abuse) is simply to acknowledge the truth of the claims, sometimes in as hyperbolic a fashion as possible: "All right, I admit to being an NWO stooge. But my evil overlords have asked me to ask you if you would please address my arguments, instead of my intelligence."


  1. I enjoy the logic behind most of your articles. However, this one seemed weak in that it used the arguments of an inept challenger to go beyond making a point. It could be argued now that the labelling of the person as a "Truther" was an ad hominen. Governmental conspiracies was not the topic. If I believe that KJV-onlyism is wrong must I also believe that it is preposterous that a government could create false-flag and strawmen of their own? Use the same standard for 9/11, or anything else.

  2. Hi Martois. Actually, the content of his conspiracy theories was beside the point; he could have been arguing for 9/11 truthism, vaccines causing autopsy, or even the Democrats raising the debt ceiling. It wasn't so much that I found the content of his arguments particularly goofy, it was that I questioned him on them and was called a "gullible fool" in response.

    The first example in these posts is not typically a KJV-onlyist one; I usually throw something else in as well just for variety. In this case, Cowie happened to be both.