Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ad Hominem (Tu Quoques)

Ad hominem arguments are those that are directed against the person, rather than his points. We've already seen the most blatant form of ad hominem, abuse. Nearly as blatant is the tu quoques form. Tu quoques is Latin for "you're another." This fallacy dismisses another person's argument on the grounds that since he does the very thing he is arguing against.


Suppose a gym teacher were to teach an entire "health" class on the dangers of smoking, only to have a student ask, "Why should I believe you? We all know you smoke." Regardless of whether the information being taught is true or useful, the subject has been changed to the teacher himself.

On the Bible Versions Discussion Board, poster "DocCas" once posted the following:

I don't think it is at all inappropriate for Brent to post his questions which are of the same style and type that have been posted by the proponents of the modern versions. I too think many of Brent's questions/characterizations are straw men, but isn't that the whole point? The modern version proponents ask for chapter and verse proving the KJV is the only word of God, or the word of God at all, and Brent asks the same questions of the modern version proponents. Both are straw men.


The original discussion was about finding theological justification for KJV-onlyism in the Scriptures. Note how DocCas has changed the subject away from whether the KJV-only postiion has any support, to whether it is equally appropriate for KJV-onlyist and non-KJV-onlyist alike to post "straw man" questions.

Not every single use of a tu quoques argument constitutes a fallacy. It's appropriate to point out your opponent's double standards. However, it is fallacious to respond to an argument with nothing more than, "Well, you're not better."

Case in point: Many KJV-onlyists make a big deal about the involvement of Virginia Mollenkott on the NIV translation committee. Mollenkott is a feminist theologian and an open lesbian. Thus, according to the KJV-onlyists, her involvement with the NIV taints that translation and gives it a pro-homosexual bias.

A sound rebuttal to this claim is to state the facts as presented in the statement released by Kenneth Barker of the NIV's Committee on Bible Translation. In short, he states:

  • Mollenkott's role was as a stylistic consultant, not a translator.
  • Her sexuality and theology were not generally known at the time.
  • When they became known, she was removed from the work.
  • A survey of the relevant verses shows that the NIV is not "soft" on homosexuality as is claimed.

But having taken the valid response out of the way, I think the inconsistency in the KJV-only position can be exposed via a well-laced tu quoques. The very man who commissioned the KJV to be translated (and after whom it is nicknamed), James I of England, is generally believed to have been at least bisexual.1 If the KJV-onlyists condemn Virginia Mollenkott for what they ignore or excuse in James I, then they are guilty of a double standard.

And that, in general, has been the response of the KJV-onlyists. Faced with the evidence of James I's homosexuality, they will deny it by re-interpreting the evidence, or excuse it by reminding the non-KJV-onlyists that James had nothing to do with the translation itself. In fact, ironically, the KJV-onlyists' position on James I begins to look an awful lot like the NIV translators' position on Virginia Mollenkott. In seeking to avoid the double standard, they only affirm it all the more.


If the charges made against you by your opponent are true, then for the purpose of the debate I see no harm done by acknowledging it. You might even win some rhetorical brownie points for conceding that you are, in fact, inconsistent on that point. Nonetheless, the subject at hand is not your inconsistency. Remind your opponent that even if you were the most inconsistent hypocrite ever to walk the planet, that does not change the truth or falsity of your arguments, and he must still deal with their substance.


See, for example, Otto J. Scott, James I (New York: Mason, 1976), and David Moore Bergeron, King James and Letters of Homoerotic Desire (Iowa City: Iowa UP, 1999).

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