On Ad Hominem Cries of “AGNOSTIC” and “ATHEIST” in Response to Scholarly Critique

Deflect. Deflect. Mock, then deflect again. Never address the issue, just deflect, attack the critic, and mock. This passes for “theology” and logic in some circles.

In response to recent posts I’ve made about the Bible’s understanding of certain social institutions like marriage and slavery, a colleague of mine responded immediately, yet indirectly with a logically fallacious and highly ad hominem criticism of agnosticism and atheism.

This is twice in one week for this individual

I presented a theological problem concerning why the same God of the Bible would slaughter thousands of Egyptian children to free his people from slavery, and then instruct those same people on how to make slaves of their own.

And in response, rather than address the theological issue at hand – that glaring contradiction and theological conundrum posited by the text – my colleague shifted the response to an ad hominem attack against agnostics, arguing (indirectly) that I’m “cudgeling” them with a god I don’t believe exists. The post then rambles on, employing scattered, tangential analogies and other red herrings in the hope of diverting attention for the fact he has no answer to the dilemma posited by my post, or perhaps to disguise the cognitive dissonance necessary to maintain conflicting beliefs.

Of course, the problem with my colleague’s line of reasoning is that HE believes God exists, and, HE believes the biblical texts to be an accurate “revelation” of the nature of God. Thus, the burden is to explain why HE continues to believe what HE believes in spite of the glaring ethical problem created by such conflicting positions (i.e., God kills to free slaves, and then instructs those freed how to make slaves of their own).

The fact that I don’t believe that the text accurately reflects God – or that God even exists – is completely moot: I’m not the one making the claim that the revelatory text of the Bible accurately reflects God. I don’t believe it does. For me, the problem is solved: the text is a reflection of Iron Age thinking about social interactions (e.g., marriage, slavery, etc.) that has been attributed to God in an attempt to justify it. I recognize that the conflicting claims don’t make sense, are contradictory, and I dismiss them as the beliefs of an ancient people who felt that the answer to ethnic diversity and religious plurality (so prized and protected today by our U.S. Constitution) was to kill those who don’t believe what they believe because God said so (Deut. 20:16-18).

But my colleague is trapped between claiming that the Bible is the “revealed” authority for social issues of slavery and marriage, and the often appalling actions of the God described in that same Bible (cf. the genocide of the Amalekites ordered in 1 Sam. 15:2-3, or the slaughter of Egyptian children mentioned above), and simply cannot resolve the glaring ethical contradictions contained within it.

And that is the point of the exercise: to point out that there are horrendous INTERNAL ethical contradictions (note: no appeal to science here, just laying one biblical text along side another) that a believer in the revelatory nature of the social aspects of the texts cannot reconcile.

He can’t do it! So in response, he claims that the one pointing out this obvious discrepancy is somehow the fool. He claims that the one highlighting the contradiction is waving around an “invisible cudgel”, when in fact, I am merely waving around the believer’s own cudgel. In this regard, it’s a mirror. If they believe it exists and is real, then they must deal with the damage caused by it. But, if they realize it’s just an ancient set of social contracts attributed to a deity (as I and countless others do), then they don’t.

The believer is simply being hit with the cudgel of his/her own creation. It’s not my cudgel, it’s theirs. These are their claims, not mine. The burden of proof is on them to offer some semblance of a rational defense for their claims, not me, because I don’t accept them! They are the ones saying that the text is “revelation” and therefore binding on modern civil law in the case of same-sex marriage, but somehow not in the case of slavery and divorce. My question exposes this, and their only response is to attack the one asking the questions for not believing in the veracity of the contradictory claims.

philosopharaptor_1_plus_1The logical fallacy in my friend’s response is like asking, “How can you tell me that 1+1 doesn’t equal three, when YOU don’t even believe that 1+1=3? You idiot! You’re waving around a false cudgel.”

My response is that his response is circular reasoning combined with a mixed analogy (the “double-double” of logical fallacies), one which is quite easy to expose.

It’s like saying, “You can’t tell me that the claims made by the Flying Spaghetti Monster are contradictory, because you don’t even believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You’re waving around a false cudgel!”

With all apologies, it’s laughable. Simply change the name of the god and the same colleague would (or at least should) reject it as silly. I don’t accept the claim precisely because it’s an easily exposed logical fallacy. It’s an absurd claim couched in circular reasoning.

Yet ultimately, this is the rhetorical tactic all too often employed by those who cannot reconcile their claims in the “revelatory” nature of biblical texts discussing social relationships (slavery, marriage, etc.) with our modern ethic: they tackle the person instead of tackling the problem–the very definition of an “ad hominem” attack)–and they deflect from their lack of a solution by laughing, mocking, declaring, “You fool!” and invoking other anti-intellectual slogans at those simply asking them to reconcile their own contradictory claims.

And even though the entire point of the exercise is to demonstrate that the God they believe to be making the claims is either self-contradictory, outright evil, or nonexistent, they claim that because the agnostic doesn’t believe in this flawed theological construct, they have no right to criticize it. It is the epitome of anti-intellectual fundamentalism.

At the end of the day, my colleague’s only response is that I don’t believe the fallacious argument, so I am ineligible to point out its flaws. I present a logical dilemma, and his only response is, “ATHEIST!” (or in my case, “AGNOSTIC!”).

This may pass for “theology” and “logic” is some fundamentalist circles, but it sure as She’ol ain’t scholarly.

I shake my head.


Dr. Hector Avalos Responds to Claim that Sandy Hook Massacre Was Result of Banning Prayer, 10 Commandments in Schools

Dr. Hector Avalos, Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University.

Dr. Hector Avalos, Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University.

My colleague, Dr. Hector Avalos of Iowa State University, has written a letter to the Editor of the Des Moines Register that swiftly exposes the fallacy of claiming that “a lack of prayer in schools, along with a refusal to display the Ten Commandments in schools” allowed the Sandy Hook Massacre to occur.

Dr. Avalos writes a well-reasoned argument that is succinct and rooted in facts. He writes:

Second, there is no statistical correlation between the exercise of prayer, or respect for the Ten Commandments, and some immunity to mass shootings. Perhaps Austin forgot that 10 Amish girls were shot in 2006 at an Amish school in Lancaster County, Pa. Amish schools allow prayer, and respect the Ten Commandments.

Give it a read.

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