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From this question Contention by @MarcGravell: The Paul quote is very apt - but does it not strike you as a huge ad-hominem? i.e. because they have a different position, let's demonize them and invent insults ("fools", "foolish", "wickedness"). If a person today answered like that here on SE, we would not accept it as a constructive answer (or at least, without qualifying those claims)... just saying!

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    I can't decide whether this is a main site or meta site question. (Actually it might be best on BH.SE) – wax eagle Mar 15 '12 at 18:24
  • In any event, if it was a pointvalue question, I want to let Mark Gravell get the points for it. I like it, but it will solicit debate and opinion :) – Affable Geek Mar 15 '12 at 18:29
  • Where are you quoting this from? – TRiG Mar 15 '12 at 18:47
  • I've never seen this type of discussion on SE - how does the format work? Does it take place in comments, answer edits, separate comments, etc? – Eric Mar 15 '12 at 20:52
  • @eric this is the first time we've moved it to meta. I think we're going to find out. I tried to break out some of the arguments into answers. – Affable Geek Mar 15 '12 at 20:56
  • See also my comment on Eric's answer - it contains a direct example of an attack as a central part of the argument. – Marc Gravell Mar 15 '12 at 22:17
  • Just for the record: I'm not fussy about the words "ad hominem" - if "character assassination" would be more acceptable, that's fine too. – Marc Gravell Mar 15 '12 at 22:32
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Answer from @Eric: @MarcGravell, while it may be harsh or offensive, that does not imply that it is an ad hominem argument. He is not calling them fools, or wicked in order to argue that God should be acknowledged. Rather, he is arguing that God should be acknowledged because God had made it plain. Calling these people fools was not a point in this argument - it was the consequence of the argument he made. In other words, he is arguing that (A) "God made it plain" => (B) "He should be acknowledged" => (C) "They did not acknowledge" => (D) "They are fools". He is not arguing (D) => (C) => (B). – Eric 3 hours ago

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  • Which is actually a good point: ad hominem != insult. – TRiG Mar 15 '12 at 18:46
  • @TRiG if the insult is purely about the position, not the argument, and only serves to try to weaken their position by character assassination? – Marc Gravell Mar 15 '12 at 22:04
  • @Marc. Then you're on trickier ground. Perhaps that is an ad hom. I'm not sure. – TRiG Mar 15 '12 at 22:51
  • @Marc. On reflection, I think Paul is poisoning the well. – TRiG Mar 16 '12 at 14:23
  • @Trig that will do nicely :) – Marc Gravell Mar 16 '12 at 16:16
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I indeed said it was ad-hominem, but I didn't say it was against atheists specifically. Actually, that text applies equally to every non-Christian, or indeed anyone who disagrees (it was inferred, not by me, that the article might also apply to, for example, homosexual Christians - meaning Christians who do not tow the party line).

It is indeed ad-hominem, because starting from an unfounded assertion (there is no empirical proof of any God, so it is not unreasonable to choose not to believe in Him/Her/Them, whichever you choose), it pre-supposes, attacks, and derides (without any evidence) the nature of the people who it targets. It does not discuss their reasons for their not agreeing with the assertion, it merely demonises and insults those who don't agree. The person, not the argument. Ad hominem.

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  • Again, from my point of view, its an ad-hominem attack against Christians. Those who knew God chose not to glorify him as God, therefore bad, bad, bad.... – Affable Geek Mar 15 '12 at 20:39
  • @Affable I read :18-21 more as people who know of God, either through hearing it, or "from their hearts", but who do not accept them. The way I read :18-21 it is not limited to Christians. But that doesn't change that the text attacks the person, rather than attempting to defend/strengthen the position – Marc Gravell Mar 15 '12 at 20:48
  • So, one of the theories of what Romans is a single extended argument of divine intervention into the natural law. As one who preaches, I'll tell you that in my opening, I will usually be more provocative, if only to engage the hearer. That may be Paul's motivation, then move to logical argument in the rest of the book. The good Lord knows its a pretty extended argument. – Affable Geek Mar 15 '12 at 22:43
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My position is as @AffableGeek posted here.

@MarcGravell has responded:

It is indeed ad-hominem, because starting from an unfounded assertion (there is no empirical proof of any God, so it is not unreasonable to choose not to believe in Him/Her/Them, whichever you choose), it pre-supposes, attacks, and derides (without any evidence) the nature of the people who it targets. It does not discuss their reasons for their not agreeing with the assertion, it merely demonises and insults those who don't agree. The person, not the argument. Ad hominem.

Whether Paul's calling these people fools is unfounded is a separate issue. Whether there is empirical "proof" of God is also a separate issue. Paul's argument cannot be ad hominem, because he doesn't use these people's "foolishness" in his line of argumentation.

I think perhaps our disconnect is due to a disagreement on the meaning of ad hominem. An insult is not in itself ad hominem. Even an unfounded insult, which you argue is the case here, is not in itself ad hominem.

An ad hominem argument uses an insult (or characteristic of the opponent) as reasoning for the argument. That is why it is a fallacy - Because, of course, the characteristics of the opponent have no actual bearing on the argument itself.

For example, if I were to argue that:

Dogs are so great. They learn commands really well. Chris doesn't like dogs - what an idiot for missing out on them.

I would not be committing ad hominem. Now, I don't really have any grounds for calling Chris an idiot, but since I'm not using his idiocy to argue for dogs' greatness, no ad hominem. (Note: I'm not here to say whether or not Paul had grounds for calling these people fools. I'm only trying to demonstrate that it's irrelevant to the ad hominem discussion)

Cats are so retarded. Chris says they're great, but he doesn't like dogs, so what does he know?

Now I've committed an ad hominem. I'm directly using a quality about Chris (his not liking dogs) to defend my argument against cats. That's fallacious, because whether Chris likes dogs or not has no bearing on cat retardation.

That is not what we have here. Whether the basis of Paul calling these people fools is founded or unfounded is irrelevant, because his calling them fools is its own end, and not a point in his line of reasoning.

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  • The implication in Paul is circular, IMO; the foolishness is directly tied to their non-acceptance, to the point where it could be described as causal. As another example, "and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness" - (emphasis mine) that is using the attack as a core part of the argument – Marc Gravell Mar 15 '12 at 22:15
  • Right, "suppress the truth by their wickedness" implies causality - but not the right kind of causality. The causal connection Paul makes is that they did not believe because of their wickedness. But that is not the causality that an ad hominem argument would use. His argument, that God should be acknowledged, is not based on the claim of these people's wickedness, or of the people's subsequent disbelief. His argument is based on God's invisible qualities... having been clearly seen. – Eric Mar 15 '12 at 22:46
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Calling someone a fool is not an attack on their character. It is a spiritual work of mercy. A living out of what you're supposed to do in response to the 5th commandment (do not kill). A fool, in this sense, is someone in danger of spiritual death. If you were rollerskating near the edge of something:

enter image description here

You might be apt to shout, "you fool!"

If you were teetering on the edge of damnation, you might as well be apt to shout, "you fool!"

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    And if the "edge of damnation" is entirely, er, "debatable", and only exists to the person shouting "fool"? I'm reminded of the tin-foil hat-wearers who think that it is foolish to let the government steal their thoughts. If the person shouting "fool" can't show an actual real risk, I wonder where the fool lies... – Marc Gravell Mar 15 '12 at 21:11
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    Yeah, and if Paul was wrong then we're the fools, it's not like he didn't acknowledge that. How does one properly deny the risk involved Pascal's wager (that if one is wrong about God they lose everything) again? – Peter Turner Mar 15 '12 at 21:39
  • Pascal, when evaluating the "if I'm wrong" case, fails to give any meaning to living a life based on untruths (remember, we're discussing the "if I'm wrong" case), and the injustices and harm imparted, and indeed time and resources wasted. This is a very real cost; indeed, in the "if I'm wrong" case it is only the things in this life that matter (since no other scenarios are presented) – Marc Gravell Mar 15 '12 at 21:46
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    Paul also made the case himself, that if we are wrong about Christ, "we are of all people most to be pitied." (1 Corinthians 15:19) – Eric Mar 15 '12 at 22:08
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    "Calling someone a fool is not an attack on their character. It is a spiritual work of mercy." Seriously, do you have any idea how arrogant you sound? – TRiG Mar 15 '12 at 22:54
  • @Trig from an academic point of view, Peter isn't actually very far off. The word fool has changed in it's connotation over time. Remember, from Proverbs, a fool is simply someone who will not listen to wisdom. Grant you, it isn't a terribly pleasant thing to be called, but using that definition, in the context of Romans 1, fool is exactly right - someone who will not listen to wisdom. That person might have a perfectly valid reason for rejecting Eason, as defined by Paul in this case, but the word fits it's biblical connotation. – Affable Geek Mar 15 '12 at 23:03
  • If Paul is simply setting up an argument, then the rest of the book will simply seek to substantiate this charge. – Affable Geek Mar 15 '12 at 23:04
  • @Trig, it may well be that I am a resounding gong. But the spiritual works of mercy are just a set of good works one can do in response to the commandments and the beatitudes. Check it out if you don't believe me. – Peter Turner Mar 16 '12 at 13:53
  • Actually, before calling someone a fool you might want to see Matthew 5:22 – Marc Gravell Apr 25 '12 at 13:38
  • @marc glad to see you're reading the Bible! – Peter Turner Apr 26 '12 at 2:41
  • In any event fool here is meant the way Gandalf says "fly you fools" or "fool of a Took". In Matt 5:22 it's using fool in a deragatory manner which is the dangerous thing. Is that what you were asking in the first place, whether St. Paul was using "fool" in a deragatory manner? – Peter Turner Apr 26 '12 at 2:49
  • really struggling to see the difference here... not sure there's enough information to make that assertion. I guess the bible needs more smilies, i.e. "fool!" vs "fool ;p" – Marc Gravell Apr 26 '12 at 5:46

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