Christian Defense: The Straw Man and Ad Hominem

Friday, April 25, 2008 | Labels: , , , , | |

In a world filled with intellectuals, defense of the Christian faith and principles can become both a difficult and emotionally exhausting task. This is especially true when Christians are attacked with what are known as 'Straw Man' or 'Ad Hominem' arguments that aim to do three things: place the original arguer in a ridiculous position never taken, attack that position, and destroy the character of the arguer.

It is likely many individuals use the straw man or the ad hominem arguments by incident, and it is without a doubt that I have used them without even realizing it. This is why it is important to understand the structure of these arguments so they can be captured and corrected before the argument turns into an attack on each arguers character rather than addressing the true substance of the argument.

The straw man argument is the single most commonly used argument against the Christian faith and apologist. It is second to the ad hominem and is defined as:

"To "set up a straw man" or "set up a straw man argument" is to describe a position that superficially resembles an opponent's actual view but is easier to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent (for example, deliberately overstating the opponent's position). A straw man argument can be a successful rhetorical technique (that is, it may succeed in persuading people) but it carries little or no real evidential weight, because the opponent's actual argument has not been refuted." - (

For example:

Arguer 1:
Proposition I: The Christian faith can be defended by legal-historical evidences
Proposition II: Logical Evidences A, B and C defends their position.
Proposition III: Therefore the Christian faith can be defended by legal-historical evidences.

Arguer 2:
Proposition I: Those who argue the Christian faith can be defended cannot prove the existence of God using the scientific method.
Proposition II: Logical evidences D and E are often used to attempt to prove God using the scientific method.
Proposition III: Logical evidences D and E are clearly invalid because of logical evidence F and G
Proposition IV: Therefore, The Christian faith cannot be defended by legal-historical evidences.

As one can see, in the straw man argument, the second arguer often times completely ignores the logical evidences or arguments put forth by the initial arguer and instead discuss an entirely different argument. In this case the second arguer brings up logical evidences D and E, which were not argued by the initial arguer, he then dis-proves an argument never made, then concludes the initial argument made is false.

Many times, the argument the second arguer places the first arguer into is easily refutable and emotionally based. Doing this places the readers or viewers of the argument emotionally against the first arguer so they are more inclined to disagree with the original argument.

For example, an initial arguer may state they believe God exists due to the complexity of the universe and cite their evidences of unexplainable complexities. The second arguer may, in response, argue those who believe in God must also prove there is no 'flying spaghetti monster' or no 'Zeus', they then set up the argument from the position of those who believe in God to dis-prove a 'flying spaghetti monster' and prove 'Jesus Christ'. Finally, with the scientific method, they illustrate how this argument is false, and therefore conclude the other individuals belief in God must be invalid.

As one can see, the initial arguer cited evidences of unexplainable complexities, but these logical evidences were completely ignored. The second arguer then placed the first arguer into an argument he did not make and proceeded to defeat that argument. It looks great from those doing the reading and looks great for the second arguer, but it does not address the real substance of the initial argument.

The ad hominem argument is defined as:

"An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin: "argument to the man", "argument against the man") consists of replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to a characteristic or belief of the person making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim. The process of proving or disproving the claim is thereby subverted, and the argumentum ad hominem works to change the subject." (

For example:

Arguer 1:
Proposition I: Homosexuality is a behavioral choice.
Proposition II: Logical evidences A, B and C defends their position.
Proposition III: Therefore homosexuality is a behavioral choice.

Arguer 2:
Proposition I: Christians also believe homosexuals should "burn in hell".
Proposition II: Cases A and B illustrate instances where this is true.
Proposition III: Logical evidences why cases A and B are harming other people.
Proposition IV: Therefore any argument put forth by Christians are rubbish.

The ad hominem is much easier to spot. When these come up it often illustrates a vilification of the initial arguer or the group the initial arguer may be a part of. In this case it was Christians. The second arguer used extreme cases to emotionally draw the readers or viewers into their position. Finally, they proceeded to attack the initial arguer as if they had been a part of the extreme cases cited, then concluded the initial arguer lacks credibility to establish any logical evidences.

The ad hominem is one of the most commonly used arguments against those who defend the Christian faith. One will find many times they are being vilified as if they committed acts or atrocities performed by Christians they have both never met and would never had been a part of. After they are accused of these atrocities, they will find themselves discredited as a reliable source of logical evidences.

As stated above, there are likely cases where I have done this without the realization of doing so. Many times the ad hominem and straw man are used as a defense mechanism when others test or question principles one holds dear. It is likely that many times the use of them is unintentional, but the aim is to remove them as much as possible to clear the way for a logical and reasonable debate of ideas. Modern society has entered the war of ideas, it is important that Christians are properly equipped with the logical tools necessary to defend their faith.

Craig Chamberlin

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