Whoever Digs a Pit Will Fall Into It
One of the most outspoken atheists of the past couple of decades is a man named Dan Barker, who wrote his most recognized work, Losing Faith in Faith, after he “deconverted” from a form of evangelical Christianity to naturalistic atheism. In 1992, he was the public relations director for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In his book, Baker uses a host of arguments to attack religious people who have attempted to “reconvert” him. In a chapter titled Why I Am An Atheist, Barker lists several reasons that religious people have offered to explain his “deconversion.” Sadly, many of those people attacked Barker’s character. The following is a brief list of some of the allegations they made against Barker.
- “You are arrogant and hate God.”
- “Your heart is in the wrong place.”
- “You are cold, empty, and pessimistic.”
- “You are an angry person.”
- “You are too stupid, limited, or afraid to see what is obvious to everyone else.”
After denying these allegations, Barker stated: “A strong clue that a person is arguing from a position of weakness is when character, rather than content, is attacked. Bertrand Russell pointed out that ad hominem is a last-ditch defense of the losing side” (1992, p. 88). Therefore, according to Barker (who agrees with Russell), a person who uses arguments that attack character is a person who is fighting desperately on the losing side.
While the truth of Russell’s statement may be questioned (since there are many ill-informed ad hominem arguers who happen to be on the right side), it nonetheless is quite interesting that Barker falls headlong into his own pit by repeatedly attacking character rather than focusing on real evidence.
In fact, only a few pages earlier, Barker wrote an entire chapter titled “Ministers I Have Known,” in which he proceeded to attack the general character of ministers he has known. On page 78, Barker commented, “When I think of ministers I have known…I picture the overweight perspiring Foursquare preachers, waving their hankies, shouting and prancing about the stage, ruling their churches like little kingdoms.” Just one paragraph later, he included in this list the “skinny Mexican pastor in Nogales whose second wife was pregnant with his twelfth child!… And the televangelist I know who ran off with his secretary and was back on the air in less than two years.” The rest of the chapter consists of the same attack on the general character of ministers, as Barker views them. Near the end of the chapter, Barker wrote: “I have a friend who says if you were to take all the preachers in the world and lay them end to end, it would be a good idea just to leave them there.”
Now, let us apply Barker’s own reasoning to his chapter on ministers. The entire chapter attacks the character of ministers, and thus would be classified as an ad hominem argument (from the Latin meaning “to attack the man”). But, according to Barker, those who use such arguments are using “a last-ditch defense” and are on “the losing side.” In this instance, I agree wholeheartedly.
Again, in his treatment of those who are against abortion, Barker stated: “This is the real drive behind the antiabortionists: misogyny [hatred of women—KB]. I don’t believe that any one of them cares a hoot for a fetus” (p. 213, emp. added) Such a statement is definitely a bold, ad hominem attack on the motive and character of those who disagree with abortion. I, for one, can say with certainty that I do not hate women. However, I also can say with certainty that an unborn baby is innocent, and that God hates the shedding of innocent blood (Proverbs 6:17). It is on this basis that I must stand as an antiabortionist. Once again, using Barker’s own thoughts, he must be “arguing from a position of weakness.”
Please note that this article has not attacked Barker’s character. He is not referred to as a misogynist or anything of the kind; nor are any moral indiscretions alleged in an attempt to discredit his arguments. On the contrary, his own words have been used to show that, if his thinking is indeed correct about ad hominem arguments, then he is arguing from “a position of weakness rather than content,” and such an argument is a “last ditch defense of the losing side.”
[For a more in-depth refutation of Barker’s book, see: http://www.tektonics.org/JPH_BWTB.html]
Barker, Dan (1992), Losing Faith In Faith—From Preacher to Atheist (Madison, WI: Freedom from Religion Foundation).
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