Ad Hominem Logical Fallacy

Yesterday I blogged about the logical fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc, or post hoc, and how it is used, and why it is an illogical argument. Today I will be continuing the logical fallacy blitz with the fallacy known as an Ad Hominem attack. This is a common argument used by a lot of different groups, even including skeptics sometimes, so it is important to understand this fallacy to make sure you don’t use it someday when arguing with a conspiracy theorist or a UFOligist. It is also used in politics a lot, especially at the moment in Queensland where there is a political election coming up in a few days.

The most recent use of this argument is by the Labor party in the campaign for the up-coming election. Due to the fact that the Labor Party is fighting an extremely up-hill battle (the latest poll shows that they could win as little as 12 of 89 seats in parliament), they are resorting to attacking the politicians themselves rather than just putting forward good policies or proposed plans. The most common one is the ‘Campbell’s web’ advertisement, which attacks Campbell Newman (the leader of the LNP) and his personal finances not the policies he is proposing or the political view-point he argues for.It is a prime example of an ad hominem attack, because they are attacking the arguer, and not the arguments.

I also mentioned that skeptics fall into this trap often. This is one reason why it is important to know about logical fallacies. The first is that you can call your opponent bluff when he uses one, the second is that you can also question your own arguments with them, to make sure your logic is valid, os that you can correct them, and not the person you are arguing with.

Skeptics often use this logical fallacy when they are arguing with people such as UFOligists, conspiracy theorists and homeopaths. They often fall into saying things like “This is just stupid, how could you honestly believe that what you are saying is true, it is ridiculous!”, or something of the like. This is a logical fallacy. You cannot just simply disregard an argument because it is silly, it is a logical fallacy. However, it is not a logical fallacy to say “The notion of homeopathy is just outrageous, and here is why.” That is not a logical fallacy. If you explain your ad hominem attack with logically sound arguments, then it is not a logical fallacy, it is just good use of the arguing technique of ‘making the other person look like an idiot.’

Ad Hominem attacks are usually last gasp attempts to salvage some victories in the dieing moments of a debate when the fallacious arguer realizes that he is losing by a large margin.

That’s all for me today, I will leave you with a quote from Thomas H. Huxley, “Science is simply common sense at its best; that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.” Thomas H. Huxley, most often known of as Darwin’s bulldog and refiner of agnosticism.


Some questions on conspiracy theories

Salutations my skeptical cohort,

I have recently been asked a few questions by Genevieve Gorin about conspiracy theories and theorists. I will attempt to answer these questions to my fullest in this post.

The first question which Genevieve asked is ” Why do you think conspiracy theories are made up?”
This is a question which we can never really know the answer too, because we cannot read the minds of believers, but we can take a pretty good guess. I think that the reason why most believers believe is because it gives them some sort of personal victory, it makes them feel like part of the ‘in’ crowd. To any conspiracy there are three groups of people. Those behind the conspiracies, who are the most evil people on earth, are incredibly powerful and intelligent, but occasionally very, very stupid.
The second group are by-standers, they are you and me, blissfully unaware, of the conspiracy unfolding right before their eyes.
The third group is is the conspiracy theorists, who are the angels of light in the world, uncovering the mass conspiracy which is occurring. It makes them feel good about themselves, that they have seen through the veil.

However, for those at the top of the tree, people such as Rosie O’Donnell, it is making them a lot of money, a lot more than any of the skeptics or historians on the other side.

The second question asked by Genevieve is, “What do you think (a conspiracy theorists) function is in society?”
I think mostly the conspiracy theorists are fear-mongerers, seeding that tiny amount of doubt that the ‘common’ explanation which may spark them to become a conspiracy theorist themselves.

The third question Genevieve asks is “Why do you think people are so quick to dismiss theories?”
I think that most conspiracy theories are dismissed out-of-hand is because the evidence is flimsy, circumstantial and not actually in support of their theory. To most people with a good, thinking brain, it is obvious that there is nothing holding their theories up. To sum up, conspiracy theories are silly.

The next question is “What is the process of creating a theory?”
Most likely, it is just watching tape of Kennedy’s assassination or 911, and looking frame by frame at the film, until they find something which doesn’t look exactly as it should (according to their thinking).
Another thing about conspiracy theorists is that most of them don’t actually have a theory you can pin them down on. They just say “Why is this?” and “Why is that?” to everything they see.
They are also ‘in the loop’ of believing in a conspiracy and there is nothing you can say or do which will change their mind. Any evidence which supports their theory – supports their theory, and any evidence which doesn’t support their theory, was just planted there to cover up the conspiracy, and proves the conspiracy even more.

The last question Genevieve asks is “Do you believe in absolute truth? Why?”
Well Genevieve, it would be ignorant and arrogant for me to say that there has never been any conspiracy ever, in all of our years of politics. Of course things are covered up to support a particular party or politician, ‘It’s politics’. But here I am talking about hiding some money transfers or biased reporting and investigaing but not these grand conspiracies where millions of people would be in on the plot, and hundreds of people killed as a result.

Could you imagine how big it would be if the democrats showed that the Bush administration was behind 911. They would win the presidency for the next hundred years. Why would a president put that much on the line for NO CLEAR BENEFIT?
No, I don’t believe in absolute truth in politics, if there was complete transparency in politics, we wouldn’t be living the way we do today.

Just on a final note, if what conspiracy theorists say are true, then the politicians and ‘men in black’ would be so powerful, and so immoral to do such things, so many people would be in on the secret and to keep them all quiet would be amazing. And for the conspiracy theorists to think they can just see through the veil is ridiculous, and they would be taken out by the ‘men in black’ if there was any truth to what they were saying.

Any way , I hope that answers your questions Genevieve and good luck with your assignment.

I will leave you with a quote from Oswald Mosley, “Anyone who knows how difficult it is to keep a secret among three men – particularly if they are married – knows how absurd is the idea of a world wide secret conspiracy consciously controlling all mankind by financial power; in real, clear analysis.” Oswald Mosley, a British politician of some note.