The most commonly used cheap shot in debating is also the most effective in political debates, this doesn’t alter the fact that it is seen as an obstacle to logical thinking. This weeks fallacy is the great ad hominum argument. It attacks the ethos of the person or group being challenged, that is, an attack the moral standing of the opponent, instead of an attack on the argument in question.
This is possibly the part of the creation/evolution debate I like the least. It is thrown around by just about everybody. Let me get this out of the way as quickly as possible, in general, actions by anyone claiming a particular point of view can’t speak for the fact value of that point of view. Like in political debates, Bill’s ability to run a country had nothing to do with receiving oral sex from Monica.
Christianity has a long record of persecuting people, denominationalism aside, it’s a nasty legacy. Obviously, if we look at the denominations, some will claim they had nothing to do with this persecution. I’m almost certain that not one can make this claim, since persecution continues up to today, it’s just not as aggressive as ye olde stake burning spectacle. This is a fair argument to make against Christians, but it doesn’t actually speak for the fact value of the Bible. Regardless of all the wrongs being committed in the name of God, the Bible would need to be examined on it’s own merits.
Likewise, over an hour of Kent Hovind or some other creationist talking about Hitler; communism or Columbine, isn’t going to prove evolution wrong. Sure, it is true, Darwin called his book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, and he probably was referring to white europeans with favoured races. Hitler did believe in evolution by natural selection, and he did use it as a motivation for genocide. Piltdown man was a fake. Early evolutionists used the facial slant to define some races as less evolved than others. I could probably go on, but none of these things have anything to do with the creation/evolution debate. Even if all these people were morally wrong, it doesn’t make the theory of evolution incorrect.
Things aren’t always so cut and dried though. Papal primacy is an exception to this rule, since the Pope is supposed to be infallible in doctrinal matters. One would be reasonable in questioning the silent condoning of the inquisition, or the overt promoting of the crusades by the Papal See. If the occupier of this position is infallible on doctrinal matters, then one would expect the person have something to say against the burning of people for printing Bibles. So if one claims a moral infalliblity, then an ad hominum attack could be justified. The implication of this is that Christians claim the moral high ground, but fail to live up to it, so as much as it isn’t right for someone to say the Bible is false based on peoples activity, it is also wrong for one to claim the high ground, especially when ones religious history doesn’t live up to that high ground.
To finish off, I’d just like to clarify the main point, bad behaviour and low moral fibre isn’t an argument against factual claims. Factual claims are either true or false based on reality, and refutation is by logical use of empirical data, not on the behaviour of the person issuing those claims.