I’m unsure if my first emil was sent so I am typing a simplified version of it. I am asking about Ad hominems.I mean this in the more relaxed sense of the word: mockery, insults and threats. This activity is especially found in the internet. This can be found on both sides of the aisle. Such as the “believe or burn” in christians. Or the famous ‘sky daddy” of the atheists (among many insults, which I assume you have endured greatly, feel free to share). This behaviour is found a tad more in atheists so that wll be my focus. What can christians do when the atheist just wants to insult instead of engage with the arguments presented? What’s the counter play? Second, what possess atheists to take this route? What could possibly be the motivation to belittle others instead of trying to convince them with rational discourse? Just, Why?
Usually if they actually deal with the arguments, but do so in a way that’s condescending, belittling, angry sounding, I just let it go. I try not to respond in kind, and I just deal with their rebuttals. However, like you were asking, what if insulting you is all that they do? What if all they do is just comment “LOL” to everything you say, or just throw a bunch of insults at you without actually addressing any of the content you ever said?
I think the “counter-play” should be obvious. You bring up the fact that they didn’t address the argument. “Ok, Mr. Atheist. I realize that you think I’m one of the dumbest people on the Earth, and that I’m piece of scum who deserves to be run over by a garbage truck because I’m one of the people holding back science, hate gay people, and am just an over intolerant bigot. I get that. But could you please tell me what it was I said was wrong or fallacious? If I said something incorrect, I’d like to know why. This argument for God seems like a pretty good one. If you don’t think so, that must mean that you disagree with one of the premises. Which premise do you reject and why?” Or if you’re running a Minimal Facts argument for the resurrection of Jesus, you could say “You know, I get that you don’t like Christians. But could you maybe calm down and tell me what YOU think happened? If Jesus didn’t rise, why do YOU think His tomb was empty, His disciples, and two skeptics believed He appeared to them post-mortem? You must have some alternative. I’d like to hear it.”
For some, this can be a really emotionally charged issue. Sometimes it helps to bring to their attention that all they’ve done is throw a hissy fit and not actually engage in actual debate. But for others, nothing you do will matter.
And this is sadly not just the case when engaging non-Christians. This can be the case when discussing in-house issues with Christians. I cannot count how many times I couldn’t actually dialogue the reasons why I am an Evolutionary Creationist with Young Earth Creationists because I spent the entire time just trying to convince them that I wasn’t a man-pleasing, compromising, God-doubting, agent of Satan. I had to defend my own status as a born again Christian to the extent that we didn’t even talk about why I thought Genesis 1 was about functional origins rather than material origins, and about God establishing the universe as His cosmic temple. Or why I believed a historical Adam is compatible with an evolutionary view of human origins. And no matter how much I would plead for civil discourse, none was forthcoming.
Going back to atheists, I can think of one nasty atheist who actually became infamous in online apologetics circles. I won’t name her, but her Twitter name contains the name of a bird. Good grief, trying to have a conversation with her was like playing chess with a pigeon. She’d knock over all the pieces, crap on the board, and then start strutting victoriously. It was just hopeless. All she’d do was repeatedly call me a “Liar for Jesus” and use multiple derogatory hashtags.
It’s just impossible to have a civil dialogue with some people. With these kinds of people, you just have to leave them alone and pray for them.
This has a biblical basis. In Matthew 7:6, Jesus said “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
And in Luke 9:5, in the context of commissioning the disciples to spread the good news, Jesus said “If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
Acts 18:1-6 – “After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.'”
Finally, one more thing. This is just a pet peeve of mine, but I have to get it off my chest. An ad hominem is not a synonymn for “insult”. An ad hominem is an argument that someone is wrong based on some character trait of theirs. This fallacy is expressed when people say things like “What do you know about love? You’re just a child?” or when pro-choicers say “No uterus, no opinion” or “You’re a man. You shouldn’t have any say in the abortion debate”, as though my strength of my arguments for the immorality of jabbing babies in the womb with sharp instruments depends on what’s between my legs.
In other words, an ad hominem is saying “You’re wrong because you’re stupid”. An ad hominem is NOT simply saying “You’re stupid.” The latter is certainly not nice, but it’s not fallacious as it’s not an argument. Only arguments can be fallacious.