Argue with reason, not emotion.

By Scott Tibbs, December 7, 2007

A letter to the editor in the Herald-Times on Tuesday is a perfect example of both the "Red Herring" and "ad hominem" logical fallacies and merits a response.

A couple of weeks ago, I drove passed a picketer in front of Planned Parenthood. He was holding a sign stating “America is Pro Life.” I stopped, backed up and questioned the sign holder “How can you say that because America is killing thousands of people every day?”

Here is the Red Herring: rather than deal with the issue of abortion (and the babies who are killed every week at the Planned Parenthood facility right here in Bloomington) Will Watt attempts to make the issue about the war in Iraq. What does the war in Iraq have to do with abortion? Very little, but it's easier to distract than deal with the issue.

He paused and began to stutter without a understandable answer.

Exactly what is the purpose of this statement? To ridicule the protester? Is Watt proud of himself for catching someone off guard on an unrelated issue so he can gloat about it in the newspaper?

I asked further, “Can you show me in the Bible anywhere that Jesus said that it is acceptable to kill anyone?”

There are many cases in the Bible where killing is both permitted and commanded. For example, the Old Testament law lays out several cases (such as murder and rape) where the death penalty is required. God also commands Israel as a nation and specific people to kill at various points throughout the Old Testament. For example, the Isrealites wiped out the entire city of Jericho. King David killed Goliath in God's name, and the prophet Ehud killed King Eglon in God's name. In Ezekiel 13:19, God condemns those who "save the souls alive that should not live." For the record, Jesus is also the God of the Old Testament.

Luke 19:26-28 is one example where Jesus explicitly condones killing in a parable. Other examples in the New Testament include Romans 13:1-7, which mentions the "sword" as wielded by the government. God personally struck down Ananias and Sapphira when they lied about a donation they made to the church in Acts 5:1-11.

The picketer replaced his Bible and asked me, “Do you believe in capital punishment?” whereupon I responded, “No, I do not.”

So why was Watt asking whether the protester could find somewhere in the Bible where Jesus condones killing if he's simply going to reject it?

The picketer then stated that he believed that there is such a thing as a “just war.”

I responded to him, “Sir, I find your words and stance lacking.” I can no longer stand by and listen to heartless words of fearful people.

So does Watt believe there is no such thing as a "just war"? Was fighting the aggression of the genocidal Nazi regime in World War II a "just war"? Let's even take American involvement out of it: were the British justified in fighting the Nazis who were attempting to bomb the country into submission and sought to invade the British islands? Were the people of Poland justified in violent resistance to the Nazi invasion and occupation of their homeland? Pacifism that offers no compromises and no exceptions may sound nice in theory, but it does not mix well with the real world.

What Watt is trying to do here is discredit the abortion opponent based on the protester's views on war and capital punishment. The implied argument is that the unnamed protester is a hypocrite or at least highly inconsistent. The more overt argument is that someone's views are not worthwhile if he (or she) does not oppose the war in Iraq. This is an "ad hominem" logical fallacy, avoiding the argument itself by pointing out a trait about the person making the argument. Unfortunately, I am sure there are a lot of people who read that letter and, reacting with emotion rather than logic, thought "right on".

Comment on this post.