It appears to me that one of the first things a faithful theologian needs to do is to straighten out the confusion brought about by the world’s separation of faith and reason. This relationship is so vital to a biblically fastened worldview that to neglect it will involve the believer in a host of conflicting beliefs and practices. For it is just here that the negligent Christian theologue will be attacked.1 To the average man in the street, “faith” is that “I really hope so” attitude that many people employ when their circumstances get tough. It is that blind trust that things will turn out all right in the end. Faith thus defined is the opposite of reason. “Reason” deals with the cold hard facts, so it goes, and is what we have to use in the “real world”—in business, in science, in education.
One Christian writer has put the matter in the form of a question: “Is it rational for us to believe in God? Is it rational for us to place our confidence in Him and his revelation to man? Can a person believe in God without performing a sacrifice of his intellect?”2
The term ad hominem is much misunderstood these days. In popular usage, it’s a personal attack leveled against someone you disagree with. Many never use the term without appending the word attack. “It’s nothing but an ad hominem attack,” they complain, as though an ad hominem is a nasty species of attack that automatically disproves every claim the user ever made. (And is it just me or does just about everybody employ “ad homnem attacks” even though they insist nobody else should?)
My aim here is to clarify a few things about the much misunderstood ad hominem.
First, the ad hominem is an argument, a bit of reasoning employed to support or counter a claim. Specifically, ad hominem looks to some trait an individual possesses (usually a flaw) to show that a claim is false (or, less commonly, that a claim is true). Ad hominem means “to the man,” and as a form of argument it is not inherently invalid or improper—or even impolite.