How to Recognize 7 Diversion Tactics in Philosophy and Theology

Be the man on the right, not the man on the left…

Have you ever been involved in a discussion on theology or philosophy that constantly gets off track? What about heated exchanges that go nowhere? 
The problem is likely related to fallacies of diversion. In a previous post, we sought “How to Recognize Logical Problems in Philosophy and Theology.”
Today we examine seven “Diversion Tactics.” Like last time, we depend on Dr Kreeft’s book Socratic Logic 3.
1) Ad Hominem Argument. ad hominem is Latin for “toward the man.” These are arguments directed toward the character or failings of a person. They usually come in two varieties. The first is to undermine the general reliability of a person so as to dismiss his argument.
“Borgia Popes were sinful, therefore their teachings are unreliable.”
“Aristotle was a pagan, therefore his philosophy is dangerous.”
The other kind of ad hominem argument is called “tu quoque,” which means “you also.” For example when Karl Marx attempted to reply to the objection that communism destroys families, his reply was, “Capitalism also destroys families.” This diversion is merely an escape. It does not demonstrate sound thinking.
2. Ad Verecundam Diversion. ad verecundiam means “toward reverence or venerable authority.” This diversion appeals to illegitimate authorities or so-called experts.
“I trust the Bible alone, because my pastor told me so.”
“You should vote for Barack Obama because Oprah endorses him.”
“He’s my soul-mate because the horoscope in the newspaper said that I would meet my soul-mate today.”
3. Ad Baculum Diversion. ad baculum means “to the stick.” It is a diversion that appeals to punishment, as in being beat with a rod. This line of argument simply threatens a punishment if agreement cannot be made.
“If you don’t agree with me, then I won’t be your friend anymore.”
“Chairman of the Board: All in favor, say Aye, all opposed say I resign.”
“If you become Catholic, I will disown you.”
4. Ad Misericordiam Diversion. ad misericordiam means “unto mercy or pity.” This diversion appeals not to reason or justice, but to mercy or pity.
“How dare you say that Protestant ministers aren’t validly ordained, I’ve been slaving as a Lutheran minister for 35 years!”
“If you become Catholic, you’ll break your mother’s heart.”
“If you don’t marry me, I’ll kill myself.”
5. Ad Populum Diversion. ad populum means “to the people.” This diversion appeals to the masses or what everybody does.
“Contraception cannot be sinful. Everybody does it. Even Catholics.”
“How can Catholicism be the true religion? There are billions on earth who aren’t Catholic.”
“Abortion isn’t wrong. The UN sanctions it.” (This is also an ad verecundiam diversion)
6. Ad Ignorantiam Diversion. ad ignorantiam means “unto ignorance.” This ridiculous diversion holds that a statement must be true because we do not know that it is false.
“I’ve never heard of Saint Alphonsus Liguori’s Moral Theology. It must not be important.”
“God doesn’t exist because I’ve never heard of a good proof for His existence.”
“Transubstantiation? I’ve never seen that word in the Bible. It must not be true.”
7. Ad Ignominiam Diversion. ad ignominiam means “unto shame.” Like ad misericordiam, this diversion appeals to the feelings of an interlocutor. 
“Seriously, you still pray the Rosary? That’s for old ladies, not real men.”
“If you pray before meals in restaurants, people will think that you’re a freak.”
“You shouldn’t talk about your faith in public. People will laugh at you.”
I think that you can get a feeling for how these seven diversions work. You likely encounter all seven every single day.

Let me conclude with one piece of advice. The key to persuading your interlocutor is not in being a logic ninja. Don’t karate chop them with, “Aha, that is the diversion of ad ignominiam, don’t you know. It’s a fallacy. You should be ashamed of that.” (Get it? This would merely be reverse ad ignominiam).

Instead, think of logical discourse like chess. Dismiss their diversion move as a wasted move and then think forward into the game two or three moves by making quality arguments. By not making similar diversions or fallacies, your argument becomes even stronger and more compelling. Of course, pray, smile, and be kind. Kindness, not mere logic, is the key ingredient for persuasion.

Happy discussions!


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  • isabel kissinger

    Thanks be to God for you, Dr. Marshall…

  • Gary

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