I have long used the phrase argumentum ad labelum to describe a particular type of logical fallacy that is almost ubiquitous in political discussions. This type of argument is used to dismiss someone’s arguments rather than answer them. It’s pretty much the only form of argument David Barton ever uses, and more so now than ever as he attacks his critics as liberals, atheists and “academic elitists.” Evangelical historian John Fea blasts him for it:
If Barton was shaken-up by the Thomas Nelson decision, he is certainly not showing it. As expected, he and his followers are using the opportunity to trash the publisher and the “godless,” “liberal,” and “elite” historians who pressured Thomas Nelson to drop the book. I am sure Glenn Beck has already weighed in on his behalf. His fans on the Wallbuilders Facebook page are fired-up. Rick Green, his right-hand man at Wallbuilders, compared historians and writers who are critical of Barton to Adolph Hitler. And Barton recently went on a radio program and suggested that Throckmorton’s criticism of his book was somehow linked to the Grove City College professor’s views on homosexuality. Barton promises to prove that all of his critics are wrong. Green says that he is “ready to rumble.” …
But even if we allow Barton to dismiss non-Christian historians, he will have a hard time dismissing his fellow evangelicals. Many of his critics have very solid evangelical credentials. Throckmorton is a Romney supporter (or at least “likes” Romney on his Facebook page) and is a conservative evangelical Christian. When I spoke at Grove City College in January 2012, he apologized for having to miss one of my lectures. It turns out that Throckmorton is an elder at his local Evangelical Free Church and had to attend a meeting there on that particular night. Ray McMillian, one of the Cincinnati pastors who led the boycott of Thomas Nelson, runs an organization called “Race to Unity.” Speakers at Race to Unity events have included evangelical luminaries such as Tony Evans, Joseph Stowell, Ed Dobson, and Bill Hybels.
Gregg Frazer, one of the ten historians chosen by Jay Richards, teaches at The Masters College, a school founded by popular evangelical preacher John MacArthur. (Frazer has also written an excellent book on the religious beliefs of the founding fathers which I highly recommend). Glenn Sunshine is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL—certainly not a bastion of godless liberalism. Charles Dunn, who has endorsed Getting Jefferson Right, is a Distinguished Professor in the School of Government at Pat Robertson’s Regent University. Even the folks at WorldView Weekend, an organization that used to partner with Barton, have turned their collective backs on him.
I recently took an informal survey on my blog and learned that the history departments at some of the most conservative or fundamentalist colleges in the country, such as Bob Jones University, Liberty University, and Patrick Henry College, do not, and will not, use Barton’s books in their classes. Actually, the only place I could find that does use Barton’s books appears to be Liberty University Law School. Though I realize that this is only a rough survey, it is worth noting that historians at these kinds of institutions also reject Barton’s pseudo-history. If you are a David Barton fan, and you have a college-age son or daughter, you will be hard pressed to find a Christian college history department in the United States who embraces his views.
But the real message here should be that it simply doesn’t matter who is making such criticisms of Barton’s work. It’s true that Barton’s audience is more likely to accept criticisms that come from their fellow Christians, but that is only because they have bought in to Barton’s logical fallacy that it matters. But it doesn’t. Chris Rodda’s excellent work debunking dozens of claims made by Barton is valid regardless of whether she’s an atheist, a liberal or any other irrelevant trait. Her arguments are either valid or they are not; her factual assertions are either true or they are not. And the same goes for every other critic.
Barton’s fallacy is not an attempt to engage those criticisms on a substantive level, it is a means of avoiding having to do so.