Genetic Fallacy and Tu Quoque

By Thomas McCuddy

“The church is full of hypocrites!”  “The only reason you are a Christian is because you were raised as one!”

Sound familiar?  These are two prominent accusations against Christianity and Christians.  I’ve heard them many times, read them many places, and have even received them personally.  Both are similar in nature, and both are fallacies of thought.  Let’s examine them individually.

Tu Quoque

The first is officially named tu quoque, which is Latin for “you also.”  We could also call this the “hypocrite” fallacy.  Basically, the situation looks like this. Two people are arguing over the existence of God.  Person 1 (Bill) accuses person 2 (Robert) of making a self-refuting statement.  Robert fires back at Bill and points out other times when Bill has made self-refuting statements himself.  So, Robert’s argument can be summarized as “you too make self-refuting statements.”  Robert might also call Bill a hypocrite (ad hominem) for pointing out Robert’s self-refuting statements. Robert is claiming that Bill is not in a position to criticize Robert’s own arguments, and thus says tu quoque, or “you do it too!”  in reply to Bill’s accusations.

The problem is that Bill’s original accusation and argument have gone unaddressed. Bill might be right.  He might be wrong.  But Robert has chosen not to engage Bill’s argument and is accusing Bill of the same thing, rather than dealing with Bill’s argument.  It is irrelevant whether Bill has made self-refuting statements in the past, or whether he is a hypocrite. What matters is whether Bill’s argument in question is self-refuting.

These scenarios are easy to spot. Here are a few examples…

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