The poisoned-well fallacy can be a composite of many logical flaws, but it almost always includes at least two: argumentum ad hominem and begging the question. Our hypothetical preacher, for example, has declared, "You can believe Jones and his atheistic philosophy," (argumentum ad hominem, attacking the opposition rather than his argument), "or you can believe God and his word," (begging the question, assuming rather than proving major claims, i.e., God exists and the Bible is his word). As far as actual proof of his claim is concerned, the preacher has proven nothing, but he has probably persuaded a lot of people already predisposed to his position to remain sympathetic to it. Persuasive techniques like this can be effective in the hands of demagogical preachers more interested in obtaining converts than establishing truth.
For the poisoned-well fallacy to work, it must be applied to a claim for which invincibility is widely assumed. If Jones in our example should say to his audience, "You can believe my opponent and the Bible he embraces or you can believe me and my atheistic philosophy," no appreciable poisoning of the well could result, because there would probably be very little predisposition in the audience to believe that atheistic philosophy is true. In a typical audience, however, there would be considerable predisposition to believe that the Bible is God's inspired word. Inerrancy proponents know this and exploit it for all it's worth.
If inerrancy defenders encounter evidence that clearly disputes their claim, they will never let a simple thing like facts get in their way. They simply reinterpret the counterevidence, no matter how overwhelming it may be, to make it appear in some way to support or at least not contradict their inerrancy claim. Their reinterpretations are quite often very imaginative and at times even absurdly far-fetched. But the upshot of it all is still the same. To an audience desperately wanting to drink from the well that says the Bible is God's inspired word, all the others appear contaminated, so they are left with the same choice. They can believe Jones and his atheistic philosophy or they can believe God and his word.
"If I can show you how it could have been, then you can't really say that there is a contradiction." This has become the theme song of inerrancy defenders who are experts at poisoning the wells when confronted with evidence that clearly disputes their claim. With techniques that they have almost developed into an art, they can reinterpret any discrepant statements and facts to give them at least a semblance of concordance. The only problem is that their reinterpretations are almost always incredibly far-fetched.
Long-time readers of TSR have seen this approach over and over
the articles of fundamentalist writers seeking to rebut our claim that
Bible contains errors. Sometimes these writers will confine themselves
the issues and seek only to present their speculative,
how-it-could-have-been scenarios, but often they feel the need to pour
least a little poison into the well. "The reason Mr. Till is a
skeptic and not a saint today," wrote Steve Gunter, "appears to
be primarily due to a massive misreading of the text and too much study
noninspired works" ("Much Ado about
Nothing," Autumn 1991, p. 7). "If Mr. Till spent half as
much time trying to reconcile these 'so-called' difficulties as he
finding them," said Jerry McDonald, "he would find far fewer
difficulties in the Bible" ("The
Blood of Jezreel," Spring 1991, p. 3). Such comments as
are obvious attempts to offer two sources of water to the readers, the
well of skepticism or the well of sainthood and the Bible. They do
nothing to prove inerrancy, but admittedly they do impress those who
already predisposed to believe that the Bible is "God's inspired
word." Bibliolaters know this, of course, and that is why they spend
so much time trying to poison the well of rationalism.