I would probably be a Muslim. If I was born in India, I would probably be a Hindu. If I was born in Israel, I would probably be Jewish. If I was born in China, I would probably be a Buddhist. So? What follows from that line of thinking?
You may have heard of this reason to dismiss your religious beliefs. Yes, it is probably true, if I was born in Iraq I would most likely be a Muslim. So what? If I was born on Mars, I would be a Martian, but how that relates to the truth of Martianism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism is completely irrelevant.
This is known as the genetic fallacy and it implies that a person’s faith is irrelevant because he or she was, can I say brain washed, and they are now just parroting their parents’, their culture’s faith.
Gary Gutting in a New York Times article wrote, “Your religious beliefs typically depend on the community in which you were raised or live. The spiritual experiences of people in ancient Greece, medieval Japan or 21st-century Saudi Arabia do not lead to belief in Christianity. It seems, therefore, that religious belief very likely tracks not truth but social conditioning.” 1
If someone had been born in a Christian home they might very well be a Bible thumping Baptist believing southern conservative. So what follows from this? Of course our religion can be from social conditioning, but what does that have to do with the truth of our religion?
Take a college class in philosophy and you may hear this one day. Your faith, your religious convictions, stem from social conditioning and has little or nothing to do with truth. That is a bold claim. To put it another way is, no one investigates the truth of their religion or actually has reasons and evidence for their beliefs.
My mom used to tell me, “One way you know you have won an argument is when they start to insult you.” Her point was if someone starts to insult you, it is often because they can’t come up with any other reasons as to why you are wrong.
One way to help you view and recognized the Genetic Fallacy is to compare it to the ad hominem, or personal attack. An example of the ad hominem, (which is Latin for ‘to the man’) would be, “Martha Stewart spent time in prison; I am not going to listen to her ideas on home decor any more.” What does her time in prison have to do with the quality or truthfulness of her advice in home decor? The ad hominem attacks the person, not the reasons. The genetic fallacy attacks where the belief came from.
There are several variations of the Genetic Fallacy. Here are a few examples that might help you recognize them.
1. Jim: Women should not serve in the military.
Tom: You don’t agree with the idea of women in the military because of your Christian conservative upbringing.
2. Jim: If you want to learn self-defense Kajukenbo is the best martial art out there.
Tom: You say that because you are from Hawaii, and that is where Kajukenbo was founded.
3. Jim: I just bought this book on how to start a business by Bill Gates. Have you read it?
Tom: Why would you listen to Bill Gates on how to run a business? He was arrested in 1989.
4. Jim: Did you read this article on gay marriage written by GLAAD?
Tom: I would not believe a word of it, because it was written by homosexuals.
5. Jimmy: I don’t believe in Santa Claus.
Tommy: My mommie said Santa Claus is real, so he must be real.
6. Jim: Hey Tom, have you met Tony yet?
Tom: I would not trust Tony because he is a Muslim and he might be a terrorist.
7. Jim: Everything on that shelf is only a dollar! What a deal!
Tom: I wouldn’t buy anything on that shelf; all of it was made in China.
Click on this link for a very short clip of Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, committing the genetic fallacy.
Notice, as in #5 the genetic fallacy can go both ways. That is, you can commit this fallacy by believing something is true because of where it came from. Look at the idea and judge it on its merit, rather than the source. If you accept or reject an idea because of its source, you commit the genetic fallacy.
Got Questions.org put it this way, “The problem with the genetic fallacy is that the truth of a statement is in no way based on the origin of the concept. A philosophical or theological concept is true or it is not; it does not matter how a person came to believe the concept or who, in the past, held that concept to be true.” 2
Christians who investigate their faith find support from a variety of venues. We have arguments from origins, design, morality, astronomy to name a few. Greg Koukl put it this way, “Biblical faith isn’t wishing; it’s confidence. It’s not denying reality, but discovering reality. It’s a sense of certainty grounded in the evidence that Christianity is true – not just ‘true for me,’ but actually, fully, and completely true.
God does not want your leap of faith. He wants your step of trust. When you realize you’re not just wishing on a star about eternal things, that step becomes a lot easier.” 3
1. Gutting, Gary. “Beyond ‘New Atheism.” Opinionator 14 September 2011 New York Times. Web. 15 March 2015.
2. “What is the genetic fallacy?” Got Questions Ministries, n.d. Web. 20 March 2015
3. McDowell, Sean. Morrow, Jonathan. Is God Just a Human Invention? Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2010. Print.
If I was born in Iraq by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://www.knowingforsure.com.