12. Genetic Fallacy

by Blake

A common argument against Christians is that their beliefs are the product of their culture.  If they had been born in India, it is said, they would have been Hindu rather than Christian.  While this is possible, it does nothing to assess the truth or falsity of Christianity itself.  Attacking a belief based on the origin of that belief commits what is known as the Genetic Fallacy which is when the origin of an argument is attacked rather than the argument itself.  Here is an example:

“You only believe the Sun is the center of the solar system because you were raised in a society that believes that.  Had you grown up in ancient Greece, you’d believe that the Earth was the center of the solar system.”

While it is true that I may hold my belief in a heliocentric solar system because of the society in which I was raised, it doesn’t change the fact that the Sun is, in fact, the center of the solar system.

It is possible, after all, to believe in right things for wrong reasons.  Imagine you have a friend and exactly half of what he says is true.  When you are given a math equation, rather than actually working it, you decide to ask this friend of yours for the solution.  Would someone be right in arguing that your answer is mistaken because you obtained the answer from your lying friend?  Of course not.  While your friend may not be a reliable source of information, what if the answer he provides is part of that half that is correct?  Whatever your source for the solution is, a person can only claim it is wrong by examining how the problem was solved and finding fault with that.  Your method of arriving at an answer cannot change the truth of the answer.  Regardless of how one comes to hold their beliefs, it is their arguments that you must contend with rather than attacking the source of their beliefs.

If you come across a person who believes in Christianity only because they were raised that way, they may have poor reasons for being a Christian, but that fact does not make Christianity false.

Alvin Plantinga, in his book, Where the Truth Really Lies, has this to say on the argument that you’d be another religion if born elsewhere:

“Fair enough; and this can induce a certain cosmic vertigo.  But doesn’t the same go for [the atheist]?  Suppose he had been born in medieval China, or for that matter medieval Europe: in all likelihood, he would not have been skeptical of the supernatural.  As I say; this can induce vertigo; but isn’t it just part of the human condition?”