The Genetic Fallacy

A common question (or even criticism) by non-theists about one’s particular faith, is that if one is born in the Middle-East, their faith would most likely be Islam. If born in India, their faith would most likely be Hindu. If born in a western nation, such as the US, their faith will most likely be Christian. Thus, one’s faith is ultimately arbitrary since it is largely determined by geographical location. But this is false! It’s fallacious reasoning, it is a commission of a fallacy known as the Genetic Fallacy.

Borrowing from one of my favorite fallacy list sites, Nizkor:

Nizkor - Genetic Fallacy

A Genetic Fallacy is a line of “reasoning” where a perceived defect in the origin of a claim or thing is taken to be evidence that discredits the claim or thing itself. It is also a line of reasoning in which the origin of a claim or thing is taken to be evidence for the claim or thing. This sort of “reasoning” has the following form:

  1. The origin of a claim or thing is presented.
  2. The claim is true(or false) or the thing is supported (or discredited).

It is clear that sort of “reasoning” is fallacious. For example: “Bill claims that 1+1=2. However, my parents brought me up to believe that 1+1=254, so Bill must be wrong.”

It should be noted that there are some cases in which the origin of a claim is relevant to the truth or falsity of the claim. For example, a claim that comes from a reliable expert is likely to be true (provided it is in her area of expertise).

Examples of Genetic Fallacy

  1. “The current Chancellor of Germany was in the Hitler Youth at age 3. With that sort of background, his so-called ‘reform’ plan must be a fascist program.”
  2. “I was brought up to believe in God, and my parents told me God exists, so He must.”
  3. “Sure, the media claims that Senator Bedfellow was taking kickbacks. But we all know about the media’s credibility, don’t we.”
Here is an excellent video of Dr. Craig explaining why this line of reasoning in particular is fallacious (as it pertains to the non-theist’s criticism).

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