Intro to Logic: The Genetic Fallacy

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 6, 2009 in Intro to Logic

logic

Welcome to my course Intro to Logic (index). Here, we learn the basic skills of good thinking and their benefits in real life.

Time for another fallacy! Today we discuss the genetic fallacy, about which there is a surprising degree of debate and confusion.

On its face, the genetic fallacy is very simple. It is committed like so:

  1. X is believed for non-justifying reasons.
  2. Therefore, X is false.

This is obviously fallacious. The epistemic justification for a belief and its truth are not related. For example, a Bakuba child may believe that stars are finitely old because he believes they were created by Mbombo. His belief that stars are finitely old is true but not justified.

But we need not reach for an example so exotic. In fact, it may be that most true beliefs are not justified. We all believe thousands of things about scientific or philosophical matters that happen to be true even though we haven’t studied them in the slightest and are not justified in believing them.1

Example One: Trying to avoid the fallacy

Even a professional philosopher like Keith Parsons may commit the genetic fallacy. Parsons argues that because we know how belief in god originated (and it was not justified), this undermines theism. This argument is a genetic fallacy, but Parsons tries to defend himself:

…there are times when the causal history of a belief is highly relevant to its epistemic merits… If a friend, known to be trustworthy, told us that he just saw Bill Clinton walking down the street, and we believed his cognitive and sensory functions were normal, we would probably accept that Bill Clinton was in the area. But if we knew that our friend suffered a peculiar psychological condition that made him prone to Bill Clinton-hallucinations, we would strongly discount the claim that Bill Clinton was in the vicinity. Likewise, if we identified in the human psyche a powerful mechanism that inclines people to believe in gods – whether or not gods actually exist – we should, absent strong reasons to the contrary, discount belief in gods.

But, as I wrote before:

Let’s call the Clinton-hallucinator “George,” and consider two different scenarios for George. In both scenarios, we know George has frequent hallucinations of Bill Clinton. In our first scenario, George has no special reason he would have seen Bill Clinton (in person) recently. In our second scenario, George is a journalist for The Washington Post. In the first scenario, we disbelieve George’s claims to have seen Bill Clinton recently. In the second scenario we might not disbelieve him so confidently. And yet the reliability of the mental faculty that caused his belief about seeing Bill Clinton is the same in both cases.

So it’s not the unreliability of the cause of George’s belief that makes us disbelieve him. As this example again shows, the cause of someone’s belief has nothing to do with whether or not it is true. Rather, it’s the absence of good reasons to think George’s belief is true that makes us disbelieve him in the first scenario. And so, the genetic fallacy remains a valid rebuttal to arguments such as:

(1) Because our moral intuitions are the products of biological and cultural evolution, therefore our moral intuitions are incorrect.

or

(2) Because our religious intuitions are the products of biological and cultural evolution, therefore our religious intuitions are incorrect.

But, Parsons complains:

Everyone disregards all sorts of ideas for no other reason than that we know how those ideas came about. Suppose that there are some fanatical J.R.R. Tolkien fans out there who think that Hobbits really exist and are even combatively aggressive in asserting such. Do we have a responsibility to take the Hobbit-believers’ claim seriously? Can you disprove the existence of Hobbits? I don’t think so. The reason why nobody, or hardly anybody, takes the actual existence of Hobbits seriously is that we all know where the idea of Hobbits came from. Tolkien just made them up.

And I replied:

But again, I think Parsons has confused things. We all know that, for example, science fiction regularly becomes science fact. If I tell you about a videogame played with a joystick, you aren’t going to respond: “That’s nonsense. H.G. Wells invented that idea in 1903’s The Land Ironclads!” Or if I tell you about my robot lawn mower, you aren’t going to reply: “What a silly idea. That was made up by Clifford Simak in his 1944 short story City!”

So we do not disregard “all sorts of ideas for no other reason than that we know how those ideas came about.” Quite specifically, there is another reason, and it is more important than where the idea came from. The reason we disregard certain things is that we have no good reasons for thinking they are true.

The genetic fallacy remains a fallacy, whether deployed by theists against secular morality, or by atheists against religious beliefs.

Example Two: Misapplying the fallacy charge

The charge of “Genetic fallacy! Genetic fallacy!” is often misapplied. Someone often shouts “Genetic fallacy!” whenever the cause of a belief is even mentioned. But remember, a genetic fallacy must take this form:

  1. X is believed without proper justification.
  2. Therefore, X is false.

This mistake is made in the following YouTube video, in which Christian YouTuber meaningfulscience1 tries to show that Dawkins has committed the genetic fallacy:

Of course, many Christians accepted this charge on Dawkins without thinking about it. But Dawkins did not commit the genetic fallacy here.

An audience member asked Dawkins, “What if you’re wrong?” Dawkins showed the irrelevance of the question by pointing out that we could all just as well be wrong about the non-existence of Zeus or Wotan or Shiva. But we don’t walk around worrying, “What if I’m wrong about Wotan?”

The YouTube video says, “Dawkins is committing the Genetic Fallacy,” and cuts to a clip of William Lane Craig explaining that a genetic fallacy tries to say that “by explaining how a belief originates, you thereby show the belief to be false.”

But nowhere in this clip did Dawkins say that “God-belief originates from cultural indoctrination, therefore God-belief is false.” He never said anything like that! He was making an entirely different point. So Dawkins did not commit the genetic fallacy.

The genetic fallacy is frequently committed but there is much confusion about it. I hope my examples will cut through common misunderstandings about it.

  1. Of course, we all harbor a large number of false beliefs, too. []

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Penneyworth October 6, 2009 at 8:04 am

How on earth is Parsons’ hobbit example, where one posits the existence of things for which there is no evidence, undermined by your joystick example, where one posits the existence of something for which there is physical evidence in abundance? Parsons is confusing things? I think not, lewk.

It still seems quite valid to me to disregard existence claims for which there is no evidence with greater confidence once you have identified a probable origin.

You might have caught him committing the genetic fallacy if he were attempting a deductive argument such as:
Hobbits were written about by tolkien prior to the hobbit-existence advocates. Therefore hobbits do not exist and we now have certainty on the level of a mathematical proof.

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Josh October 6, 2009 at 8:25 am

“It still seems quite valid to me to disregard existence claims for which there is no evidence with greater confidence once you have identified a probable origin.”

I basically agree with this. It’s something akin to saying “Well, we have no evidence that X occurs, but we have some evidence that belief in X is caused by Y… so it seems like that X is illusory, though we await further evidence.”

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Conversational Atheist October 6, 2009 at 9:29 am

This is some of the clearest writing that I have seen on the genetic fallacy. For some reason, it seems like one of the more difficult fallacies to grasp.

Keep up the good work.

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Reginald Selkirk October 6, 2009 at 10:09 am

I have heard something like the following argument, which I think is the genetic fallacy. Have I called it correctly?

Religion and science cannot be in conflict because science was invented by religion (Christianity in particular) as a way to explore the works of the Creator.

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zdenny October 6, 2009 at 11:28 am

Dawkins does commit the genetic fallacy using your own definition.

You stated in the article that:
X is believed for non-justifying reasons.
Therefore, X is false.

Dawkins stated:
If you were brought up in India, you would be a Hindu
If you were brought up in classical Greece, you would believe in Zeus

Dawkins is stating that X (belief in Hinduism) is believed for non-justifying reasons (cultural).
Therefore, belief in Hinduism is or may be false.

Logically, Dawkins has commited the genetic fallacy.

Christianity cannot be guilty of the genetic fallacy since Christianity is based on the empirically verified fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The evidence of the resurrection is overwhelming with multiple witnesses using all five senses in multiple contexts.

Dawkins is stating that we are Christians simply because we were raised Christians. He does not acknowledge that Christianity is based on empirically verified evidence.

If Dawkins would have recognized the evidence, then you would have a point; however, Dawkins is clearly stating that the questioners belief in the truth of Christianity is based on non-justifiable reasons such as unbringing and culture rather than evidence for the facts themselves.

That is your lesson in logic today. I accept your gratitude in advance.

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Chuck October 6, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Did you even read Luke’s commentary? Dawkins wasn’t making an argument for the non-existence of God. He was merely responding to the question.

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EvanT October 6, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Sorry ZDenny, but you’ve misidentified the issue at hand. The question is “What if you’re wrong?” and Dawkins responds by asking “Why is your religion more probable than others?” The argument focuses on the fact that all religions are equally PROBABLE, NOT improbable. In this case he doesn’t even want to try to discredit ANY of them. I’m surprised you don’t get it. Dawkins offers the “how can one safely chose from all this variety” argument quite often.

BTW, talking about logic and then adding that the resurrection is an empirically proven FACT is contradictory in itself. Do you really expect anyone here to stand in awe at your display? Geez, even as a Christian I didn’t ooze so much arrogance.

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Beelzebub October 6, 2009 at 1:30 pm

This is totally off-topic, but if Christianity was empirically verified, I’ll love to see that experiment repeated in front of me — which should be easy, if Christianity was, indeed, empirically verified. Oh, and one-off observations that can never be repeated do not constitute empirical verification.

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Beelzebub October 6, 2009 at 1:45 pm

I’d second the idea that genetic reasoning can at least inform the probability of conclusions. Tolkien’s fictional account of Hobbits only decreases the probability that they are real, whereas a fictional account of robot lawn mowers increases the probability that they are real because it could plausibly have spurred the creative minds of engineers who made them.

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ayer October 6, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Beelzebub: This is totally off-topic, but if Christianity was empirically verified, I’ll love to see that experiment repeated in front of me — which should be easy, if Christianity was, indeed, empirically verified.Oh, and one-off observations that can never be repeated do not constitute empirical verification.

Then I guess Darwinian evolution has never been empirically verified since it relies on analysis of historical data and not repeatable experiments.

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Chuck October 6, 2009 at 3:58 pm

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Mark H. October 6, 2009 at 4:33 pm

Careful, Beelzebub. It seems your making a distinction without difference (could not a mad genetic engineer, inspired by Tolkein’s stories, create Hobbits in vitro?). It’s simpler to say the fact that these things (Hobbits and robot lawn mowers) appearing in fictional stories has no bearing on the truth of their existence–it does not constitute evidence one way or another. It is the fact that there isn’t any evidence for the existence of Hobbits that we disbelieve their existence, whereas there is plenty of evidence for robot lawnmowers (e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-19jNcOl8Lc for evidence that they at least exist in Ireland).

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Mark H. October 6, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Ayer: The fossil record is not the only evidence for evolution. The sequencing of genomes shows similar DNA in a wide variety of creatures, suggesting common descent. Japanese scientists have observed bacteria that eat nylon, a substance which has only existed for less than 70 years. It is unlikely that bacteria have always had the ability to digest this artificial substance.

These are just two examples of empirically observed evidences for evolution (common descent in the first case, and mutation and natural selection in the second).

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J Wahler October 6, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Beelzebub, I’ll third your assertion that genetic (origin) data can inform deference judgments with regards to ‘priors’(Bayesian initial probabilities) between distinct hypothesis’s. The weighting of those probabilities is of course a source of much contention… and could maybe even be covered in a post series at some point by Luke under ‘decision theory’ or ‘Bayesian probability’.

Ayer, surely you’re expecting some kind of rebuttal to the canard that the modern evolutionary synthesis ‘has never been empirically verified’? In an attempt to circumvent your most probable dialectical maneuver (towards a contrived micro/macro distinction) if I only provide examples of phylogenetic deviation within a relative species…I’ll direct you to the cogent Talk Origins piece on observed evolutionary speciation, (a taxonomy you would surely consider ‘macro’).

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html#part5

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ayer October 6, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Mark H.: Ayer: The fossil record is not the only evidence for evolution.The sequencing of genomes shows similar DNA in a wide variety of creatures, suggesting common descent.Japanese scientists have observed bacteria that eat nylon, a substance which has only existed for less than 70 years. It is unlikely that bacteria have always had the ability to digest this artificial substance.These are just two examples of empirically observed evidences for evolution (common descent in the first case, and mutation and natural selection in the second).

Perhaps that is so today, but the theory of evolution was just as valid when Darwin proposed it based on an “inference to the best explanation” for the fossil record. Many sciences heavily utilize the same tool, e.g.,

paleontology
see http://tinyurl.com/yeopve3

archeology
see http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=20238839

astronomy
see http://www.valt.helsinki.fi/kfil/matti/kiikeri.pdf

Experimental, repeatable evidence is not necessary to establish a fact.

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lukeprog October 6, 2009 at 6:33 pm

Penneyworth: How on earth is Parsons’ hobbit example, where one posits the existence of things for which there is no evidence, undermined by your joystick example, where one posits the existence of something for which there is physical evidence in abundance? Parsons is confusing things? I think not, lewk.

Penneyworth, you are making the exact point that I am making against Parsons. Parsons says the reason we should reject Hobbits is because we know where the idea came from. But that is the wrong reason to reject Hobbits, for we also know where the idea of joysticks come from, but in fact joysticks DO exist. The correct reason to reject Hobbits (but not joysticks) is because there is no evidence of hobbits.

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lukeprog October 6, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Thanks, conversationalatheist! It is good to know when I am doing something right.

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lukeprog October 6, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Reginald,

Not really. Remember, the genetic fallacy takes this form:

1. X is believed for non-justifying reasons.
2. Therefore, X is false.

I think the sentence you give might be represented as follows:

1. If one thing invented another, the two cannot be in conflict.
2. Religion invented science.
3. Therefore, science and religion cannot be in conflict.

The problem here is not that the argument commits the genetic fallacy, but that premise (1) is false. (And premise 2 may also be false.)

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John W. Loftus October 6, 2009 at 6:41 pm

I think this issue deserves more thought. I wonder if anyone has written a scholarly article on it. There are certainly issues to be worked out. I actually asked Keith Parsons to write a chapter on this topic for my newest book but I failed to follow-up on it. Suffice it to say that if we know that the source generator for a particular kind of belief is unreliable then it seems to me we do have reasons to doubt that belief. The question is whether or not we have good reasons to doubt the source generator of that belief.

Let’s say someone we know took LSD regularly and while high on it he claims to have had a conversation with his mother and she told him she loved him. Nothing out of the ordinary here, because let’s also say he lives with his mother, okay? That is, we have no reason to think this did not happen because it seems likely that it could have taken place. Now before asking his mother whether this conversation took place, I think we would have good reason to doubt his claim precisely because of the improbable source generator of his belief, LSD. You’d be right that we could not claim he is wrong merely because he was on LSD though. But one rarely claims someone is wrong because of the source generator of a belief. It’s always about whether that source generator makes the belief improbable. And some source generators are extremely improbable on their own terms.

Interesting continued discussion, since you linked to my comments on the issue.

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lukeprog October 6, 2009 at 6:49 pm

To beelzebub and the rest:

The genetic fallacy is a (failed) form of deductive argument. It has nothing to do with Bayesian probability calculations.

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lukeprog October 6, 2009 at 7:22 pm

John,

An argument that is a genetic fallacy pretends to offer a rebutting defeater, but it only legitimately offers an undercutting defeater.

A genetic fallacy…

1. X is believed for non-justifying reasons.
2. Therefore, X is false.

…remains as fallacious as ever.

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Beelzebub October 6, 2009 at 7:27 pm

lukeprog: To beelzebub and the rest:The genetic fallacy is a (failed) form of deductive argument. It has nothing to do with Bayesian probability calculations.

It’s possible that what Parsons claims — that causal history is relevant to epistemic merit — doesn’t contradict the genetic fallacy as deductive error, but also, it’s possible that the genetic fallacy doesn’t necessarily invalidate the kind of inference Parsons is making. In fact, it seems clear that Parsons has a point, even if he’s making a logical error in the process. You will have a hard time convincing me that knowing Tolkien created Hobbits as fiction has no bearing on belief in their existence (in vitro genetic engineering aside). Now, if Parsons expicitly declared that he was only reasoning deductively, then sure, he’s in error.

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lukeprog October 6, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Beelzebub,

Yes, that would be helpful. One thing that tipped me off was his line that: “Everyone disregards all sorts of ideas for no other reason than that we know how those ideas came about.” Parsons says they are right to do so. But as I said in my post, there IS another reason ideas such as Hobbits are disregarded, and it is precisely that we know of no good reasons to believe in Hobbits.

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Mark H. October 6, 2009 at 8:51 pm

I think a genetic fallacy-type argument is only useful in defeating an argument of this sort:

1. Belief in X is widespread.
2. Widespread beliefs are not uncaused.
3. Therefore, belief in X has a cause.
4. The simplest cause for a belief is that the object of that belief is true.
5. By Occam’s Razor, the simplest explanation is the most likely to be true.

6. Therefore, X is likely to be true.

The genetic argument would render statement 4 false, and thus render the argument unsound, but it leaves 6 untouched–if less justified. Granted, the belief argument isn’t very good to begin with.

ayer: Perhaps that is so today, but the theory of evolution was just as valid when Darwin proposed it based on an “inference to the best explanation” for the fossil record. Many sciences heavily utilize the same tool, e.g., paleontology, archeology, astronomy.

Experimental, repeatable evidence is not necessary to establish a fact.

Your conclusion doesn’t follow. At the very least, it is false because all science relies on repeatable observations. A result that is not repeatable is not a fact.

Not all scientific fields need to use experimental evidence. The fields you mentioned are observational in nature. They often make use of data from the experimental sciences, though. Either way, a fact about the world cannot be determined without observing the world.

I read the paper on Kepler and I’m not sure what point you want me to take from it. Scientific conclusions follow from the best evidence available at a given time. Scientists almost never claim that their theories are true or final. Those that do are often swiftly proven wrong.

The ultimate goal of science is the truth of how the universe works. However, this goal will probably be approached asymptotically. Ever closer, but never quite there.

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ayer October 6, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Mark H.: Not all scientific fields need to use experimental evidence. The fields you mentioned are observational in nature. They often make use of data from the experimental sciences, though. Either way, a fact about the world cannot be determined without observing the world.

Yes, and that is what historigraphers do in examining the historical record to determine the best explanation for, e.g., the crucifixion of Jesus, the empty tomb, the origin of the disciples’ faith, etc. And the resurrection can be seen as the “inference to the best explanation”–the same reasoning process used in many, many fields of study.

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Justin G October 6, 2009 at 10:21 pm

ayer:

The resurrection is only supported by second-hand visionary accounts in a book written and compiled for a purpose where the resurrection would be beneficial.

This is not observation. By your logic, if I could go back in time, write a book claiming I knew people who saw a flying unicorn, then got a few more people to write similar but contradicting stories, you would have to believe this, since this is the best “inference.”

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Beelzebub October 6, 2009 at 11:52 pm

Re: the genetic fallacy: We know from basic logic that of these propositions, only the first is true:

T => T (true)
T => F (false)
F => T (false)
F => F (false)

Truth is only guaranteed to follow from truth, truth implies truth. Claiming that the last one is true is to commit the genetic fallacy. Claiming that the second one is true is to commit a logical error or to be completely demented, and to claim that the third one is true is just another way to commit the genetic fallacy, except that you’re asserting that a conclusion is true. So basically, the genetic fallacy boils down to deducing anything from false premises, which is not deductively allowed.

What I find interesting, though, is that “illogical” is usually meant to denote “deductively illogical” and is used as a pejorative, while there are all kinds of other logics and inference techniques that might be called “illogical” in the common sense, yet they are perfectly valid means to at least conditional knowledge.

I think this is why I often find myself wanting to screen at the TV when Spock says something is “illogical” and considers that a total rebut to any point someone wants to make. “Deductive logic is only one way to reason, you pointy eared dimwit!”

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Beelzebub October 7, 2009 at 12:09 am

ayer, eyewitness testimony is inferior to scientific inference as a means to the truth. I point you to Dawkins’s new book “The Greatest Show on Earth” for an example where people watching a film and asked to count the number of times a ball passes hands neglect to notice a man in a gorilla suit. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. My skepticism regarding the Resurrection stems more from the initial formulation of the story than the oral tradition that sustained it until it was recounted in written form.

Then again, we know from the genetic fallacy that even if I discredit all your reasons for believing it, it doesn’t follow that it didn’t happen, but it would make it pretty damn improbable, wouldn’t you say?

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Mark H. October 7, 2009 at 1:38 am

Beelzebub: Re: the genetic fallacy: We know from basic logic that of these propositions, only the first is true:T => T (true)
T => F (false)
F => T (false)
F => F (false)

Not quite:
T => T (true)
T => F (false)
F => T (true)
F => F (true)

It is perfectly possible for a false statement to imply a both a true or false statement. For example, both of the following statements are true:

If I am a dog, then I have four legs. (F => F)

If I am a dog, then I am a mammal. (F => T)

The only time a conditional is false is when a true statement implies a false one.

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Mark H. October 7, 2009 at 1:50 am

One further note: The third statement (F => T) is the reason the genetic fallacy exists. False premises can be used to support a true conclusion. That’s why poor justification can’t render a conclusion false. Otherwise, you could falsify any statement by creating a bad argument for it.

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lukeprog October 7, 2009 at 2:16 am

Mark H.: One further note: The third statement (F => T) is the reason the genetic fallacy exists. False premises can be used to support a true conclusion. That’s why poor justification can’t render a conclusion false. Otherwise, you could falsify any statement by creating a bad argument for it.

Exactly!

Thanks for your contributions here, Mark H.

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zdenny October 7, 2009 at 2:25 am

Luke,

I think it would be best for you to state in the “about me” section that you left Christianity due to moral differences.

In the “about me” section you stated, “I’m an advocate of polyamory. I think it can be quite healthy to have multiple open & honest sexual-romantic relationships at the same time – or one, or none at all!”

In almost every case I have encountered so far the claims by previous evangelicals always ends in a moral departure. Sexual promiscuity ranks pretty high as a reason to leave the fold. In other words, a selfish desire was more important than love.

The fact is that you never knew the love of God because all Christians who know the love of God never leave. Your selfish desires simply won out just like Eve in the garden.

The evidence is overwhelming for the Christian faith which I am sure you are well aware of. If you read all the skeptics, you would have realize that all their objections are based on liver quivers rather than evidence.

The only reason to reject the evidence is due to moral considerations.

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Mark October 7, 2009 at 3:16 am

zdenny:
In the “about me” section you stated, [...]

Perhaps this site needs an article explaining ad hominems

zdenny:
The fact is that you never knew the love of God because all Christians who know the love of God never leave.

If you redefine “christian” as “one incapable of entertaining a non-christian concept” then you’ll always be right, of course…

But you’ll find the word itself pretty useless as a label under that definition, because any time you point to a christian you’ll have to bear in mind that at some point in the future they may ‘turn out’ to have ‘never been one at all’ by an exercise of their free will. Even when you talk about yourself…

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Beelzebub October 7, 2009 at 3:31 am

Mark H., Crap I think you’re right. Oh well, it’s been a few years since logic. I think at least we’ve nailed the genetic fallacy in basic form, with your help.

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Mark H. October 7, 2009 at 4:03 am

Beelzebub: It happens. A couple of days ago, my dad asked me how to calculate how much money would be left in an interest-bearing account if he made regular withdrawals for a certain number of years. It took me a half-hour of googling to relearn the freshman-level math I hadn’t thought about in 12 years.

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lukeprog October 7, 2009 at 4:36 am

zdenny,

No, I did not leave Christianity due to moral differences.

Also, I did not begin to endorse polyamory (as an option, not an obligation) until about 6 months after leaving Christianity.

Christians simply cannot stand the fact that I left Christianity because I saw no reason to think it was true.

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lukeprog October 7, 2009 at 4:37 am

Mark: Perhaps this site needs an article explaining ad hominems…

It has one.

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Pete October 7, 2009 at 8:00 am

hey luke,

great post, interesting discussion.

i’m not sure, however, whether parsons really commits the genetic fallacy. first, he writes:

“…there are times when the causal history of a belief is highly relevant to its epistemic merits…”

this is surely true: if a belief is caused by an unreliable mechanism, and we good have evidence that this is the case, the belief is unjustified. as you write in one of your comments, the belief is undermined by an undercutting defeater.

then parsons goes on to say:

“if we identified in the human psyche a powerful mechanism that inclines people to believe in gods – whether or not gods actually exist – we should, absent strong reasons to the contrary, discount belief in gods.”

now, what does he mean by “discounting belief in gods”? if he means that we should consider these beliefs to be false, he is guilty of the genetic fallacy. if he only means that we should consider them to be unjustified, and should therefore give them up (because it is rational to give up beliefs that you know to be unjustified), then there is no problem with his view.

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Beelzebub October 7, 2009 at 11:58 pm

I think it’s clear that Parsons has a valid point, logical or illogical. I think it’s also pretty obvious that, as humans, logical inference only claims a tiny percentage of our daily reasoning. But “illogical” does not denote “irrational” as some claim. There are perfectly valid forms of reasoning that are not logical.

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John W. Loftus October 8, 2009 at 9:27 am

I actually think logic helps but does not decide the kinds of questions metaphysics asks of us. One man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens. Is it an argument from silence, or are the silences telling? Is he arguing in a circle, is his argument viciously circular, or not? Does he assume what needs to be proved, or not? Has he committed the genetic fallacy, or not? It’s claimed that Hume begs the question in his definition of miracles as a violation of nature. Does he? It’s claimed Descartes argued in a circle. Did he?

Then too there is the issue of probability and the notion of deduction itself. What argument portends to show that it is logically certain that theism or atheism is deductively impossible? Not many of them at all, if any actually. Our debates are almost always about what is probably the case. So defining and articulating what is a genetic fallacy comes down to a language game. Okay. Now we know what it is. So what? No intelligent thinker is trying to use it to show theism, for instance, is deductively false. I think therefore that Parsons is correct and by arguing in this fashion he can show that a belief, X, is false. And so am I. For the source generator of a belief is indeed a relevant factor in assessing the truth of a belief. And if that source is exceedingly improbable then that makes the belief in X, improbable as well, i.e., probably false, unless there is overcoming evidence to the contrary, irregardless of whether one labels it a genetic fallacy. We know that dreams are an unreliable source generator for beliefs, especially about the future. Therefore we can also say beliefs generated in this manner are probably false.

Cheers.

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Thordaddy October 9, 2009 at 2:38 am

Luke,

If I read you correctly then you are saying that homo sapien’s conceptual notion of God is no proof of God’s actual existence.  Yet, if we are to assume a totally material universe in which life is governed by the mechanics of Evolution then the OOG’s (originator of God) conceptualized God must have utilized empirical evidence for such a conceptualization.  But the scientist will tell you that there is “no empirical evidence for the existence of God.”. So what empirical evidence did the OOG use to conceive the inconceivable?  And how is this not empirical evidence for the existence of God?

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zdenny October 10, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Luke,

We both know that all arguments are based on probabilities. All external evidence can be doubted because we have to rely on our senses as well as are mind. The act of relying on the senses and the mind are both acts of faith.

For a Christian, Christianity becomes certain in faith because the love of God is known to a believer in Jesus Christ.

You never knew the love of God because you were experiencing lustful desires that you did not want to control.

I also feel sorry for everyone who was so close to love and never was able to realize it because they were not willing to love.

As I stated, the evidence for Christianity is overwhelming and only a person driven by selfish desires could entertain discounting all the evidence. If you would have known the love of God, you would never have left.

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Mark H. October 10, 2009 at 7:12 pm

zdenny:

How is the love of God “known to a believer” if he or she can’t rely on external evidence? The Bible is external evidence, the contents of which are known through the sight of the words (or sound of the words in the case of sermons or audiobooks). Should one doubt the Bible because no one can be sure of what it says because the senses cannot be trusted? The writers of the Bible relied on external evidence in recording what they and others saw and heard. Surely, if we should doubt external evidence, we should doubt even more second-hand external evidence.

Besides, what other kind of evidence is there besides external evidence? If God is a separate being from us, he must be external to us. We cannot get evidence of God’s existence or nature by turning inward and pondering ourselves. Your line of reasoning ends in solipsism.

It is inconsistent to assert both “all external evidence can be doubted” and “the evidence for Christianity is overwhelming.” Either you care about evidence, or you don’t.

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zdenny October 11, 2009 at 3:50 am

Mark

You wouldn’t understand because you don’t know the love of God.

In life there are plenty of things that are rational to believe without evidence. For example, if you eat a piece of pumpkin pie, you don’t need evidence because you personally know that it is pumpkin pie.

You know with absolute certainty that you had a piece of pumpkin pie and this is not something you need to prove to someone else. It is rational to believe it because you know that it is true.

On the other hand, if I want someone else to believe I had pumpkin pie, I would need my testimony, the eyewitnesses of others and some corrobrating evidence such as a tin pan, a receipt etc… The evidence of the fact that I had pumpkin pie enters the realm of probability for everyone else that reviews the evidence. However, for the person who ate the pie, evidence is not needed.

Christianity is the same way. We have tons of evidence for Christianity; however, faith does not need evidence itself because we know the Love of God in our life. This is how it is for every believer who knows God. Once you have known the love of God, you never leave because love never fails.

Luke left so we know for a fact that he never knew love. He simply was driven by his desires meaning that he is simply a selfish individual who lives by lust rather than love. His “about me” section is evidence by which I can make a judgement with a high degree of probability.

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Jeff H October 11, 2009 at 5:10 am

zdenny: “All external evidence can be doubted because we have to rely on our senses as well as are mind. The act of relying on the senses and the mind are both acts of faith.”

Also zdenny: “For example, if you eat a piece of pumpkin pie, you don’t need evidence because you personally know that it is pumpkin pie.”

As far as I know, taste is one of our senses. Tell me, without using sight, hearing, smell, taste, or touch, how would you ever know that you ate a piece of pumpkin pie? You can’t even go by the texture of it, since that is an example of taste/touch. For all you know, you could be eating a rock. The only way you know that you are eating pumpkin pie is through your senses.

Similarly, I have to agree with Mark H. and ask again – how do you know that the feeling you experience is the love of God? At the very most, I’d accept that you can “feel” love – but how do you know that it is from God? Or maybe it’s from a God, but the wrong one…the love of Krishna, perhaps? In other words, you may feel something, but it is only your interpretation of that feeling that completes the picture, and that interpretation has come to you squarely from external factors (your parents perhaps, the description from the Bible, pastors, etc.)

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Mark H. October 11, 2009 at 7:31 am

zdenny: You wouldn’t understand because you don’t know the love of God.

Who said I was an atheist?

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ayer October 11, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Jeff H: “Similarly, I have to agree with Mark H. and ask again – how do you know that the feeling you experience is the love of God? At the very most, I’d accept that you can “feel” love – but how do you know that it is from God?”

How do you know your belief in the past is real and that the world was not created 5 minutes ago in all its detail (including memories in your head and undigested food in your stomach)? Because your belief in the past is properly basic, and you are justified in that belief absent a defeater. Similarly, zdenny is justified in his existential experience of God absent a defeater supplied by you.

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zdenny October 16, 2009 at 2:38 am

How do you know that you have senses? Is it because you can sense them?

The love of God is not a feeling and the Bible never describes it as a feeling.

A good analogy would be marriage. You can tell a single person all about marriage; however, until they have been married, they never truly understand the experience of marriage.

Love goes much deeper than a feeling. If it didn’t, this world would be a really horrific place to live.

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Rhys Wilkins March 21, 2010 at 9:59 pm

Gawd some of these comments are funny.

My belief that the world was not created five minutes ago is based on the fact that there really isn’t any evidence that it WAS. It also raises some awkward questions, like what created the world five minutes ago? Was it something sentient or a group of sentient beings that did it? If so why did they do it? Why on earth would they want to create the world with the guise of age and maturity?

And lastly

What kind of FUCKING TECHNOLOGY would you need to literally zap an entire universe into existence in one picosecond complete with the appearance of age, fully evolved complex machines, technology, quasars, neutrinos, blackholes, supergalaxies, copious quantities of dark matter, a 13.7 billion year old light cone made just for earth, history books, supercomputers, an Earth ravaged by destructive human behavior (which only apparently occurred!), the Egyptian pyramids and so on?

It seems to me to strain credulity to it’s snapping point.

The proposition “The world was created five minutes ago” is just so preposterous that verbal ridicule does not suffice in exposing it’s sophistry. Any philosopher who seriously worries about this question needs another hobby.

Calling a belief properly basic is just a cowardly attempt to skirt the issue of having to justify your belief. And if noone hasn’t noticed, there IS a defeater for properly basic Yahweh belief, and it is not from the atheists. The turd in the punchbowl is conflicting properly basic beliefs from other religions.

If belief in Yahweh is truly properly basic, then a properly basic belief in Wotan directly contradicts it. Either one of both of them is a load of shit.

Now to say that Yahweh belief is not defeated, you gotta give arguments and evidence to support the case!

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