Dinesh D’Souza on the Genetic Fallacy

I’d like to make a short post on the genetic fallacy, only because I encounter it so frequently in faith-related discussions. It’s important that Christians know how to respond when confronted with arguments such as, “you’re only a Christian because you were born into a Christian family in a country that’s predominantly Christian.” This kind of statement is usually intended as an attack on the veracity of a person’s faith, and often comes along with an allegation of confirmation bias.

Dinesh D’Souza

In a previous post, “Alister McGrath on the Demand for Proof,” I mentioned that I’ve recently been listening to a number of debates on religion. In one of these debates, Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza gave an excellent response to John Loftus‘s use of the genetic fallacy. I thought it was worth passing on:

“Essentially John Loftus said that we can’t really know if a religion is true, because there happen to be many of them. If you happen to be born in Afghanistan, you’d be a Muslim. If you happen to be born in Tibet, you’d be a Buddhist. 

That’s true, but what on Earth does that prove? I happen to have been born in Bombay, India, which happens to be a Hindu country. The second largest group is Muslim. Even so, by choice I am a Christian. Just because the majority religion is one thing doesn’t make it right or wrong. 

By the way, what [John Loftus] says about Christianity…is equally true about beliefs in history or science. If you are born in Oxford, England, you are more likely to believe the theory of evolution than if you are born in Oxford, Mississippi. If you are born in New Guinea, you are less likely to accept Einstein’s theory of relativity than if you are born in New York City. What does this say about whether Einstein’s theory of relativity is true? Absolutely nothing.

In other words, [John Loftus] is guilty of what in logic is called the ‘genetic fallacy’. It’s the fallacy of confusing the origin of an idea with its veracity.”

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22 thoughts on “Dinesh D’Souza on the Genetic Fallacy

  1. “you’re only a Christian because you were born into a Christian family in a country that’s predominantly Christian.”

    this statement also represents a misunderstanding of Christianity as a works-based, ritualistic religion – that you can somehow work your way into a right standing with God. but then, i guess that is the great struggle most unbelievers have (including us before we were saved)… a misunderstanding of God’s grace.

    • Exactly. It seems to confuse genuine Christian faith (involving a personal, self-motivated decision) with “cultural Christianity” (involving only a social identity).

  2. Thanks for the post Matt.

    I suppose it’s just another way of saying ‘you are only a Christian because you disengaged your brain’. Which as we know isn’t true and isn’t something God wants us to do – especially as He gave them to us.

    • that is so true! the works idea and the disengaged brain idea are what so many people think is what it takes to be a Christian. how not so that is!
      k☼

  3. In the words of Mark Twain “ All generalizations are false, including this one”.

    When we generalize we normally end up with some exceptions, often times a great many exceptions. We tend to reduce things to the smallest number of items to better understand complex systems and hopefully we don’t fall into greedy reductionism.

    Over time we can see that the assertion that John Loftus makes about geography being important in your selection of religion is in most cases true, with some exceptions. Gepgraphy and your cultural background have a very important role in determining the religion of a person, as is the case of Dinesh D’Souza. He was born into Christianity, having Christian parents, although he did not follow the geographical majority tendency.
    Yes he is in the 2.34% in India and in part is an exception. This by no means proves veracity, as truth has nothing to do with the number of persons that believe something, truth is not democratic. Or in the words of Dinesh D’Souza “Just because the majority religion is one thing doesn’t make it right or wrong”. Could this not be the case of America? 
    As a sidenote according to the Dentsu Communication Institute Inc, Japan Research Center (2006), 6.6 % of Indians stated that they had no religion.

    I would have to disagree with the statement on beliefs in history or science, as geography has nothing to do with beliefs in science, education has all to do with it. You could be born in Oxford, Mississippi, but educated in, let us say, the University of Oxford. What do you think your views on science would be?

    After watching the debate, I must conclude that John Loftus should take a few oratory classes, he is not that good. Until then he should stick to writing.

    “If you happen to be born in Afghanistan, you’d be a Muslim. If you happen to be born in Tibet, you’d be a Buddhist”. In the case of Afghanistan that would be true in roughly 99% of the cases. And although not as high, the likelihood of being Buddhist in Tibet is very probable. So calling this statement a fallacy is a fallacy in itself.

    • “I would have to disagree with the statement on beliefs in history or science, as geography has nothing to do with beliefs in science, education has all to do with it.”

      But doesn’t education vary drastically based on geography? Isn’t it true that, statistically speaking, someone born in Oxford, Mississippi will be less likely to believe in evolution than someone born in Oxford, England?

    • ‘Over time we can see that the assertion that John Loftus makes about geography being important in your selection of religion is in most cases true, with some exceptions.’

      I’d argue every Christian is an exception. You are right if we were talking about a cultural identity only, but we are talking about something God does. My parents were not Christians though at the time they thought they were. And the UK for a long time (huge understatement) has been and still is opposed to Biblical Reformed Christianity. So many then, like myself are born into a deception (my parents thought they were Christians) meaning that God has to step in and bring us out into His light. So being a Christian at all anywhere is an exception as we are born dead in sin. This is why without the New Birth, something that God brings about through the Gospel, is so crucial because without it we languish under a delusion. It’s a delusion to think that anything other than the supernatural intervention of God will make anyone anywhere at any time a Christian. God by His grace makes marvellous exceptions!

    • And this is according to what person? Do you mean to say that only your denomination of Christianity is the correct one? So you are expressing that all other so-called Christians will burn in the fires of Hell, because they don’t believe in your personal brand of Christianity.
      It seem a bit arrogant to consider that only your belief is correct. What do you base this assertion on?
      Why does God decide not to shed his grace upon so many millions upon millions of persons who, as you would have it, were born in the wrong country?

  4. Yes, I agree that geography to a large degree, determines your religion. But beliefs on science are determined on education. Yes, most people born in Oxford, Mississippi don’t get a chance to go to Oxford University, and so local culture and geography help them decide on these questions.

    Keep up the writing and good luck on your journey (life-long) in medicine.

    • ‘And this is according to what person? Do you mean to say that only your denomination of Christianity is the correct one? So you are expressing that all other so-called Christians will burn in the fires of Hell, because they don’t believe in your personal brand of Christianity.
      It seem a bit arrogant to consider that only your belief is correct. What do you base this assertion on?
      Why does God decide not to shed his grace upon so many millions upon millions of persons who, as you would have it, were born in the wrong country?’

      There wasn’t a reply button to your reply so I hope it’s OK to do it this way.

      What I said was EVERY Christian is an exception of whatever brand anywhere at any time. But then we would have to get into a discussion as to what exactly is a Christian. What definition would suit you? Maybe we could start there and ask on what basis you would like it to be so.

      If it’s arrogant to think I am sinner deserving of hell but by His own grace and not because of any merit in me whatsoever The Lord Jesus Christ has died on the cross and risen from the dead in order to rescue this poor sinner – then I stand guilty as charged.

      I base ALL my assertions on the Word of God – The Bible.

      But I don’t see why you think I’m being arrogant by thinking my belief is correct. It would be a very strange thing for me to believe my own belief was wrong. Presumably you think I’m wrong and therefore think you are correct, but that would be arrogant, so your own belief must be wrong. And if you can’t be sure of your own belief why on earth should I believe it. But you are sure to say, no-one can be certain but that also entails some certainty. All you seem to be certain of is that I am wrong, unless of course you think I might be right and that’s your problem. By that I mean, you know there is a God but refuse to acknowledge Him. I’ll leave it at that. Thanks for the reply.

    • First of all, sorry for pressing the wrong reply button.

      You stated that your parents thought they were Christians. You are a Christian and you were born in a Christian country, I see nothing exceptional about that, it only gives more credence to the fact that your culture and your geography have a strong impact on your choice of religion.
      Many have switched between Christian denominations because they believed to have had revelation towards that end. I think that those that belong to another denomination think that you are mistaken and that they are correct.
      I do not know there is a God or any deity for that matter, being a non-believer myself. And I must add that the Bible is not the word of God, but the work of men. If the Bible is your only source to sustain your affirmation then I guess you will go into a circular argument right about now.
      I cannot prove non-existence, and I don’t have to. The burden of proof is upon he who affirms.
      If something can be affirmed without evidence, it can also be dismissed without evidence.
      I also thank you for your reply.

  5. i would hope a person makes a choice based on what is in their heart over what the people around them think. i have always done so … and after much investigation. what of the people who choose Jesus even though they live in a place where Christians are put to death or imprisoned for such a conviction? are they the product of their environment?
    k☼

  6. Good blog, Matt. I run across this question a lot with my students. Using the genetic fallacy pulls the carpet out of this common objection to faith, especially Christianity.

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  8. Reblogged this on pursuit and commented:
    I enjoy logic. Especially when it points out the fallacy of arguments that are widely held by people. It is time that we start thinking again…

  9. (Sorry for repeat commenting. Just approve this one. My settings are a mess!)

    To accuse it of the genetic fallacy is to miss the point of the argument. Any belief that is highly correlated with some unrelated, arbitrary variable, deserves extra scrutiny. To say such a thing is not to commit the GF – you aren’t expecting to disprove said belief on the basis of the mentioned correlation.

    I think this is just DS exhibiting some WLC style debating gamesmanship. I personally am constantly worried that I may be forming my beliefs (about all sorts of things) by blindly imbibing the zeitgiest of my particular context, and I try to apply extra scrutiny to such beliefs.

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