The genetic fallacy, explains philosopher William Lane Craig “is the attempt to invalidate a position by showing how it originated. You try and invalidate a position by showing how a person came to believe that” (1).
An appropriate analogy would be for person A to dismiss the belief of person B as true because the only reason person B believes X is true, is because he was born in Greenland. In other words, person A is equating what is true with where person B is born geographically. Person A is dismissing person B’s belief because he or she was brought up in a household that believes X is true. Of course any observant reader would spot that the conclusion that belief X is false based on where person B was born would not follow. Where someone is born, how someone was brought up, and what belief someone inherited at some stage in life says nothing on whether that belief is true or false.
Atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett, for example, has argued that evolution has made religion obsolete because it undermines belief in God. Dennett essentially compares religion to a parasite that lives inside the brain of an ant. The parasite controls the ant from there. Dennett further compares religion to the common flu as an example of how harmful effects come from the Darwinian evolutionary process.
However, one can point out that the fallacy in his reason is quite obvious. Say that we know for certain that belief in God was an inherited trait from the process of sociological and biological evolution. But knowing that, would that invalidate the possibility that God exists? I don’t think that God’s non-existence would follow from that. It commits the genetic fallacy as shown above. Dennett attempts to explain away a belief (in God) by how humans inherited that belief (from evolution). Evolution may well explain human belief in God but it just wouldn’t follow that God does not exist as a result. One could also point out that evolution is unable to answer the question of God’s existence since to do so is beyond its explanatory scope. I believe philosopher Alvin Plantinga captures this best:
“The theory of evolution doesn’t say that the whole process is guided by God. Of course it doesn’t say that. But it also doesn’t say that it isn’t. Being a scientific theory, it doesn’t make any statements on that point” (2).
What this would suggest is that it is not evolution that undermines belief in God, instead it is Dennett’s philosophical belief that it is. But what if the Christian, or a believer, argues that God used evolution as his creating mechanism? Geneticist Francis Collins thinks as much: “We believe that God created humans in biological continuity with all life on earth, but also as spiritual beings. God established a unique relationship with humanity by endowing us with his image and calling us to an elevated position within the created order” (3). If Collins’ logic follows then it only serves to show the fallacy in Dennett’s reasoning.
1. Craig, W. 2007. The “New Atheist.” Available.
2. Wilson, J. 2011. Q & A: Alvin Plantinga on Conflict Resolution with Science. Available.
3. Biologos. How could humans have evolved and still be created in the “Image of God”? Available.