Misinterpreting Evolution: Atheists and the Genetic Fallacy.


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.



8 responses to “Misinterpreting Evolution: Atheists and the Genetic Fallacy.

  1. Darwinian evolution is a fact and God guides it? What a ridiculous statement from someone professing to believe in God. You obviously reject the Genesis accounts of creation of creatures “after their kind”, Adam and Eve, the Flood, etc., etc., so I would like to ask you what God is it that you believe in? Obviously not the God of the Bible!

    • I don’t reject the creation accounts because of modern science, John. Because I don’t read them, as ANE literature, through a scientific lens.
      Regarding Darwinian evolution there is nothing about it that says God can’t intervene during the process at certain times to bring about an intended purpose. There is nothing in it that says God couldn’t have initiated the process to run its own course. The options are open meaning theists can entertain hypotheses.

      • Fair comment. Of course God could “intervene” or “guide” evolution, but that’s not what the Bible clearly indicates in it’s Creation accounts. You choose to believe Darwin’s “Tree of Life” version of creation over millions of years – I choose to believe God when it plainly says He created all creatures “each after their kind”, along with Adam and Eve in His own image (and not merely the accidental offshoot of a mutated apelike ancestor).
        At least we know where we stand.

  2. Pingback: Bill Nye & Atheism’s Attack on Science | James Bishop's Theological Rationalism·

  3. Excellent read for me.

    Can you elaborate on this

    “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.”

    • Evolution, as a scientific theory, says nothing of things like the supernatural and God. In other words, to use the theory to “disprove” God or render God’s existence unlikely is to feed evolution into a philosophical framework, which is Dennett’s naturalism.

  4. Question on the fallacy: Dismissal of giraffes having short necks because we believe evolution to be the source of its long necks = ? Is that a genetic fallacy?

    Pls kindly dumb it down 🙂

  5. Got it, in giraffe case, the source or origin (evolution) is not irrelevant to the veracity of the claim.

    thanks, great read James, learned a lot.

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