Why Belief in God Is Not A Social or Biological Phenomenon
by Al Serrato
Couldn’t belief in God be nothing more than a social or biological phenomenon? This was the question posed by the skeptic. His point was obvious: if he could provide an explanation as to why people began to believe, or why people choose to believe, he would be one step closer to proving that there is no need for God.
Or would he?
When a question is framed in the way the skeptic phrased it, the anticipated answer is “yes.” After all, anything is possible, so why could this not also be a possibility?
The true answer to the challenge requires that one assess the lines of evidence in support of, and the lines of evidence opposed to, the proposition “God exists.” If the evidence against God’s existence is strong, then it would make sense to look for an explanation of where this persistent belief finds its roots. After all, it seems pretty obvious that most people from just about every culture on Earth in every period of history have developed and practiced religious beliefs. But if the evidence for God’s
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existence is great – an easy conclusion to reach when one considers the dozen or more proofs for the existence of a supernatural Creator – then then likelihood that atheism is true diminishes to the point that holding such a view becomes irrational. So, in fact, I think the correct answer to the challenge is “no.” It is not reasonable to conclude that religion is simply a useful social or biological trait; it is reasonable to conclude that people believe in God because they rightly conclude he must exist, and they then set about trying to learn what they can about him.
On closer examination, the question is actually an example of the genetic fallacy at work. The genetic fallacy seeks to explain the source of a belief – i.e. to explain why it is false or mistaken – before showing that it is false. It has persuasive power because it seeks to “make sense” of something. A example would be if I were to say that of course the teacher gave me an F on this paper because it’s no secret that she doesn’t like me. First, one would need to prove that the paper did not deserve an F before an explanation becomes necessary. If I got every question on the test wrong, that would be the reason for the F, regardless of the teacher’s feelings. If, by contrast, I could show that my paper was actually correct, that the F was wrong, only then would seeking an explanation for why the teacher gave me the F make sense…
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