God’s Existence and Biology: A Whopping Non Sequitur

This section of Paul Copan’s Is God A Moral Monster caught my attention.  (Note: it is part of a much larger argument, so I can’t quote the whole thing here).

“The inventor Thomas Edison said that humans are ‘incurably religious.’  History certainly bears this out.  But why have humans been so religiously inclined across the millennia and civilizations?  Neo-atheists Dawkins and Dennett interpret the phenomenon this way: theology is biology.  To Dawkins, God is a ‘delusion;’ for Dennett, religious believers are under a kind of ‘spell’ that needs to be broken.  Like computers, Dawkins says, we come equipped with a remarkable predisposition to do (and believe) what we’re told.  So young minds full of mush are susceptible to mental infections or viruses (‘memes’).  Charismatic preachers and other adults spew out their superstitious bilge, and later generations latch on to it and eventually create churches and religious schools.  Even if there isn’t a ‘God gene,’ humans have a certain religious urge – an apparent hard wiring in the brain that draws us to supernatural myths.”

“Some conclude, therefore, that God doesn’t exist but is simply the product of predictable biological processes.  One big problem with this statement: it is a whopping non sequitur.  It just doesn’t follow that if humans are somehow wired to be religious, God therefore doesn’t exist.  This is what’s called ‘the genetic fallacy’ – proving or disproving the truth of a view based on its origin.  In this case, God’s existence is a separate question from the source of religious beliefs.  We need to sort out the biology of belief from the rationality of belief.”

“There’s more to say here.  We could turn the argument on its head: if God exists and has designed us to connect with him, then we’re actually functioning properly when we’re being directed toward  belief in God.  We can agree that natural/physical processes partly contribute to commitment to God.  In that case, the basic argument of Dawkins and Dennett could actually support the idea that religious believers are functioning decently and in order.”

In other words, this is not a logical argument: 1) Our brains are hardwired to believe in a supernatural being, 2) therfore a supernatural being does not exist.  Or, stated differently, “God is the product of human imagination because humans are hard wired to believe a supernatural being.”  Copan is right – this is an example of a genetic fallacy.  You can find the entire discussion on (and around) pages 29-30 in Is God A Moral Monster by Paul Copan.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

3 thoughts on “God’s Existence and Biology: A Whopping Non Sequitur”

  1. It’s like the moment that you read their argument “Even if there isn’t a ‘God gene,’ humans have a certain religious urge – an apparent hard wiring in the brain that draws us to supernatural myths” you have to wonder–where did that urge come from? If we concede them evolution, then like Copan said, perhaps we are being directed. Instead, they dismiss it.

    I want that book now. :)

    By the way, is there any other way to sign in if you don’t have a Twitter, FB or WP.com account?

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  2. Thanks for the comments, Demian. I’m not yet finished with the book, but so far so good! I’ll post more on it in the future for sure.

    I thought that anyone could comment here without being logged into anything. I’ll double check that though.

    Thanks!
    shane

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  3. I have recently seen a couple arguments that draw the opposite conclusion. We wouldn’t have the innate tendency to believe, so the argument goes, if a deity didn’t actually exist. I’m happy to dispense with each of these variations.

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