Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Religion and Geography

The following is a syndicated post by the wise Ugo Cei.

"If you had been born in Saudi Arabia, you would have a 98% chance of being a Muslim."

You've heard that argument already, right? You have also probably heard the rebuttal that it's an example of the Genetic Fallacy: The fact that what you believe depends on where you were born does not mean that what you believe is false.

In a sense, those who object to the argument on those terms are right. When interpreted as an argument against god, it just doesn't hold. However, the true power of the argument is not as a tool to prove there is no god and I am not sure whether it is mostly the believers who like to interpret it as such, so they can have an easy job tearing it down, or the non believers, who didn't really think it through.

The fact that, exceedingly, religious affiliation depends on geography or family history, is only useful together with the fact that, for almost every believer, geography is the main reason why they choose to believe in a particular god. All other possible reasons play a very minor role. If this weren't true, we'd see much more of a patchwork in the map below.

The argument is not that, if your belief depends on geography and family history, your god is likely false. That would be an example of a genetic fallacy.

The argument is that, if your belief depends only on geography and family history, then it has no more chances of being true than the god of the muslim guy, or the hindu guy, or the christian guy who lives right across the border.

And this is not a genetic fallacy.


  1. D'nesh D'souza uses the example that if you were born in Oxford Mississippi you'd be less likely to believe in evolution than if you were born in Oxford England. But of course this is to compare apples and oranges: Evolution is a fact, back up by insurmountable evidence, no such parallel exists for any given religion.

  2. One can apply the same argument to time as well as to space. If you'd been born in 19th-century Italy, you would probably believe in Jesus; if you'd been born in 2nd-century Italy, you'd probably believe in Zeus. Again, this doesn't prove the untruth of any particular religion, as you say -- but if past religions which had won fervent belief for generations were eventually abandoned as false, the sane could just as easily happen for present-day religions.

  3. This is definitely a very powerful idea to me back when I was in the process of abandoning the religion I grew up in. When I was examining why I really believed what I did and was realizing it was largely because of the house I grew up in. When I looked out further, I figured that if I had been born in a different country I would very likely be a different religion.

    It wasn't a genetic fallacy though, it's not like I used that to automatically say that my beliefs must be wrong. I actually went a different way with it. This hypothetical me who was born elsewhere and was the wrong religion (according to my religion) would be going to hell, which is pretty unfair. THAT is the part of this argument that I thought was powerful.

  4. I have yet to hear that false use of a fallacy. But I will keep my ears open to it -- tis indeed ridiculous. thx