Super Bowl, the Genetic Fallacy, and Brainwashing Children
If you’re a theist on Twitter, particularly if you debate a certain guy named BibleAlsoSays (BAS), you have undoubtedly seen a map like this:
BAS acts like this is unassailable proof that religion is a steaming and moldy pile of donkey crap baking on the otherwise unblemished Sidewalk of Reality in the Harsh Sun of Truth and Reason.
“Look,” he’ll say, “at how all of the religions group into geographic regions. That means that parents pass religion to the children, who accept it uncritically, and never grow out of it. If not for parental brainwashing, these children would grow up normal!”
If the intrepid apologist points out that this logically flawed, BAS asks you for an alternate explanation of the map.
Know what? There is no alternate explanation. The world religions group so nicely exactly for the reason that BAS claims. Parents teach their faith to their children, who never question or jettison it in favor of something more palatable.
But that’s not why the premise is logically flawed.
The children come by their religious beliefs because they are taught by Mom and Dad. No argument. Then, they never examine it — they continue to trust that Mom and Dad taught ’em right. Again, no argument.
That’s not how we should do things. Just because an authority teaches you something does not automatically make it true. Lots of things my parents taught me are completely false:
- The moon is bigger than the earth
- You’ll go blind if you look at an eclipse — especially at the moment of totality
- Seniors in high school never date freshmen; if a senior is asking you for a date they have something mean planned
I know all of those things are false, so some people do question things their parents teach them. Just listening to Mom and Dad is not an effective way to learn anything.
However, it does not follow immediately from that that everything they taught me is false, just that there are true and false things mixed and it is up to me to discern the truth from the fiction. They also taught me how to tell time, count change, and how to drive. I’m good at all of those things.
Let’s illustrate this with a story:
Bob awakes Monday morning with a splitting headache. He has to focus his swimming thoughts long enough to realize where he is.
He’s on the bed, apparently sleeping off a night of boozing. The headache is enough evidence that he drank more than usual. His ceiling fan is rotating on slow, filling the room with a continuous hum and light breeze.
Bob isn’t the picture of responsible decision-making, which is why he fails to notice that he’s three hours late for work before he realizes that he can’t remember the outcome of the Super Bowl.
Patriots? Or Giants?
This just won’t do. He has to know. He will know.
Ignoring the blip on his answering machine (the boss can wait; it’s not his real job anyway; Bob has better dreams than being a dumpy file clerk in a stupid cubicle in a downtown highrise), Bob calls his friend Jim.
Again, we see Bob’s poor decision-making skills work against him. Jim lives too far out in the country to get cable or TV reception. They have phones for some reason; landlines, of course.
“Hey, Jim,” Bob says quickly into the phone, “who won the Super Bowl?”
With no TV or Internet and only a tattered Parcheesi board that time forgot as entertainment, Jim had never heard of the Super Bowl. Yet . . .
“The Giants,” Jim replied.
Jim heard of a Super Bowl, but not the one put on by the NFL. Way out in his forsaken neck of the woods, the kids have this weird game involving sticks, rocks, and a sheet of fiberglass insulation. It’s complicated.
They call the major championship, remarkably enough, the Super Bowl.
The most recent Super Bowl was just played on Saturday. The victors were a new team of older kids, all of them beefy beyond words. This team was aptly named “The Giants.”
Bob now holds a correct belief learned in a faulty way. This means that people can learn correct beliefs through incorrect methodology. Imagine if Alexander Flemming had thrown his penicillin cultures away because he wasn’t looking for that effect.
BAS’s geography-is-the-primary-factor-in-determining-one’s-religion argument skips a step. First, he must show why the religious belief is false, not why the teaching method is faulty. Showing only that the method is unreliable doesn’t prove the belief is false, because people can arrive at correct beliefs under false pretenses.
Try pointing this out. BAS typically retorts that Christianity is wrong for “thousands” (really? thousands?) of other reasons.
Pick one and leave this alone — it is logically invalid.