Peter Kreeft on Atheists’ use of the Genetic Fallacy

In an excerpt from his book Socratic Logic, Peter Kreeft explains how people commit the Genetic Fallacy in regards to a person’s psychological reasons for believing in the existence of God, and why using a form of the Genetic Fallacy does not refute the existence of God, or any other belief for that matter. (By the way, the Genetic Fallacy is thinking you have refuted a belief or argument because you have explained the origin of that belief or argument). The excerpt (with my interjections in [ ] brackets) is as follows:

“The psychological ‘because’ is the reason children first give, since we know our own subjective feelings most easily.  The causal ‘because’ is the next reason we give, for physical sensations of physical things come easy and early to us.  The logical ‘because’ is the last and most advanced reason we give, for it is the most abstract and difficult.  The first ‘because’ is subjective and immaterial, the second is objective and material, and the third is objective and immaterial.

A very common fallacy today is to confuse two of these ‘becauses,’ to substitute the psychological ‘because’ for the logical ‘because.’  (This is essentially the ‘genetic fallacy’: see page 81.)  We live in the psychological era.  We think we refute an idea when we uncover its psychological origins.  For example, if belief in God can be shown to be motivated by fear (as Freud says) [and here I would also insert the idea that a person’s belief in God is motivated by the beliefs of their parents or because of the country or area in which they live], we think that proves the belief is false.  But this is a confusion.  the objective logical proof, reason, or evidence for a belief is independent of the believer’s subjective psychological motives.  You do not logically refute an idea by pointing to suspicious motives [for believing it], but by pointing to inadequate evidence [for the belief in question].  Freud’s critique of religion is a long, complex, clever, and detailed version of exactly this fallacy.  It amounts to: ‘God does not exist because people are terrified of a universe without a father-figure.’  After we know an idea is false, we naturally wonder what psychological motives could have led people to believe it, an then we rightly point to the psychological motive.  Pointing to the motive instead of to the reasons, ‘refuting’ the motive instead of the idea, is a form of ‘the genetic fallacy.'” -Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic pg. 201

The only thing I would add in regards to the argument that I would have inserted: The atheist may be correct in asserting that believing in God because your parents believed may not be a legitimate justification for one’s own belief in the existence of God, the fact that a person has a fallacious reason for believing in the existence of God does not refute the belief held.  For example, if I were to hold the belief that the earth revolved around the sun, and my reasoning for believing this was because I thought that the sun was a giant bonfire in the sky and the earth was simply dancing around it, I do not have a legitimate reason for holding the belief that the earth revolves around the sun, that is, my reasoning for holding this belief is fallacious, but that doesn’t itself refute the belief that the earth revolves around the sun.  Too often, Atheists seem to think that being able to show that the only reason why a person believes in God is some fallacious reason X, that this therefore refutes the belief itself, and this, as Kreeft has pointed out, is false.  The objective, logical proof, reason, or evidence for a belief is independent of the believer’s subjective psychological motives for holding that belief.
MLA Citation: Kreeft, Peter. Socratic Logic: A Logic Text Using Socratic Method, Platonic Questions & Aristotelian Principles. Ed. Trent Dougherty. 3.1 ed. South Bend, Ind. : St. Augustine’s Press, 2010. Print.


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