On September 29, 2011, I debated Blair Scott, the Director of Communications for American Atheists, Inc. During the debate, he suggested that one of the primary reasons (if not the only reason) that people are Christians is because they were born into a society that is predominantly Christian. He contended that this fact cast doubt on the legitimacy of Christianity and the sincerity of the person who claims to believe in Christianity based on the truth of its claims. Blair is not the only atheist who has used this line of reasoning. When I debated Dan Barker on February 12, 2009, he stated basically the same thing as Blair, when he said, “there are other reasons besides reason and truth that people come to their faith.” He continued:
The most obvious one is geography. Geography is the greatest single predictor of what religion a person will have. If you were born in Baghdad, you can pretty much predict what religion that person will have. If you were born in Tennessee, you can pretty much predict what kind of person you are going to be with your religion, generally. It’s the highest predictor (Butt and Barker, 2009).
While it may be true that geography is the highest predictor of a person’s religion, it is important to understand what Scott and Barker are trying to say, and why it has no bearing on the truth of the proposition that God exists. The implication is that if most people in an area hold a certain religious belief, then the mere fact that it is the “traditional” belief of that area should cast disparaging light on the belief, or at least should call into question the honesty and intellectual rigor of those who hold the belief. This is a classic example of a logical fallacy known as the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy is committed when a person attempts to discredit an idea based on its origin, not based on the merits of the idea itself. In this instance, Barker, Scott, and other atheists are suggesting that a belief in the God of the Bible should be questioned merely on the basis of the fact that the idea stems from certain cultures or regions.
When this accusation against belief in God is studied critically, however, it becomes apparent that these atheists are making a moot point. What does it matter if the biggest predictor of a person’s religion is geography? Does that mean that the information is necessarily false? If that were the case, we could simply lump atheism in with all other “religions” and say that geography is the single biggest predictor of whether a person will claim atheism….
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