Geographic argument against religion

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The geographic argument against religion, that religious belief is an accident of the location of birth, is arbitrary and therefore likely to be untrue. It is based on the Country-Faith phenomenon, in which the country where one is born more than likely dictates what one will believe. This argument is related to the argument from religious impermanence, which states that if one were born in a given time period, one's religious beliefs would probably be different than if one were born in any other time period.

"If you are religious at all it is overwhelmingly probable that your religion is that of your parents. If you were born in Arkansas and you think Christianity is true and Islam false, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had been born in Afghanistan, you are the victim of childhood indoctrination."

— Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p25, 2006

"I see it too clearly: the care taken of our childhood forms our feelings, our habits, our belief. By the Ganges I would have been a slave of the false gods, a Christian in Paris, a Muslim here."

Voltaire
"It occurred to me, for the first time, that I was a Christian simply because I had been born into a Christian family, not because I had made a conscious choice. [1]"

Some secularists have argued that religious indoctrination of children is a form of child abuse. The tendency for children to adopt their parents' religious beliefs has been observed in scientific studies. [2]

Contents

The argument

The argument is based on people adopting local religious practices without rationally examining them.

  • Each religion is a distinct set of beliefs which may be either true or false.
  • Not all religions can be true, and most are mutually exclusive in their truth claims.
  • A person is born in a location that is not of her/his choosing; and, as such, is an arbitrary occurrence.
  • The place of birth largely determines one's religious beliefs.
  • Therefore, religious belief is arbitrary.
  • Since any other religion may be true (or no religion is true), one's religious views are probably untrue.

The argument is not a definitive disproof of all religious truth claims, but rather a probabilistic argument that any particular religious truth claim is untrue.

Variant

  • If a specific god exists and wants to be known, it would occasionally reveal itself to people all over the world, and it (god) would have to reveal itself in a way to ensure that all the people of the world would "know" it to be a true message from this god.
  • This would include obscure tribes and isolated communities that would otherwise not have heard of this god.
  • This would appear to people all over the world as miraculous knowledge of the existence of a god without accessing any holy books or any religious teachings.
  • This does not occur. People isolated from a specific religion have no special insight into its specific god.
  • God does not exist or at least does not reveal itself to individuals generally.

Country-Faith phenomenon

Christianity

You are likely to be Catholic if you were born in: The Vatican, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Spain, France, Portugal, Quebec, Kenya, Equatorial Guinea, Uruguay, Equator, Paraguay, Argentina, French Guiana, Chile, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Philippines

You are likely to be Protestant if you were born in: Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States of America, South Africa, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Namibia

You are likely to be Amish if you were born in: Parts of Pennsylvania, Parts of Kentucky

You are likely to be Mormon if you were born in: Utah

You are likely to be an evangelical if you were born in: Jamaica, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Narau, St. Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, South Sudan, Melanesia, Micronesia, Togo

You are likely to be Eastern orthodox if you were born in: Serbia, Montenegro, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Belarus, Greece, Ethopia, Russia

Islam

You are likely to be Shia muslim if you were born in: Iran

You are likely to be Sunni muslim if you were born in: Pakistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, Oman, Turkey, Somalia, Mali, Chad, Indonesia

Buddhism

You are likely to be a Buddhist if you were born in: China

You are likely to be a Lamaistic Buddhist if you were born in: Tibet, Mongolia

You are likely to be a Mahayana Buddhist if you were born in: North Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea

You are likely to be a Theravada Buddhist if you were born in: Brunei, Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma(Myanmar), Laos

Other

You are likely to be Jewish if you were born in: Israel

You are likely to be Hindu if you were born in: Parts of Pakistan, Most of India, Sri Lanka

You are likely to be Shinto if you were born in: Japan

You are likely to be Sikh if you were born in: Punjab region of India

You may practice Vodun (Voodoo) if you were born in: Louisiana, Haiti, Benin

You may be a Raëlian if you were born in: South Korea

You may be a Scientologist if you were born in: Southern California

Explanation for the phenomenon

TODO

Counter arguments

Blind man and the elephant

Main Article: All gods are aspects of the same God

Apologists argue that many religions contain some truth. Therefore, the premise that each and every religious truth claim is true or false is an over simplification.

Other evidence

Apologists may rely on other evidence that their religion is true. The argument above is only a probabilistic argument that says it is likely that one's religious belief is untrue. Believers sometimes argue that their religion is distinct from other "false" religions, as well as arguing that it is objectively true. This is an argument from uniqueness.

Lack of free choice in some countries

Apologists argue that people in certain repressive countries are not allowed to change their religions. However, the evidence from countries with more freedom indicate that people generally retain the religion of their parents, and people in repressive countries are also likely to fit this general pattern.

Genetic fallacy

This argument has been criticised for committing the genetic fallacy.

"If you were born in Oxford England, you'd probably believe in evolution. If you were born Oxford Mississippi you'd probably believe in creationism. This doesn't prove that both creationism and evolution are false. The truth of a belief does not depend on how someone came to know it. It might as well have been inculcated into that person at an early age. What really matters ultimately is evidence. [3]"

As pointed out by apologists, this argument does not directly show religious belief to be wrong. However, if religion is largely the result of early age inculcation, there is no need for other reasons to explain religious belief, such as examination of evidence. One can additionally conclude that religious belief is generally independent of evidence, rather than wrong. However, without examining evidence, one should not expect any given religious belief to be correct.

Pattern not definitive

Although there is an association between geographical location and religion, it is not a certain guide to belief. However, the pattern generally holds for the majority of people and that is all that is required for this probabilistic argument.

Reversible argument

"I usually point out that if the person making the objection had been born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia, he too would almost certainly have been a Muslim. If he is an atheist, then his atheism seems to be an accident of birth and, if his argument is valid as an objection to Christianity, then it would also be valid as an objection to atheism [4]"

Our beliefs are not just formed by our parents but also our friends, teachers, media and wider society. This objection is arguably valid in majority atheist cultures but it is not valid when a person is surrounded by theists.

See also

References

  1. Is Richard Dawkins destroying his reputation?
  2. Phil Zuckerman, Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions, Sociology Compass 3/6 (2009): 949–971, 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2009.00247.x
  3. [1]
  4. [2]

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