Should the origin of your belief ever make you think twice about its truth? You might say, "Of course not! What gives me reason to believe P (or not P) is the evidence for (or against) P, not the history of how I came to believe P. To claim otherwise is to commit the genetic fallacy!" Why, then, do Genealogical Debunking Arguments loom large in historical and contemporary critiques of religious belief?
Such arguments, which date back at least to Xenophanes (570-480 BC), attempt to debunk religious beliefs by pointing out their lowly origins (often in some shameful or base aspect of human nature). If all that matters for the rational assessment of our religious beliefs is our evidence for (or against) those beliefs, why do these arguments exert so much influence in the philosophy of religion?
This module will take a close look at these genealogical critiques of religious beliefs, beginning with classic historical examples from Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and others. We will then turn to more recent critical genealogical arguments, especially evolutionary debunking arguments. These latter arguments appeal to evidence from the scientific study of the neurological and psychological underpinnings of religious belief to cast doubt on those beliefs.
Are such Genealogical Debunking Arguments any good? Together we will try to develop sophisticated philosophical answers to this question.