Logical Gal – Can anything good come from Nazareth?

7 Jan

Nazareth Nathanael’s question was that of a skeptic.  Enough occasions of his brother Philip enthusiastically promoting this or that had taught him to balk at this guy’s spontaneous ideas. As an informal Jewish scholar, one who studied ‘ The Law’ because it fascinated him, he questioned everything he heard.  And he had heard plenty about Nazareth.  You didn’t have to dig far to gather reasons for looking down on this Galilean hick village of about 600.  Why even the Romans agreed with respectable Jews about the kind of people who made this community their home.


Voilà my imagination-based embellishment of Nathanael’s reaction to his brother Philip’s announcement.  The 3 lined conversation did take place and is recorded in John 1:46.  Philip passes news on to Nathanael that he and others have ‘found’ the Messiah. Nathanael snorts his cynical reply, dismissing the possibility of anything of value coming from Nazareth.  Philip deftly sidesteps the argument by simply inviting his brother to ‘come and see’.  This historical exchange shows how easily we default to rejecting the content of a claim due to its origins.  Such an error in thinking is called the Genetic Fallacy.  The name points to an error in looking to the source of an argument as a way to vet or discredit what someone is advancing.  Nathanael’s quick retort simply shows how naturally we humans fall into this trap.


Last week my husband and I encountered another example of the Genetic Fallacy, a more insidious incidence than this one committed by one of Jesus’ future disciples.  In order to spend Christmas with our kids, we travelled the better part of 4 days down to Florida and back home.   I enjoy the time journeying by car, in part because we catch up on magazine articles when I read parts out loud to my husband. Usually fruitful discussions ensue.  One selection I shared with Mike was the speech given by Dorothy Sayers in 1947 on how to revamp the British educational system that had been crumbling for decades.  The Lost Tools of Learning. Advocating a return to the classical model, her remarks are worth reading at the link above.  In looking on Google for when she delivered her comments, I stumbled upon a critique of “The Lost Tools” that relied exclusively on the Genetic Fallacy.

The American critic appeared bothered that so many of his fellow Christians, both in the homeschooling movement and in private education, had been swept up in a fervor of a ‘back to the roots’ kind of approach. His whole essay was an attempt to discredit Dorothy Sayers’ thinking by attacking her morals and character.

From what I read in his posting, he did not address a critique of mid-20th century contemporary British primary and secondary education or her many suggestions.   He concentrated his rhetoric and content on her behavior as reported in one biography he cited.

That, my friends, is a blatant AND deliberate example of the Genetic Fallacy.  I wanted to hear his beef with her suggestions!  Human beings all make poor moral choices from time to time, but that’s another issue.   But before we indulged TOO much in some put-downs of this joker, we were quickly treated to a more personal example of how easily even we logical thinkers can fall prey to the same kind of trap!


For some reason, our car discussion turned to GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  Turns out that the default reaction of most people is to condemn food that has been genetically modified.  Who wouldn’t prefer to eat food as nature intended it?  As I’ve been taught to think a bit more critically, I googled pros and cons in the GMO debate.  One of the first websites that came up was a slate.com article by a so-called Hippie in defense of adopting a moderate view of GMOs. Link to article is here.  When I read the source of the post I was about to share with Mike, he snorted and did the Nathanael routine. But we both were quick to recognize our own susceptibility to falling prey to the Genetic fallacy.

It’s a new year.  My hope for us all is that in 2015 we who claim to be logical, clear thinkers would exercise the same restraints as we hope others submit to and treat arguments fairly.




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