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Argument from inconsistent revelations

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Europe belief in god

The percentage of people in European countries who said in 2005 that they "believe there is a God". Countries with Eastern Orthodox (ie: Greece, Romania, etc.) or Muslim (Turkey) majorities tend to poll highest.

The argument from inconsistent revelations, also known as the avoiding the wrong hell problem, is an argument against the existence of God. It asserts that it is unlikely that God exists because many theologians and faithful adherents have produced conflicting and mutually exclusive revelations. Since a person not privy to revelation must either accept it or reject it based solely upon the authority of its proponent, and there is no way for a mere mortal to resolve these conflicting claims by investigation, it is prudent to reserve one's judgment.

The argument is also used to demonstrate the difficulty of accepting the existence of any one God without personal revelation. Most arguments for the existence of God are not specific to any one religion and could be applied to any religion with equal validity. Acceptance of any one religion thus requires a rejection of the others, and when faced with these competing claims in the absence of a personal revelation, it is difficult to decide amongst them. Were a personal revelation to be granted to a nonbeliever, the same problem of confusion would develop in each new person the believer shares the revelation with.

Christians believe that Jesus is the savior of the world and the son of God; Jews believe just as strongly that he is not. Similarly, Muslims believe that the Qur'an was divinely authored, while Jews and Christians do not. There are many examples of such contrasting views, indeed, opposing fundamental beliefs (schisms) exist even within each major religion. Christianity, for example, has many subsets, not all of which are mutually compatible.

Systematic description

In mathematical terms, if it were to be assumed that the existence of some god is certain, and if there are a number (n) of inconsistent faiths one could believe in, each with a corresponding Hell and no way to tell which one, if any, were true a priori, the probability of having chosen to practice the correct religion (through upbringing or by making Pascal's Wager) cannot be greater than 1/n. Therefore, if there are only two inconsistent faiths, then the probability that a believer of either faith is correct is 1 in 2 (50% or 1/2). Four inconsistent faiths result in the probability dropping to 1 in 4 (25% or 1/4). If there are five mutually exclusive faiths, then there is only a 1 in 5 (20% or 1/5) chance that the correct religion would be chosen and its believer would go to that religion's Heaven rather than to its Hell. In practice, there are hundreds of religions in existence, which makes it less than a 1% chance that the true religion would be chosen.

Appearances

The argument appears, among other places, in Voltaire's Candide and Philosophical Dictionary. It is also manifested in Denis Diderot's statement that, whatever proofs are offered for the existence of God in Christianity or any other religion, "an Imam can reason the same way".[1]

The "avoiding the wrong hell" problem is satirized in episode 58 of South Park, Probably.

See also

References

  1. Diderot, Denis (1875-77) [1746]. J. Assézar. ed (in French). Pensées philosophiques, LIX, Volume 1. pp. 167. 
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