By L. Alfred James
We’ve explored several proofs for God’s existence and the truth of the Bible. We are now reviewing some of the most popular objections to Christianity. The first issue to tackle is religious pluralism. This is the idea that all religions are true in some vague (and typically undefined) way. This is also sometimes called religious relativism. On this view, religious truth is relative to “what works” for each person. This belief is often expressed by the saying, “What’s true for you is true for you. And what’s true for me is true for me.”
Vast Religious Diversity
One of the more common arguments for religious pluralism is based on the fact that there is an enormous variety of religions in the world. Among the world religions there are Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. And each one of these religions is made up of many different sects, sometimes thousands of different sects. Moreover, there are many thousands of minor religions in the world. These are often called tribal religions. According to adherents.com, there are at least 4,000 different tribal religions in the world.1
Many of these religions (both world religions and tribal religions) contradict each other. Some religions believe in God, some say there is no God (believing only in impersonal forces). Some believe in life after death, some say there is no life after death (only a losing of one’s individuality in the vast sea of being). Some believe in heaven and hell, some say there is no permanent abode for the human soul (only a cycle of reincarnation). Some believe that earthly suffering is real, some say there is no earthly suffering (it is just an illusion). Some believe that the universe has always existed, some believe that it has only existed for a finite time, and some believe that the universe actually doesn’t exist (it too is just an illusion). I could list many, many more examples of disagreement, but I’ll stop here.
These are serious contradictions. Thus, it is logically impossible for all of these religions to be true.
But here is why the issue is complicated: The adherents of most of these religions are entirely sincere people, people who (as far as we can tell) are trying to find the truth. They certainly do not seem to be malicious or evil. This makes it very difficult to cavalierly dismiss all other religions as mere error. It feels intellectually arrogant and condescending.
Worse, we have been trained to think that the only way to settle a disagreement like this is with some kind of scientific experiment. “We need lab results! We need hard empirical data!”
But we cannot perform any such experiment to confirm which (if any) religion is true. Thus, to most people, it seems like all religions are roughly equally true. They all appear to be attempts to answer unanswerable questions.
This sharp disagreement, without any way to adjudicate between them, is what leads people to conclude “all religions are true in their own way.”
That, in a nutshell, is the logic behind most forms of religious pluralism.
Evaluating The Logic
To be sure, there really is a wide diversity of beliefs—lots of disagreement—about spiritual matters. That is an undeniable fact. However, this fact does not logically lead to the conclusion that religious pluralism is therefore true. In other words, this argument is guilty of the logical fallacy of non sequitur. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. There simply is no logically sound argument for religious pluralism based on the mere fact of a wide diversity of religious opinions.
This fact does not, in any other discussion, automatically preclude the possibility that one single opinion is correct. In virtually every other realm of discourse, diversity of opinion does not indicate that a plurality of opinions are true.
For instance, in the study of history there are numerous conflicting opinions about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. There is, of course, the standard story that JFK was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, acting entirely on his own. But, because of evidence that indicates he possibly did not work alone, a whole host of other theories have cropped up: some say that LBJ was behind the assassination. Others say it was the Soviet Union. Others accuse the CIA of killing Kennedy. Others insist it was the secret service. Still others say it was the mafia or the Cuban government or a whole host of other possibilities. Indeed, there are dozens of different theories regarding JFK’s death.
In the face of so much disagreement should we just throw up our hands and say, “Well, no one knows for sure what happened. I guess all of these opinions are equally true”? No way. Not at all. Just because there is widespread disagreement about a particular topic does not prove that no single opinion (about that topic) is true.
Did you know that there are more than a dozen different (and contradictory) opinions about the phenomena of quantum mechanics?2 There are also dozens of different conflicting opinions about climate change, the impact of genetics on sexual orientation, the impact of sugar and fat consumption on a person’s health, the causes (and cures) of the Great Depression, and thousands of other issues about which we assume that one single view is indeed correct. We just might not know which view it is that is correct.
History, science, economics, ethics, medicine, etc. Virtually every field of study in a university involves hundreds of issues about which there is serious disagreement.
And scientific experimentation is not the only way to settle these disputes. For instance, disputes about history are typically settled by new evidence and information, or new interpretations of the existing evidence that do a better job of explaining it. Disputes in ethics, economics, and science are often settled by new thought experiments, not lab experiments. In fact, Einstein depended on thought experiments every bit as much as empirical data.
But the real reason that so many people think that all religions are equally vain attempts to answer unanswerable questions is because they have never been exposed to high quality Christian apologetics. They’ve never heard about the powerful evidence for God’s existence, the historical veracity of the Bible, or the resurrection of Jesus. They are completely ignorant of these things. Thus, because they’ve never heard any evidence for any religion, they assume all religions are completely lacking any intellectual justification at all. But this is simply false.
So, this leads us to our conclusion: This line of reasoning does not at all prove that religious pluralism is true.
- The mere fact of disagreement (with a vast diversity of beliefs) does not ever prove that there is no one single belief that is correct, no matter what the topic of discussion is.
- The claim that there is no evidence for any religion is false. There is powerful evidence for Christianity.