Dear Believer, What are the Chances Your Beliefs are Correct and All the Other Religious Beliefs are Wrong?

How does one know their exclusive belief claims are true? “Dear Believer: Why Do You Believe?”[1], is made by Plumbline Pictures and it poses this question. You can watch it here – Dear Believer: Why Do You Believe? (ORIGINAL) – YouTube.

It vividly portrays various religious beliefs and contrasts them with a narration that is grounded in secular humanism. It attempts to force us to confront the claimed irrationality of our religious beliefs. They quote Mark Twain, who apparently said, “the easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.”[2]

So – how compelling is the secular humanist argument against “religion” in this video? More importantly, how effective is it in challenging the exclusive truth claims made by Christianity?

In the previous post, we responded to their claim that religious belief is accidental based on our place of birth, and so therefore has no truth content. This post moves on to objection two:

Objection 2 – All religious devotees think their beliefs are the only correct ones. What are the odds that you, dear believer, are correct and everyone else is wrong?

“There are 2 dozen major religions … [and] more than 45,000 denominations of Christianity alone, each claiming to understand ultimate truth better than the rest. Each member of every faith is just as devoted and sincere and convicted as you. Did you know they also read infallible texts, have airtight apologetics, have experienced miracles…? Yet since every religion is mutually exclusive, they cannot all be right, right? If every member of every faith feels just as you do, what are the odds you are right?”[3]

I think the narrator is right when claiming the major religions are mutually exclusive. This is correct. They all have different beliefs around whether there is a God, who God is and what his nature and character is, the role of human effort in one’s religious observance, etc. He is also right to point out the sincerity of religious belief amongst the believers of different religions.

However – there are also some very major problems with the rest of this argument.

First – the veracity of religious belief is not determined by the number of people who hold to this belief.

Just because there are many people with religious beliefs that contradict Christianity, this does not mean that Christian belief is rendered false. Greg Reeves describes this idea as the “popularity contest” view of religion.[4] If the narrator is saying that the most popular belief system with the highest number of adherents is the correct one, then he has missed the point of religious belief in general and Christianity in particular.

Think of this another way. The sincerity of one’s religious belief has nothing to do with the truthfulness of that belief. I can honestly and sincerely believe that I will receive a Bugatti Chiron sports car for Christmas. The ultimate correctness of that belief is a different thing compared to the sincerity of my belief. Sincerity and truthfulness are two different things. And – as I already said – religion is not a popularity contest where someone’s belief must necessarily be false if someone else believes something different. Not at all.

Second – the narrator’s claim actually turns out to be self-refuting.

The religious popularity contest idea is a big problem for atheism. Now – atheists are sincere people. I know many sincere atheists. And I know any sincere religious believers as well. But studies consistently show that atheism is a much rarer belief system amongst human beings than religious belief is. Or, if you like, atheism is much LESS popular than Christianity.

In a recent Pew Research study, the largest single religious group was found to be the Christian group, measured at 31.2% of the world’s population. Muslims are measured at 24.1%, yet their group is also the fastest growing religion in the world today. Hindus, Buddhists and the others make up 28.7%. The unaffiliated are measured at only 16% and growing much more slowly than most other religious groups. Only a percentage of that unaffiliated group will qualify as atheists.[5]

This data is fascinating, and it reflects badly for atheism on the “belief as a popularity contest” idea. Atheists accounts for a very small percentage of the world’s population. If belief is a popularity contest, the atheist should trade up for Christianity, a much more popular belief system!

What the atheist will usually tell you is that – it is the content of atheistic belief that matters, not the size of their group. Well – its no surprise that the Christian understanding is the same. In other words, the size of the group, and even the rate of growth, are not actually related to the truthfulness of anyone’s belief. That this video claims it is, is simply incorrect, and misrepresents atheists as well as religious believers.

There’s also a complaint being made by the secular humanist narrator in this video. He laments, there are so many religions out there, there are too many to pick the correct one. I’m much more likely based on the odds to pick the WRONG one, he claims! Well – if you are playing a game of “pin the tail on the donkey”, shutting your eyes, and picking a religion at random, then yes. That’s right. But I know no one who actually does this. This suggestion is absurd. I think that on the whole people think deeply about spiritual matters, atheists and religious devotees alike. There’s no random choice being made here. I think the narrator’s complaint turns out to be rhetoric that is pretty dismissive of the very atheistic belief system that is being espoused by the video.

Rather than complaining about the number of religions in the world, what the atheist must do according to Reeves is to marshal evidence and show that atheism is a better choice. Please convince me that atheism does a better job of explaining the world than Christianity does.[6]

Third – this objection actually contradicts with other claims made in the same video.

Think about the first objection I identified in the video. Previously, we noted that the narrator complained that religious belief was linked to one’s place of birth, and this makes religious belief to be accidental and of no real value. But if the narrator is correct that religion is a popularity contest, as this second objection supposes, then you would expect religious beliefs to be passed on to your descendants, and so you would expect to find religious belief to be linked to your birth place. In other words, objection 1 objects to the very grounds being assumed by the narrator in objection 2! Are you confused yet? This is very bad reasoning on the part of the secular humanist narrator.

Further, towards the end of the video, we hear that the correct way to form beliefs is through logical deduction and reasoning and scientific methods and testing of hypotheses. So – belief systems are not the popularity contest assumed by the narrator in this objection after all. And these objections are turning out to be contradictory – this points to poor quality arguments.

Fourth – the claims made by the narrator are inconsistent in various ways.

First – he claims all belief systems have airtight apologetics. But this statement makes no sense. All belief systems cannot all have airtight apologetics. Only the one single correct belief system can have this. The others will lack the strong and reasoned arguments that the airtight belief system has. Having studied various world religions including Christianity, I think Christianity has the best reasoned defence compared to all the others.

Second – he talks about all belief systems having infallible texts. Well – does atheism have infallible texts? That seems highly unlikely to me. All religions may claim to have infallible texts. The challenge is for the adherent to that religion to present well reasoned arguments that support this claim. I think the notion of an “infallible text” assumes that one of the religions is correct above all the others.

Summary

This objection turns out to misunderstand the nature of belief, and the measure of a belief’s truthfulness. Sincerity and believer group size are irrelevant to truthfulness. It also suggests people choose a random approach when coming to a set of worldview beliefs. This is an unreasonable – and unkind – view of people that should be strongly. challenged.

Next time, we will turn to the third objection. Christians are atheists too, just for one more god than the atheist.


[1] Dear Believer: Why Do You Believe? (ORIGINAL), Plumbline Pictures, posted 3rd May 2014, accessed 21st December, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xl_TrvIIcBY.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 04:04.

[4] Greg Reeves, A response to “Dear Believer, Why Do You Believe?” part 1 of 2, accessed 21st December, 2021, https://twobooksapproach.blogspot.com/2012/11/a-response-to-dear-believer-why-do-you.html.

[5] The Changing Global Religious Landscape, Pew Research Centre, posted April 5th, 2017, accessed 24th December, 2021, https://www.pewforum.org/2017/04/05/the-changing-global-religious-landscape/.

[6] Reeves.

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Respond

I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

11 thoughts on “Dear Believer, What are the Chances Your Beliefs are Correct and All the Other Religious Beliefs are Wrong?”

  1. “Just because there are many people with religious beliefs that contradict Christianity, this does not mean that Christian belief is rendered false.”

    That there are many Christians who contradict each other indicates that there is no one “Christian belief”, and there is no reason to think that any of you have the “right” one. Add to this that not one of you can show that you are a christian per the promises of the bible, and you have problems.

    “In a recent Pew Research study, the largest single religious group was found to be the Christian group, measured at 31.2% of the world’s population. Muslims are measured at 24.1%, yet their group is also the fastest growing religion in the world today. Hindus, Buddhists and the others make up 28.7%. The unaffiliated are measured at only 16% and growing much more slowly than most other religious groups. Only a percentage of that unaffiliated group will qualify as atheists”

    The problem is that Christians attack each other constantly, claiming that each other aren’t “really” Christians. If we look at this number of 31%, around 2.3 billion, and remove Catholics, it goes down quite noticeably. Remove the various “orthodox” churches from the east and, it goes down farther. Then we can remove the non-trintarians, the anabaptists, the Mormons, etc. and Christianity becomes a minority religion.

    your argument also shows that the point that people become the religion they are raised with is well supported. Muslims, Christians, etc have lots of children. It is not popularity or conversion that makes new theists, it is simply being born.

    As for choosing a religion at random, most theists do, by dint of the culture they happen to be born in. They do not choose the religion out of careful consideration, they simply trust those they hear.

    Christians are indeed atheists, since all atheism means is lacking the belief in a god. Christians were called atheists because they didn’t beleive in various gods. I am an atheist, a conclusion I reached since there is no evidence for the various gods. I suspect you are an atheist when it comes to every god but yours since you are convinced there is no evidence for them. You ignore the fact that most, if not all, religions make the same claims of evidence: their supposedly inspired texts, miracles, personal anecdotes, etc. You won’t accept those from other religions, and I don’t accept them from any of theist.

    Atheism isn’t a belief system. it is merely a conclusion. That Christians find they must try to claim atheism is a belief system e.g. a “religion”, shows just how much you need to pretend that everyone “really” does agree with you. Alas, we don’t.

    1. You don’t describe a Christianity I recognise after 53 years as a Christian. Perhaps you need to consider the possibility that you have a faulty perception of Christianity.

      Also – I would suggest you read the previous blog and the next one (when I post it) which address your various fallacious arguments about accidental belief – and the “one god more” rejection.

      1. Yep, it may not be a Christianity you recognize. This is because every Christian makes up their own version and thinks that theirs is the only right one. Every Christian claims that the other Christians are “faulty”. That I walk past a dozen or more churches on my way to work shows just how fractured Christianity is, to the point that there is no one Christianity at all.

        Since not one Christian can show their version true, there is no reason to think I have a faulty perception of Christianity. There is no right one.

        Unsurprisingly, you can’t refute my points about how Christianity is fractured, isn’t growing because of its innate true-ness, or that theists aren’t atheists (unless they might be some form of pantheist).

        I have read your other blog posts and they do not address the problems Christians have withtheir claims that they aren’t atheists. You simply assume your version of the Christian god is the only one. The claims that only your god fits the various arguments for a god don’t work since many others also claim some omnipotent, omniscient, intelligent, etc being. The vagueness of those arguments don’t work with a god that has attributes claims about it, e.g. what it wants, what events it caused, etc.

        There is no such thing as “accidental belief”. There is quite a lot of cultural and biological pressure to accept whatever you are told by people you do indeed have reason to trust, like parents, etc. We are wired to do so in order to survive. This does not make your god real.

      2. “every Christian makes up their own version and thinks that theirs is the only one.”

        You’ve lost me. You don’t know the history of the Christian church and the function of its creeds. You don’t know the role of the creeds in the creation of the New Testament, the role of the creeds in the 1st and 2nd and 3rd and 4th centuries in the early church, and the importance of the Apostolic creed to this day. It’s importance to all Christian denominations. And you clearly have not understood the thru line that is traced through them all.

        Maybe this could be a goal for 2022, Clubschadenfreude? Otherwise – to me and anyone who knows history – comments like this just look embarrassing.

      3. I know the history of Christainity and I know how it is split into many sects, all of which disagree with the others. That’s what the “function” of creeds are, to distinguish between claims of “truth”.

        You may all mouth the same words but you all insist that only your version of Christianity is the right one. If this were not the case, I would not walk past a dozen different churches on my way to work. You wouldn’t claim that each other are going to hell.

        Nice of you to try to lie to me and try to convince me I’m wrong, by insisting that I should be “embarassed”. I’m not, and you can’t show I’m wrong.

        Now what?

      4. People have differences- Martha attacked Mary’s form of worship; Jesus’ disciples constantly bickered. And he constantly centered them all on himself: “You, follow me.”

  2. First the points we can agree on:

    • The major religions are mutually exclusive.
    • The sincerity of one’s religious belief has nothing to do with the truthfulness of that belief.
    • A belief is not false simply because others believe something different.
    • The veracity of a religious belief is not determined by the number of people subscribing to that belief.
    • Religions claiming to have infallible texts must present well reasoned arguments to support that claim.

    Now for my other points:

    You claim that “different belief systems cannot all have airtight apologetics – only the one single correct belief system can have this – the others will lack the strong and reasoned arguments that the one airtight belief system has”.

    You’re right that not all belief systems can have airtight apologetics, but you’re wrong when you just assume the existence of several different belief systems automatically means only one of them [Christianity] can have airtight apologetics. You’re automatically just assuming your belief system is the one and only correct belief system, just as any self respecting Muslim scholar would automatically assume Islam is the one and only correct belief system. It’s quite possible that none of these different belief systems has airtight apologetics – I’ve already demonstrated the flaws in Christianity’s airtight apologetics.

    You argue that “if the narrator is correct that religion is a popularity contest, then you would expect religious beliefs to be passed on to your descendants, and so you would expect to find religious belief to be linked to your birth place”.

    That’s precisely what the narrator is inferring, namely that religious belief is linked to one’s place of birth, and this makes religious belief to be accidental and of no real value. However, elsewhere you claim belief systems are not the popularity contest assumed by the narrator, and there’s no random choice being made, because atheists and religious devotees both think deeply about spiritual matters. Some maybe, but you and I both know that most just inherit the beliefs of their parents.

    You argue that “just because there are many people with religious beliefs that contradict Christianity, this does not mean that Christian belief is rendered false. How effective are these other beliefs in challenging the exclusive truth claims made by Christianity? I think Christianity has the best reasoned defence compared to all the others”.

    Well, as a Christian, you would say that wouldn’t you. However, a Muslim would simply replace the word Christianity with Islam and say exactly the same thing. It’s called confirmation bias.

    Regards
    Ken

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