Argument from inconsistent revelations

From Academic Kids

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 appears, among other places, in Voltaire's Candide and Philosophical Dictionary.

This argument against God can be seen as the reverse of Pascal's Wager and frequently arises as an objection to it. The Wager invites one to accept the existence of God in the absence of proof as the best strategy because the alternate outcome for disbelief is eternal damnation in Hell. The Argument from Inconsistent Revelations explains that, given the content of the proposed revelations, acceptance of one entails rejection of another; Pascal's Wager gives no assurance that a person has in fact made the safest choice. In his Pensées philosophiques, Denis Diderot stated this objection to the Wager by observing that "An imam could reason the same way."

In mathematical terms, it points out that, if there are a number (n) of inconsistent faiths one could believe in, the probability (p) of having chosen to practice the correct one by making Pascal's Wager is represented as p = 1 / n. However, the Wager gives no data as to whether or not the chosen religion is the correct one. Therefore, there is at best an even chance of doing so and, in practice, a greater-than-even chance that the incorrect religion was chosen and the believer will go to the correct religion's Hell rather than its Heaven.

Christians believe that Jesus is the savior of the world and the son of God; Jews and Muslims 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 can even be found within the confines of each major religion. Acceptance of any one of these religions thus requires a rejection of the others, and when faced with these competing claims in the absence of a personal revelation, it is not possible 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 shared the revelation with.

Likewise, prayer may result in conflicting petitions addressed to the same God. On different sides of a battle or a football game, players and fans pray for victory to different Gods, or to the same God. God cannot simultaneously grant all of these prayers; therefore, for any one side to have claimed that God granted their prayer is not a falsifiable hypothesis.

Believers have a number of stratagems to counter this argument. It assumes, for example, that none of them make verifiable predictions about what can be found in history or science. The presence of a testable proposition in a revelation may provide a way to assess the credentials of the prophet who claims to speak for a deity; an error about an inter-subjectively demonstrable fact casts doubt on the remaining propositions that cannot be verified.

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