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Arguments from Confusion

"There are two things," your mother may have warned, "that you should never discuss over dinner: religion and politics." Confusion about such fundamental issues as the nature of God or ultimate reality, the purpose of life, how one should live, what has been revealed to mankind, what constitutes right and wrong, what is needed to attain salvation, what happens to us after we die, and a multitude of other issues, abounds even within a particular religion, to say nothing of the disputes between competing religions. The commonplace about religion and politics betrays such pervasive disagreement that utter confusion about what is true is practically a defining characteristic of a religion.

According to the argument from religious confusion, or problem of religious diversity, if God or some other supernatural being had the ability and desire to ensure that human beings understood the truth about such perennial matters, we would expect that being to reveal those truths widely and unequivocally. However, the existence of far-reaching religious confusion betrays the absence of any such revelation. Consequently, the existence of any such revelatory being--including God--is highly unlikely. (Note the related argument from reasonable nonbelief and similar argument from divine hiddenness.) When the focus of such an argument is widespread confusion about morality, it is occasionally called an argument from ethical confusion.

A related argument from contrariety, first developed by David Hume in his mid-18th-century Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, notes that the contrary claims of competing religions are mutually exclusive and thus cannot all be true. Moreover, the testimonial "evidence" for the truth of any one religion (whether understood as testimony for the occurrence of public miracles or private religious experiences) is on an equal footing with the contrary testimonial evidence for any other religion (such that the clash of equally credible testimonies yields a "he said, she said" situation). Since there are a multitude of competing religions, and thus a multitude of (absent anything better than testimony) equally credible yet contrary testimonies, the probability that any given religion is true--and thus that any religion at all is true--is extraordinarily low. Consequently, it is highly probable that all religions are false. Although an argument from contrariety can be combined with an argument from religious confusion to demonstrate the probable nonexistence of God, it does not have to be; an argument from contrariety stands on its own as a strong argument for the falsity of all religions.

In addition to the articles below, see also related Debates, Reviews, and Links. To purchase related reading, go to the Secular Web Book Store.

-- Keith Augustine

The Arguments from Confusion and Biblical Defects (2006) by Theodore M. Drange

Ted Drange develops two arguments for the nonexistence of the God of evangelical Christianity, an all-powerful and loving being greatly concerned about the fate of human beings and desiring a personal relationship with them. According to his argument from confusion (AC), widespread confusion between Christians over matters of ultimate importance entails that the God of evangelical Christianity probably does not exist. In particular, the rampant diversification of Christian sects on such matters entails that, even if any one of those sects is correct, large numbers of Christians must hold false beliefs about issues of ultimate importance--contrary to what one would predict if the God of evangelical Christianity existed. The argument from biblical defects (ABD) contends that if the God of evangelical Christianity existed, then the Bible would probably be perfectly clear and authoritative and without marks of solely human authorship; but since the Bible does not meet either of these criteria, the God of evangelical Christianity probably does not exist.

Christian Salvation? (2002) by B. Steven Matthies

Ever wonder how you can be saved? Christians can't agree, and the confusion is embarrassing. A survey of sixteen major denominations proves the point.

The Drange-Wilson Debate (1999) [ Index ]

Drange promotes the arguments from nonbelief and confusion while Wilson defends the transcendental argument.

On the Nature of Morality (1998) by Niclas Berggren

Dr. Berggren argues against the existence of objective moral values. Along the way, he states an interesting "Moral Knowledge Argument for Atheism".

The Rivalry Between Religions (2007) by Raymond D. Bradley

In this highly original and challenging essay, Raymond Bradley develops an argument that all religions are probably false inspired by David Hume's famous discussion of the 'contrary miracles' of rival religions. According to Bradley's argument from contrariety, any one of the vast numbers of religions ever conceived (or to be conceived) makes factual claims contradicted by the claims of all of the other religions. Moreover, the claims of any particular religion are generally as well-attested as the claims of all of the others. Consequently, given the "weight" of the "evidence" of all of the other religions, the probability that the claims of any one religion are true is exceedingly low. From this it follows that all religions are probably false.

Why I Am Not a Christian (2006) by Richard Carrier

In this explanation of why he is not a Christian, Richard Carrier outlines the top four reasons why he rejects Christianity: God's silence, God's inactivity, lack of evidence, and the overt conflict between discovered reality and Christian theory. Though a lay exposition geared at a general audience, the essay appeals to a variety of atheistic arguments, including the argument from religious confusion, an evidential argument from evil, divine hiddenness, the argument from biological evolution, and the argument from physical minds. In an interesting twist on the argument from design, Carrier turns the fine-tuning argument on its head, noting that several features of our universe--features predicted by naturalism--are highly improbable if Christian theism is true.

Jeffery Jay Lowder maintains this page.