Skepticism about Religion – Part 5: Disagreement between Religions

Skepticism about Religion – Part 5: Disagreement between Religions November 14, 2018

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II. There are good reasons to be SKEPTICAL about religion and religious beliefs.

A. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness and Virtue, contrary to common belief.

B. Significant Disagreements exist Between Different Religions.

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Significant Disagreements exist Between Different Religions

According to Christianity, Jesus was God incarnate, fully God and fully human.  But according to Judaism and Islam, Jesus was, at most, a prophet, a human being who was devout and who had a close relationship with God.  According to Judaism and Islam, Jesus was NOT God incarnate.  This is not a minor disagreement.  That Jesus was God incarnate is a very basic Christian belief, in both Catholic and Orthodox theology, and also in most Protestant traditions.

Jews and Muslims are fiercely monotheistic and they view the claim that Jesus was God incarnate as a very basic theological error, even as blasphemy.  So, if Christianity is true, then Judaism and Islam are fundamentally mistaken, and if either Judaism or Islam are true, then Christianity is fundamentally mistaken.  Either Jesus was God incarnate or he was NOT God incarnate.  At least one of these three major religions is false or fundamentally mistaken, and it is possible that ALL THREE are false religions.  For example, if atheism or pantheism were true, then ALL THREE of these Western religions would be fundamentally mistaken about the nature of reality.

Western religions agree that humans get just one life, and then must face divine judgment.  But Hinduism and Buddhism claim that people can, and usually do, experience many lifetimes, and that there is no day of judgment, just the possibility of obtaining release from the cycle of reincarnation when one eventually achieves enlightenment.

Buddhism is not particularly interested in God or gods.  Any god must face the same basic problem that humans face: everything changes, nothing stays the same; if you love someone or desire something you can enjoy it for a while, but it will eventually die, be destroyed, or mutate into something else that you don’t love and don’t desire.  This is a problem that each person must overcome on his or her own.   This is not a problem that a god can fix for us.

Hinduism encompasses a wide variety of metaphysical views: monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, and even atheism.  So, there are contradictions and disagreements on very basic metaphysical issues just within Hinduism, disagreements between various traditions encompassed by the term “Hinduism”.

Eastern religions and Western religions disagree about the basic problem that humans face and need to resolve; they have conflicting views about what happens after we die.  We either have just one life or we get to experience many lives.  If one of the Western religions is true, then we only get one life, and Buddhism and Hinduism are false or are fundamentally mistaken about the nature of death and about the basic problem that humans need to resolve.  If, however, we get to experience many lives, then Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all false, or are fundamentally mistaken about the nature of death and about the basic problem that we need to resolve.

The major world religions contradict each other, and not just on minor points.  They disagree about some of the most basic and important issues that religions address.  At best only ONE of the major world religions can be true, only ONE can be consistently correct about it’s basic teachings, and the rest are false or are fundamentally mistaken about some of their most basic teachings.

Furthermore, it is possible that ALL of the major religions of the world are FALSE.  If, for example, there is no life after death, then some of the basic teachings of Christianity (2.4 billion), Islam (1.8 billion), Hinduism (1.2 billion), Buddhism (520 million), Shinto (100 million), Sikhism (30 million), Judaism (17 million), Caodaism (8 million), Bahai (6 million), Jainism (4 million), and Zoroastrianism (190 thousand) are fundamentally mistaken.*

There are many different religions, and all of them claim to teach the truth about the basic problem(s) of human life, the best solution(s) to the basic problem of human life, the nature of reality, and the nature of death, but they disagree with each other on all of these issues, and other basic religious issues.  This gives us good reason to be skeptical about religions and religious claims.  Without doing any serious investigation, we can quickly determine that NEARLY ALL religions are FALSE or mistaken about some of their basic teachings.  Without doing any serious investigation, we can determine that it is also possible that ALL of the major religions of the world are false or fundamentally mistaken about some of their basic teachings.

But all religions claim to be true, and to derive their religious truths from religious experience and/or a religious authority (a prophet, a guru, a priest, etc.).  Since we know that ALMOST ALL religions are FALSE or mistaken about some of their basic teachings, this gives us good reason to be skeptical about religious claims to truth and knowledge.

There MIGHT be a true religion in the world, and there MIGHT be a form of religious experience or a particular religious authority  who provides us with reliable answers to basic religious questions, but we know, even before doing any serious investigation,  that the vast majority of religions are false or fundamentally mistaken about some of their basic teachings, and that the vast majority of alleged religious authorities do NOT provide reliable answers to basic religious questions.  The disagreements and contradictions between the many and various religions of the world give us GOOD REASON to be skeptical about religion and religious beliefs.

Religion contrasts with Science on this front.  There is no “African” chemistry, no “Chinese” physics, no “French” biology.  There is just chemistry, physics, and biology, and scientists from countries and cultures around the world agree on the basic concepts and principles and laws of chemistry and physics and biology.  Science and scientific beliefs transcend particular languages and cultures and nations.  There is widespread cross-cultural agreement on the basics of chemistry, physics, and biology.  There is no such widespread cross-cultural agreement on the basic issues of religion.  That is one reason why we place great confidence in science and scientific inquiry.

The presence of disagreements and contradictions between dreams is one important reason why we believe that our dreams are SUBJECTIVE and do not reflect reality.  My dreams do not correspond to your dreams, and my dreams tonight do not correspond to my dreams last night.  I might dream tonight that President Trump is assassinated in his first term by a disgruntled Kentucky coal miner.  You, however, might dream that President Trump is NOT assassinated but that he goes on to be elected for a second term. And I might have dreamed last night about President Trump resigning from the office of president to avoid impeachment, and thus that he was NOT assassinated in his first term.   Such contradictions and disagreements between dreams are common, and are one of the reasons why we believe dreams to be SUBJECTIVE, to be just in our minds, not representations of actual events.

Disagreements between religions do not prove that all religions are false or fundamentally mistaken or delusional, but they do cast doubt on religious beliefs and on the reliability of the sources of religious beliefs (e.g. religious experiences and religious authorities).  Because there is a great deal of disagreement across cultures concerning religious issues, we ought to be skeptical about religious claims and beliefs.

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* Statistics on number of adherents to these religions are from this source:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_religious_groups

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