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Some unbelievers come up with the argument along the line of:

Religion A says it is the absolute truth, so does Religion B, so does Religion C, and so forth. So the logical conclusion is that all are probably wrong.

The reasoning is obviously hogwash; is there a name for such logical fallacy?

In response to some comments. Here is an example I have come across in my notes.

According to the Oxford University Press World Christian Encyclopedia, 84% percent of the world's population belongs to some form of organized religion and believes in some form of God which at the end of this year is about 5.9 billion people. Christians have about 2 billion of those 5.9 billion, about half of those are Catholics. Muslims come in at just a tad over 1 billion. Hindus at around 850 million. Buddhists at almost 400 million, and then a several hundred million other ethno-religious, animists and other God believers around the world. Why there are about 10,000 distinct religions each one of which may be further subdivided. Christians for example, maybe a portion among about 34,000 different denominations. From a scientist perspective, such percentages cry out for an explanation. Why do so many people believe these things? But from a skeptics perspective, which is what I do, what are the chances that these guys got the right God and the right religion and the billions of other people that don't believe what they believe got it wrong? When you leave the house tonight just ask yourself that question what are the chances that they just happen to get it right. ---Michael Shermer

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    What do you see as fallacious about the reasoning? An assertion of obvious hogwashitude without further explanation makes it hard for others to know precisely what it is that you’re asking. Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 14:59
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    If you want to refute an argument, you need to address the strongest form of the argument. What you have given here is a very weak form of the argument, a straw man. Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 21:33
  • fun question. every pseudo philosopher on the planet does this whenever they engage in any kind of debate. not necessarily as per your example about religion
    – user67675
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 0:28
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    This kind of argument is not exclusive to religions. Generally, when various people or cultures come up with diverging claims on a similar basis (reading purpose in nature, mystic revelation, intuition, etc.) the claims are suspect because their divergence implicates unreliability of the basis. For example, moral disagreement across cultures is seen as a valid objection to objective morality, see SEP. Like all informal arguments, this one is not decisive, but it is not a fallacy either. It is plausible, as much as we can expect informally.
    – Conifold
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 7:39
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    The correct form of the argument, which is logically sound, is that within all mutually exclusive religions that claim to be true, at most one is and the other are false. The corrolary being that, in the abscence of any sound reason for picking the one true religion among the many contenders, the probability one picks the correct religion at random is low. Of course religions are complex system of ideas, so the premise that they are all mutually exclusive seems weak.
    – armand
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 7:46

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I don't think I've ever heard anyone try to argue that as is (at least not seriously*), so that might be a strawman you have there. It's certainly far from the strongest version of the argument.

* I might've heard people say e.g. every religion claims that every other religion is wrong (very roughly speaking), so if we consider what almost all religions agree on, it's that all religions are wrong. This, however, has mainly/only been said facetiously, rather than having been presented as a serious philosophical argument.

A better variant would be:

Religion A and B (and more) contradict one another.
Therefore, at least one of A and B are not absolute truth.
A and B both say they're the absolute truth.
Therefore, a claim that something is absolute truth is not a reliable determiner of absolute truth.

This is a perfectly fine argument in response to some people who say e.g. the Bible is true because it says it's true. Of course, there are other (not necessarily good) reasons for why people might think the Bible is true. Even the link above lists some of those reasons, but as the first reason, it still says "the Bible is true because... The Bible says it is" (and then "Because Jesus says it is", when what Jesus says comes from the Bible). It also acknowledges that this is circular, but sort of just hand-waves that away.


You could also potentially say that there are multiple religions with comparable levels of evidence.

This means we may not have any reliable and consistent way to determine which of those religions are actually true. So it's reasonable to reject all of them until we have such a way.

That's an extension of Occam's razor, and is generally just a good idea, if you care about not believing false things.

Also, given that at least a few religions posit the existence of an extremely powerful being, the existence of other religions with comparable evidence would suggest that this being wants us to not know which religion is actually true, and not know what they want us to do (which is contrary to the traits that many claim that being has).

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  • i don't know of any religions that say that claiming to know the absolute truth is sufficient for knowing it, so your argument looks like a straw man
    – user67675
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 2:02
  • @prof_post I added a reference for you there. Also note that "religions" tend not to say much. People say things, however. Given that you claim "every pseudo philosopher on the planet" uses the argument in the question "whenever they engage in any kind of debate" (whereas my equivalent claim is "some people"), I'm sure you can easily back that up with a reference, from someone who at least appears to be making a serious argument.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 7:39
  • because it's the bible not because it says it true! sorry the hyperbole. i thought it was obvious and fun (i.e. a figure of speech)
    – user67675
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 7:40
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    @prof_post "you're not going to reply" - I probably wasn't going to reply to your second comment because I have no idea what you were trying to say. The reference I provided very explicitly says "the Bible is true because the Bible says it's true", not just "because it's the Bible".
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 7:56
  • i stand by my claim that religions like christianity absolutely don't say that every claim for absolute truth is as reliable etc.
    – user67675
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 8:01
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It sounds related to the argumentum ad populum, an informal fallacy. But suppose that argument, AdPop, goes like:

If many people believe p, then p is true.

I.e., a plain old conditional; if P then Q.

This argument, call it the argumentum contra populum would say:

If many people believe p, then p is false.

This is also a plain old conditional: If P then ~Q.

It might look like the ACP is the denial of AdPop, after all, maybe the ACP is true when the AdPop is false. And you might think that ACP is thereby the denial of AdPop. But it's really a different conditional entirely. AdPop and ACP are consistent (but not equivalent) statements.

I don't know if it helps, but considering the contrapositives:

AdPop: if ~Q then ~P

ACP: If Q then ~P

The only way for a conditional to be false is for the antecedent to be true and the consequent false. Since the antecedents of each statement here are inconsistent with each other, the statements are never false at the same time. But these statements can be (vacuously) true at the same times, when they have false antecedents.

A denial of if P then Q needs to have the scope of the negation like so:

~(if P then Q).

I should add that even if they are different conditionals entirely, they seem similar. Probably because they're claiming way too strong a connection between the popularity of a belief in p and the truth of p. But again they're quite distinct conditionals. Actually, interestingly, it would be consistent to believe in both AdPop and ACP at the same time, which is funny.

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I don't know about a name, but I think the problem with it is this:

Some notation: let

  • A = "Religion A is true"
  • B = "Religion B is true" etc.

It is fairly trivial that

Pr(A or B or C ...) <= 1

Suppose then for simplicity that at most one religion can be "true". Then if there are N religions and N is a large number, then one could argue by a principle of indifference or similar, and from conservation of probability, that Pr(X) ~ 0 for all X. So then for any religion X, it is probably not true.

The problem though is that this doesn't justify saying Pr(A or B or C ...) << 1. In other words yeah, without specific evidence to strongly support one in particular it could be reasonable to say that any particular religion is unlikely to be true. But the problem is that saying none of them are (probably) true is a different assertion that requires a different sort of argument to support it.

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    << Sounds of multiple mathematicians and physicists suffering from heart attack upon reading the symbols "Pr(X) ~ 0" >>
    – Stef
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 8:51
  • @Stef, re, I am a mathematician and read it without coronary trouble. I can agree or disagree about the reasoning, but I don't see anything syntactically or semantically wrong with the statement.
    – LSpice
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 22:33
  • Re, perhaps you would prefer Pr(X_n) \sim 0, so that there's an index and it makes sense to study asymptotics? I think X here was meant to stand for "an indeterminate letter of the alphabet", thus making the variable name itself stand in for the index. Not my favourite mathematical notation, but it occurs ….
    – LSpice
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 22:55
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If your interlocutor rightfully (you agree with her/him) assumes that the similar claims are false, then the name of your fallacy is hasty generalisation.

This fallacy occurs when we make a generalization on the basis of insufficient evidence.

If they cannot tell the difference (between your claim and the others), then they are committing the fallacy of equivocation when they argue against you

The fallacy of equivocation occurs when a key term or phrase in an argument is used in an ambiguous way, with one meaning in one portion of the argument and then another meaning in another portion of the argument.


Of course, that doesn't mean that arguments against religion B cannot figure in arguments against religion A (that they must equivocate); if they show that no-one can perform miracles (and they share the same definition of 'miracle'), then neither God A or B can perform miracles.

You may have heard of a similar skeptical argument in the philosophy of science

The pessimistic meta-induction is the argument that if past successful and accepted scientific theories were found to be false, we have no reason to believe the scientific realist's claim that our currently successful theories are approximately true.

Something broadly similar may exist for religion, but you'd have to take care in your wording if you wanted to argue that way, say something like (assuming it's relevant):

  • every belief in personal immortality has been found to be based on false claims

And without the commonality in method ("the scientific method") it still looks somewhat unconvincing.

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The claim that anyone claiming to be God is God, that Huineng was a zen patriarch because he said he was, that any religious claim has as much authority as any other, is not a good way of characterising any religion.

Don't they think say that the Anti-Christ will do the same?

The best reconstruction of it is a skeptical induction about religion, same as ethics. If you agree there is as much disagreement in religion as there is ethics, then I think the latter is probably the more convincing skeptical argument, because there are clearer overlaps with competing moral prescriptions etc. than there are religions (some even lack a "God").

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Your headline question misses the point. A person might be disinclined to take religious claims seriously, not because they are similar but because they are mutually exclusive. If all of the world's religions claimed that the Universe was created by a giant pink rabbit, but each with their own interpretation of how the rabbit accomplished the act, then you might at least attach some weight to the giant pink rabbit as a common denominator. However, if N religions collectively cited N entirely incompatible causes of the Universe, then you would know for certain that at least N-1 of them must be wrong.

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