Religious Diversity

Religious Pluralism: The Argument Assessed

“If you were born in India, you’d probably be a Hindu.” “What of those sincere believers in other faiths, are you suggesting they are wrong?” “Jesus is just one of the many ways towards salvation/bliss/righteousness/etc.”

These are the types of “bumper sticker” quotes Christians often get in our pluralistic society. I’ll be focusing on only one of the many problems with views such as these:

The argument against theism from religious pluralism rests on the implicit assumption that all religions are equally veridical.

The religious pluralist (or the objector to religious belief) who uses arguments like these unjustifiably makes the assumption that all religions are on equal ground (epistemically–on equal footing in the realm of knowledge). That this assumption is made is fairly evident, but we can illustrate it with a thought experiment (ignore some of the disanalogies–this is for example only):

Suppose Bob believes that he is reading a book, An Introduction to Philosophy. Now, suppose Steve else comes along and says “You can’t be sure that you’re right in your belief that you are reading An Introduction to Philosophy–after all, there are billions of people who read books which are not An Introduction to Philosophy. And they think they know what they are reading. How can you be sure that you are reading An Introduction to Philosophy? You may be reading a book on psychology, or a novel!”

Bob responds by saying, “Well, I can look at the cover and see the title. I can open it up and see the ISBN and confirm by searching for the ISBN online that it is only tied to An Introduction to Philosophy. The contents certainly seem as though they would match a book of that title. Also, I know the authors name is Jane Doe and this is the only book she’s ever written.”

The key point is that Bob has some very good reasons for thinking that he is reading An Introduction to Philosophy. Steve’s objection assumed that there was no way to determine what book Bob was reading.

Religious pluralists often do the same thing. They ask “How can you know you are right?” or “How do you know yours is the only true religion?” The assumption seems to be that there are no criteria for determining whether one religion is to be favored over another (again, using these terms in an epistemic sense–the sense having to do with knowledge). SO, let’s revisit the scenario:

Bob is sitting contemplating the universe. He’s a Christian, and Steve knows it. Steve comes along and says “Bob, how do you know you’re right? The Hindu, the Buddhist, and the Muslim all think they are just as right as you.”

Bob responds, “Well, I think there are very good reasons to think Christianity is true. There are cosmological, teleogical, and ontological arguments which I believe are quite successful. If they are successful, Buddhism and Hinduism are wrong. And I think the Gospels are quite reliable due to the standard historical criteria such as the principle of embarrassment and multiple attestation. But if the Gospels are reliable (and Jesus died and rose again), then Islam is wrong too. So I don’t think those other religions are on equal footing with my own faith. Christianity seems to me to have the most explanatory power.”

The assumption that all religions are on equal footing seems patently false. Why should we think that Hinduism = Buddhism = Islam = Christianity = Jainism (etc.) when it comes to whether or not we can evaluate their truth? The religious pluralist simply assumes we cannot. However, in light of the evidence for Christianity, it seems the world religions are not all on equal epistemic ground.

Finally, the pluralist objection assumes that it is, itself, on a higher epistemic ground than its rivals. The pluralist believes that, while all religions are equally veridical, pluralism itself is true. Yet pluralism’s truth entails the falsehood of large portions of theistic, pantheistic, and atheistic belief. Pluralism must chop away the incompatible components in the world’s religions in order to make way for a distorted view of reality. What reason do we have for holding on to pluralism when we have much better reasons to think Christianity is true?

SDG

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

11 thoughts on “Religious Pluralism: The Argument Assessed

  1. Good stuff, J.W. Of course Bob & Steve would first have to agree that objective, absolute truth exists – but I know you’ve thoroughly addressed this postmodern falsehood in previous posts ;)

    Posted by Dan | February 6, 2011, 3:18 AM
  2. Oh yeah, P.S. Tiffany and I started a new blog at http://odayfam.com and are phasing out prayeramedic as it currently exists. If you don’t mind, please add odayfam to your blogroll. It will more discernment/apologetics content, as well as a bunch of other random stuff. Also, let me know what your next topic at Christian Diversity is. I am looking to migrate prayeramedic posts to new sites, so I’d love to tweak some and throw them your way.

    Posted by Dan | February 6, 2011, 3:21 AM
  3. Nice post, JW – good stuff here as usual!

    Posted by Sentinel | February 7, 2011, 6:47 PM
  4. This is a fantastic post. The thing that made it most outstanding were these two sentences:

    “Steve’s objection assumed that there was no way to determine what book Bob was reading.”

    And:

    “The assumption that all religions are on equal footing seems patently false.”

    Well put!

    And everyone who assumes that all religions are equal (or equally false) should really consider their claims individually instead of lumping them together in the name of “convenience” or “political correctness”, as you have rightly pointed out. Next thing you know, people will start pressing to call every religion by the same name. In fact, it has already started happening — many Mormons want to be called “Christians” and obliterate the obvious distinctions.

    Keep it up, J.W.

    Posted by "No Apologies Allowed" Weekly Apologetics Cartoons | February 12, 2011, 1:53 AM
  5. Mr. Wartick, I’m doing some research for an essay I’m writing on religious pluralism for my Philosophy of Religion class and I came upon this post after a quick google search. I take it you know your readers well and assume they already know the “better reasons to think Christianity is true.” I’m hoping you might point me – a first time reader of your blog – to the specific reasons you’re referring to! Thanks! – Su

    Posted by Susan | October 2, 2013, 3:02 AM
    • Susan, thanks for contacting me about this. First, I would recommend you read my more extended argument against pluralism, “The Presumption of Pluralism.”

      Regarding the reasons to think Christianity is true, the question you ask is not one easily answered because there are so many arguments. Christianity depends (obviously) upon the notion that God exists. I have argued to that end in multiple posts here. The particular claims of Christianity turn upon whether Jesus rose from the dead. I do not specialize in this area specifically, but would direct you to one representative argument, which can be found here.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 2, 2013, 10:06 AM

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