The Problem of Religious Diversity

If God exists, why are there so many religions? In other words, if God is all-powerful and all-good, then is it not surprising that we have so much confusion when it comes to religion? This problem is ‘up there’ with the problem of evil and problem of divine hiddenness.

The Issue

The problem of religious diversity arises when we notice that religious diversity/confusion is not surprising on the hypothesis of metaphysical naturalism. That’s because nature is indifferent, and there is no God to care about us getting to God. Furthermore, one can easily explain religious diversity/confusion in terms of naturalistic causes like cultural pressures, etc. Thus, we have no need to invoke God or evil spirits to explain what’s happening.* While one might concede that naturalism doesn’t predict religious beliefs, one can still argue that if there are religious beliefs that are diverse, then this would be predicted by naturalism. But, that’s exactly what we see. We don’t see just simple religious belief like one religion; rather, we see many different religions.

To be sure, there are only several major religions, however, there are many more minor religions. Even among the major religions, we have much disagreement; this disagreement includes disputes over fundamental doctrines. Even among classical monotheism, there are more than a few options.

We would obviously expect an all-good God to be concerned about us having the correct beliefs with regard to religion. That’s because beliefs have an impact on behavior, especially beliefs about ultimate reality. Similarly, we would expect God to be concerned with humans and their place in the world (i.e. purpose and meaning).


There’s no denying that one can cook up an explanation for this, but the issue is whether the explanation or justification is any good. One might appeal to free will, character-building, or God’s mysterious ways.

With regards to free will, it’s hard to see what this objection is supposed to be. We don’t just “choose” what to believe. Not to mention, it seems the ‘more free’ decision would be choosing to follow a religion/God based on having all the relevant information!

And what about character-building? Well, we can build character in the context of a relationship with God. We can also have an ever deeper investigation in the correct religion.

Finally, the ‘mysterious ways response’ isn’t really a response at all, because it doesn’t explain anything. In addition, from our standpoint, it’s just as likely that God does NOT have a good reason to allow religious diversity.

Formal Statement of the Argument

1. It is a known fact that there are many religions and religious confusion

2. The fact that there are many religions and religious confusion is much more likely on the hypothesis of naturalism than on the hypothesis of classical theism

3. The hypothesis of naturalism has an intrinsic probability equal to that of classical theism

4. Therefore, other evidence held equal, it is very probable that classical theism is false


I’m not arguing here that one’s religious belief is made irrational because of multiple religions. In addition, the argument nowhere stated that one’s religious belief is false because they were born in a certain place. If the argument I presented is interpreted charitably, one can naturally see why religious diversity is a problem.


If God exists (an all-powerful and all-good Being), it’s pretty surprising that so many religions exist. If God doesn’t exist, there is nothing at all surprising about there being so many religions. That’s exactly what we’d expect. Hence, the existence of so many religions counts as, at least, some evidence against God.

*Also, appealing to literal demons to explain the existence of religious diversity is not a good explanation in itself. For one, any advantage this explanation has with regards to the consequent probability is offset by the prior probability. Secondly, this move appears to be completely implausible, ad hoc, and unfalsifiable. Thirdly, the debate here is about theism simpliciter vs. naturalism, not Christian theism vs. naturalism. Fourthly, appealing to literal demons will be of no help to theists who don’t believe in such a thing. Fifthly, appealing to specific doctrines in the context of the problem of religious diversity appears to beg the very issue in question.


4 thoughts on “The Problem of Religious Diversity

  1. Re “While one might concede that naturalism doesn’t predict religious beliefs …” Actually naturalism cannot predict religious belief because religious belief pre-existed naturalism. To make a “prediction” now would be to play the prophecy game. It is clear in many religious scriptures that the prophecies they contain were written after the events that were prophesied and there is nothing easier to predict than an even that has already happened.

    Naturalism, though, can explain religious belief quite well, however, starting from an overactive agency detector that lead to greater survivability.

  2. Related to diversity when it comes to religion is the question what a religion really is, what it is about and so on. Most religions boil down to the same core and the same fundamental values. Even their beliefs may not be all that different if you take away all of the fluff around them. Because of that I wonder if there really is all that much of a diversity as we want to think there is.

  3. Given that we have had religion for such a long time one would actually expect there to be many rather than few religions. Not only that but a number of religions are breakaways from previously existing ones. From Catholicism came Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy. From Hinduism came Buddhism. From Islam came Baha’i if I remember correctly. The uniformity of belief, for example 2/3 of Earth’s population being monotheist doesn’t convince you that God does exist so why would the existence of differing religions convince someone that God does not?

  4. Loy

    I’ve never grasped this supposed problem. Why wouldn’t God be delighted to commune with his creatures within their own respective languages and milieus? Or, on the other hand, why would the infinite God even take notice of human-scale cultural nuances?

    Presumably as you travel across the universe the diversity expands exponentially. So what?

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