Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Geographical Argument

What does the distribution of the world's religions tell us? It tells us that the vast majority of people acquire religious faith on the basis of an accident of birth. What one comes to believe normally depends on place of birth and parentage. If there are gods whose influence ought to be felt by all, then they do not seem to be very effective in making their presence known to the entire pool of potential worshipers. Either that, or the gods in question simply choose to reveal themselves only to a select few, who are then charged with spreading their divine knowledge by word of mouth alone. That seems a rather unlikely scenario, given the existence of competing false religions that are spread by the same means, but a lot of people of all different persuasions seem to have embraced the idea.

Thanks to the Age of Imperialism, Christianity and Islam have grown to become the two most popular religions in the world. Like Judaism, the parent from which these two evangelical movements schismed, they posit the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient creator god that wants people to believe in his existence so badly that he punishes those who don't or, at best, fails to reward them with an everlasting life in heaven. (A tiny few even take the position that God rewards everyone regardless of their behavior.) Given the geographical distribution of religions, their god seems not to believe that all who might merit a heavenly reward ought to have an equal opportunity to win it.

The geographical argument does not prove the nonexistence of any god, but it calls into serious question the existence of all of them. If there is any religion that is absolutely true to the exclusion of all others, one could reasonably expect it to have a more diverse origin than just a single point in time and space.

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