playing with probability
What is the probability of any one exclusive religion being the correct one (“exclusive” means: claims to be the only true one)? This question popped into my head the other day and made me think that you could theoretically calculate that probability using the following formula:
n-(n-1)/(n+1) or 1/(n+1)
Where “n” is the total number of exclusive religions.
Thus, you subtract all but one of the religions from the total, then divide by n+1 to account for the fact that they could all be wrong.
So, if we put together a list of exclusive religions like the following, we can calculate the probability of any one of those religions being the correct religion:
- Orthodox religions (Greek, Russian, etc.)
- Mormons (LDS)
- AUB (Apostolic United Brethren)
- Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Seventh-day Adventists
- Branch Davidians
- Aum Shinrikyo
- Old Order Amish
- Islam (Sunni)
- Islam (Shi’a)
- and so on (thousands of small Protestant groups)
These were just the first 12 exclusive religions that popped into my head. So, let’s just say, for the sake of the illustration, that there are only 12 (there are probably thousands, but we’ll keep it simple). Thus, we end up with:
12-(12-1)/12+1 = .0769 or a 7.7% chance
Thus, if there were only 12 exclusive religions, if you assume each had the exact same probability of being right (and therefore, of being wrong), that probability would be about .0769 or a 7.7% of being correct or a 92.3% chance of being wrong. Of course, there are many more than just 12 exclusive religions. But this does seem to suggest that any exclusive religion has a very low probability of actually being correct. For instance, if we assume 1,000 exclusive religions, then there is a .099% chance that any one of those religions is correct or a 99.9% chance of being wrong.
Of course, such calculations are problematic because there are complications that arise when you examine closely related religions or religions that splintered from other religions (decreasing the odds of those being correct). They may be problematic for other reasons.
Any thoughts on whether this is a reasonable way to calculate the probability of any one religion being correct?
The obvious implication is a cost/benefit analysis: Is the cost of belonging to a religion like Mormonism worth the risk of being wrong, especially if the risk is something like a 99.9% chance that you are wrong?