What are the odds you will find the true religion?

What are the chances that if you were born today, you will eventually practise the correct religion? Your challenge is two-fold. You need to know which religion is true, and you need to be in an environment, society, or culture that allows you to be exposed to this true religion. Imagine if Christianity is the one true religion and you are born in Yemen. The odds that you would learn about Christianity and finally embrace it in such an anti-Christian environment would be small. Unlucky you.

Considering there are over 4,200 religions in the world, what are the odds that one of them is the true religion? A devout Christian will tell you that Christianity is the true religion. Her prayers are answered, her God is her consoler and protector, her life has been deeply enriched by her Christian faith, and Christianity’s holy texts are sacred. But a devout Muslim will genuinely also tell you likewise: that Islam is the true religion because his God answers his prayers, his God consoles and protects him, his life has been deeply enriched by his Islamic faith, and that Islam’s holy texts are sacred.

The sad reality is most religions are either in conflict or are incompatible with one another. A Christian and a Muslim cannot both be correct: only one of them can be saved – or perhaps not even them if Hindus or Buddhists have their way.

With so many religions in the world today, what is the probability that, if you were born today, you would be able to find and practise the true religion and thus be saved from damnation? I was intrigued if I could calculate the probability of being saved.

So, let’s get started. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism are the four main organized religions in the world today. These four religions are the faiths for nearly 70% of the world’s population. Consequently, I will make my first assumption: only Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism are considered candidates as the true religion, ignoring the possibilities that the other 4,200 or so religions could be true. Working from a position of maximum ignorance, I will further assume equal probability for each of those four religions being the true one.

The ten major religions in the world today (chart from adherents.com).

The major religions in the world today (chart from adherents.com).

This means Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism each has a 25% chance of being the true religion:

P(\text{Christianity is true})\\=P(\text{Islam is true})\\=P(\text{Hinduism is true})\\=P(\text{Buddhism is true})\\=0.25

where the notation P(outcome) denotes the probability of an outcome.

Whether you become a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist depends largely on where you will be born. If you are born in Pakistan, for instance, chances are much greater that you will be a Muslim than if you were born in the US or Sweden. The probability you will be born in a particular country () is given by:

P(\text{Born in X}) = \frac{\text{X

Now, having been born in a particular country, what are the chances you will become a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist in that country? To compute this probability, I used the data from the World Values Survey Wave 6 (2010-14) which surveyed nearly 80,000 participants from 56 countries (with the combined population of over 5 billion). I used the World Values Survey data, as it is more accurate. The survey goes down to the ground and asks how religious people are and in what faith, rather than depending on the religion stated on one’s birth certificate. A person may be born, for example, a Hindu but who is really a practicing Christian.

Table 1. Your probability of being born in a country (Pb) and being either a Christian (PC), Muslim (PM), Hindu (PH), or Buddhist (PB) in that country of birth. All values are in per cent.
CountryPbPCPMPHPB
Algeria0.80.599.500
Argentina0.871.90.20.30.5
Armenia0.10.50.100.2
Australia0.5481.10.21.7
Azerbaijan0.21.79700
Belarus0.285.80.300
Brazil456.80.100.2
Chile0.376.300.10
China27.33.50.609.7
Colombia175.10.100.1
Cyprus068.324.600
Ecuador0.364.7000
Estonia033.10.200.1
Georgia0.194.83.400
Germany1.629.55.70.20.2
Ghana0.580.311.40.10
Hong Kong0.118.80.10.111.3
India24.87.614.474.41.6
Iraq0.719900
Japan2.50.60039
Jordan0.139700
Kazakhstan0.328.450.30.10.1
Kyrgyzstan0.16.789.40.10.1
Lebanon0.13655.100
Libya0.1098.200
Malaysia0.67.363.17.620.3
Mexico2.472.9000
Morocco0.70.399.30.10
Netherlands0.328.32.10.30.3
New Zealand0.156.50.71.10
Nigeria3.545.7430.10
Pakistan3.60.199.70.30
Palestine0.10.299.700
Peru0.688.10.10.20
Philippines271.2600
Poland0.795.1000
Romania0.497.60.300.1
Russia2.864.17.500.2
Rwanda0.277.45.20.10
Singapore0.116.116.2729.4
Slovenia067.11.70.10.1
South Africa147.51.51.70.4
South Korea1370.1021.2
Spain0.974.30.20.10.2
Sweden0.22.12.40.20.1
Taiwan0.528.403.626.6
Thailand1.30.62.20.196.3
Trinidad and Tobago062.17.420.70.1
Tunisia0.2010000
Turkey1.5099.100
Ukraine0.983.60.60.10.3
United States6.3470.30.40.6
Uruguay0.124.1000
Uzbekistan0.63.495.70.20.1
Yemen0.5010000
Zimbabwe0.390.20.700.1

Let’s take Malaysia as an example: the probability of you being born in Malaysia and becoming a Christian in this country is computed simply as:

P(\text{Born in Malaysia and a Christian})\\=P(\text{Born in Malaysia}) \times P(\text{Christian in Malaysia})

What if you were born instead in another country, say, in the US? In the same manner, we determine the probability as:

P(\text{Born in the US and a Christian})\\=P(\text{Born in the US}) \times P(\text{Christian in the US})

Consequently, the probability of you becoming a Christian is simply the summation of all probabilities you would be a Christian in every country you could be born in:

P(\text{Christian})=\sum_{X=1}^{56} P(\text{Born in X and a Christian})

where there are 56 countries covered in the World Values Survey.

Finally, the probability of you being a Christian and Christianity being the true religion is simply:

P(\text{Christian and Christianity is true})=\\P(\text{Christian}) \times P(\text{Christian is true})

where P(Christianity is true), as stated earlier, is 0.25 (which is the same with the other three religions).

The above steps are repeated for determining the probabilities for Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists.

Table 2 shows that you have very little chance (between 1 to 6%) of finding the true religion. Why is this possibility so remote?

Table 2. The probability you will find and practise the true religion.
ReligionProbability (%)
Christianity6
Islam4
Hinduism5
Buddhism1

Take China and India, for example. Both countries comprise nearly half of the world’s population. This means there is nearly a 50% chance that you would be born in either China or India. If you were born in China, chances are great that you will be either an unbeliever (e.g., atheist or agnostic) or practice one of the religions that is not Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism. But if you were instead born in India, Table 1 shows a near 75% chance that you will become a Hindu. So, depending on where you will be born and the probability of you adopting a particular religion in that country, probability theory tells us that you have very little chance being saved because you are unable to find the true religion.

…you have very little chance (between 1 to 6%) of finding the true religion…perhaps even much lower if other religions were considered

The probabilities in Table 2 may actually be too large, considering the generous assumptions I had used. For instance, I considered only four religions out of 4,200 or more religions as potential candidates to be the true religion. What if Judaism is the true religion? What about Sikhism, Baha’ism, or Confucianism? These aforementioned organized religions are among the ten most widely practiced in the world. So, if I were to consider these other religions, the probability that one of them is true would be far smaller than 25%, a value that I had used earlier.

Furthermore, Christianity is not a homogenous group. It is a group of many Christian denominations, some of which in contradiction with one another. Nonetheless, Christianity can be broadly grouped into Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and Roman Catholicism. Likewise for Islam, which is generally made up of Sunnis and Shiites (as well as the Sufis whom no one seems to like).

So, if I were to add the other religions to the list of true religion candidates and further distinguish between the various Christianity and Islamic groups, the values in Table 2 would be much, much smaller.

My calculations, despite using generous assumptions, show how extremely remote a person, born today, can find the true religion and thus be saved. God may be all-loving, all-powerful, and all-present to some believers, but God has sure made it really difficult for us to find Him. Perhaps religious people might even take my calculations as a warning of the importance of them spreading their faiths, since finding the true religion appears so remote.

Which way to Truth? So many religions, so many Gods, so many choices (photo from radhanathswamionline.com).

Which way to the Truth? So many religions, so many routes, so many choices (photo from radhanathswamionline.com).

I like to end my article by emphatically pointing out that my calculations are merely an interesting, thought-provoking academic exercise and not to be taken, God forbid, as mathematical proof of anything, science or supernatural.

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Comments

  1. Interesting but fatally flawed. You assume that religious choice is equally random for all religions.There are more people converting to some religion more than others.

  2. Interesting but fatally flawed. You assume that religious choice is equally random for all religions.There are more people converting to some religion more than others.

    • When presented with four choices or scenarios and we do not know their chances of occurring (no clue), then it is only fair we assign equal probabilities between them (25% each); otherwise, it would be bias without basis to one and not the others. I also wrote in my article that despite the generous probabilities (25% each), the outcome of finding the true religion is still very small, even smaller if I had considered other main stream religions or denominations. And where is your evidence that more people are converting to religion? For some countries, yes, including Malaysia. But if you consider other countries (like Vietnam, Ireland, Switzerland, France, South Africa, Iceland, Ecuador, the US, and Canada), religiosity is instead falling.

  3. Mr. Christopher, I have so much to say, but please bear with me. I will start with an interesting point to you, that I found a gruesome mathematical error. I lovvvvvvvveeee mathematics, and as an expert mathematician [you not me :)] you recognize that there is usually more than one way to reach a result.

    You took the long route and reached this result “you have very little chance (between 1 to 6%) of finding the true religion…perhaps even much lower if other religions were considered”. Ill presume that this conclusion was reached out of enthusiasm of calculation instead of pessimism.

    Now, double checking this with a more direct and simplistic mathematical calculation comes through the population chart you already displayed (chart from adherents.com). If Christianity was the true religion, then you have a 33% of ending up with the right religion, and so on; where else can a person end up except on this comprehensive chart!? In fact, the other four thousand minor religions account for less than 10% of the world population.

    You erred in your postulations to calculate finding the truthful religion. Your calculations were actually (regarding the 6%): If Christianity was the rightful religion and you are born a Christian in one of the 56 surveyed countries; something like that (you really must show all the values when doing an equation (0.25 X ?). Nonetheless, this is an irrelevant calculation.

    This is like stating the probability of being a creature living in water but need to breathe from the atmosphere through a blowhole and not the mouth! You simply utilize air either via lungs or gills, that is what needs to be assessed and the issue of your article! This 6% is actually a probability in a probability in a probability, and not a direct probability of ending up with the truthful religion.

    That being said, although a statistical evaluative perspective of being born into the truthful religion is intriguing, the truth is that mathematics is actually inapplicable on this issue :). Why? because finding the truthful religion is not a possibility of just being born into it, people can convert to it, rendering this statistic inapplicable.

    The truthful religion IS the truthful religion, it is a 100% statistical figure if used in calculation. You wouldn’t put 25% on each of the four religions, 3 of them would be 0% whilst the fourth is 100%. It is not a ‘chance’.

    The reality is, you already gave the solution to the issue of your article with the way you answered it, unknowingly though it seems. You used your mind! You gathered relevant data, performed complex calculations with your mind, and applied logic. Although you erred in the result, you revise errors and advance your calculation method. This is the same method you find the truthful religion, when you research, revise and apply logic to it, it still passes assessment.

    Many people assume that ending up with the rightful religion is guesswork, or purely a matter of faith. This is incorrect. Since there is a punishment from God to whomever follows the faulty religion, He must have made the path to finding the truthful religion recognizable to us. Otherwise, it would be an injustice from Him if he punishes us for not finding a path that is unrecognizable, but God is exalted over doing even the slightest injustice.

    His justice is so extensive that the individual must have been exposed to the truthful religion in order to be judged upon it. The unfortunate individual who doesn’t get exposed to it will be judged by God according to his actions and not against the truthful religion.

    Recognizing and acknowledging that religion is a matter of logic therefore, but another question then raises itself. If there is a truthful religion, why isn’t it the prevailing one today since everyone who encountered it would’ve follow it?

    There are two hindering factors. Firstly, pride with the religion/opinion a person is already following from converting to another religion. Secondly, the desire to enjoy life’s pleasures, which necessitates ignoring religious duties. A person must set aside his pride and desire in assessing the truthfulness of a religion, in order for it to be an objective evaluation.

    Upon this, I strongly urge you to read the Quran yourself (to avoid being influenced by other individuals’ opinions). You have a smart mind and can decide logical from illogical yourself. For summary purposes, I have compiled the logical arguments presented in the Quran into a book if you are interested:

    https://www.xinxii.com/en/the-religion-that-captivated-minds-with-its-logic-p-373076.html

    Or contact me for a free copy no problem.

    • Thanks for taking the trouble to share. It isn’t me but you that is influenced by your presumptions. Your explanation is so biased to only one religion that I could simply summarize your ramblings to two sentences without the use of any maths or rational thinking: Islam is the only one true religion. Therefore, probability to find Islam = 100%.

  4. Dear Christopher

    I just came across this article and the title caught my attention. It’s a good thought provoking process. There are few matters that’s needed to be corrected:
    1. The statistical numbers of people as Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu etc. – are wrong for one fact – they are all religion by birth and tradition; not by practice. How many Christians out of 33% of World population do practice Christianity? The same question can be asked about Buddhist, Hindu and Islam. We can further ask how many of those who practice, understand the basic principles and tenets of his/her religion? Then we can further ask, out of those who practice and understand, how many percent are “truly sincere” ? Once we go through these numbers – then we will understand that, first and foremost – even before we talk about which religion – which is like what color of cloth to wear – we are actually naked. I guess, for a naked person, first and foremost, is to wear anything available. Then only you will start to think which color and which cloth is better. But most, despite wearing “so called” cloth to cover, are actually naked. Why? Insincerity, makes them naked.

    2. Only sincerity will lead you to truth. Sincere people will end up on the same place and destination. Does not matter which path they take – because TRUTH is finally the same. There can be two truths to one thing. The difference that we see among people about their description of truth is because they are layered/obscured to the Truth; the Prophets – Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, etc – all relaying the same message, except that they came at different time, Muhammad being the latest and the last. They all relay the SAME TRUTH – but their messages had been somewhat lost – due to layers. These layers could be removed with sincerity. And it is not easy. That’s the real fight and struggle we have to do.

    The answer is: WHAT’S THE PROBABILITY OF US TO FIND THE TRUTH (NOT TRUE RELIGION)? That’s my friend is the right question. And the answer to that: extremely small percentage. Because there are many FALSE “TRUTH” and it is extremely challenging to be sincere.

    • As I already wrote in my article, I chose the data from the World Values Survey Wave 6 (2010-14) for the reason you warned me about — that some people will have a different faith from that they were born in or that from their parents. This particular survey uses survey data — meaning they actually asked people about what faiths they had and even to what degree they are religious. You concluded that a small percentage of people will find the TRUTH, and so did I, albeit from a different perspective — so I am not sure what you are really trying to tell me. Interchange “religion” and “truth”, and both of us are really saying the same thing.

  5. Why haven’t we realised that religion does absolutely nothing to improve a persons character. In fact, the more religious a person becomes, the more close minded, arrogant and obnoxious they become. It is an unfortunate state of affairs.

    All we can try to do is be more caring towards one another, and perhaps stop the sociopathic bureaucrats from further driving a wedge and manipulating Malaysians. Its becoming an obscene puppet show.

    We have so much to be thankful for, here. Great warm weather, nice food, and a gentle manner. I do hope the positive humanity in all of us wins the day, eventually.

  6. The world population is 7bil. The populations of China and India combined is 2.5bil. So, your statement that “Take China and India, for example. Both countries comprise nearly half of the world’s population. This means there is nearly a 50% chance that you would be born in either China or India” is incorrect.

  7. Very good findings on how unlucky human are to not known are they in the correct and true path in their entire life and here after. Possibly the moment when you become known whereby you are right or wrong was the moment before your death and at that time its already too late. May God merciful and loving attributes reach everyone.

    Deep inside human somehow they might be worried is it they worship the true god. Do the effort they put to find the correct path was worth it? In the end, only god knows better and we pray that we were the chosen one to be in true path.

  8. If there is some truth in each of the 4000+ religions, then getting to know each of them may add up to much greater chances of knowing the truth; this seems to be more palatable comparing to getting to know potential soul mates among 7 billion people

    • That’s part of the problem: we cannot possibly understand all the 4000+ religions or be exposed to them. But soul mates, if defined as just our potential life partners, can be more than 1 and could be found around us, not only in some far flung country we have little hope to visit.

  9. If estimating the likelihood of finding one’s soul mate follows the same methodology, then it is very likely the chances would be so miniscule. And yet, somehow people seem to manage to his or hers, one way or another, sooner or later

    • You need to define what is a “soul mate” first. Some might say a soul mate is simply someone who is compatible with you and understands you. With 7 billion people in the world today, perhaps the number of our potential soul mates are not as few and far between as we think.

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