Last Ditch Efforts
Sometimes you’ll hear theists argue that it’s safer to believe in god [ironically their god, but I digress...] than to be an atheist.
Simply stated, if the atheist/non-theist is right [in his disbelief/non-belief] then nothing happens when he dies. There may be no loss, but there definitely is no gain. However, if the theist is right then the atheist has everything to gain (i.e. an eternity in heaven) and everything to lose (i.e. an eternity in hell).
This bet-hedging goading-based assertion is the foundation of Pascal’s Wager – named after the cowardly and religiously deluded French philosopher Blaise Pascal who authored it. His argument is faulty on many levels and therefore invalid for several reasons, but we’ll get to that in just a bit.
Mental Masturbation for the Religiously Deluded
Several years ago, a Christian former coworker made me his conversion pet project, hounding me daily with his inane Jesus rhetoric. This dragged on for over a year. I slapped him around a bit from time to time but generally left him to wallow in his delusion because I had to work with the man. He knew I thought he was a crank, but we found a way to coexist in the workplace without it getting ugly.
The headcase in question worked in software sales and was well-versed in the art of slinging outrageously flaming bullshit. He used to tell me how he spent his evenings formulating his plan of attack to win me over, and the more I fleered and rejected his offerings the harder he preached. I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but I kind of enjoyed watching his frustration mount. You’d think he’d eventually sense the futility of the situation and save his time and energy for a more productive endeavor, but he was one resilient little bastard. If he had a modicum of common sense he would have walked away in search of weaker prey.
And then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, in a pathetic act of desperation and shear cowardice, he resorted to daring/scaring/goading me into accepting Christ. Like a mindless robot, with a monotone iambic pentameter lilt almost like he was chanting, he regurgitated the following cowardly, sheepish, bet-hedging, if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em mantra – just like the one thousand times he probably rehearsed it in his head:
“If you accept Christ and there is no god, then you have nothing to lose.
If you reject Christ and there is no god, then you have nothing to lose.
If you accept Christ and there is a god, then you have everything gain.
If you reject Christ and there is a god, then you have everything to lose.
All you have to do is accept him and you can’t possibly lose!”
Seriously people, this isn’t faith. This are merely the words of a faithless bet-hedging coward who has nothing left in his arsenal.
So then I asked him if his god was all knowing. He had no choice but to concede a seemingly harmless point:
I ripped back:
“Well, then wouldn’t he know that I’m accepting him just to play it safe? Don’t you think he would be just a little insulted by such disingenuousness and damn me anyway because I tried to pull one over on him?”
With a smile on his face, thinking he was so clever, he vomited forth the following ineffective explanation:
“Well, it doesn’t work that way. You have to really believe it!”
Then I let him have it:
“Really believe it? REALLY? No, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work YOUR way. You’re setting a logically incoherent rule that BELIEF IS THE PREREQUISITE FOR BELIEF. How can I possibly believe…WHEN I DON’T BELIEVE? By definition, you can’t manufacture sincerity out of eternal self-interest, fear, or an odds-based unpleasant outcome. Um, hello? Then it wouldn’t be sincere. What part of this isn’t clear to you? Dude, your proposition pisses all over itself.”
He stammered a few times, mumbled something unintelligible and walked away. At any rate, his incessant preaching stopped when he left the company. Amen.
Pascal’s Wager: A Closer Look
While my previous argument alone is more than enough to dismantle the wager, there are a slew of other arguments that nicely demonstrate how the proposition is filled with holes. (I’d explain it all myself, but I don’t feel like expending the energy when so many others shut this mother down with greater eloquence.)
This video also does a nice job putting the argument to bed:
Now take a few minutes to explore the wealth of bunk busting logic.
What follows is a textbook example of how Christians use Pascal’s Wager to make themselves feel better about their own faith-related insecurities and the fear of possibly being wrong.
Sent: Wednesday, June 21, 2006 4:02 PM
Well I do commend you on your strong convictions. I myself am of the belief of Christ as my lord and savior. It’s unfortunate you’ve been given such a message that you have interpreted as “hate mail”. I’m not going to preach at you or try and sway you in my direction in any way, shape or form. It is quite obvious that you have gotten the message and choose to reject it. I understand that you are very happy and satisfied with your life and beliefs. I am too. Happier than you can imagine. (or perhaps you can)
What really seperates us though fundementally is this: I believe that when I die, I go to heaven. You believe that when you die, that’s it. Game over.
Seeing that we have now both professed our belief or lack thereof in an afterlife, I have to say that I have a bit of an advantage over you. If you’re right, when I die, that’s it. I will have lived a happy life and hopefully, did some good things for the world. Guess what though, I’ll never know the difference and STILL have had a happy life just like you.
On the other hand, if I’m right, I go to heaven and live eternally happy AFTER my happy life here on earth. Unfortunately, based on my beliefs of your “enlightend” view of things, your afterlife doesn’t look so peachy. I’m sure you’re VERY aware of the Christian beliefs on what happens to people with your point of view.
So, in the end, lets tally the score cards:
If you’re right, we both live happy productive lives here on earth and then we die. Sounds like a tie game to me so far…
If I’m right, then I go on living eternally after I die. I don’t have to go into detail what would happen to you. You’ve heard enough fire, brimstone, hell and damnation already.
In the end, I have everything to gain and nothing to lose based on my belief whether I’m right OR wrong. You unfortunately, aren’t afforded the same “tie game” if you’re wrong.
It is what it is. Not going to try and convert you to ANYTHING. Hey, I even admire you’re conviction in your belief and your admission that you’re willing to let me go on with mine. That’s quite admirable! I acknowlege your bad experiences with the hell and damnation “bible thumpers” you’ve encountered and it saddens me that the message you’ve gotten seems to be of hate when that’s not at ALL what the God I believe in is about.
Good luck to you. If you’d like to talk about other subjects, feel free to shoot me an email!
Don’t you just love how he tells me twice that he’s not trying to convert me or preach to me, yet that’s exactly what he’s doing. Tell me, is Tony self-deceiving, clueless, or just a really bad liar? I can hear him repeating his mantra over and over again in his head as if to convince himself, just one more time, that he’s on the right track.
I’ve received literally hundreds of emails over the years just like this one. The words are always different but the logic is always the same, and it fails every single time. They are all founded in deep religious insecurity.
Takin’ It to the Streets
I was once asked by an 82-year-old street preacher who dedicated his ENTIRE LIFE to spreading god’s word to heathen like me, “Can you afford to be wrong?”
I replied, “Can you?”
82 years of egg on your face doesn’t wash off easily now, does it?
But of course this religiously insecure old man, a product of his own making who thought he had all the answers never provided one. Instead, he called upon Pascal and proceeded to goad me into accepting his god.
My, my, my. We all have our lot to protect, don’t we?