Pascal's Wager: Why our 'Faith' is far stronger than any Christian's.

If you aren't familiar with Pascal's Wager, it essentially argues that you should believe/honor/flatter God if only to hedge your bets. If you're wrong and there's no afterlife, nothing lost. But if you don't believe/honor/flatter and God's punitive afterlife turns out to have been real, boy won't you be sorry! It's like the Lotto: You can't win if you don't play.

On the face of it that actually makes a lot of sense. I for one would rather not spend eternity burning in hell, so what's the harm in playing the God-game just to be safe?


The most standard argument to this is the 'believe' part. God is all powerful, therefore he will know I'm faking it just to get the goods, therefore it's pointless to pretend. The Christian's answer to that is that my heart will open up and I'll totally believe if I just close my mind and listen to these couple of bible verses and this nauseatingly bad inspirational song...

It's also argued that Pascal's Wager is an immoral reason to believe/honor/flatter. Isn't it better to be good because it's the right thing to do, not out of selfish fear of punishment or hope of reward?

Then there's the fact that there are millions of gods out there. It really is like playing the Lottery. What are the odds that I've chosen the correct god to believe in/honor/flatter? Though even then, it can still be argued: You can't win if you don't play. If I don't pick one, then I'm certain to go to hell.

Which brings me to my own observation of this reasoning, acquired long, long ago. Well before I knew of a guy named Pascal or that the wager had a name and a gaggle of philosophers picking it apart other than little-girl-me sitting in Sunday School, far too afraid of social banishment if I spoke these thoughts out loud, or even asked them too often of myself:

First, I'm using the word 'Faith' here not by its dictionary definition of 'blind belief,' but in the Theistic definition of just plain 'belief.' I use 'Faith' instead of 'belief' because it is such a powerful, sacred word to most. It's the answer they so often give us. "I have Faith that God spoke to me last night and told me the moon is made of green cheese."

As if to say that is the ultimate trump card, the ultimate argument-ender. "Wow, I have mountains of observable, empirical evidence and generations of science on my side, but you say you have Faith and no one could possibly lie about that, so I guess everything I've learned about the moon is just bullshit. My bad."

Well in that context, I propose that an Atheist has a Faith more strong, more powerful, one that few Theists, fearful of a vengeful god, can ever imagine. You, the Christian, are telling me I should at least believe so I don't end up in hell. I, the Atheist, am telling you that I have so much 'Faith' that there are no gods, I'm willing to bet my eternal soul on it and not even hedge my bets, as you would have me do.

So the next time a Christian tries to tell you that you are weak without Faith, tell them, "Quite the contrary. I have so much Faith that your god is a placebo that I am willing to stand up to your god and risk an eternity of torture in your hell if I'm wrong. Just for standing by what I believe to be true. You on the other hand are risking nothing if you're wrong. Now who's David standing up to Goliath, calling Goliath a bully and a fraud?"

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Tags: Faith, Pascal's, Wager, afterlife, heaven, hell

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Comment by Jo Jerome on December 7, 2009 at 1:38pm
Johnny - Oh I'm not saying there aren't a million and one other reasons I do not believe in god(s) and especially the Xian one.

Just addressing this one point of Pascal's Wager. As the Xian risks nothing but we risk eternal damnation, our 'Faith' (Xian definition, not the dictionary definition) is quite strong (a common Xian argument being that we are weak-willed, that without Faith we have no courage).

Similarly, when they call the 9/11 bombers cowards. Not that I in the least agree with any extremist ideology or methods, but I ask a Xian; "Would you strap a bomb to yourself and die for your Faith? Do you believe in your god and your afterlife so strongly that you'd die for him and his cause right now, eager to enter that oh-so-much-better afterlife?"

I doubt many of them would. Nor would they risk that afterlife to stand up for something they believe in.
Comment by Johnny on December 7, 2009 at 5:31am
oh my my I disagree that we have more faith, but I don't care that you have that view and it doesn't really hurt anybody, so for now I'll be content not to argue.

You missed one of the most important parts!

my argument based on Epicarus: I can trust that the benevolent god will always be benevolent and fair. A fair god can not give me no evidence and expect me to believe.

I can trust that the malevolent god is malevolent. There's no reason to believe that he will be fair even if I followed him. If I wanted to be benevolent, in fact, I would not follow him.

"ultimate good" or "ultimate evil." anything between can not really be called a god based on judging what's right and wrong.
Comment by Jo Jerome on December 6, 2009 at 7:14pm
Like I said, this particular argument of mine is debating the Theists on their turf. In this case, their definition of 'Faith' as the strongest of beliefs. Just so happens our belief is rooted in logic, science and reason. But the Theist likely doesn't see the distinction.

In reality, they're right. We don't have faith at all ... the true definition of the word being 'blind belief without evidence.' Absolutely true. We don't have that.

We have solid evidence. And place a higher value on that than blind trust in fairy tales.
Comment by OutlawGirl on December 6, 2009 at 4:54pm
I am thoroughly convinced that there is no God, so in my case I have more to gain by living my life and doing the best by being the most moral person I can be and more to lose by placing my one life - my one life - in the hands of some imaginary being and his marry band of witch hunters.
Comment by Aparna Jayachandran on December 6, 2009 at 2:21pm
I've always thought that the "won't you be sorry if you were wrong" argument from theists is missing a very fundamental point. A point so basic that it makes any interaction between an atheist and a theist very difficult indeed, and this is that theists think that we place the same value on faith that they do.

This is wrong. Personally, when I die and if I find that there is an afterlife and a god wanting to judge me for my sins, etc., I will feel nothing wrong with converting to whatever religion my hypothetical god-judge happens to be. Because I want proof that something like that exists before I start believing in it.

Theists don't seem to understand that, once you take the non-existence of god as a given, faith never has to enter the equation when you're dealing with the physical world. I'm aware that there are philosophical exceptions to this but that's a different discussion for a different time. Assuming you buy into the fact that the physical world is real, that it has certain irrefutable laws that govern it - gravity, for instance - there's not really anything you have to take on faith. Theists don't seem to understand that a life without faith is possible. Atheists know this. We don't have to "believe" in evolution or "have faith" that the big bang occurred - we've been presented with enough evidence to support both claims.

So when I say to a theist that, should I discover that there is life after death (after I'm dead, of course) I will change my mind about atheism and they say, "But that's too late," my response is, similar to yours, that I want no part of a god who is happy to play silly buggers with the fates of so many people that he left nothing of himself in this world to prove his existence to us. He is, in other words, a sadist. And everyone knows they're no fun at all.

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