I was reading a comment to a question posted on a message board today. The original question was essentially, “Why do Christians Hate Atheists?” Granted, this question is presumptuous, by assuming that Christians hate atheists. Although some likely do, it is nonetheless a sweeping generalization. Either way, one of the respondents, an obvious Christian, began spouting off all of the typical “I’m right and you’re wrong” kind of arguments. Clearly, the respondent does not fully understand his arguments, especially evolution.
The argument of his that I would like to address is that of Pascal’s Wager, or the “what if you’re wrong argument.” This argument was first posited by 17th century French Philosopher Blaise Pascal. Essentially, the argument goes like this –
Assuming a Christian God, we do not know with complete certainty whether God exists. Therefore, we must make a “bet,” one way or another.
If we believe in God, and we are correct, we will go to heaven. If we believe in God, and God does not exist, nothing happens. Therefore, there is no downside to believing in God.
On the other hand, if we do not believe in God, and God exists, you go to hell. If we do not believe in God and God does not exist, nothing happens. Therefore, there is no upside to refuting the existence in God.
So Pascal is suggesting that believing in God is the smart choice, because there is no downside, so why not?
Unfortunately, there are two major fallacies with Pascal’s wager, especially in the view of a Christian God.
The first fallacy is in your belief system. There are literally thousands of sects within Christianity, each of which has a different view of entrance into heaven. Not only that, but there are thousands of other religions in the world, and some of those religions don’t even believe in heaven. Some religions don’t even have Gods, such as Buddhism, and Deists believe that God has taken a “hands off” approach, and wouldn’t care what you do, anyway. So the bottom line is this: There are thousands of different world views on entrance in to heaven, so the likelihood that your specific belief system is correct (in a world with thousands of belief systems), is so incredibly remote, that the upside of believing in God is almost zero. In fact, it may be possible that the true criteria for entrance into heaven are believed by no existing religion.
The second, and most compelling argument in my opinion, is the omniscience of the Christian God. The Christian Bible asserts that God is all-knowing (omniscient, Psalm 147:5). If that is true, and your belief in God is based upon a “wager,” then your belief in God is insincere. God would know this (he is omniscient, remember?), and would not grant you entrance into heaven as a false believer.
A third argument could also be made that Pascal was presumptuous in assuming that the Christian God is the correct God, and that heaven and hell actually exist. Of course, none of these assertions have been proven, so you can argue that Pascal’s wager is a moot argument.
My final argument relates to the effects your belief system has on the world we live in. When someone believes in God, there are generally tenets to their faith that go along with it (although this does not apply to deism). People act upon those tenets in life, so your belief in God affects people in this world, and can have an adverse effect. For me, two people have chosen to leave my life because of my atheism, so there are consequences in this life, in believing in God. And there are much more dire consequences in religion, such as faith-based wars, forced circumcision, and subjugation of women and homosexuals. So just think about your beliefs, and not only how they affect your perceived entrance into heaven, but how it affects others in this world.