Instead of simply rebutting Pascals Wager, let us consider the counter wager:
Should you believe in a theistic god?
Let us say you do not believe: If you are wrong:
This one is a touch trickier than most people think.
See, people tend to think that non-belief simply applies to atheists, but in reality, it applies to nearly everyone. If, for example, you’re a Hindu, Jew, or Muslim, then as far as Christians are concerned, you’re a non-believer, and you can’t be saved. It gets worse than that, however, because even if you’re a Christian, most other Christians think you’re not going to be saved; To the Catholic, Protestants, Baptists, and even Orthodox, are no more saved than an atheist. And it gets even worse, because the strongest Christian believers today are heretics by the standards of just 300 years ago. If you don’t support the burning of apostates, gays, or people who work on Sunday (as most saints of the church, like Aquinas, Augustine, and Moore did), you aren’t Christian.
Now you may be dead certain you’re right, willing to bet your immortal soul on it, but then again so is every believer in every other sect of every religion, both today and in the history of the world. There have been roughly 110 billion people in human history, and according to the overwhelming majority of them, you are essentially an atheist.
So statistically speaking, the chances are overwhelming that whatever you believe, you are wrong.
So what happens?
Well, nobody knows, that’s precisely what religious disagreements are about. If the Catholic God is the “real” one, then if you’re not Catholic, you’re going to hell, it’s that simple. If the protestant God is real, you might be okay.
But most people actually think that if God exists, he would not bar a genuinely good person from heaven. So if you’ve been a good person, most people think you’ll be okay, regardless of belief. So when you die, apologize for not believing in the right god, hope that he understands, and hope that you’ve really lead a good life (which should probably be your goal anyway).
But the conclusion is that whatever your belief, it probably doesn’t matter (at least you’d better hope it doesn’t, since you’re probably wrong). The best you can do is just try to be a good person, and hope that’s enough.
Now, what if you do believe there’s a theistic God, and you’re wrong?
Pascal would have you believe that there are no consequences to believing the wrong thing. But the consequences are actually staggering, heartbreaking, and potentially catastrophic.
Lets start with women, who make up a whole half of the human race. Today in every country dominated by any of the Abrahamic religions, they are relegated to the status of second class citizens. In the US, their right to vote was vigorously opposed, and hard won not even 100 years ago. Today they still make $0.71 for every dollar a man does, and are under-represented and face great difficulties advancing in nearly every field, from politics to science. It takes a healthy dose of denial to think women get equal treatment in this country. Where did this discrimination come from?
Considered property in the old testament, there are hundreds of passages making clear that women must defer to men (who often have God’s permission–or are even commanded, to kidnap, rape, or sell them off–especially if they talk back). This has informed Jewish, Muslim, and Christian views on women for the last 2,000 years or more. When you add to that God’s commandments to kill apostates, unbelievers, and gays (In the US, the suicide rate for homosexual teens is 3x the rate of heterosexual ones, a direct result of unrelenting teasing, berating, and judging in the name of God), you have a great deal of suffering. All of this is to say nothing of the hidden damage, such as the results from the Catholic prohibition on condoms. This prohibition turned Africa from a country with a 2% AIDS population to a country with a 40% AIDS population, ripe with overpopulation, starvation, and disease. Since it was foisted upon Africa by Pope John Paul II in 1990, an additional 21 Million more people have died from AIDS than otherwise would have, leaving children (who starve to death at a rate of one every 17 seconds) abandoned.
Then there are the inquisitions, genocide in Darfur, the targeting of children in Belfast, Catholics—Protestants—suni—shia… The reformation…
Where would science and medicine be today if religion hadn’t spent thousands of years imprisoning, torturing, and murdering the greatest minds in history, opposing every new discovery from the heliocentric solar system to vaccines(1)Thought to be the work of the devil? Where will we be tomorrow if religion continues to deny evolution, or deny the fact that climate change (a potently extinction level event) is not only real, but within our ability to control?
It would appear to me that Pascal drastically underestimated the consequences of false belief.
Given the overwhelming likelihood that any theistic belief you held is wrong, given the immense suffering caused by false beliefs, and given that incorrect belief will add to that suffering, belief sounds like a poor choice. Indeed, if there is a God, and you’ve held the wrong belief, you’ll be called to account for the suffering you caused in the name of that belief.
However if you choose non-belief, if you instead rely on facts and reason, and just try to be the best person you can be, you maximize both your benefit, and that to your fellow man, for nearly every possibility of atheist/theistic combination.
The best choice is non-belief.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Thought to be the work of the devil|