Need help with Pascal's Wager and the concept of Hell

I've just had an awkward and uncomfortable conversation with a very good friend. She is Christian. It was a classic Pascal's Wager; she's worried I'll be in Hell when I die if I'm wrong about religion.

She said she'd had this conversation before with a couple of atheists and left the impression that she might again. She tried to start up an analogy about "if you knew my plane was going to be hijacked, wouldn't you call me to tell me not to get on" and I had to stop her. We made a truce early on that we wouldn't talk about religion or atheism and that's exactly the sort of debate I didn't want to have with her.

This all ended well enough and we went back to normal after a while but I am extremely pissed off about the rubbish that's been put into her head.

So, I need a little help here.

1) A (preferably short) refutation of Pascal's Wager that explains the logical fallacy in a way that doesn't belittle Christianity or Christians. I know about Dawkin's "Atheists Wager" and that won't work for what I need. Basically, I'd like to convince her there is no need to have this awkward conversation with anybody else because the argument itself doesn't make any sense.

What I told her tonight was that every atheist has already dealt with this question on their own. Even if we are wrong and God exists, we couldn't just fake that we believe because he'd see through that anyway, so the whole argument is pointless. I don't know if that was convincing enough or not.

2) I know that the concept of Hell as some nasty place full of flames, demons and torture is fairly recent. As I understand it, the original Christian concept of Hell was that it was just this place you went when you died and there was nothing special about it. Does anyone know where I could point her (it would have to be online) to show that, even if I'm wrong and I do land in Hell, it is not the terrible place of torture that she thinks it is?

I don't want to try to convert her any more than I want her trying to convert me. I just want to point out to her what Christians originally thought Hell was. That concept changed at some point into what it is now and I'd like to be able to point her at a piece of history and say "this is where they got that idea." I don't want the idea of me being tortured by demons or whatever to be in the back of her mind when we're talking. She's smart and she listens to me, so I think that's doable.

I can't even tell you how pissed off I am that they teach this kind of crap to kids.

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1) Using your friend's own analogy about "If I knew your plane was going to be hijacked..." The logical fallacy there is that she doesn't know. She has 'faith.' There is no empirical evidence that the plane is going to be hijacked and mountains upon mountains of empirical evidence that her hunch is falsely based "I had a dream ... the horoscope said ..." Based on the available, rational evidence, the risk of my plane being hijacked is as low as that of any other plane. On the other hand, if I don't get on this plane I'll lose the promotion/miss the family reunion/miss my vacation/not get the job/lose the client/etc. I'm not going to disrupt my life based on a hunch of pure blind faith.

Doesn't fit your criteria as it would directly challenge Xian faith, but for the record my standard answer to Pascal's wager is just that: I am so confident there is no god that I'm not even going to hedge my bets. I am wagering my eternal soul on my reasoning. THAT is conviction beyond any Xian hedging-your-bets leap of faith.

Or you could say, "I have faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Since he is just as likely to be the real god as your god is, I have just as much chance of getting into heaven as you do."

2) Don't have details on hand but the History Channel did a great documentary: "Hell: The Devil's Domain." Explores the origins of the concept of hell, including that such a concept is indeed very recent. If you can get your hands on it it's well worth the money.

One of the standard answers to Pascal's Wager is that it assumes on the part of the questioner a specific notion of god. So the reply is: What would you say to a Hindu that asked you the same kind of question? Along the same lines: What would a Roman Catholic say to an Evangelical that asked them the same question? Ask you friend why you should worry about her god's hell when there a umpty dozen other gods waiting to get you too?

As to the notion of hell: It is so ridiculous as to not merit attention. Your friend is assuming there is a god, that for reasons not explained is willing to create a space, outside of space and time, in which billions, possibly trillions of people, without corporeal substance, are made to suffer untold horrors and pain for eternity without hope of relief or parole. If hell is an absolute punishment for all time then it would make just as much sense to just destroy the souls to be punished. The god that created the Christian hell is a sadist.

Your friend will tell you that the acts of god are beyond our understanding. The reply is "That is just not good enough. It begs the question by assuming nothing and everything at the same time."

Hope this helps.
As for the Hell part, just give George Carlin's answer:

"Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there is an invisible man! Living in the sky, who watches everything you do, every minute of everyday. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire, smoke, burning, torture, anguish, and he will send you to live and suffer, burn, choke, scream and cry, forever and ever until the end of time!

But he loves you!"
Jay - noting the proof-positive of Flying Spaghetti Monster's existence in your profile pic, I wonder: If FSM's Heaven is comprised of a stripper factory and a beer volcano, would FSM Hell be mediocre-looking stripper junkyard and a cheap beer wading pool?
And the women would all have STDs in the pastafarian hell
See, I don't think FSM would be even that sadistic. That's why I imagine something more like, my beer would be cheap and my chippendale dancers will have pot bellies.

If you think stale beer is not as bad as eternal hellfire then I just gotta say: "YOU'RE WRONG!"

Well to be honest, I'm not a beer drinker at all. I imagine FSM to be pretty accommodating so my heaven should be comprised of a Chippendale factory and a Jello-Shot Geyser. Or possibly a Margarita Waterfall.
What a terrific way to put it, wasn't it?
My post is mostly an answer to request #2.

Why Scientists Don't Fear Hell (Video) <- This may help. You might not want to show her the video, as it is a bit critical of religion, but you can still use the facts in your discussion with her.

Hell: an excessive punishment (Video) <- Another video on hell.

This video may also help. Although the series is about creationism, this particular video is about the origins of the Bible and its authors.

I hope this helps!
I think you should tell your friend thank you for her concern, it means a lot to you that she is looking out, but it is your decision to make. If you ever have doubts, you'll be sure to come to her right away but before that day, this conversation isn't necessary anymore. Remember, even if it is annoying, she is trying to help you.

Pascal’s Wager: You can't make yourself believe. You either believe or you don't believe. God would know it if you were faking - wouldn't he? So, even though you know the story and the potential consequence, you still can't believe it is true and there is no point in pretending it's true. You have no faith.

I think Richard Dawkins said it best:

Hell: The word that has been translated into "hell" in the Christian meaning is a mistranslation. Right outside the wall of Jerusalem, there used to be a flaming garbage pile where the poor and deviant were tossed when they died. So, when it was translated for the second or third time, it lost its cultural meaning and became a "flaming place" instead of that specific worldly flaming place.

I think it's ok to be very clear that if she continues to bring it up, you will consider it an invitation to examine her beliefs and challenger her on them. You really would like not to have to be confrontational but it is unreasonable to expect to continue to challenge your ideas of the world and expect not to delve into hers.
The standard response to Pascal is that the number of possible gods is not taken into account. Your Christian friend has to take into account the problems of what if she is following the wrong god. Pascal based his wager on the assumption of a singular god to consider. But with the multiplicity of gods proposed in the world and theoretically possible the matrix that his argument forms falls apart as the odds of gaining anything positive by guessing at the right god fall victim to diminishing returns.

Second problem less often discussed is the nature of belief. Belief is not a matter of choice. Belief is a realization of what you accept as true. The wager relies on the misguided notion that you can choose what you believe. And even if you are trying to cover your bet by claiming to believe in god(the right god) do you think god would recognize false claims of belief?




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