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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That's essentially what I told her. I said that I am not going to be forced to believe in something just because someone tells me a scary story of what happens if I don't and that if God is actually there, pretending to believe wouldn't fool him anyway.

I may just give this up as a lost cause. I don't really see any way to convince her she's wrong about Hell without also convincing her she's wrong about the whole religion at the same time. That would start the very argument that I'd rather not have.

I've also discovered that she is one of those with the irrational opinion that to criticize faith is to criticize people with faith and even gets offended at people for questioning blind faith. I don't see the point in trying to argue against that sort of mindset. If she's going to torment herself with visions of her friends in Hell, then that is her choice.
If she's going to torment herself with visions of her friends in Hell, then that is her choice.

There is your answer. Tell her to let go of her visions, and let you take care of yourself.
Pascal's wager is an intellectually dishonest proposition.

It requires one to fake belief, which an omniscient god should see right through.

It is based on a fallacious appeal to rewards. Just because a lottery offers a million dollars does not mean I should buy a ticket. Just because a girl gives good head means I should date her. It can also be called an appeal to consequences since who would want to go to any version of hell?

But where Pascal's wager is really dishonest is in the odds. "Either there is a god or not," it says, reducing it to a toss of a coin. But the odds are not 50-50. The odds are not even here just because there are only two choices. It is not a coin toss at all.

This is because we have no facts to determine the odds of the existence of any god. The only fact we have is that people believe, which tells us nothing about the existence of a god, just the belief of its followers. In order to calculate the odds of god existing, we would need evidence, solid verifiable evidence for the existence of a god that does not require a pre-existing belief in a god. There currently is no such evidence.

As far as the biblical hell, here's a link. It basically says that those who do not believe do not go to a place of torture but simply cease to exist. They die. This is remarkably congruent with what atheists already believe, so tell your friend to quit worrying. The bible itself confirms what you already believe happens when you die.
Not to mention the fact that if there was a omniscient super entity capable of creating the entire universe it would really care what we think.

Billions and Billions of stars and people still think you are really going to get punished for eternity for which is basically, a thoughtcrime.

Yeah right.

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”- Voltaire
"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."

The so-called "modern" concept of Hades is actually quite ancient. It is direct descendant of primitive notions of death and rebirth in early civilizations. The mythological conception of Haides follows the ancient practice of assigning allegory to the natural world . Haides and his wife Proserpina (daughter of the goddess of grain Demeter) were responsible for the natural bounty of the earth: receiving the material of that which is dead (people, animals, plants everything) and causing the earth to re-bloom in a never ending cycle. (early Grk. depictions of Haides typically show him with a Horn of Plenty).The idea of the domain of Hades was adopted by the early Christian apologists, who were the intellectual heirs of Hellenistic thought, because they had no other concept of death. Hades is mentioned many times in the Gospel accounts as a place where people go when they die. This, however, is the Hellenistic conception.

In the Hellenistic world, the domain of Pluto/Dis (Grk: Haides=the bountiful one) was a place below the ground at your feet in the belly of Gaia/Earth called Tartarus(Hesiod). The tripartite division of the world placed heaven above (Zeus), the sea and earth in the middle(Poseidon), and Tartarus below(Haides). In the ancient world, the domain of Haides was a place you could actually walk to if you knew the way (and the heroes Aeneas and Ulysses did find a way). Typically the entrance to the lower world was a fetid, stinking swamp (Lake Avernus in Italy) or a cave where shrines to Haides were placed (known as a Plutonium: there's one at Ephesus in Turkey). This differs from our modern concept which typically assigns the domain of Haides to another and metaphysical realm (ask your religious friend where Hell is and she will likely reply in a vague way: "below heaven" or "in another world"). Importantly, because of the domain's close association with "what's under the earth" in Hellenistic thought we see very early descriptions of the realm of Haides in close association with other natural earth phenomena, in particular volcanoes (e.g. the Phlegetontis: the lake of fire which feeds the volcano), sulphurous gases that leak from fissures in the ground, rivers (Hell has five of them: the ancients believed that the earth was circled by underground rivers), devouring worms and bugs. When the Evangelists and early Christian writers envisioned life after death invariably it was this Hellenistic lower world below the horizon and below your feet.

Very early we see Tartarus as a place of imprisonment and punishment. According to Hesiod the titans, cyclops and hundred-handers were all imprisoned there for their insurrections against heaven (the Titantomachy). Later the giants were added (the Gigantomachy) who often were responsible for volcanic activity (e.g.,Enceladus thrown under Mt. Aetna by Athena). As the literary motif continued, various men were imprisoned in Tartarus for disrespecting the gods (principally the tyrant god Zeus) and administered ironic and fitting tortures (e.g., Sisyphus, Ixion, Tantalus, the Danaids) . Sound familiar? The Christians, heirs to Hellenistic thought, owe their concept of Hellish imprisonment and punishment to these pre-Christian literary ideas. These ideas were explored in theological writings of the Middle Ages but their basic formulations never changed.

The appearance of daimons in this lower world takes a little more explanation. In the earliest conceptions among the Christian apologists the demon was an intermediary that existed between heaven and earth, a counter to the angel (angelus means simply a messenger). While the angel provided the true messages of heaven, the daimon provided the opposite, false prophecies (note the Greek dualism at work here). The idea of a daimon was created by the early Christian apologists as a way to explain why the truths of the Christian god were not discovered by the pagan Greeks and Romans. (They believed the events in the OT pre-dated those of the Greek gods whom they believed were merely mortals, ancient kings). The daimons fed the Greeks lies about the Christian god. They gave them false messages. In the literature of the Middle Ages, the daimon became an allegory of pagan influence on holy men (who invariably fought off their malfeasance in a variety of holy ways) They also became in the minds of medieval authors synonymous with the pagan gods and their ancient adherents. By the time of Dante all of these threads come into place: the world below is a place of imprisonment and punishment for those who disrespect god. It is filled with pagans (daimons) who torture in ironic and fitting ways. Dante's complex structure of Hell (the seven levels etc) owes to the structuralist logic of scholastic theology of the 13th century.

There is more to these literary influences that my poor pen can write to at the moment, but I hope that I have at least enlightened some on these motifs.




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