Over the last few weeks, I’ve been involved in a debate online about a religious conference/camp coming to my town. Of course, any time a non-believer pokes their head into a discussion, the discussion generally turns to why the non-believer is wrong about his/her non-belief.

One common theme I’ve been seeing is the invocation of “Pascal’s Wager”. The believer often tells me that by living according to the tenants of their religion means they lose nothing if they are wrong, but by rejecting their faith, I stand to lose everything if I am wrong. In addition, the life of a non believer is allegedly one devoid of hope (of immortality).

Blaise Pascal theorized “a person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.” [http://bit.ly/14z3fO]

There is a very obvious logical error to this line of reasoning. They are assuming that their version of god, and their belief system is the correct one. They are assuming that all other gods and all other beliefs systems are incorrect. Their belief may be based on personal (spiritual) experiences, gut feelings, perceived miracles, faith in ancient literature or any of a host of other reasons. However, they have no more tangible proof than their neighbor the Hindu, the Jew, the Sikh, the Satanist or the Scientologist that their set of beliefs are true.

In addition, they have no way to influence anyone of any other beliefs systems other than a finite set of personal experiences blended with culture and environment.

What if Islam is the one true religion? Aren’t they risking their immortal soul by following Christianity? What if Mormonism is true? Aren’t they concerned that they will risk missing their chance at eternity? What about Judaism? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Wicca? It seems like they are taking a pretty big chance at assuming their god is true.

I am taking an equal chance as they that all those other gods do not exist. Well, not exactly equal. I believe in one less god than they do.

If I were to follow the doctrine of their religion, I would be giving up a lot. A life of freedom and peace beyond anything Christianity or any other religion can offer me. A life of pursuing truth, love and logic. A life without belief in a totalitarian despot watching my every move. A life without patriarchal-led gender roles. A life where homosexuals, non-believers and people of other races aren’t second class citizens. A life where I can adjust my moral compass when new information about how I should treat my fellow man emerges. A life where I don’t feel guilty about providing education about sex. A life where we use science, not faith, to observe the world around us.

I have no reason to follow the outdated tenants of their ancient scriptural book(s). Some of my personal values may echo what they read there, however, those parts that echo inequality and the idea that things happen by magic have no place in the modern world.

As far as hope goes – I DO have hope. Hope in myself, hope in my family and hope in the future. I do not need magic or mysticism to make me feel like a happy, healthy, complete person. I am a better person without their god, without their Jesus.

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Comment by Edward Teach on March 11, 2010 at 8:55am
@ deletedsoul and The Nerd But what happens when the floor is LAVA?!?! I ride across on my mother's strong back ;-)
Comment by deletedsoul on March 9, 2010 at 8:44pm
@Edward - But what happens when the floor is LAVA?!?!

@Loren - It is a recurring theme with theists. As an (former) evangelical, I remember tons of little rituals we did "just in case". We would pray protection over our house to prevent break-ins, pray over our food to prevent sickness, pray before bed in case we died in our sleep - the list goes on. Yes, there was plenty of praying because we were "thankful" to a god for all his blessings, but preventative prayer is just as prevalent.

It wasn't until I became a non-theist that I realized the myriad of intellectually dishonest rituals I performed without even realizing it.
Comment by Loren Miller on March 9, 2010 at 2:50pm
Has it occurred to any of the proponents of Pascal's Wager that indulging in such as an ass-covering, cross-your-fingers, just-in-case action represents the practitioner as utterly lacking in anything resembling integrity?

Of course ... what's the intersection set between irrational belief and integrity?
Comment by Edward Teach on March 9, 2010 at 2:39pm
I don't know much, but I know this... I have saved my mother's back from breaking at least a thousand times by avoiding cracks!
Comment by deletedsoul on March 9, 2010 at 2:30pm
@TheNerd: I know. It would seem obvious (especially to an all-knowing deity) that the follower was using religion as an insurance policy. IMO "better safe than sorry" seems like poor reasoning when it comes to structuring your entire life around said idea.
Comment by ObscureAtheist on March 9, 2010 at 12:52am
I heard that argument in School in religion class(religious[Islamic] studies) they had named it : "omitting the possible danger"!! even in that time that i was a REAL Muslim i couldn't accept this argument and my reason was my being wrong as a Muslim equaled loosing happier and .. Life however i had fear to argue about that with teacher

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