You have outlined Pascal’s Wager, a very old argument, and one with many flaws. To my mind, the biggest one is the assumption that we can control what we believe and don’t believe. If you doubt this, try believing in the Tooth Fairy, or that you can fly if you run and wave your arms real fast. Or, try to stop believing that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow, or that gravity will stop pinning us to the earth. Can you do it?
We can’t actually believe something which makes no sense to us, we could only pretend. But would an omniscient god be fooled, if one existed? Of course, we could perhaps fool ourselves into thinking that we believe, if we refuse to think seriously about that belief. I think this happens with a lot of religious people.
Another problem with Pascal’s Wager is that there are costs involved in a false belief in gods. Millions of people waste billions of hours praying to the air, and billions of dollars in collection plates and church fund drives. Millions more suffer with guilt for their supposed sins, or with paralyzing fears that they may end up in hell. So, sometimes there are very large and agonizing psychological costs, as well, associated with belief.
Then there is the problem of which god to believe in. Should one pick the god who promises the least punishment in the afterlife (assuming one had any control over his choice)?
Many, many people are afraid to think much about these things because they are afraid of the answers they might come up with. But, really, what kind of screwball god would give people a brain and curiosity and then punish them for using them to the best of their ability? It seems that faith gets people into god belief, but only reason can get them out.
Posted: August 29th 2011
See all questions answered by Galen Rose