Saturday, September 20, 2008

Atheist Starter Kit #03

Here's Ray Comfort's number three piece of advice.
3. When you hear that you have everything to gain and nothing to lose (the pleasures of Heaven, and the endurance of Hell) by obeying the Gospel, say "That's just the old 'Pascal wager.'"
Hey Ray! That is Pascal's Wager! Just like the last item, you are critisizing someone for using the technical name of the argument.

Wikipedia defines Pascal's Wager like this.
Pascal's Wager (or Pascal's Gambit) is a suggestion posed by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should "wager" as though God exists, because so living has potentially everything to gain, and certainly nothing to lose.
IOW, since the existence of God can not be proven with certainty, we should bet that he does exist on the off-handed chance that he does actually exist and will throw us in heck if we do not believe.

I have several problems with this wager.

First, the wager assumes that I can flip a switch in my head and magically believe again. It wasn't that easy for me to believe in God when I did actually believe. What I was being told to believe stretched credibility to the breaking point. I was always asking questions and receiving no good answers. Why would anyone think that I can believe again just like that?

Secondly, the wager assumes that God would reward someone for just going through the motions. Most evangelicals I know would not expect God to reward a man for not believing, but coming to church every week just so he wouldn't go to heck. They say that you must actually believe in Jesus with all your heart, to be saved. I don't see how you could slide on into heaven on Pascal's Wager according to evangelical theology.

Thirdly, Blaise Pascal is not a good role model for evangelicals. He was catholic during most of his life, but he had a few beliefs that strayed from the mainstream teachings of catholicism. The wager wasn't even invented by Pascal as an argument for theism. He was doing a thought experiment on probability. He even recognized some of problems with the wager. I doubt that Pascal would have approved of the wager being used as an argument by evangelicals (whom he would have concidered as heretics). Which brings up the next point.

There are several other problems I have with it, but I'll end with this one. The wager can be used by any religion. As a matter of fact, I can't think of a religion that couldn't use it. Evangelicals use it as a reason one should follow their faith, but what about islam? The wager works well with islam as well. What about judaism? Hinduism? Sikhism? For the wager to work, I'd have to consider every one of these religions. That would be impossible because most religions exclude salvation to anyone practicing other religions. It just wouldn't work to try practicing all religions.

1 comment:

Bart said...

The last point is the biggest problem with Ray's logic. It really is an argument ending truth - Ray has no rational response. "You have everything to gain, but nothing to lose" - well what if Islam ends up being the true religion? Allah would be none to happy with Ray and he would be booted to hell. What if Zeus is god? What if the Mormons are right?

There is no logical reality based answer. Ray's usual response will be something along the lines of "pray with a humble and sincere heart" blah blah blah. It really is talking to a brick wall.