Sunday, September 26, 2010

Don't Place All Your Eggs in The Easter Bunny's Basket

Image courtesy of Google Images.

Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.
– Marcus Aurelius

I imagine I could never summarize so eloquently and succinctly as Aurelius did long before Pascal’s time and his famous wager, which itself is written much more professionally and eloquently than I can paraphrase here:

If you believe in God and turn out to be wrong, you’ve lost nothing. But if you don’t believe in God and you turn out to be wrong, you’ve got everything to lose. So you may as well choose to believe in God, just in case.

It is incredible how many people accept this wager as logical and wise, and how many encourage unbelievers such as me to accept it also. It is contrary to my philosophy and beliefs in so many ways.

Firstly, the very notion that one can choose what to believe is foolhardy and childish. Even if I wanted to take the wager, how could I possibly choose to believe in god? I may spend the rest of my days pretending to believe, but deep inside know that it is not real, which would still be a form of unbelief. I can no more choose to believe in god than I can choose to believe in any fantasy including the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, and Santa Claus. That Christians very often become offended and even upset when I make that comparison only illustrates the immaturity of missing the point. To compare Christianity to other fantasies is only to explain how an unbeliever views the religion. If you are a Christian, could you choose, as an educated adult, to believe in the Easter Bunny? Could you really, even if you thought your eternal fate depended on it, set aside all the rational thought and evidence that the chocolate eggs are actually placed there by loving and playful parents and instead believe that they are truly placed there magically by a fantastic leporine? Could you really believe that? That is akin to what Christians ask when they think a non-believer can choose to believe in their god. If you were asked to learn to believe in the Easter Bunny, what you would really be asked to do is to set aside all the rational thought processes and logic you have acquired thus far in life, and accept fantasy that is outside the realm of the world you live in and witness on a daily basis.

Secondly, the wager is pure folly because it assumes that the only possibility is that either the Christian god Yahweh exists or not. And if he does, then he is exactly the god that you can define, presumably for Christians, through the Bible. In short, what happens if you accept Pascal’s wager, die, and then find out that Thor was actually the one true god after all? You’re equally doomed (perhaps more so?) as if you’d never taken the foolish wager in the first place. There are thousands of potential gods that have been defined in human history. Why should the one that your culture defines happen to be the right one on which to wager? That Christians, in our Western culture, make this assumption only illustrates their inability to see outside their narrow window of having already accepted the wager by being Christian in the first place.

There are several other problems with Pascal’s Wager with which I could continue, but why bother? To continue discussing it after the first two (really even only the first one) points completely destroy it would only validate a foolish proposition.

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