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Questions: What If You're Wrong?


darwinfish

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What if I'm wrong for not believing in a God? I get this one a lot. Philosophically, it's the same question that Pascal is posing in "Pascal's Wager". If you live your whole life believing in a God, and it turns out there is no God, you've lost nothing. If you live your whole life not believing in God and it turns out there is a God, you've lost everything. This is the way the argument is framed when discussing it with friends. The argument in itself is deeply flawed.

 

The first flaw is in the premise that if it turns out there is no God "you've lost nothing". That's simply not true. This premise assumes that living a non-theistic life, given that there really is no God, wouldn't be satisfying in itself. I find the non-theist life very satisfying. So, you do lose a satisfying life, believing in things based on evidence. Also, if we believe in a God our whole life and there wasn't a God at the end of the tunnel, even if you only believed somewhat passively, you've spent your whole life following ideas and beliefs that have no merit. You've accepted believing in magic over science. You've not accepted things that are true in lieu of false beliefs. That's the most benign form this could take. From there, it gets worse. If you are more active in your beliefs, you've rallied for your false beliefs to be the laws of the land. You've imposed those false beliefs on others. You've denigrated those that don't share your beliefs as sinners. You may, like some, put yourself in harm’s way, believing that an invisible being that you've never seen or touched will protect you. And, when this invisible being fails to keep you or your loved ones from harm you blame yourself or others for their lack of faith. If you are completely overtaken with your beliefs, you might decide to attack or kill others that disagree with you. You could strap a bomb on your back and walk into a shopping mall in the name of your God. You could lose everything that makes this life worth living because you have accepted false beliefs.

 

Another flaw is which God do you follow? It's not just "no God" or "the God of the one posing the question". It's "the God of the one posing the question" vs. "every other God claim in existence". Which one is the right one? To accept one God claim means rejecting all others, or at the very least rejecting any incompatible God claims. Pascal's Wager doesn't providing any clue as to which God you should follow. If you follow a God and it turns out that it's not the right one, it’s a lose-lose situation. Not only did you waste your entire life following something that wasn't true, you now have hell to pay for it.

 

And, yet another flaw to consider is that this isn't true belief. We're not saying you have been convinced there is a God. We're, sort of, saying you should pretend to follow a God you don't really believe in. At best, that's sort of saying, "We hope God is really stupid and won't realize we're only paying Him lip service." If any God does exists, I don't think pretend belief will win you any favors with Him.

 

At the core of this question is fear, as if that's supposed to be the motivating factor to believe something. That is a motivating factor for a lot of people, and I think it's difficult for Christians to understand how non-theists have been able to remove that fear from their thought process.

 

When I was thirteen, near Halloween, the youth pastor at the Baptist church I was attending showed a video about the occult and hell. There's no way I could remember what the name of that video was. It was far too long ago for me. But, I do remember how afraid of hell it made me. I was still a Catholic, at this time. My mom left the Catholic Church, but I hadn't yet accepted the Baptist religion. At the end of every Baptist service they have this alter call where they try to scare you into "making a decision for the Lord" Ultimately, they want you to accept the Baptist doctrine and dedicate your life to Christ. They'll say things like, "You may leave here today and get into a car accident. And this may be your last chance of salvation. If it's right to do, it's right to do today." They would repeat these sentiments for around 5 minutes and hope that they scare enough people into salvation. That night that I watched the video on hell, it worked on me. The concept of hell is scary. No one reasoned with me. No one showed me the verifiable evidence about hell. The only motivation they gave me for praying to God, that I need to be saved was to keep me from being tortured for all eternity in fire. And, that's why I got saved that night.

 

That's what these Christians have in mind when they ask, "Aren't you afraid you’re wrong? Doesn't it scare you that you might go to hell?" Doesn't it scare them that they are wrong? They could have been born into the wrong religion or accepted the wrong set of doctrines? Aren't they worried? Out, of all the Christians I interactive with on the daily basis, few know the Bible as well as I do. I thought this was important to them? Or are they just scared enough to join the religion, but not enough to really know that much about it? We shouldn't accept an argument out of fear. We should accept it out of evidence. How can we ever really claim to know anything if it's only fear that is motivating us to believe?

 

No, I'm not afraid I'm wrong, and neither are you. So, let's get back to the evidence.

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Pascal's Wager doesn't providing any clue as to which God you should follow.

 

That's not entirely accurate. Implied in Pascal's wager is the premise that the god is a vengeful narcissist who cares whether or not we believe in it. The question then reduces to which vengeful, narcissistic god should we pretend to believe in.

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