Atheism Isn’t A Choice: My Take On Pascal’s Wager

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I remember as a child, sitting in the church pew, and watching my hero behind the pulpit. I listened intently to every word that came out of that man’s mouth. That man… was my dad.

I don’t talk about my dad that much, especially when it comes to religion.   It’s somewhat of a sensitive subject for me because I loved him so much, and I realize how heartbroken and disappointed he would be if he knew his son was now not only a sinner, but an atheist. However, he will never feel that pain, as he died shortly before my seventeenth birthday.  I miss him terribly, and would love if he were still here with us, yet I know maybe it’s better this way.  Maybe my lack of belief in his god would have been too much for him.  I have been reminded by several Christians in the past just how disappointed in me he would be if he were still alive, maybe they’re right. I’m getting distracted. Let’s get back to the story.

I remember sitting there listening to him preach, when he said something that really got my attention.  He said, “People say, ‘What if you’re wrong about all this god stuff, preacher?’ And I said, well if I’m wrong, when I die, I’ve lost nothing, but if you’re wrong, you’ve lost everything.”  The idea being that a person is much better off being a Christian ‘just in case’ whether you believe or not, because who wants to chance burning in hell forever, right?

At the time I thought this was genius. I also thought it was original, and my father was the first to say it.  I would discover years later that it wasn’t an original argument at all, and has been used countless times throughout the years.  It even has a name.  It’s known as Pascal’s Wager.

Now, let me explain why not only is this argument invalid, but also why if there was a god, I’d be doomed to hell no matter what, and there’s nothing I could do to avoid it.

First, let’s look at the basic requirements for salvation.

  1. Admit you are a sinner worthy of hell
  2. Confess those sins to Jesus and beg for forgiveness
  3. Believe in Him
  4. Live your life according to His Word (the Bible)

I could spend hours going on about points 1, 2, and 4, but for the sake of sticking to the topic, we really only need to focus on number 3, Believe in Him.  That’s an important one. The Bible is quite emphatic that you must believe in Him.

So, could someone explain to me how I do that?

Because until I believe a god exist, it is impossible for me to confess to one. However, this is a requirement in order for me to be on the ‘safe side’ as they suggest and avoid eternal damnation in a lake of fire. All I need to do is simply believe.

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Of course now I’m going to set up a hypothetical scenario to drive my point home, because I feel the need to be a little dramatic and over the top. Imagine I burst into your home, and put a gun to your head. I now explain to you that unless you believe in unicorns I’m going to put a bullet in your brain right here and now. Simple right? All you have to do is say you believe in unicorns, and you’ve avoided any harm. Right? Well, there’s one little catch. You see, in this hypothetical scenario I’ve created I forgot to mention that I can also read minds. Therefore, even if you say you believe, I will know if you’re lying. I will pull the trigger unless you truly believe in unicorns. Now, can you force yourself to believe? Of course you can’t. You either believe in unicorns or you don’t. No threats I make can change that.

As ridiculous as that analogy is, it really isn’t any different from what theists are proposing when they use the Pascal’s Wager argument. I cannot simply ‘believe’ in something just to be on the safe side.

I believed in a god for years based on indoctrination from the people I trusted the most. I believed based on emotion, and my ‘feelings’. Never once did I believe based on any actual evidence. I didn’t need evidence. I had been convinced that faith was all I needed, and the lack of evidence was actually a purposeful test of my faith. What a brilliant lie. It was pure genius, and it worked for years on me, and continues to work on billions even today.

Do you think I simply woke up one morning and ‘chose’ to no longer believe? No, it wasn’t that simple. It took some time, but it did begin when I realized I needed some sort of evidence to back up my beliefs. However, as I searched for evidence to bolster my beliefs, it started to become clear there simply was none. That led me down a confusing, yet ultimately liberating path to becoming the realist I am today.

Thanks so much for reading. Please subscribe if you’re interested in hearing any more of my thoughts or following my story. I have much more I’d like to share in the future.

Joe Stilwell

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/24710541@N08/24458935050″>’Víkurkirkja’ – Vík í Mýrdal, Iceland via photopin (license)

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/21938978@N03/3260650941″>believe</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

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