Saturday, February 23, 2013

Contra Atheismum--Part 2: Pascal's Wager Reconsidered

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. . ."

Blaise Pascal is famous for his wager. It is very simple. If there is no God, the Christian and the atheist go to the grave. If God exists, the Christian goes to heaven while the atheist goes to hell. In short, the Christian has nothing to lose in believing, so being a believer is the smart way to bet. Naturally, it isn't this simple.

Atheists will point out that there are other possible gods other than the Christian deity, so being a Christian may anger Allah or Yahweh or Odin or whoever. In addition, it seems unlikely that God would honor the cynical faith of someone making a bet they simply wanted to win. Sincerity in belief must count for something.

It is not my aim to answer those objections or defend Pascal's wager. I never found the argument compelling or convincing. This is because of a fundamental problem with the argument. The rewards of Christian belief are probable because they are found in an afterlife that may not exist. The rewards of atheism are certain because they are found in this life which does exist. Those who use the wager argument never reckon with this issue. But I reckon with it.

The atheist argument is very simple. Atheism liberates you in this life to live however you please. Atheism does not promise you the loving care of a deity or the promise of life after death. But it does promise you freedom from guilt, moral dilemmas, and the like. In fact, freedom is the only thing atheism gives you because it can't give you anything else.

Atheism is essentially materialism. The only thing that exists is physical matter. There is no such thing as God or the immortal soul. You may as well add in other non-material abstractions such as truth, goodness, and beauty. Ultimately, these are merely sensations and opinions. All of life can be reduced to random processes,  molecules, DNA, etc. Happiness in this life is nothing more than hedonism. Pleasure is the only good. Pain is the only evil. Even these are merely the judgments of sensations since good and evil are just the responses of our nervous systems to various stimuli.

I think a better wager is to reconsider what Pascal was getting at with no appeal to the afterlife. Let's look at the stakes purely from the atheist standpoint that all that exists is this present world and this present life. What is there to gain from being an atheist as opposed to being a Christian? What makes the atheist stance more commendable than the stance of a religious person? In other words, how does atheism make you happier than religion?

The evidence is pretty overwhelming that religious people live happier lives than atheists. Polls indicate this. Religious people are healthier, more optimistic, and live better family and professional lives than atheists. Atheists tend to depression, angst, cynicism, and suicide. If religion is a delusion, it is a happy delusion. As such, the atheist has no counterargument to this. If hedonism is the rule, you should be religious because it makes your life more pleasant. This is essentially the truth behind Marx's claim that religion is the opiate of the masses.

I know of few atheists who champion theft, murder, and rape as good things, so atheists claim to unbridled freedom is ultimately bogus. Atheists are quite happy with morality when it serves their purpose such as the protection of their property and persons. But they don't like morality or religion when it comes to their sex lives or which substances they want to put in their bodies. So, for the sake of an orgasm and a marijuana high, atheists expunge religion.

Now, I am sure there are atheists who would disagree with my reductionism of their reductionist philosophy of life. They would make the claim that we must believe in things that are true and not believe in things that are false. But this is a moral stance that belies their worldview. Why should I choose a less pleasant life for the sake of truth? Why is truth higher than pleasure?

I do believe that truth is higher than pleasure, but this belief comes from my religion. It can never come from atheism. If you believe in either truth or pleasure, it only makes sense to believe in God. To not believe in God is to forsake both truth and happiness which is why atheists tend to misery and lies. As I pointed out in part 1, atheism is self refuting. Will this be a persuasive argument to the atheist? Of course not.

The best answer that an atheist can give to this argument is to point out that it is possible to have a pleasant life without religion. This would be Epicurus. That will be addressed in another part of Contra Atheismum. But the atheist must also admit that it is possible to have a pleasant life with religion. So, the choice is clear. Is it better to have an unpleasant truth or a pleasant lie? And if the choice is between an unpleasant lie and a pleasant lie, isn't the pleasant lie better? And what if there exists a pleasant truth? The only right answer to this thorn bush of dilemmas is the Catholic answer.



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