It’s the Opposite of Pascal’s Wager

Most people live each day according to their own inner code even though, on the surface, they give credit to a supernatural designer.

Even though Marcus Aurelius may never have said the following quotation, his book The Meditations implies much of the same philosophy and is worth a read.

Take care of yourself and make some good memories. You don’t need to believe in a god to do that.

About molly

Follow Molly: @Molly_Nelson/ www.mollyanelson.com

  • Philbert

    There are many problems with Pascal’s wager, but one that strikes me is its incredible selfishness. It basically says that if my god exists then I’ve got mine, and if no god exists then you can’t touch me because I’ll be gone and so will you. But if there is no god then you disowned your gay son for nothing. You stoned that rape victim for no reason whatsoever. You damaged or destroyed the only life they’ll ever have. But there’s no afterlife where you can be held to account so that’s of no consequence.

    It’s basically gambling with other people’s actual lives for the sake of your own gain in a fictional afterlife. It would be immoral even if it wasn’t such a pathetically bad bet.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chriswarr78 Chris Warren

      I’d seen Pascals wager as a logical fallacy, and a cowards proposition, but I had never considered its moral depravity in this light before. Your example was righteous.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brutus.lincoln.paine Brutus Lincoln Paine

      Nice; because no creator god religion, not even Christianity, is really about faith.  It’s all about works.   Faith is a fallacy.

  • advancedatheist

    Christians have had 2,000 years to propagandize the culture with what they think “atheism” means, even when they didn’t have examples of real atheists to point to (a problem they certainly don’t have now!). And they have usually portrayed atheists in what they considered the worst possible way, hence all their nonsense about our despair, nihilism, hopelessness etc., though somehow they also managed to work in their contradictory fantasies about our swinging, promiscuous sex lives, even though people who suffer from despondency usually don’t feel interested in sex. 

    Basically we have an unprecedented historical opportunity to disregard what christians have said about “atheism” all along in the absence of evidence, and discover in our own lives the consequences of it. Given what I have seen in my life over the past 38 years since my apostasy from the Jesus doomsday cult, so far the reality bears no resemblance to christians’ lurid fantasies about our lives.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I’ve always loved this quote by Marcus Aurelius since I first heard it when I was about 18 years old.  He had spoken thoughts that had been gradually forming in a fuzzy way in my mind, but he spoke with such articulate clarity that it was an amazement and a joy to realize that someone who had died 1,788 years before could understand me, and could say it so well.

    Thank you, Molly, for sharing this.

  • livinglife

    “Virutes you have lived by”, “noble life”

    But what does that even mean?  It’s so vague as to be completely meaningless. 

    Plus, I strongly believe (as do many atheists like myself) that atheistic materialism leads to a complete lack of morality.  Sure, we can erect some value system based on axiomatic principles or the practical means of sustaining society, but at the end of the day, we’re just atoms with no purpose and thus no logical FOUNDATION on which to base morality. 

    So the above quotation, while pithy, doesn’t really say anything in an atheistic context.

    [Yes, I assure I am an atheist.]

    • Secular Planet

      If secular axioms are insufficient in your opinion, then theism offers no better foundation for morality. And the quote does say something; it just doesn’t say everything.

    • machintelligence

      I have always been more interested in descriptive ethics than prescriptive ethics. Moral values are evolved characteristics, (and with the discovery of mirror neurons, we might have a hint at how they work in the brain), so it doesn’t really matter that atheistic materialism does not imply morality.

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      Sorry, but what can be more logical than a moral foundation based on what practically sustains a successful society? What is your basis for suggesting that we have no purpose because we are “just atoms”? Clearly, our atoms form sufficiently complex systems that we are able to create purpose, just as we are able to define moral systems.

    • AxeGrrl

      at the end of the day, we’re just atoms with no purpose and thus no logical FOUNDATION on which to base morality. 

      Sorry, but I think this is utter horse pucky.

      Of course we have a logical foundation on which to base morality.  Let’s see:  empathy and the fact that, in terms of survival, cooperative living is generally beneficial to everyone involved.

      These things are pretty obvious, imo.  No, they’re not “objective” things, but so what? 

    • Stev84

      I guess that’s why so many Christians demonstrate every day that they are a bunch of immoral, anti-human scumbags. Or maybe Satan made them do it.

  • 1000 Needles

    I’d recommend not posting a misattributed quotation, even when you explicitly state “Marcus Aurelius may never have said the following quotation.”

    It’s a safe bet that someone is going to see the image, skip over the surrounding text, and take your post as a verification that the quote is genuine.

    There are so many excellent quotes from Meditations, why not post one of those instead?

  • Dan

    I love Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations; I try to read it every year and it has changed my outlook on life more than any other single book. Still, I really think a better way to word the phrase “Even though Marcus Aurelius may never have said the following quotation” would be to say “There is absolutely no evidence that Marcus Aurelius ever said the following quotation.” Something vaguely similar is in some translations, but is sufficiently different that I think it is not truthful to ascribe it to him. It isn’t even a good paraphrase of anything he wrote.

  • AxeGrrl

    I don’t care who the hell said it, I think it’s bang on and articulated almost perfectly :)

  • Luther

    I like the quote and agree with it. But at the end of the day, I am atheist because I am convinced there is no evidence for god(s) and further that indeed there are no god(s). Even if believing a myth had value there is still no god(s). I choose to face reality as best I can understand it wherever that leads.

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      Exactly. Arguments like this are good for framing ethical questions, but of no value at all in deciding to be atheist or not (as if it was even possible to decide that). There is only one argument, and that is the argument against theism based on the complete lack of evidence of any sort of deity or intelligent designer, and the complete lack of evidence that one is required to explain the Universe. It’s really incredibly simple.

  • houndies

    better words never spoken!

  • Kodie

    If there is an unjust god, I would not want to worship him… but many people I’ve noticed who do worship an unjust “god” attribute some unknown justice to him, first of all, and if you are in actuality under the authority of an unjust god, appeasing him would still be in everyone’s best interest – if he were real and had that much power, it’s not exactly worship, and I’m not sure you could safely disregard it. I’m not saying I believe in god, I just think that’s how most religious people operate. There’s one thing to function as if there’s probably no god, and that seems to work for a lot of us, since there’s no evidence it exists and there’s no intended punishment from beyond if we fail to acknowledge it. I mean, I don’t think this wager is any better.

  • Gunstargreen

    So in contrast to Pascal’s Wager should we call this the”Aurelius Certainty?

  • VorJack

    It’s definitely not a Aurelius quote, since the reward in the end is living in the memory of your community.  Aurelius was dismissive of that goal: ”
    He who has a vehement desire for posthumous fame does not consider that every one of those who remember him will himself also die very soon; then again also they who have succeeded them, until the whole remembrance shall have been extinguished as it is transmitted through men who foolishly admire and perish.” (Meditations IV, 19)

    IIRC, Aurelius thought that the rewards of a virtuous life were the peace of mind and composure that came with it.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I’ve just skimmed over some of the chapters at the linked website. I suspect we lost a great deal with the rise of Christianity in Europe. This sort of philosophy was simply not their thing, and we’re all poorer for it.

  • Travis

    If there is a God and He is just, He will condemn you because you are sinful. If there is a God and He is merciful, He may pardon you if you repent. If there is no god, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”

    • Nemo

      You’re assuming that “just” means torture someone ruthlessly because they have the capacity to occasionally act like jerks, and that not wanting to torture someone is merciful. I don’t want to torture someone. I must be merciful.

  • http://about.me/scottvigil Scottvigil

    Here is a link that I send people to having to do with Pascals
    wager. He was a brilliant mind and most people have no idea about how
    smart he actually was. Before anyone critisizes Pascal I challenge them
    to at LEAST read his book ‘Pensees’
    http://youtu.be/mTHN_eQaEaI

    addressing Marcus:
    But who defines what is virtuous? IF there be a God, creator of humans and he is virtuous, then wouldn’t humans having an inbuilt intuition of virtue (even an imperfect virtue) actually be  a testament to the fact that he exists?

    Conversely, If you can act in bad conscience then you must admit that there is such thing as GOOD conscience thus OBJECTIVE right and wrong. Then wouldn’t people doing evil againced there own natural knowledge then both prove that God exists, he is good mirroring the virtue we have, and people rebel againced this good God?

    So you have people doing good and evil both acting as an argument for a good God. But neither can be used for an argument for an evil god, or NO god. Because to do that you would have to invoke a moral law.

    In the words of Ravi Zacharias:
    “There cannot possibly be a God,” he said, “with all the evil and suffering that exists in the world!”

    I asked, “When you say there is such a thing as evil, are you not assuming that there is such a thing as good?”

    “Of course,” he retorted.

    “But
    when you assume there is such a thing as good, are you not also
    assuming that there is such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which
    to distinguish between good and evil?”

    “I suppose so,” came the hesitant and much softer reply.

    “If,
    then, there is a moral law,” I said, “you must also posit a moral law
    giver. But that is who you are trying to disprove and not prove. If
    there is no transcendent moral law giver, there is no absolute moral
    law. If there is no moral law, there really is no good. If there is no
    good there is no evil. I am not sure what your question is!”

    feel free to let me know where I am wrong or mistaken, I would love to talk more about this
    ~scottvigil @ gmail

    • Kodie

      Parlor tricks. 

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Nobody here is decrying the works of Pascal.  What we are decrying is a lame argument that Christians keep posing, often with a gleam in their eye betraying the expectation that we’ve somehow never heard of this infallible logic before.

      I dare say that as a group, we probably know more about the rest of Pascal’s work than the people who propose his wager.

      As for the video, sorry, but I stopped after seeing a picture of William Lane Craig.  If that’s where it’s going, I’ve heard enough of Bill Craig already.

      Oh, and

      If, then, there is a moral law,” I said, “you must also posit a moral law giver

      That’s a gaps argument.  Assuming a moral law exists doesn’t mean it has to be given.

    • Nemo

      If it turns out that Islam is correct, and the fundamentalist kind in particular, would you grovel before Allah as a perfect, just god? I sincerely hope not.


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