Any Atheism 101 course would include a discussion of Pascal’s Wager, wherein Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century French mathematician postulates that belief in god is the statistically correct choice, as one loses nothing by faith in life, but has everything to gain should he follow god’s plan–namely, eternal salvation and escape from hell. Or, as he says in his Pensées:
… “God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”
Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.
Many atheists, myself included, have dissected the inadequacy of this argument, explaining how such a ruse was unlikely to fool an omniscient god (among other flaws), so I will not repeat these discussions here. Rather, I would like to present the inverse argument, which I feel contains more merit. I would summarize it as follows.
You have only one life to live.
Do you want to get to the end, having wasted it in the vain worship of nothingness? Better to live free and to love the life you have, rather than prostrating yourself in hopes for a better one later.
Pascal makes his assumptions based on possible rewards, those of eternal salvation and evading the depths of hell. But that’s betting with credit. Instead of risking the afterlife, we are actually risking our life, which we already know we possess, by using it in capitulation to false and harmful creeds, myths, and moralities. He seems to think that all that matters in his Wager is the stakes of your winning, and writes off what you’ve lost as ineffectual.
I do not consider the waste of my life, the devotion of it to a lie, as nothing.
The stakes in question, Pascal would site as finite, and therefore unworthy to be bet against the potential infinite rewards of the afterlife. But since what we know is that we have life, and afterlife is merely a minuscule potential, you’re betting dollars to Monopoly money. Besides which, if one life is truly and ultimately all we have, then it is literally all we have to bet with, making it materially, measurably, finite, but worth everything imaginable–worth infinite amounts.
I’d rather spend my last ten dollars on dinner than a lottery ticket. Especially in a universe where there is no convincing evidence to say anyone wins the lottery.
(Image use; Wikipedia Commons)