Recovering Pascal’s Wager

Most philosophers think Pascal's Wager is the weakest of all arguments for believing in the existence of God. Pascal thought it was the strongest. After finishing the argument in his Pensées, he wrote, "This is conclusive, and if men are capable of any truth, this is it." That is the only time Pascal ever wrote a sentence like that, for he was one of the most skeptical philosophers who ever wrote.

Suppose someone terribly precious to you lay dying, and the doctor offered to try a new "miracle drug" that he could not guarantee but that seemed to have a 50-50 chance of saving your beloved friend's life. Would it be reasonable to try it, even if it cost a little money? And suppose it were free—wouldn't it be utterly reasonable to try it and unreasonable not to?

Suppose you hear reports that your house is on fire and your children are inside. You do not know whether the reports are true or false. What is the reasonable thing to do—to ignore them or to take the time to run home or at least phone home just in case the reports are true?

Suppose a winning sweepstakes ticket is worth a million dollars, and there are only two tickets left. You know that one of them is the winning ticket, while the other is worth nothing, and you are allowed to buy only one of the two tickets, at random. Would it be a good investment to spend a dollar on the good chance of winning a million?

No reasonable person can be or ever is in doubt in such cases. But deciding whether to believe in God is a case like these, argues Pascal. It is therefore the height of folly not to "bet" on God, even if you have no certainty, no proof, no guarantee that your bet will win.

To understand Pascal's Wager you have to understand the background of the argument. Pascal lived in a time of great skepticism. Medieval philosophy was dead, and medieval theology was being ignored or sneered at by the new intellectuals of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. Montaigne, the great skeptical essayist, was the most popular writer of the day. The classic arguments for the existence of God were no longer popularly believed. What could the Christian apologist say to the skeptical mind of this age? Suppose such a typical mind lacked both the gift of faith and the confidence in reason to prove God's existence; could there be a third ladder out of the pit of unbelief into the light of belief?

Pascal's Wager claims to be that third ladder. Pascal well knew that it was a low ladder. If you believe in God only as a bet, that is certainly not a deep, mature, or adequate faith. But it is something, it is a start, and it is enough to dam the tide of atheism. The Wager appeals not to a high ideal, like faith, hope, love, or proof, but to a low one: the instinct for self-preservation, the desire to be happy and not unhappy. But on that low natural level, it has tremendous force. Thus Pascal prefaces his argument with the words, "Let us now speak according to our natural lights."

Imagine you are playing a game for two prizes. You wager blue chips to win blue prizes and red chips to win red prizes. The blue chips are your mind, your reason, and the blue prize is the truth about God's existence. The red chips are your will, your desires, and the red prize is heavenly happiness. Everyone wants both prizes, truth and happiness. Now suppose there is no way of calculating how to play the blue chips. Suppose your reason cannot win you the truth. In that case, you can still calculate how to play the red chips. Believe in God not because your reason can prove with certainty that it is true that God exists but because your will seeks happiness, and God is your only chance of attaining happiness eternally.

Pascal says, "Either God is, or he is not. But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. [Remember that Pascal's Wager is an argument for skeptics.] Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance [death] a coin is being spun that will come down heads [God] or tails [no God]. How will you wager?"

The most powerful part of Pascal's argument comes next. It is not his refutation of atheism as a foolish wager (that comes last) but his refutation of agnosticism as impossible. Agnosticism, not-knowing, maintaining a skeptical, uncommitted attitude, seems to be the most reasonable option. The agnostic says, "The right thing is not to wager at all." Pascal replies, "But you must wager. There is no choice. You are already committed [embarked]." We are not outside observers of life, but participants. We are like ships that need to get home, sailing past a port that has signs on it proclaiming that it is our true home and our true happiness. The ships are our own lives and the signs on the port say "God". The agnostic says he will neither put in at that port (believe) nor turn away from it (disbelieve) but stay anchored a reasonable distance away until the weather clears and he can see better whether this is the true port or a fake (for there are a lot of fakes around). Why is this attitude unreasonable, even impossible? Because we are moving. The ship of life is moving along the waters of time, and there comes a point of no return, when our fuel runs out, when it is too late. The Wager works because of the fact of death.

Suppose Romeo proposes to Juliet and Juliet says, "Give me some time to make up my mind." Suppose Romeo keeps coming back day after day, and Juliet keeps saying the same thing day after day: "Perhaps tomorrow." In the words of a small, female, red-haired American philosopher, "Tomorrow is always a day away." And there comes a time when there are no more tomorrows. Then "maybe" becomes "no". Romeo will die. Corpses do not marry. Christianity is God's marriage proposal to the soul. Saying "maybe" and "perhaps tomorrow" cannot continue indefinitely because life does not continue indefinitely. The weather will never clear enough for the agnostic navigator to be sure whether the port is true home or false just by looking at it through binoculars from a distance. He has to take a chance, on this port or some other, or he will never get home.

Once it is decided that we must wager; once it is decided that there are only two options, theism and atheism, not three, theism, atheism, and agnosticism; then the rest of the argument is simple. Atheism is a terrible bet. It gives you no chance of winning the red prize. Pascal states the argument this way:

"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 avoid: error and wretchedness. Since you must necessarily choose, your reason is no more affronted by choosing one rather than the other. That is one point cleared up. But your happiness? Let us weigh up the gain and the loss involved in calling heads that God exists. Let us assess the two cases: if you win, you win everything: if you lose, you lose nothing. Do not hesitate then: wager that he does exist."

If God does not exist, it does not matter how you wager, for there is nothing to win after death and nothing to lose after death. But if God does exist, your only chance of winning eternal happiness is to believe, and your only chance of losing it is to refuse to believe. As Pascal says, "I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than of being mistaken in believing it to be true." If you believe too much, you neither win nor lose eternal happiness. But if you believe too little, you risk losing everything.

But is it worth the price? What must be given up to wager that God exists? Whatever it is, it is only finite, and it is most reasonable to wager something finite on the chance of winning an infinite prize. Perhaps you must give up autonomy or illicit pleasures, but you will gain infinite happiness in eternity, and "I tell you that you will gain even in this life "—purpose, peace, hope, joy, the things that put smiles on the lips of martyrs.

Lest we take this argument with less seriousness than Pascal meant it, he concludes: "If my words please you and seem cogent, you must know that they come from a man who went down upon his knees before and after."

To the high-minded objector who refuses to believe for the low motive of saving the eternal skin of his own soul, we may reply that the Wager works quite as well if we change the motive. Let us say we want to give God his due if there is a God. Now if there is a God, justice demands total faith, hope, love, obedience, and worship. If there is a God and we refuse to give him these things, we sin maximally against the truth. But the only chance of doing infinite justice is if God exists and we believe, while the only chance of doing infinite injustice is if God exists and we do not believe. If God does not exist, there is no one there to do infinite justice or infinite injustice to. So the motive of doing justice moves the Wager just as well as the motive of seeking happiness. Pascal used the more selfish motive because we all have that all the time, while only some are motivated by justice, and only some of the time.

Because the whole argument moves on the practical rather than the theoretical level, it is fitting that Pascal next imagines the listener offering the practical objection that he just cannot bring himself to believe. Pascal then answers the objection with stunningly practical psychology, with the suggestion that the prospective convert "act into" his belief if he cannot yet "act out" of it.

"If you are unable to believe, it is because of your passions since reason impels you to believe and yet you cannot do so. Concentrate then not on convincing yourself by multiplying proofs of God's existence but by diminishing your passions. You want to find faith, and you do not know the road. You want to be cured of unbelief, and you ask for the remedy: learn from those who were once bound like you and who now wager all they have...They behaved just as if they did believe."

This is the same advice Dostoevsky's guru, Father Zossima, gives to the "woman of little faith" in The Brothers Karamazov. The behavior Pascal mentions is "taking holy water, having Masses said, and so on". The behavior Father Zossima counsels to the same end is "active and indefatigable love of your neighbor." In both cases, living the Faith can be a way of getting the Faith. As Pascal says: "That will make you believe quite naturally and will make you more docile." "But that is what I am afraid of." "But why? What have you to lose?"

An atheist visited the great rabbi and philosopher Martin Buber and demanded that Buber prove the existence of God to him. Buber refused, and the atheist got up to leave in anger. As he left, Buber called after him, "But can you be sure there is no God?" That atheist wrote, forty years later, "I am still an atheist. But Buber's question has haunted me every day of my life." The Wager has just that haunting power.

(Image credit: Michelle Neujhar)

Written by Dr. Peter Kreeft

Dr. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and a noted Catholic apologist and philosopher. He is a convert to the Catholic Church from reformed Protestantism. He earned an A.B. degree from Calvin College, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Fordham University, followed by post-doctoral work at Yale University. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 60 books including Making Sense Out of Suffering (Servant, 1986); Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics (Ignatius, 1988); Catholic Christianity (Ignatius, 2001); The Unaborted Socrates: A Dramatic Debate on the Issues Surrounding Abortion (IVP, 2002); and The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (Ignatius, 2005). Many of Peter's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Find dozens of audio talks, essays, and book excerpts at his website, PeterKreeft.com.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

• Steven Dillon

Wager-based decisions can indeed be reasonable, as Kreeft's examples illustrate. But, only when the stakes are realistic. It's not realistic that salvation and damnation are distributed by how many pretzels one has eaten, for a humorous example. Thus, it's not reasonable to bet on the pretzel deity 'just in case'. But, in so far as one genuinely believes that God doesn't exist, betting on God on the 'off chance' simply isn't realistic.

• "But, in so far as one genuinely believes that God doesn't exist, betting on God on the 'off chance' simply isn't realistic."

Why not? It seems reasonable per Dr. Kreeft's (and Pascal's) logic.

• Steven Dillon

Because, for the atheist, the possibility of eternal separation from God is no more something to lose sleep over than the possibility of eternal separation from Allah is for the Christian.

• But all the Wager requires is that the God of Christian theism is simply *possible*, which it seems you're willing to admit (although, in a psychological aside, you imply that you don't "lose sleep over" the possibility.)

If God is possible then, according to the Wager, betting on him would be a realistic and reasonable move.

It would only be unrealistic or unreasonable to apply the Wager if you were 100% confident that the God of Christian theism did not exist. Yet I don't know any atheists willing to shoulder that burden.

• Steven Dillon

Brandon: The problem seems to be that all sorts of things are *possible*. E.g. It's possible that Allah exists, thus there is an exact parallel Wager for the God of Islamic theism.

Usually, this objection stops there and says the logic of the Wager requires us to make innumerable, mutually incompatible bets.

But, my point is different: it's that we don't *bet* on possibilities. Wagering is all about probabilities, and if a mere possibility is all God's existence is to someone, it just doesn't seem enough to warrant this sort of investment. At least, anymore than it would for similar investments we wouldn't make.

• Dr. Kreeft's article uses examples of the "investment" being extremely small for an immeasurable payoff. Steve, what exactly is the "investment" you believe that you'd have to make that makes the wager such an unwarrented risk?

• Steven Dillon

The wager doesn't seem unwarranted because of how much it would cost to invest in it. Instead, it seems unwarranted because -- from the atheist's perspective -- there's no reason to take it seriously.

Likewise, though the costs of converting to Islam would be significant for you -- epsecially as a Deacon! -- they're not what would render adopting an Islamic lifestyle unwarranted for you. Afterall, it'd be those costs vs. eternal happiness. Rather, the problem is that you're convinced of Christianity: the mere possibility that you'll go to hell per Islam just isn't something you take seriously, at least enough to take the Wager.

• "There's no reason to take it seriously" seems like a circular reason. The premise of the wager is "If God exists..." If for the sake of argument, you accept the premise, how can you not take it seriously? If you choose not to accept the premise, you are simply ignoring the wager.

And you keep bringing up a Christian converting to Islam. From the Christian perspective, that would be giving up everything to gain nothing. That's a bad wager no matter how you look at it. There are certainly other discussions to be had on the point, but it is certainly not an apt analogy to Pascal's Wager.

• David Nickol

And you keep bringing up a Christian converting to Islam. From the Christian perspective, that would be giving up everything to gain nothing.

But the whole point of Pascal's Wager, it seems to me, is to look at things from an "objective" perspective. If a person confronted with Pascal's Wager already looks at things from a Christian perspective, Pascal's Wager isn't needed.

The point is that those promoting Pascal's Wager are really assuming the truth of Christianity and the falsity of anything else. Pascal, it seems to me, isn't merely talking about choosing theism over atheism. He's assuming the choice is between Catholicism (plus salvation) and atheism (plus damnation). Pascal's Wager as proposed to a Muslim would presumably not be a choice between theism and atheism. It would be a choice between Catholicism and Islam. And the wager wouldn't work (or at least the odds would change dramatically), because if the Muslim gave up Islam for Catholicism, he has traded one possible route to eternal bliss for another. A Catholic who converts to Islam, or a Muslim who converts to Catholicism, are both risking eternal condemnation, because Catholicism and Islam both claim to be the true path to eternal reward, but they contradict each other.

• KevClark64

I don't see how Pascal's wager requires a Christian view of God. All it requires is that God, in justice, rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior. To reject belief in God is bad behavior that will be punished. However, from a Christian point of view, any person of good will can be saved through baptism of desire. They don't need specifically to believe in Jesus Christ, only to try to do the will of God as they are given grace to know it.

• David Nickol

They don't need specifically to believe in Jesus Christ, only to try to do the will of God as they are given grace to know it.

I think you understate the case. They don't have to specifically believe in Jesus or God. They are judged by what they can know and are given the grace to know. That does not require a belief in God.

• Doug Shaver

All it requires is that God, in justice, rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior.

But which God are we supposed to assume has decided what is good behavior and bad behavior? If it's the God of Islam, you have made the wrong bet. Likewise if it is the God of Protestant fundamentalism.

As for me, if it is the case that I cannot avoid the wager, I am putting my metaphorical money on the God of Christian universalism.

• I don't think that Pascal's Wager really is about looking at things from an "objective" perspective, if by that you mean gathering all the possible evidence, weighing all of it, and then deciding. Rather, it is more about making a decision based on the possible outcomes, which are also "objective", but not in the same sense I understand you to use the term in this case. And of course the Wager isn't "needed" not was it intended for those who already hold the Christian faith.

Those of us that promote Pascal's wager have accepted the truth of Christianity, and the inadequacy of anything else to offer what belief in the Christian God offers.

And I don't think that Pascal's Wager, as he himself offered it, is exactly the Christian God vs. atheism. All the other supposed parameters are you (and others) conflating them with Pascal. His wager is really very simple. In the article, Dr. Kreeft provides the context and the audience for the Wager, and it is none of the additional items you are adding. I'm not saying that they are not legitimate questions, but I am saying that they are not "variations on Pascal's Wager." Pascal wrote plainly enough on his point.

• Steven Dillon

This argument requires the atheist to take the possbility of God's existence seriously. But, why should she do that? It's not like she has any reasons to suspect that God exists. Otherwise, she wouldn't be an atheist.

You (the Christian) are in the same boat as the atheist is when dealing with an Islamic wager: thus, it's a good analogy to illustrate this problem.

Just as the Christian wants the atheist to take her position seriously, so too, the Muslim wants the Christian to take Islam seriously. But, the reality is, in so far as one *is* a Christian, she has no reason whatsoever to worry about the possibility of being wrong about Islam. And likewise for the atheist and Christianity.

• The wager is not asking you to behave as if you don't believe your position. It is asking you to behave as if you do not have absolute, irrefutable evidence for your position. You do not, therefore the Wager is worth consideration.

• Steven Dillon

I don't think we need to have absolute, irrefutable evidence against a position in order to not take it seriously: well-founded confidence is good enough. Otherwise, since we don't have irrefutable evidence of hardly anything, we'd have to seriously consider everything from Flat Earth theory and Big Foot reports to Roswell and Jesus Mythicism.

• I'm glad that absolute, irrefutable evidence is not the standard. I'd wager that all of the Christians you will find here at Strange Notions would be happy to share with you the well-founded confidence that leads them to know and accept Jesus.

• Max Driffill

I think the investment portion of Pascal's wager's the biggest flaw in the wager. It assumes that the investment is small. And it really isn't. It would, to be a credible commitment to the wager, involve lots of time, money, and perhaps cost one lots of pleasure, as well as family and friends who might run afoul religious doctrine. For an atheist the investment looks incredibly large, because the evidence for gods simply isn't compelling. So to waste time on the considerable investment of time and money, and perhaps fractured relationships, and other pleasures denied it isn't worth it.

There are other problems besides this and wrote about them here a few years ago. http://maxiitheblindwatchmaker.blogspot.com/2009/10/pascals-wager-argument-that-should.html

• David Nickol

It would only be unrealistic or unreasonable to apply the Wager if you
were 100% confident that the God of Christian theism did not exist.

No, the wager becomes unreasonable as long as there are significant choices other than the "God of Christians" and no God at all. If you bet on there being the "God of Christians" and instead there is the "God of Muslims," you lose.

Of course, the wager also seems to imply that the "God of Christians" rewards you only for believing in the "God of Christians," not for doing your best to discern the truth and live according to it. Catholics do not believe today that all Catholics will be saved and all atheists will be damned. As I understand the position of the Catholic Church, it teaches that the "Catholic God" judges people by whether they do the best they can with what they have been given. God could, it seems to me, easily prefer a profoundly good, selfless, sincere atheist who rejected Catholicism that was presented to him poorly to a Catholic who had been given every opportunity to know Catholicism and live according to its teachings who made little of those opportunities.

• "If you bet on there being the "God of Christians" and instead there is the "God of Muslims," you lose."

Thanks for the comment, David. I'll say two things in response. First, we can disprove the "God of the Muslims" through other methods, showing how the Muslim God is self-contradictory in light of their own revealed texts. Thus pairing *other* arguments with the Wager--which is exactly what Pascal does in the "Pensees"--can eventually whittle the field down.

Second, even if you were right that you would "lose" if you bet on the "God of the Christians" but the Muslim God existed, you would also still lose as an atheist. No matter what the option is, you stand to gain nothing by remaining an atheist. It would be better for an atheist to "take a shot" at the Muslim God--although such a decision would be misinformed--where at least the possibility of eternal reward exists rather than remaining an atheist.

• Susan

we can disprove the "God of the Muslims" through other methods,

Really? Disprove? OK. Please do. Show us how Yahwehjesus survives those methods without appealing to allegory in the uncomfortable passages for Yahwehjesus unless you're willing to do the same for Allah.

pairing *other* arguments with the Wager--which is exactly what Pascal does in the "Pensees"--can eventually whittle the field down.

How does he do it exactly? Please don't link me somewhere. However he does it deserves to be explained in your understanding here as you've brought up that he has effectively whittled things down.

No matter what the option is, you stand to gain nothing by remaining an atheist.

No one stands to gain anything except those who get things right. You haven't explained (nor has Pascal) why Yahwehjesus is even close to getting things right.

• Fr.Sean

Hi David,
If i may make one comment in light of your observation. The Catholic Church doesn't teach every other faith is "wrong", just that they have various amounts of truth. Lewis even made a good point in one of his stories where an individual went to his judgement, but he was of another faith. He was judged based on his conscience and discovered that God had still worked through his understanding of faith. I do think you make a good point that one is judged according to their conscience, but it's also important to be objective about every faith, investigate them and pray for guidance, and assume that God would lead you. If the incarnation was a true event, than being objective about that event and perhaps praying about it might not be a bad place to start. Attempting to find all of the "flaws" of the Catholic faith or the "flaws" of her messangers may never shed light on whether or not the incarnation was in fact an actual event.

• Susan

But all the Wager requires is that the God of Christian theism is simply *possible

First, there's no one "god of christian theism".

Secondly, it is not put forth as a wager of possibilty. It's put forth as Yahweh is as likely as not Yahweh.

It's dishonest to suggest that a deity's "possibility" is part of Pascal's wager. Otherwise, Peter Kreeft wouldn't try analogies like "Imagine you are playing a game for two prizes." and "a coin is being spun that will come down heads [God] or tails [no God]."

• Sqrat

But all the Wager requires is that the God of Christian theism is simply *possible*....

That's all, huh?

Is God "possible"? Ordinarily, when we say "X is possible," we mean something like, "We know what conditions would have to exist for X to be true, and we know that those conditions do exist, or have good reason to believe that those conditions exist." But what conditions would have to exist in order for God to exist? Is this a question that Christian apologists ever try to address? From what I can tell, they are far more interested in trying to claim that, if God didn't exist, nothing else would be "possible," than they are in inquiring into the possibility of God himself.

But suppose, for the sake of argument, that we accept some hopelessly vague notion of "possibility" to grant that "the God of Christian theism" is "possible." In that case, by that very same vague notion, one would have to grant likewise the possibility of a God whose attributes are somewhat different from those of "the God of Christian theism." One would have to grant, for example, the possibility of a God who only grants eternal life to those who do not believe that he exists -- because, if one believes in his existence despite the lack of credible evidence for it, then one must be a fool, and this particular God wants no fools in heaven! Given such a "possible" God, the appropriate Pascalian wager would be NOT to believe that he exists, would it not?

• "From what I can tell, they are far more interested in trying to claim that, if God didn't exist, nothing else would be "possible," than they are in inquiring into the possibility of God himself."

That's simply untrue. A cursory scroll through the hundreds of articles and comments on this very site would reveal Christians inquiring into the possibility of God himself.

"One would have to grant, for example, the possibility of a God who only grants eternal life to those who do not believe that he exists."

Such a god would be self-contradictory and thus not worth consideration. It's illogical to believe that a god who exists would prefer people not to think he exists--that would be a character flaw, not a perfection. Wouldn't you agree?

If not, you're stuck in the unenviable position of defending such an illogical god--of showing how it's more likely that an absolute perfect being would prefer falsity to truth. I doubt you're interested in shouldering that burden.

I think we'd both agree that such a god is logically improbable (if not impossible), and therefore can't legitimately be proposed as a defeater. It poses no problems for Pascal's Wager.

• Sqrat

That's simply untrue,. A cursory scroll through the hundreds of articles and comments on this very site would reveal Christians inquiring into
the possibility of God himself.

Would it? They may inquire whether God exists, but they do not inquire what conditions would first have to exist in order for God to exist. They simply suppose that NO conditions would have to exist in order for God to exist.

Such a god would be self-contradictory and thus not worth consideration. It's illogical to believe that a god who exists would prefer people not think he exists--that would be a character flaw, not a
perfection. Would you disagree?

If so, you're stuck in the unenviable position of defending such an illogical god--of showing how it's more likely that an absolute perfect being prefers falsity over truth.

I think not. Certainly I'm not stuck in the unenviable position of supposing that the only "possible" God is a God who has no "character flaws" -- as YOU define character flaws. What is contradictory about the notion of a God with a flawed character?

• Exactly right- I am certainly as afraid of the random and capricious Allah as the average atheist is afraid of the tough-love God of the Christians.

I'm equally afraid of the random, indeterminate mathematics that represents the thing that the New Atheists call science- which to me is no better than Allah.

• Sqrat

I am certainly as afraid of the random and capricious Allah as the average atheist is afraid of the tough-love God of the Christians

Atheists aren't afraid of the tough-love God of the Christians. They simply believe that he does not exist. It is "God-fearing" Christians who fear him.

• Then why do they dissent from God's commandments, if they aren't afraid of the tough love of living out those commandments?

When you can show me a truly virtuous atheist, whose behavior and politics is entirely indistinguishable from the Church, maybe then I'll believe that atheists really don't believe *only* because they're incapable of seeing the proof, rather than because they are willfully disregarding the proof.

• Sqrat

I don't think there's anything particular virtuous in, say, lazing about on a Sabbath afternoon rather than, say, cooking my dinner or mowing my lawn.

• But lazing about on a Sabbath Afternoon isn't usually what New Atheists dissent from.

Usually it's more about various minor sins under the mortal sins of lust and greed. Especially in Europe and North America, where, let's face it, lust is great and greed is good by secular culture.

• Sqrat

Atheists, whether "new" or otherwise, believe that there is no such thing as "sin," where sin is defined, in the Catholic Catechism (article 1850) as "an offense against God." If there is no God, there cannot be any offenses against God, and thus there cannot be any sin.

• Or rather, they claim not to, because such sin would limit their lifestyle. Of course they have to reject sin, and having rejected the concept of sin (and along with it, the concept of good and evil) they must reject the mean and nasty God who imposes such rules.

• Sqrat

Or rather, they claim not to, because such sin would limit their lifestyle.

Yes, that's what "believers" often believe. Hence their tendency to equate "atheist" with "sinner".

• All human beings are sinners. Yes, we equate atheists with being human.

But what I am saying is going a step further: An atheist is one who no longer has any philosophical foundation for the difference between good and evil- and acts like it.

• Zeke

What a pantload Ted, if that were even remotely true, the Bible belt wouldn't lead the nation in divorce, crime, and other societal ills. And the prisons would be choked with atheists rather than good, God-fearing religious types.

• The Bible Belt is full of heretics who subscribe to a theology that would lead any thinking individual to atheism- sola scriptura is so full of holes that it inspires atheism.

• Zeke

Agreed, but that doesn't support your ridiculous assertion that atheists act any less admirably than religious types.

• It isn't an assertion. The uncritical acceptance of contraception, abortion, and divorce makes it not necessary to assert.

One can only observe the truth, not assert it.

• Zeke

Observe harder Ted. If there was any evidence that religiously superstitious types had lower incidences of contraceptive use, divorce rates, or abortion rates than the population at large, you might have a point. But statistics show that's not the case. So much for the tired "no good without God" tripe.
You claim to be eating yourself into an early grave, yet you feel gluttony is a mortal sin. I don't, despite having no belief in God. What does that tell you?

• Those who actually follow a *rational religion* do have lower contraceptive use, which leads naturally to lower divorce and abortion rates.

But there are many who follow the siren song of secularism and don't let their religion or God influence their sexual misbehavior.

As for what that tells me, it tells me that you are a blind fool who can't see reality.

• Zeke

Ouch, that's nasty, Theodore, how Jesus-like.
The no-true-Scotsman dodge, how original.
An obese, holier-than-thou, apologist for an all male cult of celibacy, what a treat for us all!

• Thank you for proving once again that discourse with atheists is a useless waste of time.

• Sqrat

There are obviously a couple of points about which we profoundly disagree.

First, You say that all human beings are sinners, while I say that no human beings are sinners. I don't know you, Mr. Seeber. For all I know, you might be a thoroughly despicable fellow. But a sinner? No, sir, that most assuredly you are not.

Second, you say that an atheist is one who no longer has any philosophical foundation for the difference between good and evil. I say that any conception of the nature of good and evil is likely to be either philosophical, hence secular, or religious, hence theological. An atheist's conception of the nature of good and evil must almost by definition be philosophical, and only philosophical. A theist, on the other hand, may have either a philosophical or a theological conception of good and evil, or both. To the extent that he or she has a philosophical conception of good and evil, it might be identical to that of the atheist.

• I most assuredly am a sinner- my weight is a prime example of my addiction to the mortal sin of gluttony, which is a physical form of suicide. Working on that, but it may be far too late to reverse the damage.

Theology is just the most correct form of philosophy and the prince of the sciences. Absolutes, and an objective universe, exist whether YOU want them to or not.

• Sqrat

Your gluttony is a sin if an only if there is a God against whom it is an offense. I deny that any such God exists, therefore I deny that your gluttony is a sin. Your gluttony may indeed be harmful to you, but that is a matter of "good and evil" only to the extent that it is also harmful to someone else.

As to the question of whether _moral_ absolutes exist, we may actually agree on that, though presumably we disagree in particular cases whether certain behaviors are violations of a moral absolute.

• My gluttony is a sin against me, even if there is no external God. It is litterally killing me.

Moral absolutes exist the same way Newtonian absolute time exists- it happens whether you want it to or not.

• Sqrat

If, as the Catholic Church defines it in the Catechism in article 1850, sin is "an offense against God," an offense against yourself (if that is what your gluttony amounts to) is only a sin to the extent that it is also an offense against God. If there is no God, then an offense against yourself can be no sin.

• An offense against the image of God, is an offense against God. I don't accept your premise, since it is unproven and can't be tested.

• Sqrat

What does the image of God look like?

• Like everybody you've ever met.

• Sqrat

I've met a lot of pudgy people.

• All of whom are headed for severe medical issues, just as I am.

• Sqrat

That may be, but do you take comfort in your belief that at least you're the spittin' image of God?

• No. I find it horrendously depressing actually. Especially seeing how often we abuse the Imago Dei for mere material profit, or to satisfy some twisted appetite, either in ourselves or others. It is an indictment against all humanity, and a reason for HUMILITY, not comfort.

• I somehow missed replying to this I think.

If I'm the spitting image of God physically, then we worship a very sick old man physically.

And everybody's the spittin' image of God spiritually, even atheists, so there ain't nothing special there, except of course the entire "dignity of man" thing. Which everybody has. Which makes it not very special.

• Doug Shaver

Moral absolutes exist the same way Newtonian absolute time exists- it happens whether you want it to or not.

I agree that the existence of moral absolutes has nothing to do with my preferences. But it also has nothing to do with yours. If they do exist, then they exist even if I don't want them to. If they don't exist, then they don't exist even if you want them to. The question is which of us, if either, has good reason to believe what they believe.

• "I agree that the existence of moral absolutes has nothing to do with my preferences. But it also has nothing to do with yours. "

Damn good thing to, or else we'd all be pigging out on sausage and potatoes lyonaise and bacon burgers.

"The question is which of us, if either, has good reason to believe what they believe."

The man whose faith is built on observation, has a very good reason to believe. The man who tries to claim reason alone without faith means that the observation couldn't have happened, has a very shaky reasoning behind their belief.

• Ignorant Amos

I most assuredly am a sinner- my weight is a prime example of my addiction to the mortal sin of gluttony, which is a physical form of suicide. Working on that, but it may be far too late to reverse the damage.

So, redemption, even on a Pascalian Wager level, is beyond you. Hell-fire for TS is it?

• There's a third option in Catholicism- but it's almost as painful: Purgatory.

Hmmm...that gives me an idea that might just be the salvation of my physical body....

• Ignorant Amos

But what I am saying is going a step further: An atheist is one who no longer has any philosophical foundation for the difference between good and evil- and acts like it.

Even if that were true, which it isn't, the "philosophical foundation" grounded in biblical scriptures hasn't been working very well for the majority of believers, particularly the Catholic fraternity. People in glass houses and all that jazz.

• What makes you think God is limited to "biblical scriptures"?

The Philosophical basis of Catholic morality has been observation based on experimentation and experience with the divine. While the scriptures are certainly a part of that, even the Gospel of John admits that they are not the whole.

• Ignorant Amos

What makes you think God is limited to "biblical scriptures"?

I think, nor mentioned, anything of the sort. I thought you were discussing the philosophical foundation for good and evil. As an Igtheist, or theological noncognitivist if you like, the concept and meaning of the word god is in light of the lack of a definitive description, is just meaningless nonsense.

The Philosophical basis of Catholic morality has been observation based on experimentation and experience with the divine.

Which is a lot of word salad that basically means it has been made up as we go along. My point was to point out that it hasn't panned out all that well. Catholicism particularly so.

While the scriptures are certainly a part of that, even the Gospel of John admits that they are not the whole.

And what is written in the Gospel ACCORDING to John should impress me why? You do know who, when, where and why that particular scripture was penned, and why it made the directors cut, yes?

• You started with "the "philosophical foundation" grounded in biblical scriptures hasn't been working very well for the majority of believers"

But grounding in biblical scriptures is NOT the philosophical foundation of Catholicism. For one thing, the Catholic Church existed before the New Testament Scriptures were written- if anything, the New Testament scriptures came from Catholicism, not the other way around.

The proof from John is that even the Bible, doesn't accept the straw man of Sola Scriptura, so if your critique starts with a theological concept rejected by both Scripture and the Church, there's a flaw in your thinking far more basic than observing that Catholics rarely live up to their religion (in fact, so rarely that the Church actually holds some members up as doing better than others, though that designation is usually reserved for long after the person's earthly life).

The question *should be* what does the philosophy actually teach, and how are its truths derived, same as with science. The answer to that isn't "we make it up as we go along" it is "we record observations and test theological theories and modify those theories when the evidence warrants a change".

• Ignorant Amos

You started with "the "philosophical foundation" grounded in biblical scriptures hasn't been working very well for the majority of believers"

But grounding in biblical scriptures is NOT the philosophical foundation of Catholicism.

Well you admit it was indeed, at least in part anyway. BTW, scripture includes the OT too, surely you are not denying the impact on Christian morality garnered from the OT? The whole edifice is constructed upon the Fall of Adam and Eve and their sinful ways.

Believers get their moral foundation from the same place as those that don't believe, they just have a hard time admitting it, otherwise why are you lot not still burning heretics and witches at the stake among other things?

For one thing, the Catholic Church existed before the New Testament Scriptures were written- if anything, the New Testament scriptures came from Catholicism, not the other way around.

Of course you believe that because that is what you've been indoctrinated into, but it doesn't make it true. Good luck in trying to support your assertion though.

The proof from John is that even the Bible, doesn't accept the straw man of Sola Scriptura, so if your critique starts with a theological concept rejected by both Scripture and the Church, there's a flaw in your thinking far more basic than observing that Catholics rarely live up to their religion (in fact, so rarely that the Church actually holds some members up as doing better than others, though that designation is usually reserved for long after the person's earthly life).

I understand why you don't hold to Sola Scriptura, it is not my straw man...at no point did I insist that ALL your moral foundation, which incidentally, you amended to include Catholic, came from the texts. You have had to admit that some of it at least does, which is cherry picking and I'm not surprised why, the reformationist position is untenable. "Sola Scriptura does not deny that other authorities govern Christian life and devotion, but sees them all as subordinate to and corrected by the written word of God", at least it is more honest. And the tradition adopted by the RCC church was not a universal tradition in the first few centuries, what became orthodox, later Catholicism, condemned all other schools of Christianity as heretical, and won the day.

The question *should be* what does the philosophy actually teach, and how are its truths derived, same as with science. The answer to that isn't "we make it up as we go along" it is "we record observations and test theological theories and modify those theories when the evidence warrants a change".

That might be how it looks to you, but it isn't how things happen in reality. e.g. contraception, homosexuality and abortion.

• Doug Shaver

Especially in Europe and North America, where, let's face it, lust is great and greed is good by secular culture.

A substantial fraction of the secular culture condemns lust and greed rather vigorously.

• But not both at the same time.

Thus, we get Republicans, who condemn lust, and Democrats, who condemn greed. But they both celebrate what the other condemns.

• Doug Shaver

I have been registered as an independent since the first election (1968) that I was old enough to vote in. Over the years, my sympathies have leaned sometimes toward the Democrats and sometimes toward the Republicans. Your characterization of each is, in my judgment, a gross oversimplification. I've know plenty of people who think lust and greed are equally worthy of condemnation, and plenty of other people who think neither should be condemned.

• I just don't find many secularists, who claim that morality has no objective meaning, who aren't addicted to one or the other. In fact, sometimes it seems the primary purpose of relativism is to enable one to "choose one's own path" and harm others with either lust or greed.

• Doug Shaver

I just don't find many secularists, who claim that morality has no objective meaning, who aren't addicted to one or the other.

Maybe it's the company you keep. My experience has been different.

• Perhaps. I'm judging secularists based on the politicians, and the people I was *forced* to interact with in school, in college, in university, and in the workplace.

Not a single person denying morality I've ever met, has done so without personal reason to be immoral.

One cannot be a relativist, claiming that there is no objective morality, and be moral.

• Doug Shaver

and the people I was *forced* to interact with in school, in college, in university, and in the workplace.

That's an interesting way to put it. Do you know of some way a free society might be organized so that no one ever has to interact with anyone but those they choose to interact with?

Not a single person denying morality I've ever met, has done so without personal reason to be immoral.

I don't know what you think denying morality consists of, but I don't recall ever meeting anyone who did it. I've known people who would admit to failing to comply with a moral code, but none who denied that such a code exists.

As for someone who fails to comply -- which is every one of us, at least occasionally -- I can't imagine what sort of impersonal reason anyone could have.

One cannot be a relativist, claiming that there is no objective morality, and be moral.

That's your judgment. I cannot affirm it.

• I no longer value a morality free society at all. Pluralism is an experiment that failed. We evolved to live in monoculture tribes and are happiest in that state.
Worse than that, we live in a universe that allows for only one moral code to work, for there is a set of natural laws that we break only at our own peril.

Freedom, or at least the freedom to choose without guidance of tradition, is an error more evil than anything else I can think of. It has caused the death of billions.

• David Nickol

An interesting project would be to draw up a syllabus of errors. No doubt a few choice items could be plucked from Dignitatis Humanae.

• Hmm, that is a thought. Over the past 9 hours, we took a day trip as a family. The CD we chose to listen to in the car was Relativism by Chris Stefanick.

The one point he made I most agreed with- the main error of relativism- is that human beings are not God. The main difference between you and God is that God never thinks He is you.

• Michael Murray

Hmm, that is a thought. Over the past 9 hours, we took a day trip as a family. The CD we chose to listen to in the car was Relativism by Chris Stefanick.

Blimey your family is a barrel of laughs. How did the kids like that ?

• Kid, singular. I kept pausing it to ask him how he'd deal with things, like the example of a male classmate coming back next year as a female. He agreed that would be child abuse.

• David Nickol

I am not sure what your point is, although a 9-hour family trip listening to a CD about relativism certainly sounds like a blast!

My point is that, as I read your message (and I may have misunderstood you), you seemed to deny the right of religious freedom as put forward in Dignitatis Humanae. People have a right to pursue their understanding of ultimate truth without coercion. And of course there is Nostra Aetate, in which the Church expresses its respect for other world religions.

So I don't know what you mean by, "Pluralism is an experiment that failed." It seems to me that the Catholic Church acknowledges and respects the right of every individual, and of every religion, to seek truth sincerely. It does so, of course, while maintaining it has the fullness of truth, but it respects the right of everyone to seek the truth with freedom and without coercion.

I am not sure why there is a fuss about relativism. It seems to me that basically nobody is a moral relativist. It is competing views of morality that present problems, not people advocating no morality or any old morality as equivalent to any other morality. I think a lot of people were rather baffled by the idea of "the dictatorship of relativism." I can't imagine what it could possibly mean. It would be something like "the tyranny of anarchy." It doesn't make any sense to me.

• Doug Shaver

I no longer value a morality free society at all.

There has never been one. Where do you get "no longer"?

We evolved to live in monoculture tribes and are happiest in that state.

That was our biological evolution. But our biological evolution also made our cultural evolution possible. If a culture can thrive while tolerating other cultures, then evolution has no objections to our developing one.

Freedom, or at least the freedom to choose without guidance of tradition, is an error more evil than anything else I can think of. It has caused the death of billions.

Maybe so. Just maybe. But tyranny has a pretty impressive body count, too, and there is no maybe about that.

• "There has never been one. Where do you get "no longer"?"

Where have you been since 1968? The "Absolute Relativism" of "The only thing that is true for everybody is that nothing is true for everybody" has been taught in public grade schools, high schools, and colleges. Traditional morality is seen as bigotry under that framework.

"That was our biological evolution. But our biological evolution also made our cultural evolution possible. If a culture can thrive while tolerating other cultures, then evolution has no objections to our developing one."

This must be some strange form of the word tolerating I do not understand. Relativists crush, they do not tolerate. The Relativist with the biggest gun, sets the rules, because NOTHING moral is true.

"Maybe so. Just maybe. But tyranny has a pretty impressive body count, too, and there is no maybe about that."

Relativism is tyranny. Mussolini said so.

• Doug Shaver

I no longer value a morality free society at all.

There has never been one. Where do you get "no longer"?

Where have you been since 1968?

Not wherever you have been, apparently.

The "Absolute Relativism" of "The only thing that is true for everybody is that nothing is true for everybody" has been taught in public grade schools, high schools, and colleges.

I finished high school in 1963. I have no firsthand knowledge of what has been going on in grade schools or high schools since that time, unless you count the two years I spent during the 1980s covering the meetings of a county school board for a newspaper I was working for. Also, before and after that period, I heard or read plenty of reports from teachers and administrators about what was going on in their schools. Never did I see or hear anything confirming what you say about what has been going on in grade schools and high schools.

As for college, I was in college from 1971 to 1975 and again from 2005 to 2012. In not a single one of my classes did I hear anyone promoting or endorsing anything like what you are calling absolute relativism. The nearest thing to teaching it that I observed was in two or three of my philosophy classes, where it was briefly mentioned and then dismissed as untenable.

Now, I don't deny that moral relativism has its advocates in our society. Regardless of the extent of their influence, however, I don't agree with your implicit claim that a society that accepts moral relativism is a morality-free society. It would, obviously, be a society that rejects your particular morality, but yours is not the only possible morality.

Traditional morality is seen as bigotry under that framework.

If traditional morality says to anyone, "If you don't have my morals, then you don't have any morals," then yes, that is bigotry.

If a culture can thrive while tolerating other cultures, then evolution has no objections to our developing one.

This must be some strange form of the word tolerating I do not understand.

I guess so.

Relativism is tyranny. Mussolini said so.

I imagine he knew a thing or two about tyranny. What he might have known about moral philosophy, I have no idea.

• " It would, obviously, be a society that rejects your particular morality, but yours is not the only possible morality."

When morality is subjective, all moralities are rejected by somebody. Which leaves that morality which can be imposed by gun and law, to be the supreme morality, and no other.

That direction leads naturally to tyranny- the tyranny or relativism. And it starts with "The only thing that is true for everybody, is that nothing moral is true for everybody. Only those things provable by science are true."

The current way of dealing with gender confusion (by forcing *everybody else* to accept it) is a great example.

• Doug Shaver

When morality is subjective, all moralities are rejected by somebody.

So what? When morality is objective, is it accepted by everybody?

Which leaves that morality which can be imposed by gun and law, to be the supreme morality, and no other.

How do you think your objective morality ought to be imposed?

• "When morality is objective, is it accepted by everybody?"

No, but we have a word for people who don't accept objective truth: insane.

"How do you think your objective morality ought to be imposed?"

The way it used to be, by shame.

• Max Driffill

How would you establish that you had an objectively moral principle?

• "How would you establish that you had an objectively moral principle?"

By experiment, of course. The same way we have for 2000 years.

• Doug Shaver

I think I've said enough here for now.

• Max Driffill

In the first place this is an argument from adverse consequences, which is a fallacy. Morality is subjective or objective and the fact that one such situation might lead to greater or lesser tyranny, or relativism has absolutely no affect on the outcome of the hypotheses in question. Also, any thing that leads naturally to both tyranny and relativism (which might be increased freedom, so the very opposite) may not represent a very concrete predictor of outcomes. This seems rather like an astrology prediction doesn't it though?

In the second place you have no evidence of the assertion: Subjective morality leads to tyranny, or to relativism. Nor do account for what happens in the state of "objective morality." What I notice, and what history suggests is that people who think they have an objective morality, vouchsafed by their deity behave no better and often far worse than people who are less sure they have the right answer to every moral question.

Whence "objective morality" anyway? Theists on this website often claim to possess access to this objective morality, but they don't demonstrate how this claim might be demonstrated. Objective morality among theists seems, chiefly to consist of capitalizing alleged virtues and appealing to the dubious authority of alleged beings, or the interpretations of the alleged words of those beings.

• "In the first place this is an argument from adverse consequences, which is a fallacy."

And the argument from adverse consequences fallacy is in and of itself a argument from authority fallacy.

Do you really want to challenge me on the fact that logical positivism is as self contradictory as the statement that the only thing morally true for everybody is that nothing is morally true for everybody (which is what you are arguing)?

• David Nickol

When you can show me a truly virtuous atheist, whose behavior and politics is entirely indistinguishable from the Church . . .

The behavior of the "Church" has been less than exemplary at many (if not most) times during it's history. Why do you think Pope Francis warned his 19 newly appointed cardinals as follows:

A cardinal – I say this especially to you – enters the church of Rome, my brothers, not a [royal] court. May all of us avoid, and help others to avoid, habits and ways of acting typical of a court: intrigue, gossip, cliques, favouritism and partiality.

And how many believing Catholics lead model lives?

rather than because they are willfully disregarding the proof

This is yet another form of the argument that both believers and "non-believers" actually all believe there is a God, but the "non-believers" lie and claim they don't. It is offensive to suggest that the only people who have any intellectual integrity are those who believe what you do. It would be equally offensive (and equally justified) for atheists to claim that believers in their heart of heats actually don't believe in God, but they are too afraid of being alone in the universe to say it out loud.

Real dialogue is dependent on each side respecting the integrity of the other. If I were a theist and believed that atheists were willfully denying the truth of God's existence, or if I were an atheist and believed that all theists were willfully denying the truth of God's non-existence, I wouldn't bother talking to the other side.

I do think that subconsciously, what we want to believe affects (but rarely determines) what we do believe, but as I experience belief and non-belief in my own head, there is no conscious choice involved. There are many things that I would like not to be true, but that doesn't keep me from believing in them when they are true. There are many things I wish were true that aren't, and no amount of effort enables me to believe them.

It is very easy to conclude that the people who disagree with you must be either ill informed, stupid, or evil. However, I would advise people who actually think that way to keep it to themselves.

• " It is offensive to suggest that the only people who have any intellectual integrity are those who believe what you do."

Good, I hope it is offensive, because I am highly offended at the claims of the atheists.

"It would be equally offensive (and equally justified) for atheists to claim that believers in their heart of heats actually don't believe in God, but they are too afraid of being alone in the universe to say it out loud."

You've never heard this claim? It's all over the New Atheist websites.

Real dialogue is impossible with people who are willfully ignorant.

• David Nickol

You've never heard this claim? It's all over the New Atheist websites.

Of course I have heard the claim. My point is that both atheist and theists who claim those who disagree with them are willfully deluding themselves are equally obnoxious.

Real dialogue is impossible with people who are willfully ignorant.

And real dialogue is impossible with people who believe they are right and those who disagree with them are disingenuous. Which is why I won't be replying to any of your messages in the future. You are, in effect, calling anyone who disagrees with you a liar. If that is what you believe, fine. Just don't expect any of us liars to take the bait and respond to you.

• I'm always surprised when they do to begin with.

• Ignorant Amos

Why are you here then? Better still, I'm wondering why the so-called unbiased moderation hasn't even marked your card for such an attitude.

• Susan

Which is why I won't be replying to any of your messages in the future.

Good call.

• "Because, for the atheist, the possibility of eternal separation from God is no more something to lose sleep over than the possibility of eternal separation from Allah is for the Christian."

This assumes that the God of Christianity and the God of Islam are equally plausible. To assume that, however, you need to provide supporting evidence.

(If it helps, I think the God of Islam is self-contradicted by the revelation of the Koran. In particular, Islam makes basic historical misstatements about Jesus Christ that even most atheist historians would recognize, such as positing that Jesus was never crucified.)

Also, whether you "lose sleep over" a possibility is irrelevant to its objective likelihood. That's a psychological issue.

• Steven Dillon

It seems to me that Allah and YHWH are both as unlikely as the other to exist. However, substantiating that claim would probably require me to exceed reasonable com-box limitations. The jist is this: On the one hand, I don't think there's any evidence for either deity, and on the other hand, I think both the Koran and the Bible make false historical, philosophical, and moral claims. Maybe that's for another time though.

While you're right that my psychological evaluation of a possibility does not affect its likelihood, it does indicate what I take its likelihood to be, and my reasons for that evaluation are more or less summarized above. Remember though, the atheist needn't substantiate his doubt here. Having the doubt is enough to disable the Wager. Then the argument would transition to how good his reasons are.

• David Nickol

In particular, Islam makes basic historical misstatements about Jesus Christ that even most atheist historians would recognize, such as positing that Jesus was never crucified.

As I understand the Muslim view, it appeared that Jesus died by crucifixion, but he did not. That does not conflict with historical statements, since historical investigation would confirm the appearance, not the reality, which is (to Muslims) revealed truth.

What comes to mind immediately is transubstantiation. As with historical investigation of the death of Jesus, scientific investigation of transubstantiation cannot confirm what Catholics take to be revealed truth.

So the Koran does not make a historical misstatement about Jesus's death any more than (for a Catholic) transubstantiation is a scientific misstatement. The historian cannot decide the truth or falsity of the Muslim belief about Jesus, and the scientist cannot decide the truth or falsity of transubstantiation.

• Doug Shaver

This assumes that the God of Christianity and the God of Islam are equally plausible. To assume that, however, you need to provide supporting evidence.

Billions of people say that the God of Christianity is real. Billions of people say that the God of Islam is real. There is no other evidence for either God. QED.

• Tim Dacey

Steven:

If I understand you correctly you think that a concept of infinite utility is seemingly incoherent, and that any utility can only be finitely appreciated. Thus, when Pascal invites us to bet on an 'infinite utility' he asking us to do something impossible. Is this what you are roughly suggesting?

• FreemenRtrue

Is your premise flawed? You posit if someone genuinely believes God does not exist.... I think this is impossible it infers a conclusion by a reasonable judgment, not very rational, or a leap of faith in unbelief. Since no one can prove that God does not exist, one may not insist that he does not as such a belief would imply. One cannot prove God exists since if He is the omnipotent, eternal, omniscient Creator and Presence, an intellect confined to our bondages of time and space is put to a hopeless task to attempt to comprehend the grandeur of the Almighty. The best we may do is try to understand signs of God as we are given to see them. I would cite the birth of a child or an astronaut's overwhelming awe at seeing the earth from space as two commonplace examples. Perhaps Pascal was trying to say in a practical way, it is not very smart to insist God does not exist; and you only have two choices.
"Harden not your hearts." said one renowned Philosopher.

• Fr.Sean

That was a very good article, and i think one of the misunderstandings when it comes to Paschals wager is rooted in a misunderstanding of what believers mean when they say faith. sometimes it appears that skeptics think faith is making a choice to believe in something you really don't think is true in order to distract you from difficult issues like death or suffering, and thus one would "believe" against their instincts just in case there is a God etc. Certainly making a choice to believe in the beginning might be a little difficult, but as you do you begin to have EXPERIENCES or discover TRUTHS that give substance to your belief. I personally to not believe faith can be maintained or supported or even grow without prayer. Thus if one makes a choice to be objective about the faith, researches the faith AND prays they will have experiences as well as lear various aspects of the faith that will make their faith rooted in certainty.

• Loreen Lee

'Somewhere' I read an author who deemed that there were four fideists: Pascal, William James, Kierkegaard, and Wittgenstein. Assuming, with respect to Pascal that he makes this conjecture on the basis of the 'wager', he must have some reason for believing that the rationale of such a foundation of faith is not 'true'. There is, for instance, an implied sense of self interest involved although admittedly we would all like to be happy. But what would God think of such a motivation? Granted, there are innumerable motivations that are not 'pure of heart' made as the basis and consequent development of a genuine faith and belief in God. So, say the wager puts us on course to living a 'religious life'. Would a firm belief in God grounded on a paradigm of chance, be later seen within a context that at the time the bet was made the motivation was 'selfish'. Would we want to admit to our 'confessor', that we made a 'bet' on God, motivated we have discovered on a certain 'kind of greed'. Just a thought!!!!

• Ben Posin

Pascal's wager can't be rescued.

One reason not addressed yet in the comments: you can't choose your own beliefs based on game theory--just your actions. If a madman comes to your house and points a gun at your family and says believe in the divinity of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or they die, you might be able to act like a pastafarian, but I doubt you could make yourself believe in the FSM. And there the threat is much more credible than a Christian hell. Pascal's wager might, in theory, give me an incentive to wish I believed in the Christian God, but has no power to make me actually believe in it.

Of course, there are other problems. The cost of becoming a good Catholic is hardly minimal: trying to really become a Catholic would be a meaningful investment of time, and would require me to abandon moral beliefs that are important to me, possibly call for monetary sacrifices, etc. That shouldn't be brushed away, given how unlikely I think the payoffs and punishments claimed in the Catholic viewpoint are. And as mentioned by others, there is an infinite number of variations to Pascal's wager, one for every God in existence and for every God anyone could dream up. Why shouldn't Catholics leave the church out of fear that a rationalist God will damn them for believing in him without sufficient evidence?

Or consider Pascal's Mugging: previously unbeknownst to you, God has issued me a new revelation, and decreed that anyone who does not say a special prayer is damned eternally. I will teach you that special prayer for 1 dollar. Do you want me to send you my banking info? If you wouldn't be willing to part with 1 dollar when there's some chance your eternal soul is on the line, a much smaller sacrifice than my converting to Catholicism, then please pack up Pascal's Wager and don't speak of it again.

• The belief thing is not a big issue. Catholicism is a sacramental religion. You have the believe but how much you have to believe is not vague and unspecified. You have to believe enough to be baptized. You have to believe enough to go to confession and communion. There is not need for angst as to whether this argument has produced a sincere enough faith to save you.

• Ben Posin

Interesting. If it doesn't require ANY belief in God for me to get receive the sacraments, than that particular objection can be discarded. Is that the case? Can I participate in sufficient sacraments to go to heaven without any belief in God? Though then Pascal's wager isn't a reason to believe in God, it's a proposed reason to take part in Catholic sacraments. And that still leaves a number of objections

• Choosing to believe based on a fear of hell is what we call imperfect contrition. It is good enough to bring you into a state of grace but not the goal. You would want to work to a place where you would embrace Catholicism based on love for God.

• Ben Posin

Randy,

I CAN'T choose to believe based on fear of hell. What I'm talking about is trying to receive the sacraments while completely lacking belief in God's existence--taking out a fire insurance policy, if you will, even though I think it's silly and that it's impossible for my building to burn down. Can I do that?

• If you accept Pascal's wager you obviously have some fear of hell.

• Ben Posin

Uh....I don't accept it, for the reasons I gave above. But you guys are telling me that I'm better off being a Christian due to Pascal's wager even if I don't believe in God, and don't believe in hell,so we're exploring that. And certainly I can think that hell is a scary idea even if I don't think it's real. I think characters in horror movies are terrifying, and have been moved to bad dreams, without believing they are real.

But I take it the answer is no, I can't accept the sacraments if I don't believe in God. So the objection concerning the impossibility of belief through threats still stands.

• Raphael

Jesus warned us to avoid false prophets, so you can keep your "special prayer". I'll keep my dollar and my soul.

• Ignorant Amos

Jesus warned us to avoid false prophets,...

Did he now? You know this how?

And if even if it could be proven that Jesus did say such a thing, how do you know Jesus wasn't a false prophet also? Certainly many believers throughout the past two millennia and at least one of his alleged prophesies failed to materialise.

• Raphael

"By their fruits you will know them."

Which prophecy failed?

• Ignorant Amos

The one in that the gospel writers state Jesus predicted his return within the generation. Also the belief of other NT authors.

• Raphael

What verse, exactly, so that I can look it up in the gospel?

• Ignorant Amos

What verse's, exactly, so that I can look it up in the gospel?

There, fixed it for you.

Not only is the failed prophecy in the gospels, but it is represented in other NT books.

I'm surprised you are asking me for a pointer, don't you know the scriptures?

let's start with the earliest of the NT gospels then, Mark 13.

• Raphael

Verses. There, fixed it for you. No need for an apostrophe.

I know the scriptures, but I don't memorize the exact locations. As a Catholic, I also don't believe in going by the bible alone nor personal interpretation. If you want that, speak with a Protestant.

Anyway, the return of Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead is explained in the Catechism. If you don't know where to find it, I'll help you.

• Ben Posin

I note that you're, uh, not disputing that Jesus' prophecy about the time of his return was false.

• Raphael

I want to know what verses Ignorant Amos is trying to interpret.

• Ignorant Amos

Verses. There, fixed it for you. No need for an apostrophe.

Pedantry aside...thanks.

I know the scriptures, but I don't memorize the exact locations.

If you know the verses, then why does it matter where they are to be found? I guessed by your quote "by their fruits you will know them", Mark 13 was no problem.

As a Catholic, I also don't believe in going by the bible alone nor personal interpretation.

No of course you don't, like many, you like to be able to cherry pick to support your argument when it suits, I can appreciate why that is though. Sola Scriptura poses all sorts of problems, as does personal interpretation. Thinking for ones self is frowned upon in religious circles.

So why ask me to provide the verse then? You already knew it is in their, but chose to disregard it anyway.

Of course just reading the text as written doesn't help the apologist position at all, so the pretzelmania begins.

I suppose Paul was mistaken on this too?

If you want that, speak with a Protestant.

There is something clean about the Protestant position, although ridiculously untenable, it's honest.

Anyway, the return of Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead is explained in the Catechism. If you don't know where to find it, I'll help you

Funny thing that, you can't remember where to find a NT verse, but you've memorised the catechism, where I'm the opposite. Still, if it explains why the words ascribed to Jesus by the NT authors are to be disregarded in favour of what the RCC believes is true, please do show me.

• Raphael

Where did I say I memorized the catechism? I was going to use the index. I suggest you read paragraphs 1033-1037 and ponder over them.

I'll ignore all your petty comments and get back to helping you learn about the bible. But, first, you really need to calm down. Let me know when you're ready.

• Ben Posin

Hi Raphael,

What if it was Jesus who gave me the special prayer you need? But to be a bit more serious: you have demonstrated that Pascal's Wager fails. Despite the fact that "infinite" rewards and punishments are in play, you are not willing to risk one single dollar based on the possibility that my supposed position is correct, and yours is wrong.=Similarly, I am not willing to reorganize my life based on the possibility that a Catholic's position is correct.

• Raphael

You miss the point of wager. The wager shows that there can be everlasting happiness believing in God, while there is no of everlasting reward in atheism. You have to appeal to religion ("a special Jesus prayer") since you can't defend atheism.

• Ben Posin

You've missed the problem with the wager, despite having illustrated it perfectly. You claim that I should be moved towards your type of belief in God based on the "possibility" that the things you believe about eternity are true. Note that with Pascal's wager we aren't typically evaluating evidence or likelihood, just possible outcomes.

But if it makes sense for me to be moved at real potential sacrifice, why aren't you moved when presented with the exact same situation: one where if you take action based on the possibility that I'm right about the special prayer you're eternally better off if I'm right, and lose only a dollar if I'm wrong? Apparently the mere theoretical possibility that I'm right isn't enough to persuade you, despite the fact that the expected positive or negative utility in play is infinite.

You've illustrated that you can't be moved to believe something that strikes you as unevidenced and ridiculous even when told your eternal soul is on the line--so, if you're interested in converting atheists, forget about Pascal's Wager and get to work on showing that Catholicism is evidenced and reasonable.

• Raphael

I am not moved to join you in the "Cult of Ben Posin" because it would jeopardize the eternal salvation of my soul. I am already a member of the Body of Christ in the Church that He established. I'm already following the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I don't need to jump ship. Others like you have come and gone saying they have a better and easier way to Heaven: Jim Jones, David Koresh, David Applewhite, et al. All were false prophets and all failed.

There is no problem with Pascal's wager. The problem is with atheism. While I will not change my beliefs, you already have. It is you who have jumped ship turning to religion as your defense. You keep illustrating that it is better to believe in God than not believe. You have yet to show of any eternal reward from being an atheist.

Is there an eternal reward in being an atheist?

• David Nickol

Luke 18
9 He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.
10 “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

• Ben Posin

I'd appreciate it if you could tell me HOW I have illustrated it is better to believe in God than not believe.
"Is there an eternal reward in being an atheist?" To the best of my knowledge, based on the evidence available to me, there are no eternal rewards for anyone, whether atheist, Catholic, Scientologist, or Pastafarian. As an atheist, I am forced to settle at the moment for maintaining my integrity and the ability to follow my conscience and reason where they lead.

• Ben Posin

I'm also curious how you know the people you name were false prophets, in contrast to the Catholic Church. That's sort of my point: how is an outsider to know that it is the followers of your church, and not theirs, that are now receiving eternal reward?
But I think your distaste for my example has moved us a bit outside the scope of what Pascal's Wager really is, and if that's what we're disucssing I want to make sure you understand that Pascal's Wager isn't an argument for Catholicism being true, or belief in God actually providing one with eternal reward. It's a proposed method to guide decision making concerning religion given one's lack of certainty regarding the truth. And it's a bad one for more reasons than just the "Cult of Ben Posin" (catchy!) example. So maybe this is a case where the game's not worth the candle, and we're going to get ourselves worked up over nothing?

• Raphael

"By their fruits you will know them."

• Doug Shaver

I have seen the fruits of submission to authority, both secular authority and religious authority. In both cases, I don't like what I have seen.

• George

how have you shown there an eternal reward, or any reward after death, for being a catholic? it's just claims by humans who aren't dead when they make them.

• Raphael

What are your claims about what happens after death for being an atheist?

• M. Solange O’Brien

Nothing happens after death.

• Raphael

No reward there.

• George

how should I know what happens after death?

• Raphael

What have you been taught about it?

• M. Solange O’Brien

Atheists don't generally teach anything about life after death.

• George

who could teach that?

• Raphael

Priests and bishops, for example. Who taught you and what did they teach you about what happens after death?

• George

What do the priests and bishops know? What knowledge do they actually have?

• Raphael

It's in the bible and the catechism. But I ask again, who taught you and what did they teach you about what happens after death?

• George

so they're reporting a text, they aren't telling you anything about the afterlife.

• Raphael

The bible and the catechism tell us about the afterlife. For example, read paragraphs 1020-1060 in the catechism.

• M. Solange O’Brien

No, they give one groups opinion about the afterlife. Not being Catholic, I see no reason to treat it as anything more than a wild guess.

• Ignorant Amos

So who wrote the CCC? Why should anyone pay attention to its contents?

• Raphael

To avoid the eternal pains of hell.

• M. Solange O’Brien

There is no evidence of hell.

• Raphael

There is evidence of hell. Read the bible and catechism for starters. The problem is that you do not believe the evidence.

• M. Solange O’Brien

I have read both the Bible and the Catechism. They are not evidence of the existence of hell, anymore than the Rig Vega is evidence of reincarnation. They are evidence that Catholics are supposed to believe hell exists. Nothing more.

• Ignorant Amos

You've not been keeping up Raphael....according to the sophisticated theology of the moderates, many of whom contribute to SN, Hell is not a place of eternal pain like what you were taught by those priests and bishops...and the CCC and Bible...that's if you believe in the concept, which I don't. It is now an eternity absent God, also a concept I have no good reason to believe. Lucky me, eh?

• Raphael

No, I do not believe you are lucky. You're position is very lamentable.

• M. Solange O’Brien

As is yours, Raphael. Allah will not be pleased with you on your death. Why aren't you worried about that?

• Raphael

I believe that Jesus established as the Catholic Church for us to follow. Do you believe Islam is better than atheism?

• M. Solange O’Brien

What difference does my preference make? The truth is what it is. Are you suggesting I choose a religion based on how comfy an afterlife it offers?

• Ignorant Amos

• Raphael

• Ignorant Amos

Describe it? Define it? What did the priests, bishops, bible and catechism teach you about what it is like?

• Raphael

• Ignorant Amos

So you can't think for yourself? I have read them. I have quoted them here on SN a number of times. But your fellow Catholics here interpret their meaning differently. I'm curious to know how you were taught the meaning of Hell. By those sources you refer to, the priests and bishops?

I'll understand if you wish to avoid the answer, it is a complicated question apparently.

I've a sneaky suspicion you are just trolling.

• Raphael

Yes, I have heard a few homilies on hell. Your question is now answered.

Why do you accuse me of trolling?

• Ignorant Amos

No, my question is not answered. You have not given me your definition of Hell. You have fobbed the question off with, read it in the CCC for yourself and I've heard a few homilies on HellHell, but I want to know what Raphael understands Hell to mean.

That is what makes me think you are trolling. You have asked plenty of questions which ave been answered, but avoid answering when yo are asked.

• M. Solange O’Brien

And what is your interpretation of those sections?

• Raphael

It's a really bad place a rational person will want to avoid.

• M. Solange O’Brien

Not really. Not based on the catechism.

• Raphael

Unquenchable fire, eternal fire, outer darkness ... Oh, it's bad.

• M. Solange O’Brien

You should consider reading the catechism. You're wrong about that. Perhaps you haven't been keeping up with modern theology.

• Raphael

I just quoted the catechism. What official teachings are you referring to?

• M. Solange O’Brien

The catechism. "This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell.'" Or, "The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs."

• Ben Posin

This is a both frustrating and interesting issue. I am reasonably confident that, for centuries, the notion of Hell was a place of very real and physical tortures--just read Dante's Inferno, or look at paintings throughout the history of the Church. This times article notes that the "modern" conception of Hell you describe is relatively recent. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/09/18/arts/hell-getting-makeover-catholics-jesuits-call-it-painful-state-but-not-sulfurous.html. Do any Catholics here really want to maintain that five hundred hears ago parishioners and heretics were being threatened with "eternal separation from God" rather than eternal physical torture? Three hundred years ago? One hundred?

The Catholic Church seems a bit schizophrenic on this issue, in that they want to remake the idea of Hell but are stuck with the language of, oh, what was his name: Jesus. The catecism cited by Raphael notes that Jesus spoke of how non-believers will be thrown into "the furnace of fire," (see s. 1034) and in 1035, which states the "chief punishment of hell is eternal separation of God, still mentions the "punishments of hell" including the "eternal fire."

I don't see how these two parts of 1035 can reasonably be seen as consistent; I suppose you can try to twist the words to the breaking point, but doing so reveals that the Church really seems to be making a deliberate effort not to be clear I suspect the Church prefers right now to be able to claim that it is not threatening non-believers with horrific, insane tortures like being roasted in fire for eternity (which is bad PR), while still keeping alive at some level the imagery and idea of Dante's hell to give believers and non-believers alike some fear and motivation.

I find it amazing that some Catholics on this site can believe in doctrines like heaven and hell, and think them quite important while apparently having no coherent image as to what these places are like. Hey, at least Raphael has something of an image in mind, even if it might not be exactly what the Church officially teaches. But phrases like "eternal separation from God" are pretty much meaningless without further explanation. Do we have bodies, memories, minds in Hell? Are we capable of the same experiences and sensations we have while alive? If all it is is separation from God, can God at least try to make us comfortable without him by providing steak, french fries, milk shakes, and ping pong tables? I feel utterly unconnected with any God right now, but still manage to enjoy milk shakes and ping-pong--or maybe we could have air hockey in hell, that would work, if we have some beer as well.

• Ignorant Amos

That is why I was trying to get Raphael to cough up his own interpretation of what Hell is. He comes across more of the mass going Catholic on the street than the well read theological types we usually see here. His idea of Hell fits about right with what I was taught as a Protestant, what most Catholics I ask deem it, and as you said, how Christianity has portrayed Hell to represent throughout its history. What we see now is a fudge to try and square another circle. But in fudging eternal damnation to it's present wayetrd down state, the wager has lost any teeth the theist thought it ever had.

I'm just waiting for someone to jump in and bail Raphael out. And you are right, at least he has been honest about the concept as understood by most throughout history.

• M. Solange O’Brien

What I'm interested in is why Raphael keeps drumming so hard to get atheists to answer the question of the Wager. It's fascinating.

• Ignorant Amos

It isn't even a wager per set. It is a choice. A choice of two fictitious concepts supplied by another fictitious concept. Raphael can't grasp that.

Although it appears that Raphael is supplying some sort of effort in return for his choice when he says it is a reward. I'm trying to pin him down on what the effort is that he submits for this supposed reward. I can guess, but I'm looking for his take.

• Jim (hillclimber)

I find it amazing that some Catholics on this site can believe in doctrines like heaven and hell, and think them quite important while apparently having no coherent image as to what these places are like.

Let me give it a go. Here is the Hell that I think I would still believe in even if I were to completely walk away from Christianity:

There is a finality to death. If your life, in toto, is ugly when you die, then your story is permanently, cosmically, ugly. There is no do-over where you get to come back and make things beautiful. The potential for that final cosmic ugliness is real (thus Hell is real), and it is appropriately conceptualized using metaphors of fire and torment.

And here is the Hell I believe in as a Christian:

There is a finality to death. If your life, in toto, is ugly when you die, then your story is permanently, cosmically, ugly. There is no do-over where you get to come back and make things beautiful. The potential for that final cosmic ugliness is real (thus Hell is real) and it is appropriately conceptualized using metaphors of fire and torment. **But** while you are alive, there is -- always, and for everyone -- the possibility of redemption. Striving for the good, in itself, redeems your story, regardless of how ugly your life may seem to you or others in human terms.

• Ben Posin

Jim,

I'm sorry, but I find this description pretty content free as well. Let's start with some easy questions: if my wife and I are both in Hell, can we play air hockey together? Why or why not?

• Jim (hillclimber)

Well, if you play air hockey together here in your earthly life, then that is part of your permanent story, whether you go to heaven or to hell. So, yes, I would say in a sense that you will "play" air hockey together in hell (or in heaven, which I find to be more likely based on what I know about you). When you are done writing your story, it includes whatever you did. And the story as a whole is either good or bad.

That is my best attempt to answer your question on its own terms. However, I will now retreat to the usual platitude, which, platitudinous as it may be, is still correct: heaven and hell are transcendent realities, so it is inevitably misleading to think about them directly and specifically using the conceptual categories that are available to us in this world. The best way to approach those transcendental realities is indirectly, through metaphor.

• Ben Posin

I'm not trying to be difficult, but you're still not painting a picture I can understand. You say if we played air hockey during life we would "in a sense" play air hockey in hell, because that is part of our "permanent story.". In what sense? Would we actually play new games if we wanted, while getting silly on beer? I am getting a sense that you don't think dead people will have agency, or the ability to make new choices, or have new experiences, but are in some way frozen in some sort of distillation of their life. But I likely have that wrong, as that would trashbin the concept of actual hell or heaven as concepts, and just leaves people more or less happy with the life they lived (that is, if you think these frozen people are somehow conscious).

Set me straight!

• Jim (hillclimber)

From our caught-within-time vantage point, I think we have to make this distinction between heaven (the paradise where Jesus said he would be with his fellow crucifee (sp?) that very day), and the general resurrection at the end of time, when our stories in some sense come to life again. For those who have gone to heaven, they are already beyond time, so I think one could say that they are already participating in the general resurrection, but from our limited understanding it seems better to think of it as two distinct phases. N.T. Wright has written some things about this distinction.

As far as I know, there is not that much basis in either scripture or tradition for understanding heaven per se, just a vague understanding that we will be "in Christ". There is more that can be said about the general resurrection. That also is not painted in any specificity, but we have this crucial and (to me) mind-moving insight that the resurrection will be in continuity with our earthly existence. It will be as different as a plant is from a seed, but it will also have the continuity that a plant has with a seed. It is not somewhere else. It is the completion and the perfection of what we are participating in now. The new creation has begun. It is breaking through now, in our earthly lives. I think that is all that we really know, but to me that is a profound insight / revelation that does affect the way that I live my life.

So, will we have free will and ping-pong at the general resurrection? I certainly don't know. There will be continuity with the lives we know now, and there will be discontinuity. Sorry if that still seems content-less to you. To me it is life re-orienting.

Will follow up some other time about how I still find it very easy to believe that you will attain salvation. There are a number of threads that have covered that, but I am happy to re-tread that ground.

• M. Solange O’Brien

I agree: the Catholic conception of Hell appears to have changed drastically over time, and is not, even now, entirely coherent. The catechism mentions fire. Is it real fire? Who knows. Modern theologians tend to discount this (as I would if I was trying to sell Catholicism; the idea of a god who kept a private torture chamber is pretty horrifying. But there is no doubt that in the past the various tortures were believed to be real. Dante is an admirable lens with which to view the Catholic view of hell circa 1300.

And I think it's Aquinas who talks about one of the pleasures of heaven being to witness the torments of the damned.

And of course, if the descriptions of heaven and hell are at best incomprehensible allegories of a transcendent reality (whatever THAT means), then the Wager becomes even sillier: behave with a lifetime of immorality in hopes of...what, exactly? A heaven that cannot even be described? An incoherent and incomprehensible state?

• Doug Shaver

Unquenchable fire, eternal fire, outer darkness

That is to be my punishment for failing a theology test?

• Ignorant Amos

Good luck with trying to get a straight answer on that one.

It is 02:24 here, so it is time for me to head off to Croydon.

I will leave you and George to carry on head butting the brick wall.

• M. Solange O’Brien

Thanks. Croydon? My regards to Penge.

• George

I don't have to put forward some alternative claim just to question the catholic epistemology.

• Raphael

I am curious to know what you believe about the afterlife and how you came to believe it.

• M. Solange O’Brien

I believe nothing about the afterlife.

• M. Solange O’Brien

• Raphael

They are guided by the Holy Spirit.

• M. Solange O’Brien

There is no evidence of that. Why should we take their opinions seriously?

• George

this exchange began when I asked if you had shown there was an *actual* eternal reward from catholicism besides just claim of one. I still don't see where you've done that.

how do you know these priests are actually teaching you anything?

• Raphael

Miracles from the intercession of saints, for example.

Can you answer my question I asked to Ben Posin: Is there an eternal reward in being an atheist?

• George

so you add another problematic assertion: miracles and intervention in the world by spirits. it's easy to expose holes in miracle claims, for example, the fact that so many of them are just arguments from ignorance. "well THEY couldn't explain what happened, so my assertion gets priority!"

you don't seem to get the criticism of pascals wager. you can't disprove an eternal reward for not believing, yet you do not then believe there is a reward. that's the point.

• Raphael

You miss the whole point of Pascal's Wager by demanding proof of an afterlife. Otherwise, you wouldn't have to make a wager.

IF there is an eternal reward in the afterlife, Catholicism says that it can offer it. Does atheism offer an eternal reward?

• M. Solange O’Brien

But any rational, ethical being would choose atheism, surely?

• Raphael

A rational, ethical being would choose to avoid the eternal torments of Hell.

• M. Solange O’Brien

I don't think so - especially since hell is merely separation from god. Surely an ethical, rational being would desire such a state?

• Raphael

Where did you learn that about hell?

• Ignorant Amos

So only yor church can offer the eternal reward? Definitely a carrot and stick routine.

• Raphael

Can atheism make the same claim as Catholicism?

• M. Solange O’Brien

What claim?

• Ignorant Amos

WTF? You really are not very good at this.

Do you know what atheism means?

What claims about Catholicism are you referring to?

• Raphael

The claim of an eternal reward.

• M. Solange O’Brien

Do you understand what atheism is?

• Raphael

Yes, and I want to know specifically if it offers an eternal reward in the afterlife. Does it?

• M. Solange O’Brien

If you knew what atheism was, you would know the answer. I can only conclude you do not understand atheism.

• Raphael

From what I understand about atheism, it does not offer an eternal reward. Am I correct?

• M. Solange O’Brien

Why do you think so?

• Ignorant Amos

And if you understood what it is, or better still, what it isn't, you would understand how daft and meaningless the question is.

• Ignorant Amos

Anyone can make unsubstantiated claims.

Here's one for you.

I have an invisable intergalactic time travel ship in my loft.

See how easy it is?

Atheism doesn't claim anything. Atheists make the claim.

The claim is, I hold the absence of belief that any deities exist, through lack of evidence. Or variations on that them.

I'm more of an igtheist atheist.

I will ask again, reward for what?

• Raphael

I told George the same thing. Demanding proof is missing the point of Pascal's Wager.

If you believe in God, your reward will be gaining Heaven and avoiding Hell. If you are an atheist, can you get those same rewards?

• M. Solange O’Brien

But that's not what the wager actually says. I suspected you didn't understand it.

• Raphael

Oh, I understand it.

• M. Solange O’Brien

• Raphael

Please explain how I misunderstand Pascal's Wager.

• M. Solange O’Brien

What do you think the wager says? Oh, and by the way, you still have not answered my question. Just reminding you.

• Raphael

Believe in God, you win. Don't believe in God, you lose. There is no demand for proof. How do you interpret the wager?

• M. Solange O’Brien

Nope.

• George

what would it matter if it did?

• George

Why is the discussion limited to those two things? what possible justification is there for closing the door on all these other unintuitive possibilities, when christianity has already been given a foot in the door?

• M. Solange O’Brien

I don't think Raphael really understands the wager - which may explain his difficulty in formulating answers to your questions.

• Ignorant Amos

We will eventually return to being the stardust that we were constructed from...we become devoid of life, that is about as much as can be certain.

No one knows anymore than that. Anyone, priests or bishops, telling you they do, are lying to you. If you believe them, then you are being gullible.

• Raphael

Who taught you about what happens after death?

• M. Solange O’Brien

No one. Since no one knows.

• Ignorant Amos

No one, because nothing happens that I, or anyone else knows about.

Of course, as a young'un the clergy tried to teach me the same nonsense you believe today, but like belief in Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, among lots of other things, I came to the understanding it didn't hold up to scrutiny, so I binned it as bad hypothesis.

• Raphael

So, is there an eternal reward in being an atheist?

• M. Solange O’Brien

Sure. Personal integrity.

• Ignorant Amos

Why do you think I should aspire to an eternal reward? Reward for what? Why should anyone expect an eternal anything? Because the Church tells you it is so? Carrot and stick...never fails.

• Raphael

More importantly, you should aspire to avoid the eternal pains of hell.

• M. Solange O’Brien

When you can demonstrate hell exists, we might consider that.

• Raphael

I'm not going to risk going to hell, but to each their own.

• M. Solange O’Brien

But why is your afterlife any more believable than a Buddhist afterlife? Offering me texts and opinions based on those texts is not convincing. Why are you not convinced by my texts?

• Raphael

I like what Catholicism teaches and what it has to offer in the afterlife. Do you think Buddhism is better than atheism?

• M. Solange O’Brien

Better in what sense? You accept Catholicism because you think it's a nicer story?

• Raphael

I believe Catholicism offers a better afterlife. Do you believe Hinduism is better than atheism?

• M. Solange O’Brien

Are you suggesting I pick a religion based on how comfy an afterlife it promises?

• Raphael

No, just between Catholicism and atheism. Which is what concerns Pascal's Wager.

• M. Solange O’Brien

Which is the question I just asked. Do you wish me to choose a religion based on how comfy the afterlife is?

• Raphael

Just between Catholicism or atheism. Which do you choose?

• M. Solange O’Brien

Do you believe it is possible to choose your religion, in the same way I choose a pair of shoes?

• Raphael

I don't know you pick your shoes, but just stick with Pascal's Wager and choose between Catholicism or atheism. Which do you choose based on the afterlife they offer?

• M. Solange O’Brien

So you want me to choose PURELY on the basis of the afterlife promised?

• Raphael

I believe that is what Pascal's Wager asks.

• M. Solange O’Brien

I see. Then the rational answer, for me, is atheism. Obviously.

• Raphael

To each his own then. Thanks.

• M. Solange O’Brien

What was the point in asking the question?

• Raphael

You were moving away from Pascal's Wager with questions about Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. Anyway, I'm shaking the dust from my feet.

• M. Solange O’Brien

Ah, you were attempting to proselytize. Please don't take offense, but you're not very good at it. You could have won me over had you approached in the right fashion.

Good luck. You'll need it.

• Raphael

I wasn't attempting to proselytize. And what do I need luck for?

• M. Solange O’Brien

You used a specifically Christian phrase, "Shake the dust from my feet". Surely you were referring to the words of Christ, "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city." But Christ enjoins that to the apostles who were to - wait for it - proselytize.

As I said, you seem not skilled at this - witness your problems with the wager - hence my enjoinder that you have luck.

• Raphael

I use that phrase when I'm tired of conversing. Please don't flatter yourself thinking that I was trying to convert you.

• M. Solange O’Brien

I never flatter myself - that's what other people are for. But you still didn't answer my question. It's only fair, I answered yours. Why did you ask the wager question and push so hard for an answer?

• Raphael

I did answer your question. You were moving away from Pascal's Wager and started including notions of Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. I kept pushing because you kept avoiding.

• M. Solange O’Brien

But why were you asking the wager question at all? All my comments about Islam, Buddhism, etc. are DIRECTLY germane to an understanding the wager.

• Ignorant Amos

So you are conversing are you? There is me thinking you are just asking a bunch of innate questions.

• M. Solange O’Brien

Amos has a point. You were not and are not now, conversing. You seem to be engaged in some odd rhetorical exercise.

• Raphael

We all have been conversing by asking and answering each other's questions.

• M. Solange O’Brien

No. You have not been conversing.

• M. Solange O’Brien

No, no. What was your point in asking an atheist to pick an option? Surely you realize atheists find the wager meaningless?

• Raphael

To each his own then.

• M. Solange O’Brien

You didn't answer my question. Do you believe it is possible to CHOOSE a religion?

• Doug Shaver

No, just between Catholicism and atheism. Which is what concerns Pascal's Wager.

If those must be the only two options for the wager to be reasonable, then it is not a reasonable wager.

• Ignorant Amos

But there isn't any eternal pains of Hell, Catholics here have said as much.

• btpcmsag

Excuse me -- I don't know how to say this without appearing to interrupt the conversation -- but just a while ago in history, it was universally believed that anyone who said in his heart "there is no God" was considered to be "mad" (today we would say insane, crazy, a lunatic, or mentally incompetent). Only in our modern, "evolved" age, when we're in such a better position to understand abstract concepts and obscure cryptic theorems, has it become commonplace to run around openly doubting the One Who made you.

As one who so does doubt, are you aware that your actions only go to prove the truth that our ancestors believed, and the reason is that you are (by said actions) fulfilling prophesy?

• M. Solange O’Brien

There have unbelievers throughout history; the current existence of atheists does no more to support your prophecies than "Tyre" does.

• George

as for you first paragraph, can you tell me why I should care?

and what is the prophecy you're talking about? I hope it was a lot more thorough, detailed, and falsifiable (ie intellectually honest) than that other one that said "in the future there will be wars". how hard do you think it is for a human to say "hey, there are going to be some people who don't believe this stuff when you share it with them."

• btpcmsag

You're right. You shouldn't care. You don't care about this conversation enough to provide a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence (which is bad manners or else you're incompetent), so why would you care about the One Who made you? I could give you several Scriptures but those would be 'pearls', and, well, you know the rest. Or, if you don't, "why should (you) care?" The fact that you've already made up your mind that you're not going to accept what I proffer tells me I'm just wasting my effort on you. But thanks for the heads-up, Geo-p. There is no one so blind as the one who refuses to see.

• Doug Shaver

Is there an eternal reward in being an atheist?

Without some question-begging, I can't prove there is. Can you prove there isn't, without some question-begging?

• George

it does not show that there is everlasting happiness in your position, and it merely assumes there would be no reward for atheism. without justification. the imagination just stops being used where it's convenient. maybe there is a god that punishes belief in it, and rewards non belief? what if?

• Raphael

What religion teaches that "there is a god that punishes belief in it, and rewards non belief"?

• George

Why does there need to be one? The truth could be unrevealed to us. I don't actively believe that, but how could either of us disprove it? It could be "beyond our comprehension" and doesn't conform to our "narrow preconceptions of the supernatural". What good is logic once we accept that escape hatch?

Further, how can we disprove, for ourselves, any of the infinite possible non-god explanations for our existence? What if you're actually stuck inside a computer simulation right now, that seems real to you, but the history you know is just creative fiction to lend depth to your delusion? What if the only way to be released from it was to reject all gods and religions proposed to you from within that simulation? Can you disprove that? Maybe you should believe this, just to be safe after all....

that question comes from this video, which I recommend to all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZpJ7yUPwdU

• Raphael

Great imagination! If your truth is "to reject all gods and religions", who or what revealed this to you?

• M. Solange O’Brien

It's a rational conclusion based on lack of evidence, and the semantically and logically incoherent definitions of god that have been presented.

• Raphael

What if you are wrong and God does exist?

• M. Solange O’Brien

That depends on the god, of course.

• Raphael

Pascal's Wager concerns the Christian God.

• Ignorant Amos

So you would have no truck with a wager that involved any other god? Say, Ignorant Amos' Wager concerning John Frum for instance?

• Raphael

I'm sorry. I don't understand your question.

• Ignorant Amos

Of course you don't...figures. Not to worry, never mind.

• M. Solange O’Brien

Then if I am wrong I shall enjoy a very comfortable eternity in hell.

• George

I didn't say that was my truth. but how could either of us disprove it?

• Raphael

That is why I want you to tell me which religion teaches that rejecting God will let you avoid the punishment of Hell.

• M. Solange O’Brien

Confucianism. Taoism, to some degree. Hinduism. Buddhism.

• Raphael

Pascal's Wager concerns Christianity.

• Sqrat

Absolutely right. The obvious objection to Pascal's Wager, as presented in a particularly naive form by Kreeft, is that it's not possible to choose what one believes by an act of will. But I can choose what I DO, but not what I BELIEVE. I can act as though I believed, but that's not the same as believing.

Perhaps one could argue that salvation can be entirely a matter of works, since if I act as though I believed God existed, even though I actually believe that he doesn't exist, that's OK with God. That is not, however, what Kreeft is saying -- he's saying that I actually have to believe it.

• I'm not sure if you actually read Dr. Kreeft's article or just dismissed it because you presupposed it was faulty.

Dr. Kreeft responds to, and points to Pascal's answer to, this exact reply:

"Because the whole argument moves on the practical rather than the theoretical level, it is fitting that Pascal next imagines the listener offering the practical objection that he just cannot bring himself to believe. Pascal then answers the objection with stunningly practical psychology, with the suggestion that the prospective convert "act into" his belief if he cannot yet "act out" of it."

"If you are unable to believe, it is because of your passions since reason impels you to believe and yet you cannot do so. Concentrate then not on convincing yourself by multiplying proofs of God's existence but by diminishing your passions. You want to find faith, and you do not know the road. You want to be cured of unbelief, and you ask for the remedy: learn from those who were once bound like you and who now wager all they have...They behaved just as if they did believe."

• Sqrat

Again, I don't think so. Farther up in the article Kreeft suggests, naively, that "atheism is a terrible bet" but appears unable to understand that atheism isn't a bet at all. Rather, it's a certain belief (or, as some would say, a certain lack of belief).

My understanding of Pascal's actual argument is that, if one pretends one believes long enough, one might actually end up believing. That is, perhaps, vaguely hinted at in Kreeft's brief quote from Pascal, but is hardly explicit. The bottom line is that the real bet is pretending to believe what one does not believe.

Of course, one could pretend one's entire life that one believes, without ever coming to believe (if the term "closet atheist" has any meaning, I'm sure that's been the case for many, many people over the centuries). My understanding is that, in most Christian soteriologies, merely pretending to believe -- the actual placement of Pascal's Wager -- will avail you nothing.

• btpcmsag

"I will teach you that special prayer for 1 dollar...a much smaller sacrifice than my converting to Catholicism..." ---- But your converting to Catholicism doesn't cost me anything, not even one dollar!

"If you wouldn't be willing to part with 1 dollar when there's some
chance your eternal soul is on the line,... then please pack up Pascal's Wager and don't speak of it again." ---- And your authority to make demands on what choice I should make has no credibility, and therefore your "prayer" has ZERO chance of legitimacy. You're not the first Ben to pander gnosticism. It would seem you're uncomfortable with Pascal's wager for more reasons than you're willing to admit.

But in any case, death waits for no man, and everyone's time will come. Nobody should have to convince you of that, correct? It's really in your own best interest to think about it, and it's not in your best interest to persist in trying to ignore it.

• Ben Posin

Hi!

I don't get the sense that you really understand where I'm coming from, as I'd like to think my comments make it pretty clear that I'm making a real effort to think about the issues under discussion here, including the significance of death, and given that what choices one should make in life. BY all means disagree with the conclusions I come to, but your condescending attitude that I need to start thinking about these thinks in the first place is really unappealing.

As to the "special prayer." Your response is a perfect illustration of what I'm talking about, and shows that Pascal's wager is a bit silly. I don't have the authority to make any sort of demands on you, but I've made a suggestion that you have to consider when making your own choices: that if you don't send me a dollar it could result in your eternal torment. I get that you think what I'm saying is really, really, really, really, really silly, but that's the point of Pascal's wager: the eternal consequences of you being wrong so outweigh the cost to you (1 dollar!) that you should jump at the chance. But you're not, and seem annoyed that I would try to jokingly extort you this way.

Think of how much more annoyed I must be at the Catholic Church! They aren't joking, but for centuries have seriously preached that eternal suffering waits for those who don't buy into their particular doctrines (though Catholics these days like to hedge about what Hell really means). From where I sit, I don't see any reasonable likelihood that Catholic doctrines are true. Pascal's wager claims my rational choice is to be Catholic anyway, but becoming Catholic (or at least submitting to Catholic practice and doctrine regardless of my actual beliefs) would have an enormous cost to me, much more than the one dollar you won't send me. I'd have to give up time, money, and, perhaps most importantly, sacrifice my conscience, ethical beliefs, and integrity. That's a huge cost.

So: wanna try again? Engage with what I'm saying, and drop the condescension, and I'm happy to talk.

• David Nickol

The problem with Pascal's Wager as presented here is that it seems to assume that the only two choices are to be a Catholic (who gets saved) or an atheist (who gets damned). Setting aside the fact that in the 21st century, even Catholics do not believe atheists are necessarily damned, there are many more options to choose from than Catholicism and atheism. Suppose you take Pascal's wager seriously, become a Catholic instead of an atheist, and when you die, you find yourself reincarnated as a slug. Or Allah condemns you as an infidel. Catholicism is simply not the only belief system that claims to know what happens when you die. Many of these belief systems would see it as critical to your fate after death that you adopt their beliefs rather than someone else's.

• It still makes atheism the only sure-fire losing option. All you need is a non-trivial chance that your action will improve your eternal destiny. Then which religion gives you the best chance is another question.

• And that is what I here to find out. What makes you think the chance of a God existing is non-trivial?

• David Nickol

It still makes atheism the only sure-fire losing option.

Not really. First, how can atheism be a "losing option" if it is actually correct. Second, if there is a God, the wager assumes he sends good people who honestly and sincerely don't believe in him to hell. Is this what Catholicism teaches?

• Doug Shaver

It still makes atheism the only sure-fire losing option.

No, it doesn't. If universalism is true, then I have nothing to lose even if God exists.

• vito

Pascal's wager is just an attempt to bully people into faith. Take our offer, bet on our guy, because our guy has the meanest hell of all. Atheists have no hell, don't bet on them. They are just nice people. Even if they are right, they won't punish you. Meanwhile, our guy is so mean, if you offend him, you'll regret it.

And needless to say, I agree with Ben Posin, that converting to Catholicism requires a dramatic life-style change, a lot of effort, a lot of intellectual dishonesty and is very time consuming. So it is unfair to say "you lose nothing". Presuming that the Catholic version of God does not exist, you lose a lot in terms of freedom to make your own moral choices and a lot of ways to enjoy your life. Religiousness in general (not limited to Catholicism) can also lead you to a number of fears, anxieties, complexes and even to very bad behaviour.

• What you lose is not nothing but it is finite. Really in the atheist world view you have nothing to lose. A few years of life? What is that next to eternity? If atheism is true life is hopelessly unsatisfying and too short to even worry about.

• vito

no it is not. It is the only thing you really have and you know that you have it. So you want to make the best of it. For many atheists it is satisfying enough, for others it can be made more satisfying. I do not see that believers in general are more satisfied, at least not where come from.

• How much is a temporary mental state of satisfaction really worth? If you think deeply you will find it quite empty. How do you stop yourself from doing that?

• vito

and there is nothing more hopeless and sad that the Catholic prospect of hell. (although, admittedly, it is their strongest tool to keep people in the church)

• It is hopeless and sad precisely because it is what atheism teaches. That is Catholic hell is an eternity where you get to be your own boss. God will stop calling you to Himself. Yet you will still be made for God and restless without Him. His love for you becomes torture because it can never be expressed. The power of sin is too strong for you to break and the opportunity for God to break it is past.

The point is atheist believe our desire for God is already impossible to fill. That we already have nothing more to live for than our own short term pleasure.

• Andrej Tokarčík

If the Catholic doctrine is true, would its hopelessness and sadness make it any less true? On the other hand, if the doctrine is not true, is its hopelessness and sadness of any importance at all?

• David Nickol

Really in the atheist world view you have nothing to lose. A few years of life?

No, from the atheist viewpoint, you have everything to lose, because "earthly" life is all there is.

• "No, from the atheist viewpoint, you have everything to lose, because "earthly" life is all there is."

But this is a textbook case of begging the question. Pascal's Wager is meant, in part, to wrestle with whether there is something more to life. You can't hope to apply it if you begin, a priori, assuming that earthly life is all there is.

You have to be open-minded and assume that, perhaps, you may be wrong in this belief. Would you be willing to admit that possibility?

• David Nickol

You have to be open-minded and assume that, perhaps, you may be wrong in
this belief. Would you be willing to admit that possibility?

I am going to have to begin signing all my comments "David Nickol, Not an Atheist." I will acknowledge (not "admit") the possibility that earthly life may not be all there is. However, I was commenting on the following:

Really in the atheist world view you have nothing to lose. A few years of life?

In the atheist world view, if you lose your earthly life, you lose everything, because that's all there is. I am not endorsing the atheist world view; I am describing it.

Pascal's Wager is meant, in part, to wrestle with whether there is
something more to life. You can't hope to apply it if you begin, a
priori, assuming that earthly life is all there is.

And you can't hope to apply Pascal's Wager if you don't acknowledge that atheism may be true. If you know for a fact that there is a God, then there is no point in Pascal's Wager.

A theist presenting Pascal's Wager to an atheist is arguing, "Even if you turn out to be right and there is no God, it's still in your best interest to act as if there were a God." But if as a theist you know for a fact that there is a God, Pascal's Wager is just a manipulative tool to convert atheists. You're talking probabilities and wagers when you are actually dealing in certainties. The only honest way to present it under those circumstances is to say, "I know you are wrong to be an atheist, because I know for a fact that there is a God, but let's pretend for the sake of argument that you might be right."

• "And you can't hope to apply Pascal's Wager if you don't acknowledge that atheism may be true. If you know for a fact that there is a God, then there is no point in Pascal's Wager."

I totally agree. I'm not aware that I, Dr. Kreef, or Pascal himself insinuated otherwise. The Wager is only a wager if atheism is a possibility.

"A theist presenting Pascal's Wager to an atheist is arguing, "Even if you turn out to be right and there is no God, it's still in your best interest to act as if there were a God.""

I've never seen a theist present the argument like this. This is a distortion. You're confusing ontology (whether God exists) with *belief* in God.

If there is no God, it's in nobody's interest to act as if he exists.

But Pascal argues that if you didn't *believe* in God, yet are open to the possibility that you may be wrong, it *is* in your best interest to live as if he exists.

"Pascal's Wager is just a manipulative tool to convert atheists. You're talking probabilities and wagers when you are actually dealing in certainties."

This is not just partially wrong, it's precisely the opposite of the truth.

• Danny Getchell

it *is* in your best interest to live as if he exists.

Brandon, suppose you were to follow around any of the atheists or other skeptics here around for a day. Observe their interactions with their families, friends, and coworkers. Then follow any Catholics you care to choose, in the same manner.

Do you think you could tell which ones are "living as if God exists", and which not?

• vito

good question. You definitely would not be able to tell the difference. Even if you followed them to their bedrooms. (unless the Catholics you follow belong to a tiny one percent minority, you would find condoms there, too:)

• "Do you think you could tell which ones are "living as if God exists", and which not?"

Absolutely. The Christians I know live tangibly different lives than most of the atheists I know. If nothing else, they value prayer, worship, and charity to higher degrees and their actions bear out that preference.

I struggle to see the point of this question, thugh.

• Danny Getchell

The point is that given -my- concept of God (which is a deist, not a theist or atheist concept), I -do- live as if he exists, and therefore I suppose I have already accepted Pascal's wager.

• "The point is that given -my- concept of God (which is a deist, not a theist or atheist concept), I -do- live as if he exists, and therefore I suppose I have already accepted Pascal's wager."

Fair enough. You may have taken a wager, but then the question is, did you make the best choice? The first question Pascal would ask is: why bet on a deist god? I struggle to see how that's significantly different than betting on atheism. From an eternal perspective, you stand to gain nothing (since a deist god is disconnected and unconcerned with his creation). Therefore, best case is you're right and you gain nothing, worst case is you're wrong and lose eternal bliss.

PS. I'm curious what it means to "live as if [a deist god] exists." How does this tangibly influence your day?

• Danny Getchell

I don't know whether a deist god is disconnected from his creation. I just have no evidence that he is not.

If there is eternal bliss, I am as likely or as unlikely to partake of it as anyone else, atheist, Christian, Buddhist or Jew. So I don't think I am betting against anything.

• Andrej Tokarčík

I'm wondering whether this implies that people who for any reason (an illness, say) think that they have already lost everything their "earthly" life by itself could possibly offer are free to embrace faith by wagering for God without any further justification -- the very faith which some describe as dangerous or even "flat out evil"...

On a related note, I sometimes ask myself that if our "earthly" life is all there is, and surely there are some things of the "earthly" life that we should be thankful for (a good meal, say), whether it doesn't follow from this that we should be even more grateful for the "earthly" life per se because without the "earthly" life we wouldn't be able to enjoy those good things and to be thankful for them in the first place...

• Doug Shaver

If atheism is true life is hopelessly unsatisfying and too short to even worry about.

My atheistic life is not at all unsatisfying, much less hopelessly so. And as short as it is, I worry plenty about it.

• The main problem with Pascal's wager is that it suggests we can decide to believe. For me, belief doesn't work like that. I can pretend to believe, but I don't think pretending counts does it?

• Pascal suggests pretending until your pretending becomes reality. Leah Libresco had some ideas along that ling about live action role playing.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2013/01/cultivating-curiosity-index.html

• My difficulty with this is that there are thousands of options of Gods to pretend to believe in.

• Everyone has that. You just discern. Pray. See which options make sense. Talk to some people who seem to have a spirituality you respect. Look for an answer. Don't assume there is none.

• David Nickol

You seem to believe the most important thing in life is to believe in God. But according to the Catholic Church, not everyone who believes in God is saved, and not everyone who doesn't believe in God is damned.

The implication is that people who believe in God are better than people who don't. It goes without saying, doesn't it, that people who believe in God can still be terrible people?

• Cooperating with the grace of God is the most important thing in life. You might do it accidentally. That is without knowing it is God's grace you are cooperating with. Still knowing what you are doing is more likely to work and more fulfilling than groping for God in the dark.

• Danny Getchell

You just discern. Pray. See which options make sense.

Every Mormon missionary will tell his audience the exact same thing. And they quite often get converts that way.

• There is nothing wrong with the approach. It is a bit narrow in that just the one religion is seriously considered. That is not just true of Mormon converts. Evangelical converts often only really consider the church that is actively evangelizing them. Still where they end up is closer to the truth than where they started. So their discernment is right. They just stop discerning too quickly. They assume the church they are converted by should be the church they join. Often they never go back and re-examine that assumption.

• "My difficulty with this is that there are thousands of options of Gods to pretend to believe in."

Do you genuinely believe that thousand of Gods have equal plausibility? That polytheistic gods or limited gods are as believable--or more believable!--than the so-called God of the philosophers?

I don't mean to be presumptive, but I doubt you can even name a thousand gods.

• David Nickol

Do you genuinely believe that thousand of Gods have equal plausibility?

The question, I think, is whether you consider the Jewish God, the Catholic God, and the Muslim God (and so on) to all be the same God. And even if they are in theory, what the wager seems to assume is not merely belief in a God, but living the life demanded by the particular God you believe in. In that sense, the Jewish God, the Catholic God, and the Muslim God are different Gods. If you believe in the Jewish or Muslim God, you don't go to Mass on Sundays or even get baptized. Last time I checked, there were 41,000 Christian denominations. Many, many of those may be virtually interchangeable, but even so, the question of how one ought to live as a Christian has many different answers, and many are mutually exclusive.

• mriehm

There are as many religions as there are believers.

• Andrej Tokarčík

It seems to me that You consider the existence of God* and the truth of particular views of God as independent events. Indeed, from the atheistic perspective, all views of God are equally unreal. However, given that God exists, not all views of God are equally probable. Neither does accepting God's existence presuppose that the truth about Him is easily found or straightforwardly accessible.

_____
* - And I think that Pascal's wager obviously points to the theistic God.

• I would not call them "events". But the question of whether something exists is a an issue that is independent from whether it is reasonable to believe it exists.

To get to "given that God exists", even for the sake of argument, we first need to define what we mean by God. Do we mean the Duke of Edinburgh, Ganesh, existence itself, a prime mover, 'that there is something we don't understand', or something that each of these various characterizations of God have in common?

I would love to see how you think Pascal's Wager "points" to the existence of a theistic God. (I think all gods are theistic, aren't they? Maybe we really do need to define our terms.)

• Andrej Tokarčík

Hello, Brian! I understood Your previous comment along the lines of "Even though I could pretend that there is a God, there are so many conceptions of God that they actually preclude me even from the pretending in the end." In reply to this, I said that the conceptions of God must be approached differently under the assumption of God's existence.

I'm surprised that You didn't raise the issue of the definition of God in the very beginning (perhaps I missed something), because Pascal obviously assumes that everyone has some idea of God. Anyway, I think that an approximate notion of something may be quite sufficient to establish whether it exists or not -- just like a complete definition/understanding of dark matter isn't required for saying that it must exist.

And no, not all conceptions of God are theistic: "God is often conceived as the Supreme Being and principal object of faith. In theism, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. In deism, God is the creator (but not the sustainer) of the universe. In pantheism, God is the universe itself." [1] Pascal's wager leads precisely to the theistic God because it reflects upon the theme of eternal bliss/punishment in the context of faith, which I think can be reasonably presented only in the context of theism.

• This is semantics, but I think the best way to use the terms are "Theism" to refer to all god-claims, "Deism" is a subset of theism dealing only with gods who created, but do not, or no longer manifest in their creation.

The initial comment and I think a good point is that, even if you accept Pascal's argument, you cannot will yourself to believe something. Belief comes from being convinced of something.

Can you decide to believe in Greek polytheism? In Santa Claus? That I am Tiger Woods? I put it to you that you can pretend to believe these things, but until you are convinced, it is just pretend, and pretending to believe won't get me into heaven on any mainstream Christian theology.

I can't be convinced just by the wager. If I told you that there is a billion dollar sweepstakes and one of ten tickets will be chosen, and I offer you one of the 10 tickets for 1 dollar. It is clear that it makes overwhelming sense to buy the ticket, even though your chance of winning is only 10%. But does this convince you that you WILL win? Of course not.

If I told you that it is the same scenario, but the person who truly believes he will win increases his chances to 50-50. We agree this sounds impossible, but I tell you that it is a magic lottery and guarantee you that this will work if you truly are able to believe it. I tell you that millions of people have done this successfully but that if I showed you the empirical evidence it would kill the magic and you would not be able to increase your odds. But yes, there will still be 10 tickets and one draw. Can you now decide to believe you will win?

if you say sorry, I can't just decide to believe. What if I then tell you that the draw will happen in 5 years and that if you start just pretending to believe, eventually it will become a true belief. You will at some point need to publicly acknowledge your belief and come to the magic lottery clubhouse once a month or more often. This is not necessary but if you do not do it, it is unlikely you will develop the true belief you need to increase your chances. Soon, this will require you to change your behaviour a bit. Mostly you can behave the same, but you should acknowledge the magic lottery from time to time before meals and try to convince your family to play too. There will be some downsides, particularly to your sexual life, and especially if you are gay. But there will be a great community for you to join the lottery club.

What if you are going to go along with this, after all the reward is so big! But then you learn there are a number of other lottery clubs. All with similar structures. Some which say if you play the others you will be tortured. Other say you don't even need to believe or play to win the money.

You then decide to look online to see if anyone has investigated these magic lotteries. And you find that yes indeed there are great arguments to show that, actually there is zero evidence of anyone ever having won a lottery, or that there is any money to be paid out in the first place. In fact, if it were true, as you initially surmised, it would be an exception to the laws of physics and no one can explain how this is possible. You learn that there are ancient documents talking about the lotteries but these are contradictory, many are outright forgeries, most are mutually exclusive and the most popular ones contain frighteningly immoral stories, that you are told make moral sense once you really believe you are going to win.

This is how Pascal's Wager feels to me.

• Moussa Taouk

Hi Brian,

I can't be convinced just by the wager. If I told you that there is a billion dollar sweepstakes...

That's a pretty good analogy in that it helps me to see how Pascal's wager looks to you.

The biggest difference between the magic lottery and God's existence is that one is plausible and the other one isn't. One has been believed by the majority of humans and other hasn't. One is logically coherent and the other one is mathematically inaccurate. One does have great books and the other one doesn't.

Your core question though, which the analogy is demonstrating, is "can one believe that which they are not convinced of?"

I put it to you that you can pretend to believe these things, but until you are convinced, it is just pretend, and pretending to believe won't get me into heaven on any mainstream Christian theology.

It's a very interesting question that I've wondered about and wondered about. What is it to believe? what is it to have faith?

In this context, I say it's a choice. It's a leap of the will into a space where you HOPE the truth resides. When something is clearly demonstrable then the leap is smaller and smaller (until it's barely recognisable as a leap at all). But the key point that I think is missing from much of the conversations here is that there is not sufficient demonstrable-ness either for or against. No one can sufficiently convince the other. I see miracles, you see "we don't know what it is". I see soul, you see brain. I see genuine mystery, you see "soon to be discovered". I see resurrection you see no-way. I see purpose you see order from blind chaos. I see ultimate objective goodness you see "whatever works". (Sorry if I'm putting words in your mouth, but I'm guessing as to the atheist world-view).

In the absence of knowing one way or the other, then the leap towards what we HOPE to be true seems to be perfectly reasonable.

The difference with the magical story you told is that we can pretty much all agree that it's not true. With God we just can't agree. So we leap towards what we hope to be true. And that's what I think faith is.

• As Pascal's wager only applies to Christianity and there only some variations, it is not the case that the majority of humans believe it. Nor would the popularity of the view affect it's plausibility. There is nothing plausible about it, what you mean is that it is not definitely impossible. Of course it is also not verifiable.

And here is the bigger question. I already HOPE by I hope that I will be saved and go to heaven for being honest with myself and my beliefs. I hope if there is a real god he is better than the one described in the Bible. If some any gods exists my hope is that they will save me because of my actions, not what I believe. I have a hard time accepting that Yahweh, if he exists would deny my eternal life because I saw no reason to mumble ridiculously positive things about him on Sundays.

My concern is to pretend to believe the Catholic God and being confronted with a different deity in heaven and having to answer for why I didn't just act honestly.

• Moussa Taouk

As Pascal's wager only applies to Christianity and there only some variations, it is not the case that the majority of humans believe it.

I think the Christianity part is a later step (i.e. the discernment between the different possibilities of the nature of God). But the first step is the acknowledgement of the existence of a supernatural being... some higher realm or some spiritual reality. THEN one can investigate the subsequent options. Maybe Pascal intended his wager for the proposition of the Christian God. But in my mind it's equally applicable to the notion of: live according to the will of God (or gods) and gain the reward, or live life by ignoring the will of God and reach (at least) nothingness.

If some any gods exists my hope is that they will save me because of my actions, not what I believe.

I have a hard time accepting that Yahweh, if he exists would deny my eternal life because I saw no reason to mumble ridiculously positive things about him on Sundays.

I value your integrity in not wanting to mindlessly live out something that is meaningless. But that's one of the points under investigation... is whether those "positive things" are ineed "ridiculous" or whether they are good and meaningful. Also, I agree that one shouldn't "mumble" such things. I reckon say them with boldness, or else hold your peace.

My concern is to pretend to believe the Catholic God and being confronted with a different deity in heaven and having to answer for why I didn't just act honestly.

Believing in God is NOT acting dishonestly IF you bear in mind the following: you're confronted with two positions, and you can't prove either of them to be true. THAT has to be the starting point. If you can prove God to not exist, then please do so. If you can prove God exists, please do so. If you can't prove either (and people have battled the point for thousands of years with no resolution) then you ARE at that starting point. So to choose one over the other because it involves a reward that appleals to or is in harmony with your nature (desire for eternal joy, love, peace, beauty, truth etc) then you certainly wouldn't be acting dishonestly. It's making a perfectly honest decision given the options.

• A couple of things. One, the point is that Pascal's wager ONLY applies to god beliefs that include heaven AND that you get there only by believing. The idea being that the reward (eternal life) so outweighs the cost (believing). If the deal is different, as it is in Islam, Judaism, Hinduism etc. Pascal's wager is irrelevant.

"Believing in God is NOT acting dishonestly IF you bear in mind the
following: you're confronted with two positions, and you can't prove
either of them to be true."

This is not my point. I am saying I cannot choose to believe just because the reward outweighs the cost. This is because evidence and reason guides my beliefs, not wishful thinking.

Say you were to tell me that the number of stars is even, and if I believe it, I am guaranteed to go to heaven. It is definitely either odd or even but we have no way of proving it one way or the other. If this is all we have, the reward cannot help me sincerely believe. I can say I do, I can pretend, but I will not be sincere, because the only reason I have to believe it is wishful thinking. I need more than that.

Pascal's wager is no different.

• Moussa Taouk

If the deal is different, as it is in Islam, Judaism, Hinduism etc. Pascal's wager is irrelevant.

Is the deal different in those cases? In Islam if you don't submit to God then you're an infidel and an enemy of God. You won't attain "el Janna" i.e. heaven. In Judaism... well I'm not familiare enough with Jewish thoughts about heaven. In Hinduism if you do x-y-and-z you either get reincarnated as a higher and more perfected creature or as a cockroach.

Pretty much with most of the faiths that I'm aware of you get rewarded for living in accordance with the God(s)' path and you get a sore head if you go according to your own desires without paying attention to God(s).

Therefore Pascal's wager applies.

I am saying I cannot choose to believe just because the reward outweighs the cost. This is because evidence and reason guides my beliefs, not wishful thinking.

Ok. Me too. But evidence can't help us. Nor can reason. We're stuck at point-zero and we can't climb out. The only way to move forward is to be willing to bow our heads and enter via the door of preference.

The difference with the star analogy that you used is that with the stars there is no consequence either way, so it's easy enough to remain quite careless about their number. But with God everything changes! One can't afford to just be careless about the question. One must choose. In fact as the article says, one DOES choose.

With the stars, you don't HAVE to choose. But with God you HAVE to choose. Either you live your life according to God or not. You MUST live your life, and you MUST die. The outcome of both differs depending on your choice.

I'm convinced that faith is a choice. I'm sure we both have similar experiences. Sometimes I wonder, "can it really be true? Can it really all be true? surely it's too good to be true!" and so I have my doubts. At those times I say to myself that I will go on believing that it's true. At those times it really is a choice. My emotions just want to run away and hide. My will grabs them and says, "HEY! we're going through this period of doubt. We will continue to believe in God". See? Choice. Not emotion.

And perhaps you sometimes wonder, "Is it possible that I am here just like that? What am I anyway? Some atoms that wonder why they happened to take this shape? The matter of the universe colluded for 14 billion years, and I'm here, the sharp end of the spear, the final momentous product of total random chaos? Surely there must be more to the story!" And then your will grabs your emotions and says, "listen here buddy. You're not letting any of that god-business get its foot in the door. no way. don't worry about all that stuff. You're here now, so just enjoy it. those questions are meaningless". And so you choose.

• Susan

Hi Moussa,

Is the deal different in those cases? In Islam if you don't submit to God then you're an infidel and an enemy of God. You won't attain "el Janna" i.e. heaven</blockquote?

Exactly. So why is Pascal's wager useful on a catholic site that claims to be founded on a dialogue between atheists and catholics reasoning together?

You could make up anything hellish and promise anything heavenish and claim that your beliefs are necessary as logical explanations for origins, morality and meaning and insist there's an afterlife over which your deity reigns. And assert that your beliefs are not constrained by evidence but that your choice of deity is beyond evidence.

The muslim claim is just one other theistic claim that is at odds with your belief and which claims to be beyond evidence.

Its a terrible wager. It's not close to a coin toss. It's framed as though it is one. All we have are stories and emotional appeals from people who are emotionally committed to the stories.

That can lead to confirmation bias. What separates your or a muslim's (or a mormon's) belief from confirmation bias?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

• Moussa Taouk

Hello Susan!

So why is Pascal's wager useful on a catholic site that claims to be founded on a dialogue between atheists and catholics reasoning together?

I guess the key word in there is Catholic (rather than the usefulness of the wager in general). Well, I'd say it's useful in any theist-atheist dialogue. Everyone keeps jumping to the point of multiple religious options. But that's to jump ahead of yourself. the first step is to acknowledge the existence of a supernatural power. Maybe something like what Anthony Flew believed in the end. Something like a transcendent power that gives direction or orientation to the universe's unfolding. Step two would be to investigate the nature of that power... whether it has a will or not, whether it has goodness as its nature or not etc. Then, and this needs a bit of head-shaving humility, one might look to the wisdom of humanity and assess them on their merit of coherence as a philosophy and as a sufficient world view.

What step is that? Maybe like step 3 or 4 or something. But it's no good jumping right to that step yet! We're still stuck at step #1. And the wager's usefulness is massive when it comes to step #1... on a Catholic or (in my opinion) any reward-promising theistic site.

When you're at stage #3 or whatever it is of the process (comparisons of various religious traditions) give me a call. I'd love to come along for the ride. But for now I'm a big sinner in need of treatment, and so I'm inclined to remain in the healing wards of my beloved hospital-for-sinners (i.e. the Catholic Church).

• Right, like you say, in most religions the reward comes from action, not belief. But this is a side issue.

In the star hypothetical (this is not an analogy), there is a reward: heaven. I am trying to take the issue out of the faith context so you can understand the narrow point.

"But evidence can't help us. Nor can reason. "

Evidence certainly can help. The whole point of this blog is for us to "reason together". You will find dozens of articles claiming to show the evidence of God. We are not at all stuck, there is absolutely no reason that God cannot provide evidence. Indeed, Christians believe he has repeatedly throughout history and continues to today through the miracles saints perform. The Vatican does not simply accept assertions but has a "reasonable" process to scrutinize these claims.

I agree faith is a choice but belief is not. I would say faith is by definition an unreasonable basis to form justify a position. Using "faith" in this way is the very definition of wishful thinking, especially in the context of Pascal's wager. There is no reasonable basis to believe. I desire to have eternal life in infinite perfection. I therefore choose to accept this claim because I want it to be true. I will say I have a thing called "faith" that subs in for reason and evidence and then say I am justified in my belief.

With God you surely are not required to choose. You can say, which I do, that "I do not have evidence to accept this belief" and accept the consequences.

Again the outcome of death MAY depend on what choices we make in life, or it may be irrelevant as atheists and many religions (including some Christian denominations like Calvanism believe). Most Christians think that you must believe in your heart not just choose to pretend.

I am sorry Moussa, but the way you say you deal with doubts is the very definition of wishful thinking. When you doubt something, the thing to do is examine your reasons for believing it in the first place. Indeed, I have a similar experience, could it actually be true? Could I not die and have eternal life? When I think about it I recognize that that these thoughts are coming from a desire for it to be true not a reason that it is.

I am nearly 100% sure there is more to the story, but I recognize that I think this because I am ignorant of what the unknown is, not because I know what it is.

When I have these ineffable moments I open myself to the multitude of possibility and even sometime try a prayer to see if there might be something to these God claims, though this has never yielded anything. What I do NOT do is conclude that this feeling is evidence of the supernatural. Rather, I am inclined to think that I am a wondrous collection stardust by which the cosmos may become aware of itself. The idea that I am an image of an invisible tyrant who demands my love on pain of eternal torture or annihilation, is squalid in comparison, not simply unjustified.

• Moussa Taouk

Evidence certainly can help.

I'm not saying that there's no evidence. I'm saying that the evidence that's available can't help us to agree to or to know the correct conclusion. That's because of the choice that each of us has already made to either believe or not. We interpret the available evidence to back up what we already have chosen.

When I read, "The God Delusion" I came across a fascinating paragraph. Richard wrote something like this: "If I saw the arm of a statue of mary move in the shape of a cross, and it was proven that the statue was not tampered with, then I would still not believe that God exists. Rather I would believe that the movement was the result of randomness that has been generated by quantum fluctuations".

Haha. I don't think I took him very seriously for the rest of the book. I mean... atheists ask for evidence, but then deny any evidence that is presented as being something that we just don't yet understand, and that it's therefore not evidence for God's existence. Ummmm... okayyyy... so what kind of evidence would help? Sometimes people say "if God arranged the stars in the sky one night to say "look, I exist" then I'd believe in God". Oh for goodness' sake. Ok, let's say He did that. but what about blind people? should they believe based on the credible testimony of the multitude? or should they be given some other evidence related to another of their senses?

I'd find the whole request for evidence thing to be somewhat humerous, if it wasn't keeping people from embracing God. It makes God out like He's smaller than us and that He should operate according to our standards. "If you do X for me, then I'll do Y for you". It seems to have an entirely misguided vision of the proportions of God vs man. For example, when you pray to God during your ineffable moments, what is your prayer? Is it something like, "if you exist do such and such?" That's not the best way to pray. Rather, consider that prayer is (according to my definition!) the "recognition of the presence of God". Rather than say stuff, just BE in the presence of deep mystery. Let the awe that you have before the Presence be your prayer. God isn't a coke machine that ought to respond in a certain fashion when we put the coin of prayer inside. Rather He is like... well, the Bible describes Him by saying "God is Love". And what does one do in the presence of love? He doesn't chatter away. He enters into the temple of its presence and basks in its indescribable depth and beauty.

But finally I understand something of why it's difficult for you to choose God over nothingness:

The idea that I am an image of an invisible tyrant who demands my love on pain of eternal torture or annihilation...

If your vision of God is accurate then I'll join you in your disbelief and your refusal to choose infinite objective goodness beauty and truth over chaotic randomness and ultimate nothingness and meaninglessness. Neutrality is better than tyranny.

But Brian, I propose that God, as I've said above, is LOVE. Not that he loves like a mother loves a child. But He IS love. His nature is love. It's a pity that you have an emotional misunderstanding regarding God's nature. But perhaps that misconception does make Pascal's wager difficult to consider properly.

• I believe in love most certainly, but I see no reason to also call love a deity. I also accept that deep mystery is present for me. But the thing about mystery is that it is a question not an answer.

When I have recently attempted prayer I did it on the advice of a priest and I asked god to enter into a relationship with me, either he does not exist or he declined.

The thing you do not seem to understand is that I cannot choose what to believe. I believe things when there is evidence that implies them. I do not chose to believe that when my body dies, everything that is "me" ceases to exist. I believe this because it is where the evidence leads, if it was up to me, I would believe in god and eternal life.

• Moussa Taouk

I see no reason to also call love a deity.

Not so much that love is God. But more that God is Love. As in, God's nature isn't tyranny but love.

the thing about mystery is that it is a question not an answer.

Maybe just a comment about the word "mystery". In religious use, the word means not a riddle that is to be solved (which is the way the word is generally used), but rather a fact that is beyond the capacity of the human mind to contain. So for example there is the "mystery of the incarnation" or the "mystery of the Trinity".

I asked god to enter into a relationship with me

Brian, I salute you in your attempt to draw near to God. My question is: HOW would God have answered that prayer (i.e. to enter into a relationship)? As far as I can see, He already has answered that prayer in Jesus. He entered into human history, and in taking on human nature and redeeming human nature through His perfect sacrifice, He has entered into an all-time relationship with us.

The thing you do not seem to understand is that I cannot choose what to believe. I believe things when there is evidence that implies them.

This is a most fascinating question of what it is to believe. Maybe I don't understand what you mean. But that's because it seems to me that you MUST choose to believe certain things based not on evidence that you've seen but rather based on people saying that it must be so and so.

For example, I assume you believe that the earth goes around the sun. Why do you believe that to be the case? Why do you believe that the univers is 14 billion years old? Why do you believe that the coldest possible temperature is - 273-degrees? Why do you believe in black holes or in quantum "particles"? I assume you've never seen the evidence for any of these things, and yet you CHOOSE to BELIEVE in those things. You can just as easily choose to be skeptical about those findings until someone demonstrates it to you.

In a similar way, I think it's possible to choose to believe that God exists because the "specialists" (saints, teaching magesterium of the Church, mystics etc) say God is a true and existant reality.

• Is there part of God's nature that is not love? Is the part of love that is not God?

I'm sorry but I have no good reason to believe Jesus was a God, or possessed any supernatural powers. The fact that we have a variety of stories about him being a god etc. is unconvincing.

Why do I believe the earth goes around the sun? Because there is evidence for it that has been verified in many ways. It explains the movement of the planets that we observe for one. The same with all of the other questions in this regard. No, I have not done all the experiements myself, but if I were to question those who say they have made the observations, they would not respond by telling me to just choose to believe it. They would show me how I can observe it myself. I have demonstrated a number of similar things for myself, such as confirming that all things fall at the same rate regardless of weight.

• (Continuing) I do not chose to believe these things, I am convinced by the evidence. I do trust the word of science teachers and reputable scientists in this regard precisely because they never tell me to just chose to accept it, or have faith. They say the evidence exists and it can be tested today, by me. They publish their results and expect others to verify their findings for themselves and only when this has been done with consistent results do we say it is demonstrated scientifically.

By contrast, religion and God claims have nothing like this. There is enormous disagreement on what the divine world is. The four or five monotheisms don't agree on who god is and what the most important acts he has done are. Even among them they have split into thousands of sects each claiming some unique insight into divine truth. Then there are the thousands of polytheists for whom the divine is in things like the sun, animals, abstractions. There is no way to verify any of this. But it should be the opposite. It should be easy to verify the divine, why not? What is so important about being invisible?

• Moussa Taouk

"...if I were to question those who say they have made the observations, they would not respond by telling me to just choose to believe it. They would show me how I can observe it myself."

Perhaps they would. And perhaps they wouldn't. You don't know until you go ahead and ask them, and after asking them learn what procedure they used, evaluate the legitimacy of their work, and observe the results. If you stop at "If I were to question those who..." then you are leaning on "trust". You trust that these people are telling you the truth.

You believe in black holes. And yet black holes are invisible. All we can measure or observe are their EFFECTS. Why do you believe in black holes? Because some scientist(s) proposed it based on their observation of certain effects going on in the galaxy. You trust the scientists. I do to. Why not? That's their field of specialty. There's no contradiction, nothing that strikes me as being particularly absurd about the whole thing. So yeh ok, I trust that conclusion.

SAME THING with God. You can't see Him. You can just see the effects of His existence. Reality as we experience it is itself the effect of His existence. Maybe it's so obvious that we sometimes have trouble seeing it. Like a fish trying to determine whether there is some such thing as the ocean. Too obvious for it to recognise.

So: we can only see the effects. Additionally, those who are greater experts in the field (here I appeal to the Church, both in Her teaching authority and in Her saints) guide us in the field of God-knowledge. What they propose makes plenty of sense and sits well with my intuition and my experiences. There is no reason to mistrust the information. So I trust it.

So we both do the same thing. Only your scope of knowing is more limitted because you (I think) limit yourself to trusting specialists of science (or perhaps more accurate to say 'naturalists'), while I'm open to trusting specialists in science and in every other conceivable field of knowledge.

But we can go even further with the subject of "trust". When the scientist points you to observe such and such, why trust your senses? Surely they can be wrong. But we do trust our senses because... why not trust them? It makes sense to have that trust, so may as well!

• I simply see no reason to accept that reality as we see it is an effect of any god. Reality as wee see it implies that there is a reality. It would look the same if there were no gods.

• Moussa Taouk

"It would look the same if there were no gods."

I think that might be "begging the question". Because I would think that if God doesn't exist then the reality you're talking about wouldn't exist. So it WOULDN'T look the same if there was no God.

So I think after all that we're back to the article above. If we can't know either way, may as well go back to the not-so-noble level of "what's in it for me?" and therefore bet on God.

• But it is not a "bet". If I bet on a horse I don't need to believe it will win. I don't need to go around telling people and myself it is true and trying to believe in my heart it is true.

I have no problem treating it like a bet. I can say easily, if the Christian god exists I would give my soul to him. Why wouldn't I. But I want to do the same for Islam too and Mormonism. I can't lie and say this has convinced me that some of my conduct is sin, that a man who was crucified 2000 years ago also created all matter and "died" for these sins somehow allowing me to live forever.

I can't say that the fact something exists convinces me that such a being exits either. The existence of the world implies the world exists, not some other invisible unfalsifiable reality.

• Doug Shaver

"It would look the same if there were no gods."

I think that might be "begging the question".

OK.

I would think that if God doesn't exist then the reality you're talking about wouldn't exist. So it WOULDN'T look the same if there was no God.

And that is not begging the question? Why not?

• Doug Shaver

Indeed, from the atheistic perspective, all views of God are equally unreal. However, given that God exists, not all views of God are equally probable. Neither does accepting God's existence presuppose that the truth about Him is easily found or straightforwardly accessible.

So then, to accept Pascal's wager, I must strive in good faith, to the best of my ability, to figure out which god is most probably real, and then believe in that god. Is that a reasonable perception of my situation?

• Of course none of the examples Kreeft proposes are similar to the issue of believing in the Christan god.

It is not one pill that we know has a 50-50 chance of curing you, it is one of dozens if not thousands. None of them might work, or one of them might work, but only one. And, if you chose the wrong one it could make things worse.

Moreover, there will be side effects, it will change a great deal of how you see the world, what is right and wrong, whether you can use contraception and so on. Some of the pills have dietary restrictions, others will make you sexist. These effects will be with you until you die.

And how likely is it that even if you pick wisely it will work? No idea, we have no science to back up the claim, just traditionally, people have believed this and it has been very popular. In fact if it works, it will be an exception to pretty much everything we know about science based medicine.

Oh, and it doesn't work if you just swallow it, despite all of the above you need to really believe it will work, for the rest of your life.

Finally, it may actually work even if you don't take it.

• People seem to keep missing the finite/infinite distinction.

To me, it is obvious that living as if atheism were true is way worse than living as though Catholicism were true. So if it was this life only and, per impossible, neither was actually true I would still choose Catholicism. It is just way more satisfying.

• David Nickol

To me, it is obvious that living as if atheism were true is way worse than living as though Catholicism were true.

But what if Allah sends anyone who does not believe in Islam to hell? There would be no benefit in being a Catholic rather than an atheist.

• I just said there would be. Catholicism has improved my life in ways that atheism never could. Moral growth has opened the door to new and deeper relationships. There is just no comparison.

• David Nickol

In that case, Catholicism would be a better choice than atheism, but Catholicism would still be a terrible choice compared to Islam. Also, while I accept that your personal testimony is sincere, it is one man's opinion.

Your goal seems to be to steer people away from atheism whether it is true or not. The flaw in everything I have seen so far is that the fundamental assumption of Pascal's Wager (unstated or even denied) is that theism is true and that the only true form of theism is Catholicism.

• I am saying Pascal's wager is a problem for atheism. That is you are placing the only bet that has zero payoff. If it is true we are all losers.

• David Nickol

I am saying Pascal's wager is a problem for atheism.

Pascal's Wager has nothing to do with truth. If it is the most compelling argument on earth, that still has no bearing at all on whether or not God exists.

If it is true we are all losers.

I am reminded of the Zen saying, "If you believe, things are such as they are. If you don't believe, things are such as they are." That is true for both theism and atheism. If atheism is true, it has always been true, and nobody is a loser, because nothing has been lost. There never was anything. If atheism is true, the dead do not suffer. If Catholicism really teaches that some people suffer eternally, I would prefer that everything it teaches be false. One person suffering eternally is to horrible to contemplate. Better for death to be utterly final than for even a few persons to suffer eternally.

My preference (which makes no difference to reality at all) would be that Catholicism not be true if it requires that even one person—even the most wicked person who ever lived—suffer eternal torment. It seems better to me that not one person suffer eternally even if the rest of those who ever lived enjoy eternal bliss.

• Danny Getchell

This is why Judaism is the only one of the "big three" which I find morally satisfying. The God of the OT may have been cruel and capricious from time to time, but at least he was content to leave his victims alone once they were in the grave.

• "The God of the OT may have been cruel and capricious from time to time, but at least he was content to leave his victims alone once they were in the grave."

What's ironic is that that's precisely what the Christian conception of Hell is: God eternally leaving someone alone once their bodies were in the grave.

• David Nickol

What's ironic is that that's precisely what the Christian conception of Hell is: God eternally leaving someone alone once their bodies were in the grave.

According to the Christian conception of God, he is not only aware of everything, he keeps everything in existence. Consequently, if hell is real and there are people suffering in it, it is only because God sustains both hell and the people in. The damned would not suffer eternally if God did not will it. Annihilation would be preferable to an eternity of suffering, but God does not permit it. According to the Christian conception of God, he can't just create something like hell and walk away from it, letting it go its own way.

Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted.

God would be aware (and would will) every lick of every flame in hell.

• Peter

The door of hell is locked on the inside not the outside.
God does not abandon those souls against their will, but simply respects their wish to separated from him. It is the individual soul that keeps itself in hell by its eternal rejection of God.

• David Nickol

The soul that rejects God cannot change its mind because that implies the concept of time. But there is no time just an eternal present, so the state of mind which utterly rejects God at death is fixed for eternity

Can you document this from authentically Catholic sources? Human beings are a combination (according to Catholicism) of body and soul (matter and spirit). It is not at all apparent that a human person could exist outside of time. It is commonly thought that human beings (or their souls), after death, spend time in purgatory. Those in heaven are described as being "active," for example, saints are prayed to and asked to intercede with God on behalf of the living. Also—often completely ignored—a soul in heaven has not reached its final destination. It is awaiting the resurrection of the dead and the reunion with a physical body. There is a concept known as aeviternity that might lend some credence to what you are saying, but it is way above my head. So I'd have to say that it seems to me that a human being after death, especially after the resurrection of the body, could not exist outside of time or of something very much like time. So I fail to see how what you are saying is compatible with Catholic thought. Matter as we know it is a meaningless concept without time, and we are material beings.

• Peter

At the particular judgement after death, in God's presence, there is no passage of time, only an eternal present, so the impenitent soul which dies in utter rejection of God is irreversibly fixed in that state of rejection.

The punishment of hell is affirmed to be the endless passage of time in which a soul suffers separation from God due because its state of rejection is irreversibly fixed.

• Irenist

David,

I think you're entirely right that aeviternity is importantly different from eternity in traditonal Catholic metaphysics, and that therefore arguments rooted in an "eternal now" might be nonstarters in explaining what's traditionally called "the obstinacy of the damned."

Can you document this from authentically Catholic sources?

Well, without endorsing Peter's argument from eternity for the obstinacy of the damned, I'd point you to Aquinas' arguments for the fixity of their will in the second article of the 64th question of the first part of the Summa Theologica (S.T., Ia, Q. 64, Art. 2), which deals with the fallen angels, and the second article of the 98th question of the supplement to the thrid part (S.T., Suppl. IIIae, Q. 98, Art. 2), which deals with fallen men. Hope that's responsive and helpful.

• Doug Shaver

The door of hell is locked on the inside not the outside.
God does not abandon those souls against their will, but simply respects their wish to be separated from him. It is the individual soul that keeps itself in hell by its eternal rejection of God.

And so, if, a moment after dying, I find myself in hell, it is because that is where I wish to be.

In terms of Pascal's wager, how is that a negative payoff?

• mriehm

Missionaries do their converts an utter disservice. Those who have never heard the word of God cannot be condemned to an eternity of hell. Those who have, can be.

• David, that's an interesting, albeit unorthodox, interpretation of Jesus' words, but it's simply not what Catholics (and most Christians) believe. Here's the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell." (CCC, 1033)

It's clear here that hell involves eternal separation from God, thus him "leaving his victims alone."

• David Nickol

It's clear here that hell involves eternal separation from God, thus him "leaving his victims alone."

It is perfectly orthodox Catholic teaching that God created all things and keeps them in existence. If Person X is in hell, God created Person X, God created hell, and God keeps both Person X and hell in existence, otherwise they would cease to exist. Also, since God is omniscient, he is always aware of Person X's existence and his suffering. If God were truly to leave anyone alone (according to Catholic teaching) that person would cease to exist. All created beings are contingent beings and depend utterly on God for existence. Likewise, hell (if such a thing exists) is contingent and depends utterly on God for its existence. As I understand it, God is aware (and ultimately responsible for the orbit of every electron in every atom in the universe and the motion of every photon. Catholicism, as I understand it, does not accept the idea that God can create something and put it "out of his mind" and allow it to run itself.

If there is a hell, and if there are people in it, God is letting them alone in somewhat the same way a prison warden leaves a prisoner in solitary confinement alone.

• "If there is a hell, and if there are people in it, God is letting them alone in somewhat the same way a prison warden leaves a prisoner in solitary confinement alone."

You'll find no disagreement from me. That's basically what I originally said:

"that's precisely what the Christian conception of Hell is: God eternally leaving someone alone once their bodies were in the grave."

I think we're on the same page here. No need for minute bickering.

The fact is, Danny Getchell implied that the God of the OT differed from the God depicted in the NT because the former "was content to leave his victims alone once they were in the grave." This is wrong. The God of Christianity (i.e., the God of the NT) does precisely that for those who choose hell, implicitly or explicitly.

• David Nickol

I think we're on the same page here. No need for minute bickering.

I don't think it is minute bickering to point out that I don't think sustaining hell for all eternity, consigning a person to hell, and sustaining his existence there for all eternity is leaving him alone. If I locked someone in my basement and threw away the key but kept possession of the house, I don't think that would amount to leaving the person in the basement alone.

I think solitary confinement in prison is cruel and unusual punishment. I don't think of it as leaving the prisoner alone. As I understand it, if God truly leaves someone alone, that person will cease to exist. If God maintains the fires of hell (whether real, supernatural, or purely metaphorical), and a person is roasting in them, I don't think that is God leaving the person alone.

• Why do you care about truth? I can see why a Catholic would but why an atheist? Yet deep down we are all Catholics. We care about truth because God does and we are made in His image.

You don't believe in justice? The idea that God will reward good and punish evil some day some way? If you believe in that then hell makes sense.

Heaven makes very little sense. It is too good to be true in a lot of ways. Sinners being purged of all but love and spending eternity in intimate union with God Himself? If you start with the notion that Heaven is the default that we all deserve then hell will never make sense. That is not Catholicism.

Eternal torment? We suffer now until we die. Living eternally in a sinful world is better than dying.

• Danny Getchell

Atheism has a zero payoff only if unbelief is unforgivable.

• Not if unbelief is unforgivable. Just if unbelief is never virtuous. If unbelief is true then there is no virtue so being right buys you nothing.

• Except if I lived as if Catholicism were true, while I honestly thought it was false and harmful, I would feel dishonest and immoral. I am pretty sure the Catholic Church would advise against this.

What I do instead I'd honestly and as genuinely as I can, as god to enter into a relationship with me. Sometimes I says"if you exist..." Other times I just ask.

I think this is a much more honest way to proceed and if I am wrong, I am betting that if God exists he will not blame me for honestly searching and being honest when I did not find, and not annihilate me for my honesty.

• David Nickol

Except if I lived as if Catholicism were true, while I honestly thought it was false and harmful, I would feel dishonest and immoral. I am pretty sure the Catholic Church would advise against this.

I feel very strongly you are right about this. I think the brand of Catholicism we are frequently presented with is "Apologetics Catholicism"—proofs, wagers, purported demonstrations of why the Bible doesn't say what it seems to but rather what the Catholic Church teaches, explanations of why scientific findings that seem incompatible with Catholicism are really compatible, and so on. It often seems old fashioned and pre-Vatican II (because it is) and doesn't make Catholicism very appealing. It is excellent fodder for unresolvable arguments, though, and I can't say I don't thoroughly enjoy it.

• I hope you do gently and honestly ask God to enter into a relationship. Then expect an answer. The seriousness of your search needs to correspond with the seriousness of the matter. What else could you do to take your search more seriously. Try and find a man of God? A priest maybe? If you are engaged in something that you conscience tells you is offensive to god then maybe trying to stop doing that? Just basic things one might do if one was seriously looking for God.

• I do. I might track down a priest, but I have to say the result of my honest entreaties has been nothing so far and I fail to see what the point of engaging the assistance of a priest would be.

• It is a reality that grace does not always come easy. God wants us to really want something so He makes us ask persistently and emphatically. He is intending to make very personal and very far reaching changes to your life. He does not do that based on a simple request. There needs to be a real hunger in your soul.

• "It is not one pill that we know has a 50-50 chance of curing you, it is one of dozens if not thousands. None of them might work, or one of them might work, but only one. And, if you chose the wrong one it could make things worse."

As I'm sure you know, Brian, Pascal's Wager is designed for the person deciding between Christian theism and atheism (i.e., most of the commenters at Strange Notions.) As Dr. Kreeft implies, it should be read in the context of his "Pensees" where he builds a reasonable case for the God of Christianity.

Other arguments can be used in conjunction with the Wager to show why other proposed Gods (i.e. those of Mormonism, Islam, Pastafarianism) are either self-contradictory or unreasonable, and therefore not "live" options worth considering. Therefore your hypothetical "thousands" are not an issue for most people.

I don't know of anyone who believes that a thousand deities are all equally plausible. Even most of my rational atheist friends will admit that *if* a God exists, Christian theism presents the most logical, plausible version.

Out of curiosity, which gods/God do you think is as likely or more likely to exist than the God of Christian theism?

"Moreover, there will be side effects, it will change a great deal of how you see the world, what is right and wrong, whether you can use contraception and so on. Some of the pills have dietary restrictions, others will make you sexist. These effects will be with you until you die."

Of course. It will naturally change your life in perhaps difficult and uncomfortable ways. But as Dr. Kreeft clearly explained, those difficulties pale in comparison to the joy of their potential consequences. (I would also add that some of the specific examples you cite--i.e., foregoing contraception or eating a disciplined diet--are not burdens for the millions of religious people who practice them. They only appear so to the worried outsider.)

"And how likely is it that even if you pick wisely it will work? No idea, we have no science to back up the claim, just traditionally, people have believed this and it has been very popular. In fact if it works, it will be an exception to pretty much everything we know about science based medicine."

Not sure what role you expect science to play here. These are theological and philosophical conversations concerning realities outside the realm of science. Thus attempting to use science to answer questions about eternal destiny is like trying to use geology to gauge the beauty of artwork. It's the wrong tool for the pursuit at hand.

I'm not sure what to make about your last sentence. I've read it three times and I fail to see how "science based medicine" relates to Pascal's Wager. How does Pascal's Wager contradict (or even concern) science-based medicine?

• So the process is to first write off the god claims of religious traditions that are unlikely? In that case I am afraid Christianity falls off quite early for me. It is the one that I am most familiar with and the one that appears most improbable. The problem is what I understand the central story of the resurrection. The idea that a god would take on human form, and have himself killed to create a loophole in a set of rules he freely established, is not plausible to me compared to Hinduism, Judaism, Islam or Bhuddism. The problem of evil is a problem compared to religions that do not have all good or omniscient gods. The idea of substitutional atonement is also a problem for me. The very idea of this seems to contradict any idea of justice.

Of course I would have to investigate all faith traditions, past and present to narrow it down to one. As I've learned from you and others, religions are not what they may seem to the outsider. I had all kinds of misconceptions of Catholicism and I am still learning about it.

• Kevin Aldrich

"The idea that a god would . . . have himself killed to
create a loophole in a set of rules he freely established, is not plausible." I agree but that is not good theology.

Suffering and death are consequences of sin. God comes into the world in human form and does good. Sinful men murder him. He uses innocent suffering and death (the effects of sin) to undo the sin itself.

• David Nickol

Suffering and death are consequences of sin.

Suffering and death were in this world long, long before there could possibly have existed anything that might remotely be considered sin. I hold you in high esteem for you fidelity to Catholic teaching, but these are the kind of statements that mean little or nothing to anyone who doesn't already believe them. While I suppose it is possible that there is very profound thought underlying them, they do seem to many of us to be pat answers to matters that are at best deep mysteries.

• Kevin Aldrich

As you recall from your days as a Catholic school student, freedom from suffering and death was a preternatural gift to Adam and Eve before the fall. Thus, "suffering and death . . . in this world long, long before there could
possibly have existed anything that might remotely be considered sin" committed by human beings is not inconsistent with that preternatural gift. What I claimed is not a "pat answer" but a summary of what I think is a profound theory of the redemption.

• David Nickol

Out of curiosity, which gods/God do you think is as likely or more likely to exist than the God of Christian theism?

My first answer would be the God of Judaism. Even Jesus believed in the God of Judaism. It seems to me quite plausible that Jesus believed his mission was only to the "lost sheep of Israel." Jesus quite plausibly did not intend to found Christianity, but to call back nonobservant Jews and perhaps to bring some reforms to Judaism.

But of course those of us who were born, raised, and educated in the United States (or in most of the other countries commenters come from) take Christianity for granted as the religion of "normal," rational, sensible people, because we have been immersed in it. I don't think anyone who had been raised totally isolated from all the major religions would necessarily think Christianity was particularly plausible. After all, it was "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles."

• "My first answer would be the God of Judaism. Even Jesus believed in the God of Judaism. It seems to me quite plausible that Jesus believed his mission was only to the "lost sheep of Israel." Jesus quite plausibly did not intend to found Christianity, but to call back nonobservant Jews and perhaps to bring some reforms to Judaism."

But Christians believe in the God of Judaism. If you'd like to "expand" the wager to include the God of Judaism, you're basically "leaping" into the same pool as Christianity--just the shallow end instead of the deep end.

"It seems to me quite plausible that Jesus believed his mission was only to the "lost sheep of Israel." Jesus quite plausibly did not intend to found Christianity, but to call back nonobservant Jews and perhaps to bring some reforms to Judaism."

It might be true to say that Jesus focused his personal mission on the Jews, but his aim was to convert them so they could convert the world. I'm not sure how one could possibly believe Jesus *only* aimed "to bring some reforms to Judaism" in light of his statements throughout the Gospels, especially Matthew 28:19 ("therefore go and make disciples of all nations.") That statement alone directly contradicts your proposal.

"I don't think anyone who had been raised totally isolated from all the major religions would necessarily think Christianity was particularly plausible."

Besides being mere conjecture without any possibility of proof, this is an example of the genetic fallacy. It's also mostly tangential to the wager. Focusing on what other people may believe in a different culture, or at a different time, or with a different birthplace is a way of avoiding the question in front of *us*. You're making the wager; not someone else.

• David Nickol

you're basically "leaping" into the same pool as Christianity--just the shallow end instead of the deep end

I understand what you mean, but the suggestion that Judaism is the "shallow end" and Christianity is the "deep end" is condescending to Judaism and offensive.

I'm not sure how one could possibly believe Jesus *only* aimed "to bring some reforms to Judaism" . . . .

I don't believe everything in the Gospels is necessarily true, and of course post-resurrection statements by Jesus are especially problematic.

Focusing on what other people may believe in a different culture, or at a different time, or with a different birthplace is a way of avoiding the question in front of *us*.

Out of curiosity, which gods/God do you think is as likely or more likely to exist than the God of Christian theism?

My point is that having been raised in a strongly Christian environment such as the United States, the Christian conception of God is extremely familiar to us, while other conceptions will seem foreign or strange or even bizarre. For example, having been raised a Catholic, the idea of the Trinity is very familiar. To someone unfamiliar with the Christian concept of the Trinity, it would almost certainly be a great stumbling block. I think that most people would respond to a question about which gods are more likely to exist by naming the gods they are most familiar with.

Besides being mere conjecture without any possibility of proof, this is an example of the genetic fallacy.

I was not trying to prove anything or to make a compelling argument. I was answering a question you asked (someone else) "out of curiosity." It was a statement of my personal feelings, which I rather regret sharing, and I don't think there was any need for you to whip out the atomic flyswatter.

• "I understand what you mean, but the suggestion that Judaism is the "shallow end" and Christianity is the "deep end" is condescending to Judaism and offensive."

I didn't mean to offend. I assumed you would understand my meaning, and it appears you did. It's not any more condescending to claim Christianity is a deepening of Judaism than to claim calculus is a deepening of algebra.

"My point is that having been raised in a strongly Christian environment such as the United States, the Christian conception of God is extremely familiar to us, while other conceptions will seem foreign or strange or even bizarre. For example, having been raised a Catholic, the idea of the Trinity is very familiar. To someone unfamiliar with the Christian concept of the Trinity, it would almost certainly be a great stumbling block. I think that most people would respond to a question about which gods are more likely to exist by naming the gods they are most familiar with."

Once more, you've simply fallen into the genetic fallacy. Even if the subjective plausibility of a particular deity seems conditioned by one's environment, that's irrelevant to the objective plausibility of its existence.

Also, despite that long answer, you didn't answer my simple and sincere question. I'll pose it again: Out of curiosity, which god/God do you think is as likely or more likely to exist than the God of Christian theism?

"It was a statement of my personal feelings, which I rather regret sharing, and I don't think there was any need for you to whip out the atomic flyswatter."

I'm sorry you felt I was "whipping out the atomic flyswatter" (whatever that means.) I only meant to point out a significant flaw in your reasoning, which fell prey to the regrettable genetic fallacy.

• David Nickol

It's not any more condescending to claim Christianity is a deepening of
Judaism than to claim calculus is a deepening of algebra.

It certainly is to anyone (including, of course, Jews) who do not think Christianity is a deepening of Judaism. Do you think Jews consider Judaism "Christianity Lite"?

Also, despite that long answer, you didn't answer my simple and sincere question.

Of course I answered. I said, in part:

My first answer would be the God of Judaism. Even Jesus believed in the
God of Judaism. It seems to me quite plausible that Jesus believed his
mission was only to the "lost sheep of Israel." Jesus quite plausibly
did not intend to found Christianity, but to call back nonobservant Jews
and perhaps to bring some reforms to Judaism.

I am not sure, thought, that it makes any sense to ask "which god/God do you think is as likely or more likely to exist than the God of Christian theism?" I don't know how one can assign probabilities to the existence of various gods. But if one leans toward monotheism, a single-person God seems more "probably" (or less problematic) than a Trinity.

Isn't the main objection to Pascal's wager that the atheist sees it not as an eternal proposition (eternal life/damnation) but a wager of the entirety of the life he has. If the wager was instead "be baptized and live the same life you've
always lived & get eternal life vs don't and be damned" then it
would make sense...for then there is really no risk apart from a wet

Yet, everyone knows that the God of the Catholic Church
requires a LOT from her members: sexual purity, daily prayer,
confession, time at church every week, learning to love, willing to be
submitted to an authority greater than you, etc. Especially since so many things Catholicism requires are seen as restrictive, painful...or even flat out evil in the eyes of the world, you are asking someone to submit to a church which teachings things he believes are wrong. And, since he doesn't believe in an eternity, push ALL his chips into the middle of the table. To make the analogy of the "bet" correct, the dollar he puts down must be the only dollar he will ever have.

I suppose this wager could work on someone who was already convinced that sexual purity, authority, daily meditation, confession and so forth were good, or at least neutral, on a natural level. But for someone who believes societies lies about these things it would be of no use.

• "Isn't the main objection to Pascal's wager that the atheist sees it not as an eternal proposition (eternal life/damnation) but a wager of the entirety of the life he has. If the wager was instead "be baptized and live the same life you've always lived & get eternal life vs don't and be damned" then it would make sense...for then there is really no risk apart from a wet head."

I think this objection is really a failure to understand the difference between temporal and eternal goods. Even if an atheist was convinced that promiscuity and selfishness were inherent goods, those goods would still be virtually insignificant in light of eternal joy and blessing. Even the examples Dr. Kreeft uses--a dollar vs. a million dollars--don't adequately represent the difference.

• David Nickol

A temporal good is a greater good than an eternal one if eternal goods are nonexistent.

• But the goods of atheism are not just temporal. They are finite in material terms as well. It is a big universe and changing some brain patterns in a few individuals in one species on one planet is pretty small even if you leave out the time component.

• David Nickol

Anything along these lines is meaningless if atheism is true. Atheists wishing theists to be wrong, or theists wishing atheists to be wrong has no bearing on whether there is or is not a God.

I think it can plausibly be argued that it is better for some (many, most, all?) human beings to believe in God even if God does not exist, but I would not make that argument myself.

As I point out now and then, considering the fact that the Jews of the Old Testament didn't believe in life after death and therefore would have found Pascal's Wager meaningless, it is interesting how deep their faith in God was even thought they were not concerned with getting into heaven. I suppose there are more proper ways to think of heaven and hell, but a great deal of the time talk of heaven and hell seems a lot like bribes and threats, with the threats being much more motivating than the bribes.

If God is all good and so one, shouldn't he be loved for his own sake, even if earthly life is all there is? The Jews who preceded Jesus apparently thought so.

• Lionel Nunez

A temporal good has no value if it's perpetually tied to a subjective experience that ends when you die.

• picklefactory

Wrong.

• Lionel Nunez

Yeah cause rocks bumping around in space somehow has less substance than about 8 pounds of meat having an electrical response to something huh?

But if one doesn't believe in eternal life it changes the equation. There are four possibilities...

Eternal Life Exists:
- Believe and live according to Christian principles - gain eternal life
- Don't believe and gain eternal damnation

Eternal Life Doesn't Exist:
- Believe and live according to Christian principles (repression, boredom and sadness all the days of one's life = loose everything and gain nothing)
- Don't believe and enjoy promiscuity and selfishness. At worst people spit on your grave - not that you care

As a Christian I recognize that promiscuity and selfishness will not bring happiness other than the temporary, short-term variety. That to me looks like the biggest evil and darkness; however I've learned the hard way that what the Catholic Church teaches is true - and denying truth makes one miserable.

An atheist who still believes these things to be "sexual expression" and "self-esteem" will find this an unsatisfying proposition.

• Unsatisfying? Can you see that only matters if you assume a Catholic idea of human dignity? That is you should have freedom to reject something you don't find satisfying. If atheism is true whether your brain experiences a state of satisfaction is a pretty trivial consideration. Your brain is just 3 pounds of meat. Why risk anything for that?

Most atheists assume a Catholic idea of human dignity on some level, that doesn't really effect this discussion though (it is a diversion into the topic of "where do you get this concept of human dignity from")

• If you could benefit from joining a religion then why not do it? I can see some religions being unlivable. Child sacrifices would be a show stopper. But making at least some effort to pursue the God who might exist seems prudent. Is sex it? At the very least it is worth thinking about what it is you are forgoing your chance at heaven to get.

• mriehm

Sigh: that old canard about selfish, promiscuous atheists.

You are responding to a non-issue.

In my first post I said, "UNLESS the person is ALREADY convinced..." - which indicates that I believe there are some atheists who have come to to understand the importance of sexual purity through natural reason alone...or at least that I see it as a possibility. In actuality, I know of several atheists who acknowledged the truth in Christian sexual ethics, before giving even a polite response to Christian theology. Therefore that line I was referring to a group of real people.

The post was particularly about applying Pascal's Wager to atheists who found living the Christian life distasteful. Everyone has their pet sin and today, even among Christians, the most popular pet sin falls under the realm of sexual "expression" - whether with multiple partners at the same time, serial monogamy, contraception, abortion, or other acts which ignore the biological purpose of sex.

You could pick some other thing that would make living the Christian life a distasteful option - such that if eternity doesn't exist then the life lived would be, in a sense, evil and/or wasted.

• SJH

I think Pascal's Wager only works if the atheist believes that there is a chance that he is wrong and that God might actually exist. In which case he would not be a true atheist but such is the case with many. However, if the person is an atheist and he thinks the chances of God's existence is as probable as flying spaghetti monster then this argument won't get very far. I think Pascal was assuming that the audience had an open mind to all possibilities. Unfortunately that is not the case for today's world.

• Mike

It is at times like these when I feel like I'm being a terrible Catholic, I don't know how I keep winding up on the side of the non-Catholics for these discussions.

Like many have always registered here I also disagree with Pascal's wager, but not for absurdities like different religions, or that non-believers aren't afraid of damnation, but rather to me it seems like it requires intellectual dishonesty. Furthermore I would think that staying in a relationship, with a person (or deity) shouldn't be done out of fear, especially not an intimate one which God desires.

I wouldn't want to stay with my wife because I'm afraid of being alone, but rather because I love her. I would think similar of God. For me personally I don't remain Catholic because I'm afraid of leaving the Church, but rather because I love God, the Church and all her members.

At best I could consider this proposal to be a "gate-way drug" to religion. Perhaps a reason to be inquisitive and "test" it out. However, I couldn't justify it (alone) as a reason to remain Catholic (or any other religion/worldview).

Many here have already argues that belief in God places demands on oneself, which is certainly true. However, I think of the disciplines required to be Catholic as a means to authentic freedom. I choose to see the Church not as a list of prohibitions, but rather a method to obtain greater freedom. For example, I'm training to run a half-marathon. This requires sacrifice, and discipline, going to the gym, running, purchase of new running shoes after every couple hundred miles put on them (a month or two), but it allows me to get what I really desire. In the same way I think the Church's disciplines allow me to pursue my life's great desire, to be a saint.

• SJH

You use the analogy of your spousal relationship. To expand on that, I ask you did you love your wife the first time you saw her? I would guess that you did not. You were probably compelled by some other natural emotional response. Perhaps fear of being alone? Perhaps lust? Perhaps obligation to family? Whatever the reason you were drawn to her, it was probably not for purely holy reasons. This does not invalidate your marriage. In a similar way, if a person starts of his journey due to a wager but grows to love God then it is no less valid then another person's belief. Perhaps some of us are fortunate enough to believe for other reasons but lets not judge those that start their journey from a different position.

• Mike

Hi SJH, nice to meet you. I believe it is the first time we've had a chance to interact here.

I take your point, and I think I may not have clearly made mine.

1.) I was drawn to my wife for holy reasons, because proper use of one's sexuality is holy. I was alone long before meeting her, so fear of that wasn't it. Attraction yes, but lust no, anyway more to the point.

2.) I tried to convey in the above comment that I could see one using fear of damnation as a "gateway drug" and perhaps a first encounter with religion/Catholicism. But I stand by my statement that it is a poor reason to stay.

3.) Please tell me where I "judged those that start their journey at a different position"? It was not my intention, but if you correct me I will attempt to be more careful in the future.

4.) How is it not intellectually dishonest to claim belief in something and have it be a lie. I may not like Prof. Richard Dawkins, but I believe he is intellectually honest in how he lives his life. He doesn't believe in God and lives his life accordingly. Similarly Pope Francis is intellectually honest, he claims belief in Jesus Christ and Yahweh and lives his life accordingly. If the two roles were reversed wouldn't it be intellectually honest?

• SJH

Thanks for the greeting.

1. Perhaps I was speaking a little out of hyperbole. your intentions with your wife when you met may not have been as sinful as I may have implied but my point was that we are not perfect so therefor our intentions when we first meet a woman are not perfect either. There is going to be an element of sin even for the most holy person (save our blessed mother). For discussion sake, lets say that your intentions were holy. This however does not apply to many and it does not make their marriage less valuable because they met with somewhat less holy circumstances.

2. I agree that fear is a weak foundation. Hopefully with some, their faith will grow in a more healthy way after that first step.

3. I feel you are judging because you seem to be communicating that a person's faith is less real if they start their journey from a position of fear. Perhaps I am reading into your post but that is what I gather.

4. I don't think choosing to believe in something based on whatever reason including fear is dishonest. Lets say, for example that I am a non-believer. Further, I see the value of Pascal's Wager so I consciously decide that I would rather believe. Once I take that step I begin to research and pray and build relationships with other believers. After doing these things, I come to believe more profoundly and deeply. A person should not lie to themselves and say that they believe something that they don't but that does not mean that they can't choose to take that first step towards belief.

• Mike

Hi SJH, Thanks for the response.

I think the fight over point 1 isn't worth it at this point. While I agree that there is much to consider when discussing romantic relationships, and that all of us (including myself) are imperfect I'm not sure I would automatically characterize that a relationship begins in sin.

The remainder of points I think we are in agreement on. I'll agree that fear of damnation could be reason to investigate Catholicism (or other faiths). However, when I read the Gospels I don't hear Jesus saying "follow me or else", but rather "follow me, though challenging it will make you happy". I'm more comfortable arguing that following Christ leads to both temporal and eternal happiness (not necessarily pleasure, but happiness). We both agree that fear might be good cause to start investigation, and would probably agree that one should move beyond that in the course of following Christ over our lifetime.

I'd say this, while believing out of fear may be possible, it's not ideal.

• tz1

You've probably never gambled. The odds (except for the now nonexistent Pharaoh) are in the houses favor.

First we must establish - I think it is epistimology. I have to know your claims are TRUE (in the world of 2014). If you say something, how do I know it is true? If I don't, what is the point?

"someone terribly precious to you lay dying," and the doctor and big pharma company gets paid regardless, but their brochure and TV ads say "50%", before the long fast unintelligible disclaimer.

" your house is on fire and your children are inside.", yet there have been dozens of such prank calls in the last few weeks.

"there are only two tickets left. You know that one of them is the winning ticket...". How?

Now if an angel from heaven somehow granted me the grace of metaphysical certainty in any of these cases you would have a point. Instead, there may be two tickets, both of which lose - and no one who will suffer if the promise that one remaining (why can't I buy both if they are both \$1?) is the winner.

No reasonable person can be in doubt assuming that the cases are accurate and true as presented which never happens in this world. People lie. Or say what they THINNK to be true but haven't confirmed nor are sure of, nor WILL TAKE RESPONSIBILTY TO MAKE GOOD THE PROMISE.

Tell me. If you personally were convinced of the "two tickets left" promise me to make good the promise that if I bought the ticket you didn't, you would PERSONALLY pay me the prize if it turned out that neither yours nor my ticket was the winner?

To move onto Pascal, the problem is that you need not merely believe in God. Lucifer knows he exists for certain. If you believe in God, you must change - everything. You must not merely abandon sin, you must repent and make amends. It is not the simple wager. It is the wager that demands a daily cost - taking up the cross daily.

The wager is not without cost. In either case you bet EVERYTHING. You bet your very self from the moment you make it. Every action either renews or negates the bet.

• Moussa Taouk

Are people missing the point? It seems like such a simple thing:

There is a choice to be made. It MUST be made. We DON'T KNOW which is true and which is false. That's a fact. We don't KNOW in the full sense of knowing. We can only believe that our position is the most accurate.

Once we appreciate that we can debate and argue for a thousand years and still not convince each other either way, THEN we take a step back. We say, "well, we just don't know which one is the right answer". Then, given that one option promises eternal bliss and the other eternal nothingness, there is an INVITATION.

I agree with those who don't think honest seeking will get them to hell (on the condition that they are humble of heart and have not already rejected God regardless of whether he exists or not... we humans can be all too self-deceptive sometimes). So I'm not overly fussed about the hell portion of the proposal.

So the invitation is to choose between eternal bliss, and eternal nothingness.

The loss of whatever gratification we have in this life pale against the eternity of the matter. But even if we consider the infinitessimal losses of this life. What are they again? What advantage do atheists have in this life that theists don't have? They're infinitessimal (and I think mostly negative actually) even in this life.

So then the sensible man chooses the God option. It's a choice. It begins with a simple choice... that quickly transforms into a dedication. "I swear to live according to this philosophy and to come to know God as best as I can".

• Moussa Taouk

"But there are a thousand religions to choose from". Ok, fine there are. Actually probably more like millions. I have this to say:

1. This isn't a reason to not accept the invitation. The fact is that one must start somewhere. Pick a place. Flip a coin. Use reason to distinguish, given an initial assumption that God exists, between the available options. I think the options narrow down more quickly than one might initially think. The options are basically that everything is God, or that God created everything. God is many or God is one. God became incarnate or God remains infinitely beyond us. etc.

2. What is it about the Catholic faith that is so displeasing that one would want to avoid making it the starting point of their investigation? After all the authors that are proposing the wager are both Catholic as far as I can tell. And so is the website on which we're dialoguing. Apart from other things going for the Catholic faith. But... why the shrinking away? Why the shyness?

• 1. Why bother with God? Pascal's Wager doesn't need it. Just make up a religion with an automatic heaven. Then any more restrictive religion has a strictly worse payoff.

2. Well, there's "displeasing" in the moral sense, and atheists do find highly objectionable the awful things that Catholicism often leads people to do in the modern world. But that's not necessarily relevant to truth and falsehood. What matters to me is that Catholicism has a huge amount of details compared to most religions, and objectively speaking every detail makes it a bit more unlikely, because every detail requires at least a little evidence to be worthy of belief. It would be more sensible to start investigation with more minimalist religions that stand a better chance of having evidence adequate to back up their claims.

• Moussa Taouk

1. That's make-believe. It has no credibility and is rather random. There's no basis for believing it to be true, so it's a poor choice. Pascal's wager is between two positions that have been grappled with since... a long time ago. The place you describe isn't taken seriously by anyone and is not even worth grappling with.

2. Ok, fine start with the minimalist religions. But I don't think that because a philosophy has a greater number of articles of faith it means it's less likely to be true, so I wouldn't agree to that being a good qualifier for dismissing a religion.

• 1. Christianity is make-believe, too, one might point out. Pascal's Wager says nothing about the antiquity of positions, only about their relative payoffs. It wouldn't matter if the position I described wasn't taken seriously by anyone; but in point of fact it is taken seriously by small religious groups with long histories.

2. Why don't you think that a making a larger number of claims means having more opportunities to be wrong? Are you proposing some alternative to the laws of probability?

• Moussa Taouk

1. One might point it out, but they'd be wrong. The religion you mention doesn't make sense to me. It's not at all satisfying to my natural inclination towards justice. But if it in fact does stand up on its own two legs as a philosophy, then an atheist might well follow it.

2. Well, if I say "nothing exists" that's a position with minimum claims. i.e. no claims. Ok, one claim. But if I say "noah exists, and he has a computer, and he has a brain, and he has complex emotional states, and he has a house, and it's made of bricks... and of mortar... i.e. sand, and cement... i.e. molecules... and atoms........". The second one, though containing limittless claims, is far more believable than the first.

• 1. So for you belief all boils down to your natural inclinations. That's OK. It's nicely honest. But it's in no way relevant to the logic of Pascal's wager. Someone motivated by the logic, rather than your natural inclinations, would note that Pascal's Wager supports alternative religions much more than it does Christianity.

2. You're confusing prior probabilities with posterior probabilities. The latter claim is much more complicated than the former and so is indeed far less likely. Fortunately, there is abundant evidence in favor of the latter and against the former.

• Moussa Taouk

1. Haha. Noah, are you being cheeky or what? I have seen that you're very good at debating. That can be a blessing, but I think sometimes it can be a hindrance.

...all boils down to your natural inclinations".

No, no it doestn't. But I've assessed that proposed religion for about 3.5 seconds. It's not worth my time to assess it for any longer because my immediate reaction is that it doesn't satisfy an argument from "justice" (perhaps I should have said "human inclination"). But then I ended by saying "...if in fact it does stand up on its own two legs as a philosophy..." meaning that at the end of the day it's not up to my inclinations but it's up to the validity and coherence of this proposal as a world-view.

I'm sure you could have figured all that out if you weren't quite as smart! Because you'd have had to read it 2 or 3 times before responding.

Someone motivated by the logic... would note that Pascal's Wager supports alternative religions much more than it does Christianity.

I've said in a previous post, "fine, go ahead and choose the one that makes the most sense". (see #2, a couple of posts up). I think that's a valid starting point.

2. Ok, so we basically agree. Good.

• duhem

I've written a related blog, "The Pearl of Great Price", analyzing Pascal's Wager by means of contemporary decision analysis. See

http://rationalcatholic.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-pearl-of-great-price-pascals-wager.html

or

http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=8821

But I like what Professor Kreeft has to say out Pascal's Wager.

• vito

First I think the problem with Catholics (not only Catholics, perhaps) is that they basically accept only two possibilities: 1) we are right, we go to heaven, everyone else is in trouble; 2) in the unlikely event that we are wrong, so what? then atheists are correct, we don't get punished anyway, because there's no atheist God to inflict vengeance on us. Atheists run no hell, have no eternity and do not even bother us here on earth in any serious manner.

Definitely, they do not give enough thought to the possibility that the Gods of other religions may be the true ones and just as equally vengeful and Catholics may be in trouble even if there is a god. Perhaps, because they never really cared to explore other religions seriously. With few exceptions the main source of information, if any at all, about other religions has been their own religious authorities which obviously point to the evident 'flaws' in other religions
.
Second, how come no one considers an option that neither atheists nor any major religions may be correct? How come it is immediately assumed that if there is a God, it must necessarily be one of the versions promoted by the major (or traditional) players on the global faith market: Christianity, Budhism, Islam, Judaism etc... What if none of those versions are correct? What if there is a completely different version of GOD and he, for instance, does not care about BELIEF. Maybe he does not care about worship and whether you sign up for a 'correct' religion package here on earth or not. Maybe what he wants is intellectual honesty. What if he hates people who pretend to believe (i.e. LIE to themselves, to God and to everyone around). Maybe he wants people to use the gift of their intellect honestly and come to their own conclusions as to moral choices and good life as opposed to blind obedience. What if he likes a free spirit more than an obedient one. Maybe he wants us to rely on our conscience and reason and not succumb to societal pressures. What if he hates people who automatically believe everything the society, their parents and superiors impose on them? What if there will be a judgement, but the test will not be belief in one or another version of god and belonging to one or another religious group, but something different?

• "First I think the problem with Catholics (not only Catholics, perhaps) is that they....never really cared to explore other religions seriously."

Vito, please re-read our Commenting Rules which prohibit such hasty generalizations, especially ones that are demonstrably untrue. Read through the archives here and you'll find several articles engaging other religious traditions (begin with the "Religious" category.)

If you're concerned with a specific instance of closed-mindedness, feel free to discuss that one specifically. But there's no need to besmirch an entire group so dismissively.

• vito

I am sorry if I have violated some rule, but which "hasty generalizations" do you have in mind, especially since I use phrases "basically" and "not only Catholics". And which statement is demonstrably untrue? Am I not correct in stating that it is Catholic teaching as well as common belief among Catholics that faith in Jesus Christ as Lord as well as membership of the One True Church is, generally, a prerequisite for salvation (i.e. in order not to be "in trouble")? Am I not correct to state that many Catholics, I dare say the majority, have not explored (and tested) carefully and thoroughly other major religions, as opposed to the one passed down on them from older generations and society?

• Ben Posin

Oddly enough, I also think generalizations are not needed here, with such great examples in this very thread!

• "I am sorry if I have violated some rule, but which "hasty generalizations" do you have in mind, especially since I use phrases "basically" and "not only Catholics". And which statement is demonstrably untrue?"

Your very first sentence claimed that Catholics (without qualification, which I therefore take to mean "all Catholics") never really care to explore other religions seriously. One counter-example alone, perhaps my own, is enough to prove this demonstrably false.

"Am I not correct in stating that it is Catholic teaching as well as common belief among Catholics that faith in Jesus Christ as Lord as well as membership of the One True Church is, generally, a prerequisite for salvation (i.e. in order not to be "in trouble")?"

This has nothing to do with the original statement I took issue with (i.e., the sentence quoted above), but nevertheless it's still incorrect. What you're describing is a heresy the Church has explicitly rejected, known popularly as Feeneyism.

"Am I not correct to state that many Catholics, I dare say the majority, have not explored (and tested) carefully and thoroughly other major religions, as opposed to the one passed down on them from older generations and society?"

I simply don't know, and I doubt you do either. Unless you can provide statistical evidence to back up that general claim, it's not one you can honestly make.

But speaking personally, the majority of my Catholic friends have explored other religious traditions as well as atheism.

• mriehm

I simply don't believe that the primary concern of an all-powerful, transcendent God is to make a binary, black-and-white judgment on all human beings based primarily on whether they can select the right religion out of a confusion of multitudes.

• Peter

The existence of God is knowable with certainty through his works by the light of human reason, but this knowledge is often obscured and disfigured by error which leads to uncertainty in God's existence and the applicability of Pascal's wager.

The greatest culprits in causing this uncertainty are not atheists but Christians themselves who portray God as an efficient cause of creation, actively fashioning out of nothing the matter and energy, space and time of the universe.

Consequently, the fact that there is absolutely no evidence of such an inexplicable or supernatural action which brought the universe into being, leads many observers to suspect that the teachings of these Christians are false and that God does not exist.

God is utterly transcendent and cannot be affirmed or denied in terms of his active intervention or lack of it at the beginning of the universe. Rather, he simply issued the command and the universe responded by bringing itself into being, which is consistent with our current scientific understanding.

The only true way to know the existence of God is to interpret all scientific discoveries in the light of the historical, philosophical and doctrinal teachings of the Church. Outside of these lies a realm of uncertainty in which a device like Pascal's wager would appear to be the only solution.

• Moussa Taouk

The greatest culprits in causing this uncertainty are not atheists but Christians themselves, some of whom portray God as an efficient cause of creation, who actively fashions out of nothing the matter and energy, space and time of the universe.

Hi Peter. I think I'm one of those culprits :(

Are you a scientist? You disagree with "from nothing, nothing comes". Why?

Thanks.
MT

• Peter

For centuries philosophers and scientists have claimed that nothing can come from nothing. Instead they maintained that the universe was eternal, and this position was held right up to the beginning of the 20th century with the chemist Svante Arrhenius saying: "the opinion that something can come from nothing is at variance with the present-day state of science, according to which matter is immutable."

The gradual accumulation of evidence over the past100 years that the universe had a beginning has had two reactions, both of which seek to reaffirm that nothing can come from nothing.

On the one hand, atheist cosmologists are frantically devising models to show that the universe is in fact eternal while, on the other, some Christian apologists, while admitting that the universe was made out of nothing materially, still maintain that it came from something, and that something is God acting as an efficient cause.

The first problem with this approach is that there is no evidence of God having acted as an efficient cause bringing the universe into existence, while there are plausible scientific hypotheses that the universe spontaneously created itself without an efficient cause.

The second problem, a theological one, I have spoken about above. If God had acted as an efficient cause to bring the material world of men into being without a material cause, he could not have created the immaterial world of angels in the same way. God could not have acted as an efficient cause on the immaterial world in the way he is alleged to have done on the material world. Yet the instance of creation was one and the same thing, not two separate things. Both worlds were created together. Therefore God cannot have been an efficient cause.

God utterly transcends the notions of something or nothing, of cause and effect. God simply uttered the command and creation, both material and immaterial, drew itself into existence. As corporeal entities we cannot know how the immaterial world brought itself into being. However, through our understanding of quantum mechanics and relativity, we are beginning to cast light on how the material world could have done so.

• Moussa Taouk

God utterly transcends the notions of something or nothing, of cause and effect. God simply uttered the command and creation, both material and immaterial, drew itself into existence out of nothingness.

Now isn't there a pretty obvious flaw in those couple of sentences? If creation resulted from God "uttering" something, then God is the cause.

In any case, I'm pretty sure I agree with you if what you're saying is that "the universe came from nothing apart from God's will". But in which case, God is still the ultimate explanation of "existence". The existence of anything is not self-explanatory (i.e. without a being or principle etc) outside of the created order. I think we pretty much agree, but perhaps I'm not so nimble with putting words to thoughts, so it could be a problem of inaccuracy of words (as it often is!).

• Peter

By "uttering the command" I was being symbolic. I think it's safe to say God's word is God's will.

The key issue here is, I believe, that Christian apologists, including William Lane Craig, cannot let go of the old pagan adage that from nothing nothing comes which Catholicism essentially rejects.

Their inability or unwillingness to accept that from nothing nothing comes leads them to portray God's creative act as a physical something which kick-starts the universe into existence, transforming an absence of matter into the highly organised matter of the early universe. I call this big bang creationism.

This is no different in principle from the claims of new earth creationists who portray God's creative act as the physical bringing into existence of a fully developed earth.

The problem is that, just as young earth creationism has been discredited by science, so too does big bang creationism run the risk of being discredited as science progresses. Hawking, for instance, has devised a plausible model where the universe spontaneously creates itself without the need for God to light the blue touch paper.

Therefore, just as the claims of new earth creationists are ridiculed, so too is it likely that the claims of big bang creationists, such as William Lane Craig, will end up being ridiculed.

• Moussa Taouk

Hi Peter,

I'm by no means well versed in the world of quantum physics and the theories of how the universe could have come from nothing. So I accept that I can be wrong simply because of my ignorance, and I stand to be corrected. But I can't see how, naturally speaking, something can come from nothing. In my mind, for something to spontaneously come into existence of its own accord and under its own power is for that event to be a supernatural one. I suppose it's been demonstrated that quantum "particles" pop out of quantum fields and that sort of thing. But that's not coming from nothing.

At any rate I could easily be wrong. Maybe things do pop into existence all the time out of absolutely nothing (no quantum fields, no laws of physics... nothing). It would certainly be a startling discovery for me if that were shown to be the case.

But until it's shown to be false, I think it's a perfectly valid assumption to hold (I.e. from nothing nothing comes). It's not so much a religious assumption as it is a logical view. Now, we can't change our logical perceptions just in case science proves them to be wrong. We do the best we can with the available data. If science should prove that view to be incorrect, then the view will need adjusting to fit the data. But for now I don't see why we would abandon a view that has never been shown to be false.

ps. if it has already been conclusively shown to be false then I'll stand corrected. But as far as I know the theories still rely on SOMETHING to exist in order for the universe to exist. Whether it be a multiverse or a quantum soup or the law of something or other.

• Peter

I've listened to William Lane Craig's recent debate with Sean Carroll, and Dr Craig continually refutes the notion that the universe pops out from nothing, insisting that it needs a cause.
It is this single sentiment - that nothing can come from nothing - which forms Dr Craig's entire philosophy and cosmology and which he subsequently defends with difficulty against atheist physicists like of Dr Carroll.

The only way to silence the big guns of atheism is to contradict the position of Dr Craig and accept that the universe does indeed come from nothing. By dismissing a supernatural efficient cause for the beginning of the universe, you remove the oxygen from atheist debaters in that they have nothing left to falsify.

All they are left with is trying to prove that the universe is eternal, without a beginning, and you can pick their arguments off one by one scientifically.

To refer to God as an efficient cause of anything so mundane as the universe is to vastly underestimate God's utter sovereignty and transcendence. The universe came into being as a mere thought in God's mind. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to suggest that the universe did not bring itself into existence though its own devices in response to God's call.

A universe creating itself from nothing in a purely naturalistic manner with no sign of supernatural intervention, as atheist cosmologists claim, is therefore perfectly consistent with the belief that it is the product of God's will.

There is no need to posit God as a potentially falsifiable efficient cause and give an unnecessary advantage to atheists which they don't deserve.

• I consider the existence of God to be a real live possibility. I consider the existence of hell to be either practically impossible or not so bad after all. Therefore, I am not moved much by Pascal's wager.

Imagine Pascal's Wager given by a universalist. "If you bet on God you win, and if you don't you win." Either way, I win. Or, if not, losing isn't such a big deal.

• Peter

God didn't just create the material world of men, but also the immaterial world of angels out of nothing (CCC327). WL Craig understands creation from nothing to be God as an efficient cause creating the material world without a material cause. But this is wrong because God also created the immaterial world of angels from nothing.

Therefore not only did a material cause not exist, but also an efficient cause could not have existed in the absolute nothingness from which men and angels were created. God, who is utterly above the notions of somethingness or nothingness, simply called them into being.

The world of angels also includes hell which was created for them when they rebelled. Being immaterial, angles do not experience time like we do. Unlike us, they see all the consequences of their sinning simultaneously and, once choosing to sin, their sin becomes unrepentable. That's why they were cast immediately down to hell for eternity.

At death, when our soul is separated from our body, we enter the immaterial world where there is no possibility of repentance. If we die in a state of final impenitence - a wilful rejection of God - that state remains with us for eternity and we join the fallen angels in hell.

• It's an interesting spiritual cosmology, and one that poses no risk for the agnostic. If Anne doesn't know Frank exists, she isn't rejecting his proposal. You can't wilfully reject someone you aren't sure exists.

Pascal's Wager would seem to suggest, contrary to what Kreeft suggests, that agnosticism is the safest situation, because it keeps you from possibly rejecting God.

• Peter

Rejecting God doesn't just mean rejection of belief in God. That is Protestant theology. Rejecting God means rejecting what God stands for which is goodness, charity, compassion, mercy, love etc...

If belief in God alone were enough, then the angels would not have fallen to hell, because despite their actions, they had 100 percent belief that God existed. Yet with their 100 percent belief, they are in hell.

• Thank you for the clarification.

How much would someone have to reject goodness in order to be condemned to eternal torment? Just a little bit? Or entirely and completely?

Does disbelief play any role in rejecting God? If so, what role does it play? If not, why bother talking about it here?

• Peter

Indeed, Vatican II says, and Pope Francis affirms it, that those outside the Church who in response to God's grace genuinely seek the truth with an open and sincere heart, and act accordingly, will not be denied salvation.

• Sqrat

And what does that mean?

• Wonderful. Then the honest agnostic has nothing to fear. And no motive to make a wager.

• Sean Alderman

Unfortunately, @paulrimmer:disqus that does not completely pass the test of invincible ignorance. The test of invincible ignorance seems to fail when one willfully seeks to avoid the truth. Which is what your statement suggests to me, who is also quite ignorant. :)

You might enjoy this piece on Invincible Ignorance.

• Willfully seeking to avoid the truth is not honest. Maybe dishonest agnostics would have something to worry about, although I think the existence of hell to be so unlikely as to make it a very unserious worry.

In any case, honest agnostics have nothing to worry about from Hell. If in the very unlikely event God has made a Hell for those who would reject him, he'll make himself known to honest agnostics, in which case they'll become theists. Or he won't make himself known, in which case the honest agnostic will be honestly ignorant. Either way, Heaven awaits.

• Peter

God is deemed by the Church to have already made himself known to an agnostic who earnestly strives for peace and justice in the world, even though the agnostic is not explicitly aware of it.

• Sqrat

Suppose that you have a Catholic -- a priest, even -- who, as a consequence of genuinely seeking the truth with an open and sincere heart, has come to the conclusion that the Church is wrong, and that God does not exist. He therefore resigns from the priesthood and leaves the Church. As I understand the exposition of invincible ignorance, the Church holds that such a man would not be denied salvation. Is that correct?

• Sean Alderman

@Sqrat:disqus, I'm no expert on the Church. But I think I can say with confidence that the Church, itself, does not declare judgement on the salvation of individuals. For example, the Church has made no statements (that I'm aware of) about the state of Judas - who betrayed Christ and committed suicide.

In the example you give, I think (and I stress that this is my fallible opinion) the Church would say it is in God's hands to make judgement. I think the language used goes something like this: The Church claims that it holds and offers all the ordinary means necessary for one to obtain salvation as described in scripture. The Church knows and professes that God is not bound by these ordinary means, and thus these are extraordinary means.

I think the Church would say that other religious faiths may hold some of the ordinary means. Likewise, that those who obtain salvation through Invincible Ignorance do so through extraordinary means.

• Sqrat

I'm no expert on the Church. But I think I can say with confidence that the Church, itself, does not declare judgement on the salvation of individuals.

Sure, but the person I described in my question is not an individual, he's a hypothetical. Does the Church generally assert that persons of a certain type will be saved, while persons of some other type won't be? If it does, then the question would be whether the hypothetical person I described has the characteristics of the type of person who would be saved, or does he have the characteristics of the type of person who would not be saved?

The Catechism states,

Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching. Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light. Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned.

The question here is whether the hypothetical individual I described, who is undoubtedly an unbeliever, is one whose unbelief would be considered culpable. Frankly, I don't know what to make of the phrase "culpable unbelief" or know how to distinguish it from "non-culpable unbelief." "Culpable unbelief" is not a self-defining term, but its meaning is not defined in the Catechism, so I can't tell what the Catechism is trying to say here.

Is it perhaps the case that perhaps the Church is not 100% sure of what the rules are for salvation actually are? I would not be surprised. After all, the Church has no knowledge of who has actually been saved and who hasn't. Indeed, since it asserts that Jesus hasn't passed judgment yet, no one has yet been saved, so any attempt to assert who will actually be saved and who won't would be to generalize based on a sample size of zero.

The idea of "extraordinary means of salvation" adds another interesting wrinkle. It implies that, even if the Church knew with certainty what the rules are for salvation, Jesus doesn't have to follow those rules. But that would be just another say of saying that there cannot be any certainty about what the rules are -- perhaps even of saying that there really are no rules.

The hypothetical person I described is someone who has placed a bet against the existence of God. If, nevertheless, you are willing to say that he might end up up being saved anyhow (even if only because Jesus decided to toss away the rule book in his particular case), it seems to me that you would be casting doubt on the whole "Pascal's Wager" line of argument. I could bet with Pascal on the (possible) existence of God, and still not be saved, or I could bet against Pascal, believing in the non-existence of God, and be saved regardless. If that is the case, then the "Pascal's Wager" argument is seriously flawed.

• Peter

Genuinely seeking the truth with an open and sincere heart and acting accordingly are essentially altruistic. Living selfishly is not seeking out the truth but seeking out only oneself. The truth is out there in the world of needy human beings. We ignore that, believers and unbelievers, at our (eternal) peril.

• We should do a podcast. If not a google hangout.

• David

Wow! What an interesting thread. Glad I found it. Pascal's Wager seems to be ridiculed by so many, and I never really understood why. It seems quite sound to me, so it's welcome indeed to find this defence. Looking forward to contributing more. On a quick read through the comments, I think I recognise some of the RD crowd here!

• Michael Murray

On a quick read through the comments, I think I recognise some of the RD crowd here!

Actually most of the atheists have got tired of the purges and have decamped to here.

• David

Ah, ok, thank you. I'll take a look. I hear most theists leave RD for pretty much the same reason.

• xyzzy

I've never understood how anybody can take Pascal's Wager seriously. Even Homer Simpson can refute it:

"What if we picked the wrong religion? Every week, we're just making God madder and madder!"

It isn't a choice between atheism and Christianity. It is a choice between atheism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Baha'i-ism, and a whole bunch of other -isms.

But Christianity is subdivided into Catholics, Protestants, and various eastern Orthodox churches. Protestants have numerous subdivisions. And if I pick Islam, do I want Sunni, Shia, of Wahabi?

And, of course, the real God could be one that I haven't listed. I count more than 10 choices, and that is without even looking anything up except the proper spelling of Baha'i.

Recognizing that my chance of choosing the right one by chance is now under 10%, which does Pascal's Wager support and why?

• Who says you have to choose by chance? You play the best bet. Pascal's point is that can't be atheism.

• Ignorant Amos

Pascal's point is flawed, for all the reasons being pointed out but for which you seem to ignore, therefore the wager can be disregarded.

• Sqrat

The problem with the Pascal's Wager argument, as presented by Kreeft, is that it's not actually possible to place the bet, where "betting" means "choosing to believe that which one does not believe." The whole argument rests on a dubious and indeed rather bizarre premise.

Look -- you seem to believe that the Pascal's Wager argument is correct. If it's correct, that means that its unstated premise (that one can simply choose to believe what one does not believe) must also be correct. That being the case, then it must be possible for you to choose to believe that the Pascal's Wager argument is incorrect, right? OK, so go ahead and do so: Choose, right now, to believe that the Pascal's Wager argument is wrong.

Have you succeeded? If you have, then you must now believe that the Pascal's Wager argument is incorrect. But if you haven't, then you still believe that the Pascal's Wager argument is wrong, yet you have refuted the premise on which it rests! And in that case, you may then come to conclude that the argument is incorrect, without arbitrarily choosing to believe that it is incorrect.

• Nice try. The point is people do have a choice. He is assuming some level of uncertainty. People who become Catholic don't have absolute certainty. They choose to believe.

How do they know they believe enough? When you present yourself for the sacrament of Baptism or Confession that is an act of faith. When the church performs the sacrament it accepts your faith as sufficient and you receive the grace no matter how imperfect your faith. As long as you are sincerely trying to walk the path of belief God will accept that. Even if you ask many questions as long as you ask them from a place of one trying to understand rather than one trying to prove it all wrong you will be fine.

• Sqrat

People who become Catholic don't have absolute certainty. They choose to believe

I could certainly "become Catholic" by choosing to join the Catholic Church and acting as though I believed. I'm afraid I don't understand, though, how I could "choose to believe" that the Catholic Church is correct about God's existence, and many other things, when in fact I believe the opposite of those things.

What I'm hearing you say, by implication, is that you, Randy Gritter, could (1) "become Muslim" by choosing to join a mosque, AND (2) you could also "choose to believe" that Islam is true. I can understand how you could accomplish the first, but can you explain to me how you would go about accomplishing the interesting mental trick of doing the second? Do you think you could beat a lie detector test by telling a lie but "choosing to believe" that it was the truth?

I think that your second paragraph is a useful reminder that belief is not necessarily an either-or proposition, where we can only believe that "X is true" or "X is false" for some proposition X, with 100% certainty. The reality is that beliefs about the world often fall on a continuum, where our actual beliefs are actually something like "X is probably true" or "X is probably false." We believe things with a greater or lesser degree of conviction. While we may not be able to assign an actual number to our degree of conviction, it's a useful way of conveying how strong our degree of conviction is. Thus, I might say that I believe that X has a 51% probability of being true, meaning that I'm not very strongly convinced of its truth, or that X is a 99% probability of being true, meaning that I'm very convinced indeed of its truth.

I'm guessing (though it seems a reasonable guess) that Catholic pews are occupied by large numbers of people of what you describe as "imperfect faith," whose degree of conviction about particular Catholic doctrines is somewhere between 51% and 99% (and in the case of some doctrines, less than 50%). I wonder how many of them experience "salvation anxiety" as a result?

• Ignorant Amos

This is the elephant in the room. Randy seems to think that his god could have the wool pulled over his eyes if a non-believer was to pretend to believe. That is all there is. Pascal requires the atheist to engage in cognitive dissonance. It is never going to happen with someone who has looked at the situation and chosen not to believe.

It's akin to saying that Galileo stopped believing in heliocenticism just because the Church had him recant.

Furthermore, the wager is stacked. The non-believer is being asked to pay up now for what may or may not be in the future, something the non-believer is not prepared to do. A kind of theistic Ponzi scheme.

The believer seems to think that non-believers arrived at their position without giving any consideration to the subject and its consequences. Most non-believers were once believers of some fashion or other. The thought of an eternity of hell-fire vis a vis an eternity of frolicking the meadow of paradise has been considered and dismissed as wishful thinking. But now we are being told, it's better than it was in Pascals days, it's a choice of an eternity in communion with the Christian god or an eternity in separation with said god. No critical thinking human being wants an eternity of either, no thanks, but given the choice, I'd plump for the separation every time. So, given the new choice, to a non-believer it is win win either way.

The wager is stuffed.

• xyzzy

It is all through the above article: Look for phrases like

once it is decided that there are only two options

and

50-50 chance

and

Suppose a winning sweepstakes ticket is worth a million dollars, and there are only two tickets left. You know that one of them is the
winning ticket, while the other is worth nothing

Pascal's Wager is based on ignorance. He conjectures that you
do not know and therefore assume the odds are
50-50.

If you are not choosing your religion by chance, then you must be gathering data to help you decide which of the cases is most probable. At that point, atheism is once again a viable option. If you find data that suggests that the probable existence of God is very small, it changes the balance of the argument.

That is where I am - by my analysis of the available data, I do not believe it is 50-50. Rather, I consider the probability that God is Catholic to be smaller than that of me winning the hundred million dollar prize in the Lotto. I don't even bother to buy a ticket because I am almost certain that I will lose.

But suppose I were to accept the validity of Pascal's Gambit? I could choose the 50% that says not-atheist. Now I have to choose Christian or Muslim. There I have a 50% chance of going to hell for violating the Christian rules and a 50% chance of going to hell for violating the Muslim rules. Which does Pascal recommend I choose, and why?

• Who said it was 50-50? The point is the payoff for atheism is zero. You add to that the fact that you spend a lot longer dead than you do alive. So what do the odds have to be? Really it is a problem with atheism. It offers so little hope. Even a small chance at eternal significance elsewhere is better than no chance that you get with atheism.

Where else should you look? Sure it makes sense to think about that carefully. Still it does make sense to exclude atheism based on the fact that it offers you nothing.

• David Nickol

The point is the payoff for atheism is zero.

That is your opinion, but it is not Pascal's Wager. If you have two choices, and there is no payoff (or even possible payoff) for choosing one, then there is no wager involved in choosing the other.

• You don't think so? If someone is going to kill you and you have a choice between doing nothing and dying quietly or making up some lie that might give him a reason to not kill you. Because the first choice has no possible payoff then there is no wager in choosing the other? I don't see it.

It still matters what lie you choose to tell him but it does not alter the fact that dying quietly has no chance of working. It might be true that nothing you say will matter but is it not better to take a shot? Any shot is better than no shot.

• David Nickol

Pascal's Wager is about betting and probability. Pascal was a mathematician (among many other things) and one of the originators of probability theory. In order for there to be a meaningful wager (bet) with two choices, they both have to have some chance of a payoff. You are in essence saying that Pascal's Wager is like someone flipping a coin and saying to someone else, "Heads I win, tails you lose." That is not a wager.

You seem to be approaching the issue as if the existence of God were a certainty. Pascal's Wager does not require that, and of course if the existence of God is a certainty, there is no need for Pascal's Wager. One need not resort to probabilities where certainties are involved.

• I still don't see it. Where do I assume the existence of God is a certainty? The only certainty I take is that embracing atheism cannot have an eternal benefit. If atheism is true then how you lived your life is irrelevant because there is nothing after death. If atheism is false then being an atheist is not going to help you now or ever.

• David Nickol

If atheism is true then how you lived your life is irrelevant because there is nothing after death.

As I have pointed out a number of times, the Jews in the Old Testament did not believe in heaven, hell, or anything resembling what we conceive of as life after death. And yet they didn't think how you lived life was irrelevant. Why? Are you saying that if somehow, as a Catholic, you discovered that all of Catholicism were true, but there was no life after death, you would believe that how you lived your life was irrelevant?

I think you are not looking at Pascal's Wager as Pascal himself did. As I understand it, he didn't think that, if there were no God, living life as you chose it was without value. He thought it was of finite value. The wager is about weighing the chance of something with infinite value against the chance of something with finite value.

Pascal's Wager is not a wager if it is based on the premise that if God does not exist, and if living as if God does not exist, the value of life is zero.

If I have something like a simplified roulette wheel that randomly comes up either red or black, and the rules of the game are that if you bet on red and red comes up, you get double your bet, and if you "bet" on black and black comes up, you get nothing, "betting" on black isn't betting at all. It is choosing to lose any money you "bet." That is not losing a bet. It is simply throwing your money away.

It sounds to me like you are saying that the only existence worth having is eternal existence. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, and all the other major figures in the Old Testament didn't feel that way. If the only point of life on earth is to "win" an eternal reward, why live on earth at all?

• Sure. An existence that is finite in time can still be significant if there is an infinite reference point. So if you can do something that is truly good and pleasing to an infinite God that can make you finite life worth-while. Still atheism excludes that as well. You life is finite and cannot impact anything that is not also finite.

• David Nickol

So if you can do something that is truly good and pleasing to an infinite God that can make you finite life worth-while.

I thought Catholics believed God created us for our own benefit, not to have creatures to please him. It seems like a primitive notion of God to me to think our only value is to do things to please him. If we keep him happy, he will continue to make rain for our crops and so on. If we please him, he will not punish us. This is in line with what I have been saying about the "theology of everyday piety." I am not sure it makes any sense to say a person can please or displease or disappoint or anger God. Can a human being add or subtract from God's happiness? I don't think that makes sense. It does not seem too far removed to me from the ancient Israelites offering burnt sacrifices and God being pleased with the smell.

• Ben Posin

How I live my life right now is very relevant to me, to my friends and family, my colleagues, and others that I interact with. I am quite open to the idea that there is no such thing as "eternal relevance," particularly given the impending heath death of the universe, but I don't see how the lack of eternal relevance disappears all the meaning that occurs while people are alive--and indeed, even after my own death, what I did may have meaning for others still alive.

• Michael Murray

I am quite open to the idea that there is no such thing as "eternal relevance," particularly given the impending heath death of the universe,

And there are beers to finish:

http://www.jesusandmo.net/2013/08/21/soul/

• Doug Shaver

If atheism is false then being an atheist is not going to help you now or ever.

True or false, atheism does help me now. I used to believe in God. All things considered, my life has gotten better since I stopped.

As for "ever," that is an assumption you're making, and I don't see any warrant for that assumption. The nonexistence of an afterlife does not logically follow from the nonexistence of any god. My personal survival after death does seem extremely unlikely to me, but its probability is not zero except on certain assumptions of naturalism, but the probability of those assumptions is not unity.

• Ben Posin

Randy,
Here are some thoughts that hopefully make those rejecting Pascal's Wager sound saner to you:

You say that the choice of atheism has no possible payoff. But that's not really true: there are conceptions of God/the universe where atheists get wonderful payoffs. For instance, perhaps there is a god, and he rewards integrity, honesty, and ratinonal thinking. Hey, theists are often very excited about the "intelligibility" of the world, the human race has certainly been rewarded in many ways through its attempt to systematically understand reality. In the sense that "possible" seems to be used in Pascal's Wager, this sort of God is equally possible as one that rewards faith and blind obedience. Choosing Catholicism is one of a boundless set of "bets," and it's one that has the possibility of being disastrous, with infitinite negative utility.

So Pascal's Wager doesn't really guide me towards Catholocism, or Christianity, or even necessarily faith of any sort. I don't know which if any of these bets will actually maximize my utility----except that I think a case can be made for atheism. The one thing I do know is that I have to face this life ahead of me. If based on my reasoning and the evidence I honestly don't believe there is a God, its possible that "betting" on atheism at least allows me to maximize my utility in this life I know about. And before you start thinking about displays of decadent hedonism, what first pops into my head is the degree to which I value my integrity, honesty, and morality--all of which would have to be sacrificed if I just plunked down a bet on Catholocism despite my actual beliefs.

Of course, there's also the fact that I can't actually CHOOSE where to bet! I reasoned my way into my beliefs, and have to be reasoned out of them.

• "For instance, perhaps there is a god, and he rewards integrity, honesty, and ratinonal thinking."

Now you are getting it. You are trying to please God. That makes sense of atheism by being less atheist. Perfect!

• Ben Posin

A bit too cute. It would be more accurate to say that if there is a god despite the lack of evidence in support, I'd hope that it has morality enough to please me. But can I take it that you are now persuaded that Pascal's Wager should have no persuasive value, or did you disagree with me on something?

• I probably disagree somewhere. I just find it interesting that the best case for atheism is that there is a God and He likes atheists.

• Ben Posin

You've gotten yourself a bit lost. What I gave is one reason that Pascal's Wager doesn't make sense. But Pascal's Wager itself isn't even an argument about whether atheism or theism is correct. The best case for atheism is, and has always been, that there isn't sufficient evidence to support any other belief.

• Michael Murray

The best case for atheism is, and has always been, that there isn't sufficient evidence to support any other belief.

Exactly. Evidence! How many times do we have to say it? Sigh.

• M. Solange O’Brien

Why does it make any more sense of atheism? The point being made is that the wager fails; there is no way to determine what a god might desire if a god existed.

• Why would there be no way to determine that? Sounds like you are giving up before trying.

• Michael Murray

Welcome back. In case you are wondering why the atheist contingent is so light on on quite a lot of them got banned a few weeks back. Many people have gathered here.

• M. Solange O’Brien

Thanks. A couple of my recent comments seem to have disappeared as well.

• Sqrat

I am not seeing my response to Randy Gritter's post a few lines above, or his subsequent response to me.

I wonder if they have multiple servers that aren't always in synch, so that a post might be stored on one server but not another.

• Not sure what the issue is. I checked the "Pending" and "Spam" folders and I don't see your post in either. So perhaps it's a Disqus glitch. Sorry!

• Sqrat

No problem -- I copied the missing messages out of Disqus and reposted them.

• Sqrat

Not trying to please God -- trying to have integrity, trying to be honest, and trying to think rationally. Having integrity and being honest means, among other things, not pretending that you are a Catholic (or some other variety of theist) when you are actually an atheist. That, in turn, means not playing the Pascal's Wager game (as Kreeft defines the game), because that is precisely what the wager demands of atheists -- that they pretend that they believe what they don't believe, and pretend that they don't believe what they do believe.

I think what Ben is suggesting is a possible God who would reward atheists for being honest about what they are and would not reward them for pretending to be what they are not.

• I do think God may reward atheists for being honest. But then you are really not betting on atheism but betting on honesty. What is honesty? Does it exist? Is it something humans invented? If humans didn't invent it then who did? Jesus said I am the truth. Hmmm

• Sqrat

[My original reply, from Disqus copy]: Not trying to please God -- trying to have integrity, trying to be honest, and trying to think rationally. Having integrity and being honest means, among other things, not pretending that you are a Catholic(or some other variety of theist) when you are actually an atheist. That, in turn, means not playing the Pascal's Wager game (as Kreeft defines the game), because that is precisely what the wager demands of atheists -- that they pretend that they believe what they don't believe, and pretend that they don't believe what they do believe.

I think what Ben is suggesting is a possible God who would reward atheists for being honest about what they are and would not reward them for pretending to be what they are not.

[Randy Gritter's response, from Disqus copy]:

I do think God may reward atheists for being honest. But then you are really not betting on atheism but betting on honesty. What is honesty? Does it exist? Is it something humans invented? If humans didn't invent
it then who did? Jesus said I am the truth. Hmmm.

• Doug Shaver

"For instance, perhaps there is a god, and he rewards integrity, honesty, and ratinonal thinking."

Now you are getting it. You are trying to please God. That makes sense of atheism by being less atheist. Perfect!

If I don't believe in God but concede the possibility that he exists, I am not less atheist than one who denies even that possibility. I am only a less dogmatic atheist.

• xyzzy

The point is the payoff for atheism is zero.

My office mate is going to spend the next several weeks without chocolate because of Lent. I will sit next to her and eat as much chocolate as I want.

She is going to get up early on Sunday morning and spend time in church; I am going to sleep late. She is going to "confess her sins" and do whatever penance the priest specifies; I will not. She will only have sex after she is married; I will have sex with whoever I like who consents to have sex with me.

At the end, we both die and cease to exist. She pays a very high price for her lottery ticket. I get the same result (eternal non-existence) without paying the price. By not wasting my efforts following some imaginary religion, I get to spend more of my limited time living for me.

And you think atheism has no payoff?

Still it does make sense to exclude atheism based on the fact that it offers you nothing.

Hardly. Reality doesn't care whether you like it or not. You're saying that I should ignore reality and instead pretend to believe in the reality that I wish it could be.

• Michael Murray

Suppose a winning sweepstakes ticket is worth a million dollars, and there are only two tickets left. You know that one of them is the winning ticket, while the other is worth nothing, and you are allowed to buy only one of the two tickets, at random. Would it be a good investment to spend a dollar on the good chance of winning a million?

No reasonable person can be or ever is in doubt in such cases. But deciding whether to believe in God is a case like these, argues Pascal. It is therefore the height of folly not to "bet" on God, even if you have no certainty, no proof, no guarantee that your bet will win.

People have highlighted a number of problems with this not least the rather obvious point that there are more tickets in the God lottery than just Catholicism and atheism.

Ignoring that there is the assumption that the odds of drawing the wining ticket are evens. No atheist I've ever talked to thinks the odds of God existing are evens.

Lastly there is the assumption that the cost of the ticket is very small relative to the pay-off. But that isn't the issue. The problem is the nett cost of the ticket. What if it involves selling the family home and cashing in all your savings are you going to do it ? Even if the pay-off is so large as to be infinite ? Are you really going to risk changing your life and that of your loved ones dramatically for the worse ? That's how converting to Catholicism looks to an atheist.

• The Bible says that gluttons should slit their own throats. It's in Proverbs. Fundagelical Christians tend to be big fat, slothful and prideful gluttons.

There is a reason why Southerners are the most gluttonous. Their gluttony is a result of the cardinal sin of pride "Southern Pride" which is the master sin of the 7 deadly sins. The wages of sin lead to death. Fattie DIE sooner!

Click Here To See Why the South is So Sinful and Gluttonous</a

Pacal's wager is butt covering!

• Ignorant Amos

WTF?