Why It's Not a 'Safe Bet' to Believe In God
Continued from previous page
Religion typically requires sacrifice.
And this simple fact, all by itself, completely demolishes the foundational assumption of Pascal's wager.
The assumption of Pascal's Wager is that any other wager is a sucker's bet. Pascal's Wager doesn't just assume that the payoff for winning the bet is infinite bliss, or that the cost of losing is infinite suffering. It assumes that the stakes for the bet are zero.
But the stakes are not zero.
It's even been argued -- correctly, I think -- that the sacrifices religion requires are an essential part of what keep it going. (Think of fraternity hazing. Once you've sacrificed and suffered for a belief or project or group affiliation, you're more likely to stick with it... to convince yourself that the sacrifice was worth it. That's how the rationalizing human mind works.)
And if religion requires sacrifice... then Pascal's Wager collapses. A bet with an infinite payoff and zero stakes? Sure, that's an obvious bet. But a bet with infinite payoff and real stakes? That's a lot less obvious. Especially when there are, as I said before, thousands of competing bets, all with contradictory demands for the specific stakes you're supposed to place. And double especially when there's no good evidence that any one of these competing bets is more likely to pay off than any other... or that any of them at all have any plausible chance whatsoever of paying off. Again: If you wouldn't bet on my Flying Spaghetti Monster religion, with its entirely reasonable demands for chocolate and tattoos and hourly prayer and fanatical Detroit-phobia... then why on Earth are you betting on your own religion?
If this short life is the only one we have, then contorting our lives into narrow and arbitrary restrictions, and following rules that grotesquely distort our moral compass, and giving things up that are harmless and ethical and could make ourselves and others profoundly happy, all for no good reason... that's the sucker bet.
Besides... even if none of this were true? Even if belief in God required absolutely no sacrifice in any practical matters? No rules, no rituals, no circumcision, no sexual guilt, no execution of adulterers, no gay children shamed and abandoned, no dead children who would have lived if they'd gotten blood transfusions, no money in the collection plate? Nothing except belief?
It would still have costs.
And those costs would be significant.
The idea of religious faith? The idea that it makes sense to believe in invisible beings, undetectable forces, events that happen after we die? The idea that it makes sense to believe in a hypothesis that's either entirely untestable... or that's been tested thousands of times and consistently been proven wrong? The idea that we can rely entirely on our personal intuition to tell us what is and isn't true about the world... and ignore hard evidence that contradicts that intuition? The idea that it's not only acceptable, but a positive good, to believe in things for which you have not one single shred of good evidence?
This idea has costs. This idea undermines our critical thinking skills. It closes our minds to new ideas. It bolsters our prejudices and preconceptions. It leaves us vulnerable to bad ideas. It leaves us vulnerable to frauds and charlatans. It leaves us vulnerable to manipulative political leaders. It leads us to devalue evidence and reason. It leads us to trivialize reality.
So all by itself, even without any obvious sacrifices of time or money or restricted lifestyle or screwed-up ethical choices, religious faith shapes the way we live our lives. And it does so in a way that can do a tremendous amount of harm.