I enjoy glancing through the comment boxes on news stories. We can see some…interesting (to be polite)…responses. In reading through comments regarding Dr. Hawking and God I noticed a number of Christians using Pascal’s Wager as their proof for God.
The problem with effectively arguing against Pascal’s Wager using reason, is that the Wager itself is not based on reason. It is based on fear. In fact, if you look at the premise, as proposed by Pascal, it explicitly states we cannot use reason to determine whether there is or is not a God, and it comes down to a coin toss. A wager. A bet as to which is the better choice to make in light of the unknown.
Have you ever tried to use reason, logic and observation with fear? How well does that work? Anyone with a child has faced (at least once) the “monster under the bed” or the “monster in the closet.” There is a reason Pixar utilized this fear as a theme in a movie—we are all familiar with it.
And, as a parent, we inevitably first try logic and reason. “See, honey? There is no monster under the bed. The toys you left there [that we told you to pick up!] are in the same position. The dust bunnies haven’t been disturbed. No tracks, no smells, no noises—nothing to demonstrate a monster.”
Of course, a short time later, we hear the screaming again. The Monster has returned. Our logic and reason completely failed. Eventually the exhausted parents give in to the belief, and create an alternative belief to counter the fear. A special stuffed animal that keeps away the monsters. Or a ritual to protect the monsters from coming in.
Yeah, yeah—not the most intellectual responses. We crave sleep; we cave in.
We cannot remove fear by arguing a person out of it; conversely we cannot create fear by arguing a person in to it. While the parent cannot convince the child no such monster exists; likewise the child cannot convince the parent they really should be afraid.
This continues into adulthood. Some people parachute for the thrill; others are terrified. And even though one can be convinced to parachute—the fear will still be there. Those that parachute cannot be convinced to begin fearing it.
Some fear public speaking; others fear never getting married. The list is inexhaustible. And all of those fears, one cannot simply reason them away, or reason oneself into. Your heart still pounds faster when confronted by them, or your heart does not.
Of course, one of the greatest fears is the unknown. Anyone diagnosed with a medical condition of “We don’t know what this is” understands.
And what happens after we die is the greatest unknown of them all.
In books and plays and movies, there are two predominate themes for claims of life after death:
1) There are degrees of pain/pleasure in the after life;
2) What you do in this life will determine what happens in this afterlife.
We don’t want pain; we want pleasure. We want to do the thing that creates the least pain and the most pleasure in life; one would certainly want to do it for the greater pain/pleasure promised in the after life! The problem (and the Achilles Heel of Pascal’s Wager) is that we don’t know what that is.
Is there no afterlife, in which case pain/pleasure is limited to what we do? Is the afterlife dependant on works, so we perform certain acts and refrain from other acts to increase pleasure later? Is it dependent on the correct belief, or ritual or statement?
Some individuals have grasped on to a certain belief to alleviate this unknown. It reduces (but never quite eliminates) the fear. It is their magic bunny, keeping away the monster under the bed.
We cannot argue against Pascal’s Wager—they are convinced of the fear. Nor (and Christians should realize this) can they use this to convince use—we have no such fear.