Archive for October, 2010

07
Oct
10

Ongoing discussion

A few comments to some older posts have been coming in, which is great – I’ve always wanted this blog to be about a continuing discussion of these topics.

The problem is, most people will miss these discussions, since they’re happening in the comments section of posts that are pretty far back in the archives. To correct this, I’ve added an “Ongoing Discussion” widget in the right column, which makes it easy to see what sort of comment activity has been going on.

If you see a discussion you’d like to join, feel free to jump in!

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07
Oct
10

What if you’re wrong?

This is a common question that believers will ask nonbelievers. It seems to be gaining some popularity recently, possibly because it’s quick, simple, to the point, and appears to cut right through every possible atheist argument.

It’s really a very simplified version of Pascal’s Wager, the idea that you should live life as if there is a god, because the outcome is better either way. In other words, if you believe in a god and there is one, you go to heaven – if there isn’t, there is no loss.  If you don’t believe there’s a god and there is one, you go to hell – if there isn’t, there is no loss. The odds favor the believer.

There’s a lot wrong here.

First, the question of which god I’m wrong about isn’t addressed. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a book on my desk of over 2,500 gods that have been recorded in one way or another through history. This question applies equally to all of them. Should I evaluate each of these gods asking this same question?

What if I’m wrong about Mara, the evil Buddhist deity who puts obstacles in the way of the Buddha? Or Vulcanus, the Roman god of fire and the forge? Or Isa, the Nigerian river goddess? Mah, the Persian moon goddess? Amaethon, the Celtic god of agriculture? Tien Mu, the Chinese goddess of lightning?

Each of these gods may have penalties for nonbelief – or they may not care one way or the other. Should I research which gods have the worst penalties, create a new pantheon out of them, and worship all of them, just to play it safe? Some of these gods don’t get along with each other. Some of them wouldn’t even approve of me reading about the others, or mentioning their names (Yahweh mentions this in Exodus 23:13, for example – by the way, this gets interesting when you note that the planets of our solar system and days of the week are all named after non-Christian gods!)

The other pressing issue here is that of “tricking” a god into not punishing me by believing in them. Turning it into a wager, or just believing in something to make sure that I’m not wrong, simply doesn’t work. An all-powerful god who demands sincere belief would see right through it, and reject my pitiful attempt at sneaking through the back door of paradise.

Considering all of the above, my answer to this question is simple: I’ll take my chances.




I am an atheist, a person who does not believe in the existence of any gods.

Many people don't know a lot about atheists, and have questions about them. In this blog, I do my best to answer them, to help build an understanding between atheists and theists.

Do you have a question? You can post it in the comments to any of my blog entries, and I will do my best to answer it in a new entry.