I’ve been watching these two guys fight each other for as long as I can remember.
You recognize them, right?
Let me introduce you.
On the left is Monotheism.
And on the right is Atheism.
…is it the other way around?
It’s pretty hard to tell sometimes, because these fellows are simultaneously identical twins and complete opposites. Both inhabit a universe which they understand to be entirely monochromatic, a space where very fabric of existence is composed of either “is” or “not without proof it’s not.”
I peek in on them from time to time. It’s a strange little world they live in but sometimes it can be fun to watch them bicker.
Most of the time, it is simply aggravating.
And if you try to step in, if you take one aside for a moment and explain how he is using the same arguments, based upon the same faulty assumptions as his counterpart…, oh the look he will give you!
It is the perfect synthesis of confusion and contempt.
Then, after a brief mental reboot, he or she will typically ply you with one of the standard arguments from their rhetorical arsenal, the assumption being that since your words made no logical sense, you must therefore play for the other team.
I’m fairly certain that I’ve heard all of these arguments over the years.
Most recently it was an old number from the 1600’s called Pascal’s Wager.
It goes something like this…,
There is God, or there isn’t God.
If there isn’t God and you worship him anyway, you are silly but otherwise unharmed.
If there is God and you don’t worship him you will suffer eternal torments in a lake of fire.
The safe bet, therefore, is to worship God.
And if the universe is truly expressed as a simple heads versus tales coin flip, Pascal’s Wager does make a pretty compelling argument.
But there are problems, and not just the “if gambling is a sin why are Christians encouraging non-believers to “play lots” with their immortal souls?” kind of problems.
Pascal’s Wager may sound like a valid argument to a Monotheist or an Atheist, but the Polytheists in the crowd know a chump bet when we see one.
If a game is being played, does it seem likely, given the vast and wonderful complexity of the universe in which we bide our time, that everything comes down to some lousy coin toss?
Not very likely.
No, if a game is being played, isn’t it more likely to be something a bit more like Roulette?
Imagine that we each walk up to the table with but a single chip in hand.
The Atheist isn’t going to play at all, and that’s okay. He’ll pocket that chip and maybe keep it as a souvenir.
The Christian, on the other hand, is convinced that there’s only one number on the table upon which to place his bet.
And do you see again, how each takes the most extreme position possible?
He slaps that chip down on thirteen-black, acting on faith that when the wheel stops spinning the little ball is going to land safely upon his number.
(Yeah, I know, a good Christian would probably pick just about any other number on the table, but this is my metaphor and I’ll do as I please.)
So there we are, one God, one Truth, and just one Number to choose from.
And you’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty bold play for someone with just a single chip in his hands!
The payout is huge: 35 to 1. Let’s call that the numerical equivalent of eternal life.
But the odds of hitting that number, or any single number on a roulette wheel is less than 3%.
There are smarter bets. There are LOTS of them.
You could split your bet between two numbers, or three, or four. And each time you’d see your probability of a winning spin increase. It’s a big board folks, and you don’t have to be EXACTLY right to come out a winner.
With a single chip in the game, I myself might like to play one set of twelve numbers.
Sure, the payout is only 2 to 1 (the numerical equivalent of reincarnation, maybe?) but my odds are nearly one in three, which is WAY better than a paltry 3%.
The point is, that Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician and philosopher who gave us the Wager, may have been one of the fathers of modern probability theory, but I seriously doubt the guy ever spent any quality time in an actual gambling den.
If he had, he might have hedged his bets.