Many believers think that atheism is a risky bet. "If you're right," they say, "you don't gain much, if anything. But if you're wrong, then you will end up being tortured in Hell for all eternity." Believers don't share the same risks: if they're wrong, the worst that happens is that they have wasted a finite life in error; but if they're right, then they get eternal bliss. Atheism risks infinite suffering for a minor payoff; belief risks finite loss for an infinite payoff. With this setup, no sensible gambler would have any question about how to bet. So, should atheists be afraid? Should we use any means possible to deceive ourselves into believing in a god, simply because a cost-benefit analysis appears to favor belief over atheism?
The answer is no, because proponents of this argument have the cost-benefit analysis wrong. They assume that there is only one particular kind of god on the table: a god who rewards belief (for any reason) with eternal bliss, and punishes atheism (for any reason) with eternal torture. But this is, in fact, not the only god on the table. All gods are on the table. Who is to say that there might not be a god who rewards atheism, and punishes belief? Or that there might not be a god who rewards honesty and sincerity, and punishes those who deceive themselves into believing simply because of a cost-benefit analysis?
Believers who suggest that atheism is a risky bet tend to assume unreflectively that the only kind of god that could exist is the kind of god they believe in. If this were so, then the cost-benefit analysis would favor belief in that kind of god. But to justify such an analysis, they need first to show that no other kind of god is possible. And this has not been done.
Thus, we are all faced with the same situation: in order to make an informed choice, even an informed wager, all we can do is follow the evidence, make an honest assessment, and hope that there is no arbitrary tyrant in the sky who rewards credulity and punishes integrity. Hence, since the evidence favors atheism, the best choice is the honest one: atheism. No worries.
Last updated: 28 Nov 2008
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