Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ginx’s Wager

(Originally posted here)

I believe nothing happens after we die, which is a terrifying proposition. I do not hope I am right, I merely assume life after death is akin to life before birth.

If I am wrong, one of many things may happen. I may be sent to hell, and there are certainly Christians and Muslims who believe this is quite likely. However, eternal suffering in hell cannot erase the seed of joy I would have knowing that there is justice, that those who do wrong are indeed punished in the hereafter, and that some of those I loved are at peace somewhere.

Then there is the possibility that I will go to heaven. This may be the hardest laugh some of you have all day. Still, there is a non-zero chance. [Just as there is a non-zero chance that every atom in my body will quantum shift perfectly with the atoms of a wall as I run directly at it, allowing me to pass through unfazed.]

However, I might be whisked off by Valkyries to Valhalla, or I may have to pay Charon a coin to cross the Styx, or my heart may be placed on the scales with a feather to see if I may pass on or if I will be devoured by Ammut, or maybe I’ll be reincarnated, or perhaps the thetans inside me will escape to infest another host human body...

Atheism is not appealing. I’d be more than happy to be wrong on the matter of gods. Religion is, unfortunately, the hot chick with nothing going on upstairs.
R. Sherman commented:

[…]Ginx, if you hold that atheism is not appealing, why not explore the possibility of an alternative? After all, there is a Deity or not. It wishes to reveal itself or not. If the […] answer is [the] former, what is the nature of the revelation[?] To dismiss it out of hand because there is not, and cannot be mathematical proof, again, artificially limits the playing field.

I’d like to address R. Sherman’s comment.

First of all… why would one think I have not explored the possibility of deities? I would be willing to bet I know more about any religion than you (including your own, which I know is nothing more than another bland flavor of salvation-chasing Christianity). Theology and mythology are two of my favorite reading topics. I even stated several possible after-death scenarios in my comment.

The next part of his epic fail is to jump to a monotheist/atheist dichotomy. If there are any gods, it is far more likely that there will be more than one. Only four religions in history have ever been monotheistic (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and an ancient form of Aten worship which lasted only a few decades). Who here is artificially limiting the playing field?

Then, there is the small matter of the three Abrahamic faiths splintering into several thousand sects, factions, denominations, cults, creeds, schools, doctrines, congregations and churches… but they are startlingly similar looking to those who do not affiliate with (or kill/die for) them. I am aware of the “vast” differences in just how Jesus Christ saves your soul, but really it’s all the same: muttering, standing, sitting, singing, reading, listening, shaking hands, eating. Frankly, anything extending far beyond that is just freaky (e.g. glossalalia, i.e. “speaking in tongues” [how often do I get to use two abbreviated Latin phrases in the same parenthetical comment?]).

Even if you count every different branch of Jewish, Christian and Muslim theology independent of the other, the majority of world religions (past and present) still believe in many gods. Do monotheists consider the possibility of that alternative?

Next, I am asked to consider the epistemology of revelation. Epistemology is the study of truth, or more accurately, how one determines truth. Revelation is not a form of truth, it is a function of creativity. All revelation originates in the mind of the “prophet” (which I believe derives from the Sanskrit word for “liar”). The true nature of “revelation” is to attach authority to an idea. “God said X, therefore X is true. Go do X.” Funny how X always seems to benefit the priests. This is flawed at its most basic level.

The basis for revelation’s authority is usually predicated on things like prophecy, which oracles have successfully convinced societies is possible since the beginning of recorded history. Again, this is also a function of human creativity, in this case vague poetry, post-hoc analysis, and various other well documented and understood linguistic and psychological tricks.

Finally, he suggests I should not dismiss religion simply because it lacks mathematical proof. I have news for anyone in doubt: I do not live my life by equations. Even my wife, who is a Ph.D candidate working with numbers all day, does not live her life by numbers. No one should, and I doubt anyone can.

Regarding science, I don’t understand a great many things about it. However, I have noticed it is often far more successful than religion. In the real world, I observe religion claiming to heal the sick, but medicine puts it to shame. Religion claims to make people moral, yet atheists commit less crime and they even have low divorce rates (though I think this has more to do with intelligence than morality).

Why assume I have not given religion a try? And let’s be honest, he only cares if I accept Jesus as my personal savior; it has nothing to do with religion in general. Like most atheists, I was raised by religious parents. Atheists don’t have many kids, yet the number of atheists is increasing rapidly, especially among the young. Why? Personally, I felt nothing. I tried lots of different approaches, and yet every time I found myself staring into a void.

I just don’t hear the voices, and for that I am thankful.


  1. Okay

    My dad was a raging atheist. My mom was a pseudo Christian. I believe, like my dad, when I die, I am nothing more that compost.

    Why would I spend my life trying to make a "God" happy for life after death? I really do not need a God to protect me from my impulses of hurting others. I do not steal, lie, rape or kill. So, what reason would there be?

  2. To save your eternal soul! That, and to collect your tithe.


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