Sooner or later, when you’re talking to a Christian apologist who is trying to convince you that you’re wrong and they’re right, you’re going to hear something like this:
“If you’re right, then we both lose nothing. But if I’m right, you’re going to spend eternity in a lake of hellfire!”
That statement is the essence of the good old Christian apologetics gambit known as Pascal’s Wager.
It was deployed against me just this past week, during a conversation I was having on Twitter with RDH_HDP @ RickeyDale07. Ricky and I went on for quite a while so if you follow me on Twitter, I think you should be able to see the thread. (I’m a returning Twitter user, so I don’t know if the mechanics are the same as they were when I took my hiatus…it would be great if someone could let me know if you are able to read our conversation.)
During our exchange I was doing what I normally do. I was using the Socratic method to help Ricky understand why his reasons were deficient.
Eventually we got to Pascal’s Wager. I had asked Ricky how could he know if his beliefs were incorrect, and he said:
“I am not wrong…but let’s consider for a moment the possibility. If I am wrong, when I die…I lose nothing. If you are wrong, you will die and lose EVERYTHING.”
All CAPS were his, not mine.
There it was. Mr. Pascal. When an apologist tries this line of reasoning, I just normally flip it. By flipping it, I show my interlocutor a couple of things. One, I show him that it’s not a convincing argument. And two, it’s a great way to reinforce the unreasonableness of an epistemology that one uses to support his belief that a god is real, by using the outsider’s test for faith.
The outsider’s test for faith is a dialectical technique whereby one essentially asks, “why can’t the same methods you are using to arrive at your god belief, lead someone else to arrive at a completely different god belief?” It’s a way to hopefully get people to stop and think about why they believe as they do.
On this day, I countered Ricky’s deployment of Pascal’s Wager with my own:
“You do lose everything, if at the end Karma is real and yet you’ve spent your life telling people they are going to Hell if they don’t believe the same god claims as you.”
I flipped the wager by using Karma as the incentive. The ease with which Ricky dismissed my wager might have given him a clue as to the ease in which I dismissed his wager, but alas, his mind was singularly focused this day, and he kept marching in the same evangelical direction:
“I lose nothing…,” he said, and the rest was a sermon.
A mind rusted shut for so many years is tough to pry open, and Pascal’s Wager isn’t exactly the best WD-40.