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Erik’s Wager on the End of the World

20 Dec

You should try to have faith – as I do – that the world will not end tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow will end, but another day will rise and life will continue. If you do have faith, you will surely be saved – from embarrassment, from social and economic ruin, from the anguish of betting so much on your disbelief… and being wrong.

You should try to have faith, but if you cannot – and I must acknowledge that there may be some among you who find they simply cannot believe – there is hope, for you too may be spared social damnation, ostracism, or imprisonment. All you must do is act as if you believe. Pretend, for your sake and that of your family and friends, that the end of the world is not coming.

“What if you’re wrong???” I hear you cry. “What if we’re all DEAD TOMORROW!!!” My answer: “What if I’m right?”

If you’re right, none of your actions now will have any consequences because we’ll all be dead tomorrow, or next week, or next month. You can quit your job, sell your house and car, blow all your cash, kill your kids (they shouldn’t suffer during the Earth’s death-throes, should they?), burn all your bridges – because it isn’t going to matter in the end.

But if you’re wrong… If your actions really *do* have consequences beyond today, or next week, or next month, you will surely be damned and suffer, cast into a pit of sorrow, guilt, and despair in which you will drown for what will seem like all eternity – or worse: you will be pent up like an animal, forced to live in a cage alongside other lost souls, reliving your mistakes in nightmarish anguish – as consequence for your crimes.

I’m sure by now some of you have spotted a version of Pascal’s Wager in this argument. If you’re unsure of what Pascal’s Wager is, here’s a rundown:

  • God either exists, or He doesn’t.
  • If He exists, and you worship Him, you will be rewarded with infinite bliss in Heaven after your death.
  • If He exists, and you don’t worship Him, you will be punished with infinite suffering in Hell after your death.
  • If he doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t matter either way since there is no life after death.
  • The logical bet, therefore, is to choose to worship God whether you believe in Him or not.

My argument is quite similar, and looks like this:

  • Tomorrow (or next week, or next month) will either come as scheduled, or it will not.
  • If tomorrow comes, and you continued with your life, you will be rewarded with the knowledge that you did not succumb to fear and superstition.
  • If tomorrow comes, and you threw your life away, you will be punished with suffering in depression (or jail).
  • If tomorrow does not come, then it doesn’t matter either way, since we’ll all be dead.
  • The logical bet, therefore, is to choose to continue on with our lives whether we believe tomorrow is coming or not.

There are numerous problems with Pascal’s Wager, however. First, which God was Pascal talking about? In his case, he was talking about the Christian God, but many other (mutually exclusive) gods have been written about to which this wager would apply – how do we know we’re making the right wager? Second, the claim that there are no consequences for being wrong as a believer is demonstrably false – at the very, very least, worship requires time that could have been spent in productive ways. Third, Pascal’s threat of Hell after death for non-worshippers – whether true or not – is entirely unsubstantiated as there is no physical evidence to support the existence of Hell. The same is true of the offered reward.

These problems do not apply to my version of the wager, however. My wager is firmly defined with only two possibilities – either the world will continue to exist, or it will end – so there is no ambiguity. My wager’s claim that there are no consequences for being wrong as a believer is true, for if the world does end tomorrow, it won’t matter to me that I was wrong about it as I, along with everyone else, will be dead. The punishments that my wager warns about – depression, social exile, and possibly a prison sentence – are very real possibilities. The same is true of the offered reward.

So, please, trust me on this one. If you cannot find your faith – well I won’t say I’m not disappointed that I failed to convert you, but please don’t trash your life or the lives of your family and friends. This is a wager you really can win, whether you believe or not.

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Posted by on December 20, 2012 in Philosophy

 

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