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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton

"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Tertius' wager

When it comes to God, Jesus and religion, everyone has an opinion and everyone is an expert - and there are no more opinionated opinion-givers and expert experts than atheists.

It remains one of life's great ironies - and mysteries - that people who claim to have no faith, no beliefs, no religion and no gods have got so much to say about the God whom they claim is not there and the religion that they claim is pure fantasy. I've called them God-obsessed atheists elsewhere and the more I peruse the Net the more that term just keeps hitting the bullseye.

Some of these infidel guys have spent the best years of their lives railing against what they perceive as a nonexistent God, a mythical Jesus, an errant Bible, and an irrelevant religion. They are unable to shake the dust of their feet and move on to other things, remaining truly obsessed and angry about the possibility that somewhere there may be an unenlightened primitive who prays to this God and seeks to walk humbly with him. Their recurring nightmare is that there may be some corner of the universe where a supernatural deity lurks. Thus these self-appointed holy ghostbusters will leave no stone unturned in their desire to hunt down and exterminate any vestige of Spirit. Like latter day Visigoths these cultural and religious vandals ransack and lay waste to the human spirit. After all, all that matters is matter.

So with apologies to Pascal I propose: Tertius' wager...

or, why, despite the torrent of words - abuse, insult, invective - the supernaturalist always ultimately wins over the naturalist; and, why the Christian always trumps the atheist.

How many times have you observed a debate between persons holding these opposing ontological worldviews in which one of the debaters - usually the skeptical atheist - makes this statement about the Big Question: "We won't know until we die and then one of us is going to be very disappointed [and it ain't going to be me]"

Here's one actual quote on a variation of this theme:
"Maybe there's something after death, maybe there isn't. Either way we won't know until we die. In the interim you can lead a nice, happy life and not worry about it, or you can spend your time running away from the grave's cold hand... Make your choice, all decisions final, no refunds, thank you, have a nice trip. :)"

It's often a showstopper, but in the debate between the naturalist and the supernaturalist is it logical or reasonable? I think not. Try inserting something more prosaic in the place of there's something after death like smoking 10 packs a day causes cancer, or using heroin will mess you up real bad, playing Russian roulette may have immediate fatal consequences, or having unlimited sexual encounters with strangers in bath-houses will turn you into a walking skeleton. In any of these scenarios the sane, intelligent, life-affirming individual would think twice about the consequences. Hey, you may be lucky and have a nice trip. But would you bet your life on it?

I happen to think it is correct that in regard to the Big Question one side will be disappointed and the other will be vindicated, but looking at it logically and reasonably it will always and only be the same person - the naturalist - who will be disappointed and it will always and only be the supernaturalist who will be vindicated.

In the game of life the end is always certain. Everyone, sooner or later, whether rich or poor, good or bad, beautiful or ugly, happy or sad, Christian or atheist wins the booby prize - death. Along the way some have a better time of it. Others draw the short straw and get continually kicked in the guts when they're down. An Australian politician famously quipped that life wasn't meant to be easy but we - all of us, but most especially the naturalists - nevertheless cling fervently to the hope that, if we can just manage to hang around long enough, those twin saviours, science and technology, will discover the secret of eternal happy existence and grant it to us. In the meantime we all, without exception and without exemption continue to die. Happy people die, too, for the grave's cold hand is no respecter of personal philosophy.

So, in a very real sense the main game is about the afterlife - or perhaps we should call it the afterdeath. It is a stark contest - on the one hand is the possibility of conscious existence, maybe even "eternal bliss" for some in "the next life"; or "the age to come" versus Nothing - unconscious non-existence. In such a game the theist can only win and the atheist can only lose.

"Winning" and "losing" can only be experienced by conscious beings. If what looms ahead is cessation of being and cessation of consciousness there will be no one to experience anything. So if the atheist is correct and the "God hypothesis" is a sham, nothing more than an emotional crutch for the weak, he never gets to proclaim "I told you so!" Likewise, the theist never gets a comeuppance, never gets to experience regret or disappointment at not being ushered into the spiritual realm. Consciousness just ceases. The theist, like the atheist, won't know anything, because there is nothing to know, and no one to do the knowing.

On the other hand, if the theist's worldview is correct not only does he win - but the atheist loses bigtime. He finds himself consciously existing in a state or place he refused to accept as being real - and a place he really doesn't want to be. And, he now faces the prospect, not of eternal joy in the company of the God he acknowledged, but of eternal rejection by the God whom he himself had rejected.

If naturalism is true - if there is no God, no afterlife, no hope, then no theist gets to find out the awful truth, to experience the ultimate letdown that it was all a religious delusion. There is nothing to experience, nothing to discover, nothing to find out. No regrets. Just a cessation of consciousness. The end.

But if there is in fact a God, an afterlife, a heaven, a hell, a judgment ,then there are going to be some mighty upset atheists. And that's only the beginning...

If he was a betting man which way would a wise man wager?

10:32:00 am