By Richard Rose
A slightly longer and more involved version of this first cropped up in response to a (very off topic) argument in a comments thread back in July 2007. This edited version then disappeared into the depths of Sunny’s inbox where it was recently uncovered by a crack team of theo-archaeologists.
Various groups argue that a political system should accord with one or other set of revealed religious “truths” about what constitutes a moral or â€œrightâ€ action. Contained within these arguments is the assumption that God, if He exists, has the right to dictate what constitutes morally right action, and thus interfere with the organization of a political system. By using Pascal’s Wager as a springboard I’m going to argue against the idea that we should mediate out behavior based on either a belief in God, or even a sense of agnostic doubt about His existence. In other words God has no right to tell us what to do.
Pascalâ€™s argument boils down to an assertion that it is more logical to believe in God because if He exists the believer gains everlasting life upon death, while if He doesnâ€™t then the believer essentially loses nothing. Equally if God doesnâ€™t exist then the unbeliever gains nothing upon his death, but if God does exist then the unbeliever can potentially be sentenced to eternal damnation. However, in arguing this way Pascal assumes that God requires not just a belief in His existence, but also a sense of gratitude for the act of creation, the ability to divine Godâ€™s will and the ability to carry it out. In other words one must attempt to please God by modifying oneâ€™s behavior.
This is because God, if He exists, has the power to prove His existence with at least as much force as I can say that the keyboard in front of me exists. Yet God has not done this, thus we have to obtain evidence for His existence that is indirect. This evidence can be expressed in the form of various conjectures and a priori arguments, or we can take on faith the statements of prophets who claim to have received “revelations.”
If God has acted thus, and it certainly appears that He has done so, then He has put the believer and the unbeliever on an essentially equal footing, since He has not provided indisputable evidence for His existence, (by for example scrawling God woz ‘ere in mile high letters of fire across the sky) but instead has merely offered individuals the option of belief.
Therefore the following propositions arise:
1)God either exists or He doesn’t.
2)There is no indisputable evidence in support of either proposition.
We now have a game where on one side is the full set of believers and unbelievers and on the other side God alone. Therefore according to the rules of the game (that God is omniscient and omnipotent) God cannot punish an unbeliever for his unbelief.
This is because it is definitely unknown whether or not God exists; all arguments for or against God’s existence simply being unverifiable assertions. Therefore no just tribunal (one based upon any conceivable standard of evidence) can pass judgment against anyone for denying the existence of a thing about which it is impossible to make a verifiable assertion about. Therefore God is either perfectly just, in which case He cannot assume the right to punish unbelievers simply because they are unbelievers, or else he will punish the unbelievers anyway, in which case he is not perfectly just and is acting in an arbitrary fashion.
This is why Pascal must necessarily assume that one must not just believe in God but must also assert that belief, be grateful to God, love him and attempt to behave as if carrying out his divine will. In other words one is trying to placate an unjust and illogical God by second guessing Him and attempting to read His mind. However because we cannot assert even God’s existence or non-existence with an absolute degree of certainty here on Earth, the motivations of God are unknowable. From this it follows that there is no guarantee that even if one somehow managed to divine the mind of God and did exactly as He wished you to do that upon your death He would not simply turn around and say:
“I don’t like sycophants; to Hell with thee!!!” (Cue thunder, lightning and insane cackling)
Thus while it is possible to postulate that life continues after death and it is perfectly logical to do so, the possibility that it does should not affect one’s actions here on earth. The question of whether or not God exists thus becomes a morally empty question and has absolutely nothing to do with how one should behave on earth. It follows that any moral or ethical code must be based entirely on the earthly consequences of one’s actions without taking into account any expectation of continuation, forgiveness, reward or punishment in the next life.
Thus God has no right to interfere in politics and a just political system cannot be based upon religious revelation or any assertions about the existence of God or His beliefs.
Of course this argument only works if there is no indisputable proof of God’s existence â€“ but if anyone can come up with one then I’ll eat my keyboard.
This is a guest post. When not pondering the ineffable, Richard divides his time between working for an international development economist and studying for an MA.
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