Dan Delzell Repackages Pascal’s Wager…And Fails
Twice in the last 24 hours I have found myself confronted by theists pushing Pascal’s Wager. The first, was a person on Twitter who wrote the following:
@logicalbeing just like you and I will be one day (dead). If you are right I didn’t lose much. If I am you lost everything. I don’t want that 4 U.
I inserted the word (dead) into the text so that the tweet would make more sense to you. Upon my dismantling Pascal’s wager in 280 characters (2 tweets) this person moved on to the ontological argument for god’s existence. For some reason, this argument will not go away, no matter how many times it has been shown to be erroneous.
The other place where I encountered our friend Pascal was in Dan Delzell’s column today on The Christian Post, titled “Bargaining With God in the Dark Room”. Those of you who are regular readers will know that I have been particularly critical of Delzell in the past. I continue to read his work because his readership is large and I want to know what types of things that popular evangelical pastors are saying. In truth, though I often disagree with most everything Delzell says, I can understand where he is coming from and why he is doing it. This post disappointed me. I was disappointed because, over time, I have come to expect more from Delzell. Pascal’s Wager really? This theory has to be the easiest apologetic argument to debunk and has been refuted so many times, it is almost not worth getting into. However, I can’t let it go. Why? Because today, Delzell shifted audiences. Usually he is “preaching to the choir”. Today he is specifically addressing skeptics. He is trying to catch the unwary nonbeliever, and hoodwink that person with a failed argument. I feel it my responsibility to counter that. (Or at least, if not a responsibility, it is something that I want to do).
“Think about this, especially if you are a skeptic. Wouldn’t you admit that you would follow Jesus if you came to know that He truly is your Savior and the Messiah? I mean….you wouldn’t turn away from Him if you knew that He is God….and that He is your only path to eternal peace and joy. You would follow Him then, right?”
This is a carefully worded paragraph that is designed to lead to the only rational answer. Of course, anyone would follow a deity fi they knew, without a doubt that his existence was real and the religion that follows him is also real. To do anything less would be an irrational ignoring of the facts. The problem that I have is that I am certain that what Delzell would accept for proof, would be laughed off by most skeptics.
Delzell relates the story of a friend, Scott, who “made a deal” with god. His friend, who is a scientist mind you, made the following bet with god one night, “God….if Jesus is your Son and He really is the way….and if He really is everything the Bible says about Him….then I will follow Him.” Okay…now his friend must “test the theory of Christianity”. The result: His friend believes that god came to him one night and told him to a) not look for a new job (which his friend wanted to do) b) not move to a new city (which his friend wanted to do) and c) not to leave his current church (which his friend wanted to do). The result of this “vision”? His friend called home, told his wife that they are staying put—and is now, 20 years later living the same life, as a Christian.
Recall the quote from Delzell above, the challenge to skeptics. This is the incontrovertible proof that Delzell is hoping will sway the skeptic? I think not. Not only do I find it lacking, but I would argue, so too does Delzell, which is why he then launches into what can only be described as pleading with skeptics to follow Christianity.
Dezell asks us:
“Try admitting this to yourself….that you don’t know for sure that Jesus is a fraud….and Christianity is false….and heaven and hell are mythical places, but not real places where people spend eternity. You are not 100% sure that there is nothing to it. You are not absolutely positive that it is untrue. You may think it is false….and you may even hope it is false….but let’s admit it….you don’t know for sure.”
This is what I was referring to when I mentioned pleading. It reminds me of one of the phrases that John W. Loftus uses often in his book, “Why I Became an Atheist”. Loftus says many times throughout the book that theists often demand “that I prove god impossible before they will admit that god is improbable”. I think that is a great line and worth keeping in mind when having discussions with apologists.
Simply because we cannot be 100% sure that a deity does not exist, in no way should lead us to accept the existence of the Christian deity on absolutely zero evidence. Period. Delzell is asking the skeptic to abandon reason for faith, based on absolutely nothing. To the skeptics who are on the fence regarding religion, I urge you not to abandon your reason.
Once again, I do not think that Delzell really believes this tactic is going to sway many skeptics, so his final effort is Pascal’s Wager (though he doesn’t define his argument with its appropriate name).
“So what would it hurt you to go all in? I mean, you would if you knew Jesus is the One you will stand before on Judgment Day. So why not tell God that you will follow Him if Jesus really is the path to salvation and peace. What have you got to lose? Scott did it….and look how it worked out for him.”
He continues mixing all of his arguments into one big final push:
“You would go with Jesus if you discovered Him to be the real deal, wouldn’t you? I mean, you wouldn’t reject Him if you knew that rejecting Him meant spending eternity is a “dark room,” would you? If you are an unbeliever, then Christianity is still just a “theory” to you. Why not test it? Why not bargain with God….just as seriously as Scott did that night 20 years ago in the dark room. You don’t want to miss out on heaven do you? From your perspective, if the Bible is true….then Jesus truly is your Creator and your Savior. Only He can save your soul and rescue you from sin, death, and hell. That is, if the Bible is true. And you don’t know for sure that it isn’t true….so, the smart thing to do is to go all in.”
This is pure folly and an attempt to play on the fears of the credulous. Here are a few things to note. First off, how can we possible assume that his friend Scott didn’t lose anything by taking Pascal’s Wager and betting on Yahweh? We do not. What if that other job that Scott didn’t look for led him to more happiness in life? What if they job paid more money, was more rewarding of his skills, afforded him more time to spend with his family, etc? What opportunities did Scott pass up by not moving to a different city? We will never know the answers to those questions. However, it is a complete fallacy to state that Scott did not risk much…he may have lost more than he could possibly fathom by taking the wager. The point is, we don’t know.
Delzell shamelessly plays to people’s fears. “You don’t want to miss out on heaven do you?” This is pure charlatan nonsense.
Delzell concludes by saying the only smart thing to do is to “go all in”. I beg to differ. The only rational thing to do is to stop and think–to weigh the risk of going all in versus walking away. I could never explain why Pascal’s Wager fails better than John W. Loftus. So I won’t bother. Instead, I strongly urge you to read what he has to say on the matter: Pascal’s Wager Debunked.
Once again, I find Delzell to be dishonest in his approach. If he was playing honestly, he would have addressed the problems with Pascal’s Wager and offered why his path is the better choice than walking away. Yet he didn’t do that. He doesn’t want his unwary reader to even know the grave problems inherent in his argument. This is not honesty, and in truth, may be one reason why we are seeing more and more people turn away from religion in this country. People want honesty; they want to think for themselves, we all want reasons for what we do. Most of us don’t want to place our lives in the balance of a bad wager.
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