• Alison Tennent

Does Religion Make You Stupid?

The Nonsense that is Pascal's Wager

mage by ParallelVision from Pixabay free from copyright

I really don’t mind religious people. I was one myself, once.

Generally, they’re law abiding, leave me in peace and are reasonably friendly, though there are some fairly obvious exceptions to that. I know right now you’re thinking “But what of Catholic Church altar boys, Allahu Akbar, The Salem Witch Trials and The Crusades to name but a few?”

Humans commit atrocities, it’s our number one export as a species. Sometimes we commit those in the name of religion. However, without religion we do find other ways to commit atrocities too. We’re endearing that way. Historically most humans have been somewhat religious and yet most humans haven’t committed atrocities. Counsel rests. Religion can bring comfort, provide a framework for ethics (I said can I’m not claiming it always does, pay attention) and yes, as an "opiate of the people" can be quite useful in keeping the naked ape masses placated and well behaved.

Upfront, let me make it clear I don’t consider Philosophy a topic worthy of study, at least not as a formalised subject, any more than I consider religious matters to be worth shelling out money to discuss at University. I immediately run into a philosophical problem with that, of course. What, metaphysically speaking, is actually worthy of study? If you enjoy it, can afford it and want to do it, study away. But the philosophical discussion of the possible existence of God covers what you think and believe, not what is provable by the scientific method. If you don’t know what the scientific method is, please, I beg you, spare us both.

And since the “study” of religion and philosophy (unless you’re discussing the historical/practical/economic value of it perhaps) is basically just idle speculation, my thoughts on religion and philosophy are every bit as meaningful on the matter as the thoughts of Socrates (though I tend to favour soundbytes by Epicures). Whereas the same cannot be said of myself and Einstein regarding Physics. Greater minds than mine (or at least men with a lot of time on their hands and a penchant for naval gazing) have discussed the topic of God and the eschatological endlessly, and added very little useful knowledge to the world. Unless you consider yet more unproven hypotheses about religion to be useful knowledge, which I don’t. So, I’m well aware that there are endless analyses available already on the topic I have chosen. To which I saw “Pffft”. Because, like it or lump it, nobody knows. Nobody knows if anything happens to us after we die, nobody knows if a soul exists, nobody knows if God exists, or her nature if she does, nobody knows a damn thing about the afterlife, if there is one, or otherwise. Nobody knows. That means you and I too. I have my own thoughts and inclinations but: Nobody. Knows. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes enjoy reading philosophical reflections or discussing ideas amongst friends. But then I also enjoy playing Gardenscapes on my tablet, and as far as I’m concerned the two hobbies are of equal weight. Well, ok, that was mainly for effect and isn’t entirely true. Most thinking humans philosophise naturally, and that’s a good thing. Philosophising and whatnot can sometimes lead to higher order thinking, which can sometimes lead to explorations and breakthroughs and all kinds of things which can benefit humankind. Which, overall, I’m inclined to be in favour of. And if you feel you benefited from gaining that Doctorate in Philosophy and Religious Studies, good for you. But the philosophical and religious leanings of Rabbie Burns, or my late dad's musings as he mulled over a glass of whisky, are equally verifiable, useful and weighty as the theories of Hypatia, Clea, Plato or Bertrand Russell at least regarding whether God exists or otherwise. And about that, I do not jest. So, to return in a winding fashion to my point, I’m not going to pretend I’m Bertrand Russell, and I don’t care how much study you’ve done on gawds, godlings or Gods. But there’s one card I do see the smugly sanctimonious play fairly regularly — and they’re wrong to do so. So clearly wrong. So very wrong my itchy fingers found the keyboard once again to hold forth. I’m sure you’ve heard them claim it, it’s forever popping up. If you’ve read an agnostic or atheist make a comment anywhere you’re bound to have seen a religionist insert their trump card. They think it’s a “gotcha” moment, but it’s not, whether they use the formal philosophical name, or otherwise.

Pascal’s Wager.

According to the foolish, it’s in your own best interest to pander to “insert God here” because after all, you’ve nothing to lose by believing, and everything to lose by not. I believe it was Voltaire who first penned the robust response of “Bollocks” to this notion.

Here’s what you lose when squandering your infinitesimal blink of an existence on your knees to a religion, not through genuine faith but as a wager: Everything.

  • Let’s start with IQ points : religious people tend towards being less than bright. Although the whole correlation/causation dilemma makes it impossible to know if stupid people are drawn to religion, or religion makes for stupid people. Based on the preponderance of religionists who enjoy pointing to Pascal’s wager, the anecdotal evidence gathered by me points to the latter.

  • Perhaps religion just blights your ability for critical thinking. Either way, it’s sadly true that as religiosity goes up, IQ tends to go down. Don’t get mad at me, look at the meta studies. I’m not saying you’re stupid. There are, always, exceptions. I’m just saying perhaps the reason you’ve swallowed the Pascal’s Wager bollocks is that your critical thinking skills have been allowed to deteriorate as you bury yourself in a warm, cuddly religious cloud of fluff.

Having said that, some of the atheists among us are far from brilliant either. I regret a recent accidental skim of a click bait piece about how enraged the writer feels when people wish her a blessed day. Most of the responses were quite mild considering she’d obviously written it to bait religionists.

She went on to write another clickbait followup— which I skillfully avoided except for noting the title and author and rolling my eyes — feigning surprise at the fact that she’d offended religious people.

So, to be clear, I know this article might offend you. And I don’t care.

It’s not my main purpose in writing it, but your choice to be offended really doesn’t matter much to me, one way or the other.

As the Argumentative Penguin skillfully pointed out, the only required response to I’m offended is “So what?”.

Those of you who’ve been playing along at home may have noticed I sometimes write articles in response to articles I’ve happened across on Tedium. So yes, this is such an article. Or rather, it’s a response to some of the comments on that same, clickbait article. Don’t go looking for it, would be my advice.

Anyway, back to the main story.

What else do you stand to lose if you follow the Yellow Brick Road of Pascal’s Wager?

  • Friends and family. You don’t think people will know you’re a hypocrite clacking along with the rosary beads rather than being true to yourself? Well, I’d know, and don’t choose to hang around with hypocrites, if I can help it.

  • Your free will. This one is self explanatory I think.

  • Your own self respect. See previous.

  • And the one utterly irreplaceable thing you will definitely lose if you give yourself over to worship out of fear. Time. If you choose to feign religiosity for the sake of fear, you will lose the priceless gift of time. Human lifespans are incredibly limited. If you don’t mind handing over dozens or more hours every week, hundreds or more hours every year, thousands or more hours from your extremely limited lifespan to something you really don’t want to do out of fear of something you don’t really believe in, then perhaps the meta studies really were aimed at you.

Ok, not quite everything. But you stand to lose a lot if you make the foolish choice to bend your knee just in case.

By contrast, here’s what you stand to lose if you ignore, do not worship or even disobey a loving God:

Absolutely nothing.

That’s right: Nothing. You lose nothing at all. Because, as you already know, no loving God would punish her child eternally for any reason. So if you’re going along with Pascal’s Wager and hedging your bets on God out of dread of punishment, or trying to use it as a means of persuasion, you’ve made a rookie error. It’s true that I tend to boil things down to their essence, and have little time for metaphysical frippery. There have been many arguments penned against Pascal’s Wager, focusing on a variety of issues, I am aware of most of them. But this is the only argument I need: Since it’s inarguable and irrefutable that no loving God would ever torture and torment their child for all eternity for any reason, if your God is capable of that and willing to do so, you’re not worshipping God at all. You’re worshipping a monster. Therefore, either you’re worshipping a God who will forgive you for being the human she made you and you've nothing to fear. Or you’re worshipping a monster. In which case, you’re utterly screwed no matter what you do.

And that, dearest reader, is why Pascal’s Wager is a dreary nonsense useful only for children and idiots and cannot, as some have attempted, be taken as a serious response to any comment or article written on the subject of God’s existence.

In fact, if you make the assumption of a loving God you must logically invert Pascal’s wager. You have much to lose by kowtowing to religion, just in case God isn’t real. And absolutely nothing to gain, because she will love you regardless.

And if you can’t see that, perhaps what I should really be asking is “Has religion damaged and suppressed your ability to reason?”

So, believe as you choose. You will anyway, my permission neither required nor requested.

But please, I prithee, do not ever attempt a “Gotcha” moment using Pascal’s Wager. Because if you claim your God is a loving God, you haven’t got the head of a pin to dance on.

And with that, in the words of the late great Dave Allen (50 seconds in): “Goodnight, and may your God go with you”:

Of course, if you really want to read more about Pascal’s Wager, there’s plenty out there. But personally, I wouldn’t bother: Pascal's Wager It is important to contrast Pascal's argument with various putative 'proofs' of the existence of God that had come…plato.stanford.edu Don't bet on Pascal's wager Pascal, Blaise Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662) made important contributions to mathematics in general and the theory of…www.psychologytoday.com We've got Pascal all wrong - UnHerd Pascal's Wager is well known. If God doesn't exist, so the argument supposedly goes, then if you believe, you haven't…unherd.com

Alison Tennent, Queensland, Australia, July 2021 Copyright Alison Tennent 2021, all rights reserved. Scottish by birth, upbringing and bloodline, Australian by citizenship. If you’re reading this anywhere but The Garrulous Glaswegian, Vocal+ or Medium, this work may have been plagiarized.

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