Self belief

The philosopher Julian Baggini discussed the silly Pascal’s Wager in the Guardian. He argued that even the Simpsons had presented a more logical view.

even Homer Simpson can see the problem with this: “What if we’ve picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder?” (Julian Baggini)

Baggini was sparked by a journal article by Tim Mawson, which basically presented Pascal’s Wager in a slightly new guise:

In this paper, I argue that atheists who think that the issue of God’s existence or non-existence is an important one; assign a greater than negligible probability to God’s existence; and are not in possession of a plausible argument for scepticism about the truth-directedness of uttering such prayers in their own cases, are under a prima facie obligation to pray to God that He stop them being atheists. (Tim Mawson)

What?!? What sort of “atheist” assigns a greater than negligible probability to the existence of a personal god who listens to individuals’ prayer requests and gives them what they ask for? No sort. There must be many church ministers – at least in the non-fundamentalist wings of the christian churches – who wouldn’t accept such a concept of “god”.

In any case, as Baggini points out, the atheist praying for belief would come smack bang up against the question “Which god, then?” It could be very dangerous to pick just one, from the many pantheons of gods that we even know about, and risk enraging all the others. (As in Homer’s Wager, Odin might be mightily pissed off if I were to pick Isis.) Don’t despair, all you other atheists. I think I can solve the problem for you.

If I were to “pray”, the only being I’d be talking to would be myself. Although I am a bit short of supernatural and universe- creating powers, I do actually have the power to make myself believe, unlike any of the better known gods. As the prayee, I therefore choose not to answer my prayer by making myself believe anything.

On the bright side, unlike a more traditional “jealous god”, I am not going to smite myself for failing to worship myself.