In the last installment I discussed how theism offers purpose and ultimate meaning to human existence whereas atheism does not. I think another benefit of theism is insurance.
Think about it, why are we required by law to maintain car insurance? The reason is this: no matter how well a person drives or how infrequently a person drives, there is still a chance that he or she can get into an accident. I’m sure that even if people weren’t required to do so by law, most people who can afford it would get some kind of insurance because in the event of an accident, you’d rather have insurance than not. The gamble is that you will pay less to the insurance company than you’d pay to a victim if an accident happened.
Blaise Pascal, the 17th Century mathematician and philosopher, applied the same cost-benefit analysis to whether one should be a theist or an atheist in what has been known as “Pascal’s Wager.” Pascal’s wager begins from the assumption that logical arguments for and against belief in God are even. In such a case, Pascal thought that practical reasons should lead someone to believe in God because they have the most to gain. Pascal reasons that if I believe that God exists and it turns out that He does, then I have gained heaven at the small sacrifice of foregoing the pleasures of sin during my earthly life. If I believe and it turns out that God does not exist, then I gain nothing and have suffered the life-time loss of the pleasures of sin I gave up. On the other hand, if I do not believe and it turns out that God does, in fact, exist, then I have gained the pleasures of sin during my life at the expense of losing eternal life. If I do not believe and it turns out that there is no God, then I have a life-time of pleasure.
I think if people apply the same type of practical approach to belief in God that they do in the everyday decisions that they make, belief in God makes sense. Think about it, if there is an equally valid chance that my wife did or did not cook dinner, I might decide to buy dinner on my way home because even if she did cook, I can eat the food I bought at a later time. However, if she didn’t cook and I don’t bring anything home, I’ll still be hungry when I get home and I won’t have anything to eat at a later time. A pocket full of the money I didn’t spend because if I don’t buy food does not do me any good. The prudent choice is often the one that results in the most gain.
One obvious question to consider is “Which God should one choose?” This is a valid question because many mutually exclusive Gods have been claimed to exist such that a sincere person could pick the wrong religion and still suffer in eternity. I personally believe in God because I think it’s true based in part on compelling and scientifically supported arguments like the Kalam cosmological argument (as defended by Dr. William Lane Craig) and philosophical arguments like Thomas Aquinas’ “unmoved mover.” These arguments and others like them establish attributes of God that are incompatible with and thus eliminate from consideration most major religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism and Deism. The only religions consistent with the attributes of God that result from these arguments are monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I believe that the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is compelling enough to choose Christianity over Judaism, Islam and any other monotheistic religions.
Therefore, one could come to the reasonable conclusion, as Pascal did, that the choices come down to Christianity or Atheism. To such a person, Pascal’s wager is a valid consideration for choosing Christianity. Thus, one should believe in God at the very least because they’d rather be covered in the case that He exists than not.
Although I’m sure God would likely be able to tell if a person only became a Christian just to “play it safe,” I believe that a person will ultimately be judged not on the superficial reasons by which they initially became a Christian, but on whether or not they believed it in the end. The decision to become a Christian because it makes practical sense can be the first step toward truly becoming a Christian because you sincerely believe in it.
My only hope for this post is that people actually take the time to consider becoming a Christian. I will update this post with links to some of the abovementioned arguments that I think are helpful in making that decision.