Ask an Atheist: Why don’t atheists believe in God?

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 Why don’t atheists believe in God?

SPO_House-ad_Ask-an-atheist_0425133Which god did you have in mind?  The framing of the question contrasts the different view the believer tends to have compared to how an atheist or agnostic approaches the subject. What the questioner may mean is “Why don’t atheists believe in the God I believe in?” In which case I might reply, “Possibly for the same reason most of the people on the planet don’t believe in the God you believe in.”

As I noted in my recent posting on Freedom of Conscience, the demographics confirm that whatever god a believer may adhere to, most of the people on Earth who have a religious faith do not believe in that particular one (they embrace different god concepts). Given that the poling also confirms that most people who do believe in gods live in societies where their views are in a local majority, it is ever so easy for them to imagine that the only people who believe differently from the way they do are some inconsequential minority.

The contrast shows up in the venerable Pascal’s Wager approach to belief, fielded by the brilliant French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal in the 17th century: since the price of unbelief is terrible if you are wrong about God’s existence, and no skin off your nose if you believed but turned out to have been right about the nonexistence of God after all (poof, all gone, once you die), why not just embrace belief as a calculated risk?

Pascal lived in very-Catholic France, where Protestant Hugenots were actively persecuted, so he was envisaging the potential believer stepping up to only one God Casino, with his single chip available for only one bet on his eternal soul, and invited to step inside to plop his vital chip down at the only table available, that Catholic redemption game.

But the reality is very different.  The potential believer still has only one philosophical chip to play, but faces a veritable Las Vegas strip of religious casinos: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, Sikh, and on and on.  And many of the casinos have way more than one table inside (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox etc at the Christian mega-casino), all of them blaring out calls to play at their table–and remember, you only get one bet so only one of the tables can get your chip.

What a bewildering set of options everyone has, make no never mind about whether you’re an atheist. Why doesn’t the Christian believe in God — if by God you mean Brahma?  Why doesn’t the Muslim believe in God — if by God you mean the Jesus of the Book of Mormon? All the atheist has to do is consult the various apologetic literatures of the competing casinos (sorry, churches and temples) and it becomes increasingly less tenable to accept the idea that any of these games are any more plausible than any of the others.

They’re all rigged, like Three Card Monte, and the atheist is just a little more open about wondering what happened to the target card you never get to see.


About Jim Downard

Jim Downard is a Spokane native (with a sojourn in Southern California back in the early 1960s) who was raised in a secular family, so says had no personal faith to lose.

He's always been a history and science buff (getting a bachelor's in the former area at what was then Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s).

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One comment

  1. I like your analogy, Jim.

    With over 10,000 gods and goddesses that people have believed in, worshipped, prayed to, killed for, and died for — and those are just the deities we KNOW the names of — the casino analogy works well, and reminds me of why I don’t gamble.

    I’d rather keep my hard-earned cash (chip) and enjoy it in the here-and-now (even if to a theist that only means I have Sundays free and waste no time on my knees.) Sure, I could “bet” that one particular deity of those 10,000+ could be my “jackpot,” but, as Ambrose Bierce said, the lottery is “a tax on people who are bad at math.”

    I have a far better chance of getting into a car accident, a plane accident, or struck by lightning, than to win Powerball or the big jackpot at the Coeur d’Alene Casino.


    A 2007 Pew Religious Landscape reports that about 84% of American adults affiliate with some religion (16% are unaffiliated with any particular faith.)
    While faith in and affiliation with religion is dropping dramatically, competition in the religious market has actually increased.

    Of course, 1/3 of adults in the United States also think WINNING A LOTTERY is the only way to become financially secure in life. I guess that says it all.

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