Tales of Phobodisda.
Although she is the only real god, Phobodisda doesn't care about being
worshipped, and in fact is happy enough to reward the worshipers of false
gods. Phobodisda even rewards those who vehemently deny Phobodisda's own
existence, as long as they help people and are not mean to anyone. The
one thing that really pisses Phobodisda off is people who believe things
out of fear. If you believe in some deity because somebody says
that deity punishes unbelievers with eternal torment, then Phobodisda condemns
you to eternal torment. She says it's only fair.
Given that Phobodisda is just as logically possible as any other god, and more logically possible than some, what are we to make of "best bet" arguments such as those offered by William James and Blaise Pascal?
A best bet argument says that, given it is logically possible that some god exist who will infinitely reward you merely for believing in him (or her) but will infinitely punish you for merely not believing in him (or her), believing gives you a small chance of infinite pleasure for no risk while not believing gives you a small chance of infinite pain with no benefits, so it's better to believe.
Several objections can be made to this argument. (Apart from the fact that it doesn't give us any rational reason to think that any god actually exists.)
1. It seems highly unlikely that believing in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim god
will satisfy the wager. That god is supposed to be perfectly good, and thus would be expected to reward good people, whether they believed in him or not, and punish bad people, whether they believed in him or not. Rewarding believers and punishing unbelievers would be psychopathic, and thus hardly fitting for a perfectly good being.
2. I don't know of anyone who believes in a god who only wants people to believe in him or her. All the supposed gods I've heard about want other things as well. So while the argument might work for some god who only wants belief, (call her Merebeli), it won't necessarily work for any god that actually wants us to do anything, such as persecute harmless and innocent non-believers, or get up early on Sundays. And since a guaranteed lie-in on a Sunday morning is worth much, much more than a merely logical chance of infinite pleasure, and listening to a boring sermon is much worse than a merely logical chance of infinite pain, most, if not all, of the gods people actually believe in actually lose the bet.
3. Gods, by their very nature, fundementally violate the laws of physics. This means we have good reason to think that the chance of a god existing isn't just infinitely small, it's actually zero. Zero times infinity is zero, so the value of both sides of the bet is actually zero. Zero chance of infinite torment is exactly the same as zero chance of infinite pleasure.
4. If the existence or nonexistence of gods is intellectually undecidable, then we have no rational reason to prefer one religious tradition over another, and in fact no rational reason to bother with religious traditions at all. All that James's reasoning compels us to deal with is the existence or nonexistence of logically possible gods. Even if we assume that James's god is logically possible, we have to admit that infinitely many and infinitely variously different other gods are logically possible. Therefore, making the bet gives us an infinititely small chance of picking the right god, which means an infinitely large chance of picking the wrong god. Oh crap!
Finally, 5, Phobodisda is just as logically possible as the god James and Pascal want you to believe in. Phobodisda is an interesting god. If she exists, she is the only god, and she is such that she infinitely despises people who choose their beliefs mainly on the basis of the costs and benefits they would incur if those beliefs turned out to be true. Phobodisda punishes such people with infinite torment, and similarly punishes malicious people, but she rewards everyone else with infinite pleasure. If you believe in Phobodisda, you get infinite pleasure. If you are an atheist or an agnostic who isn't malicious, you also get infinite pleasure. If you believe in some other god or gods for almost any reason, and are not malicious to anyone, you also get the infinite pleasure. In fact, the only way to avoid infinite pleasure (apart from being malicious), is to believe in some god because you think your odds of making out well are better that way. If Phobodisda exists, believing in some god simply because you think not doing so will lose you a chance at gaining a vital good is an absolutely guaranteed route to infinite and eternal torment. He he he. Given the logical possibility that Phobodisda exists, we have more reason to disbelieve in the god James and Pascal want you to believe in than we do to believe in him.
Given all of these objections, is the "best bet" argument logically sound?
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