British atheists recently put together some money and purchased bus ads around their country proclaiming, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Christians promptly responded with counter-ads of their own.
Philosopher Nigel Warburton offers his perspective on the competing ad campaigns, reflecting on them via David Hume and Blaise Pascal:
David Hume made probably the best case for the improbability of God in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779), which ripped into evidence-based attempts to prove the Christian deity’s existence. Look around the world, Hume said. What supports the idea that a benevolent, omniscient, omnipotent designer made it all? Just as likely that it was created by a team of lesser gods, or a decrepit god who subsequently died, or impersonal natural processes. Proportion your belief to the evidence and it is at least as probable that one of these is true as that a unique all-powerful creator exists. And the existence of evil tips the balance. Free will doesn’t explain illness, famine, earthquakes. At most, it points to an impersonal and indifferent world-maker.
And yet Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) had already pointed out that a rational gambler wouldn’t stake everything on hell not existing—because it’s reasonable to worry about even the outside chance of eternal torment. Back on the buses, Christians have already responded with various “God definitely exists” counter-campaigns. But if they want to avoid misleading advertising—and scare a few cynics into faith on the way—they might do better with “There might be a God. Start worrying and prepare for the Day of Judgement, just in case.”
I think that Warburton has, in his advice to the religious side, hit upon the true nature of what people tend to mean when they say that they have “faith” and believe that God exists. It is not really an inner confidence that God exists, but a hope. The degree of probability that God exists is not what matters. It may be high (60%) or low (4%). What matters is that they don’t want to go to hell, and so they buy a religious LOTTERY TICKET (just in case).
You can’t win if you don’t play.