A response to an Agnostic Atheism Wager

Agnostic Atheism Wager:

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe when there is a significant lack of evidence of his/her existence.

Firstly, the premise:

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place.

The wording choice, “you should” is illogical. “Should” implies “ought,” a moral or rational obligation. “Ought” and “Should” appeal to a pre-existent law or principal that we (humans) agree upon. In common terms – we already agree on an idea of what’s a “good action” and what’s a “bad action.” And where might we get these crazy ideas? And why should I agree with this obligation? What is your standard for judging what should and what should not be done?

A pragmatist might say, “Because it benefits society.” In this particular statement they reason that you should because it makes, “a positive impact on those around you.” And why should I desire to make a positive impact on those around me? (Also, what defines a “positive impact?)

Common response: Because society benefits me.

This is Selfish reasoning.

The argument above commits logical suicide. You start by saying that we should be selfless… by being selfish. You would have more luck creating square circles.

Moving on: What factors need to be obtained for the world to be considered a “better place?” How well do selfish motives factor into, “love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance?” If I can make myself “happy” – why should I care about the rest of society?

Drowning

If I see you drowning in a roaring river, why ought I help you? I gain nothing from the situation. In fact – it is highly likely, I will also drown in the river if I attempt to help. But then again – you just can’t shake that nagging feeling that you must help, regardless of the danger. This is selflessness, not selfishness. There is a name for someone who denies this, “ought,” this “should do,” urge in light of their own well being: That man is a coward. But even here – we are automatically agreeing on an existing standard.

Another example: I am walking down the street. A man sticks out his leg and trips me. Why am I angry with the man if he laughs because he did it on purpose, yet I am not angry if he apologizes for an accident? Because the man (a total stranger) and I already assume that we both agree on a the same basic rules of what is “right” and what is “wrong.” If no such standard existed, I would have no right to be angry with the man whether he tripped me on purpose or by accident.

What standard do we base “ought/ought not” and “should/should not” on? Why do I expect the man to agree to the same standard unless the standard is universal?

Furthermore – as Atheism is most often based on Naturalism (the absence of Super Nature): What are the concepts of “love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance,” grounded upon? Are they not simply words describing responses to chemical reactions in a physical brain and nothing more? Thus – the decision to be compassionate is not grounded on rationality. Reasoned thinking demands rational grounds. Without a standard of agreement, how can love be defined? One man may love to give gifts to his children, another may love beating them senseless.

An even greater mistake is the inclusion of the word Tolerance. Tolerance cannot exist without disapproval (by the opinion of the majority) and/or disagreement. But today in society, someone who disagrees with another persons position is labeled, Intolerant. A classic example is how Christians are constantly labeled “intolerant” for their disapproval of homosexual behavior.

Webster’s defines tolerance, in part, as:

2 a : sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own b : the act of allowing something.

If we are to tolerate, then we must not object to the man who does not hold to, “love, kindness, compassion, and mercy or tolerance“. Nor can we ever label anyone intolerant, lest we become intolerant ourselves. In other words – according to the first tenants of this wager – our position in the face of both great good and grave evil must be only silence.

If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe when there is a significant lack of evidence of his/her existence.

First – a definition: Benevolence characterizes the true goodness of the mind and spirit, the unbiased kindness to do good. It confers thought and regard for the welfare of other people, and finds expression in sympathy and kindly gentleness and compassion, with charitableness and kindness. It is the expression of agape love (unconditional love).

-Wikipedia
“Unbiased kindness to do good” has no place in Selfishness.

“If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions.”

And by who’s standard will we be judged? Is not God, by definition, above our sense of justice? Would not God have had to create our concept of fairness? Not to mention – if the only reason I do selfless things is so that I can get other people to do selfless things to me – ultimately a selfish desire – would I not answer for this?

“…your ability to blindly believe when there is a significant lack of evidence of his/her existence.”

In a way, I actually agree with this section, though it obviously implies that people who do believe in God have no basis for for their beliefs. You hear this all the time on Television and in Movies: “You just need to have faith and believe!” But beliefs are based on reasoning – not nothing. It’s not how much you believe in something that justifies it’s validity, it’s how solid the item you build your reasoned beliefs (or faith) upon. One friend pointed out that, you can put logical faith in a chair (that it will hold your weight) but if it’s structurally weak – when you sit down on it, it collapses. You wouldn’t have been illogical – you would have just been wrong. The strength and power of a belief really stand on the object of your faith. The wager assumes that both the object of faith and the reasonable grounds of the believer’s faith to be non-existent.

Here, the wager maker clearly underestimates the extent of real theology and apologetics and places a mass stereotype upon religious believers. They should go read some articles at Stand To Reason [str.org].

Even if there weren’t large amounts of theological and philosophical grounding for the existence of God – “lack of evidence” is not a proof on non-existence. In fact, given that most Athiests hold to Naturalism and Scientism – they should know that the scientific method cannot prove a negative. Scientific methodology can only suggest what is most likely to occur, most often under specific circumstances.

Conclusion

The first half of the wager hedges it’s bet on the idea that all people agree to a certain standard by appealing that the should do one thing. However, Atheism, Scientism, and Naturalism fail to explain why a standard exists, what it is, why we should all agree upon it, or even how we could possibly judge what is write or wrong in any circumstance.

The wager instructs us (intolerance by definition) that we should (there’s that universal standard again) be loving, kind, compassionate, and merciful. It then self destructs by adding in the concept of Tolerance. Tolerance (by modern definition) destroys the entire premise of the wager as it commands an intolerant “ought” upon those whom you disagree with. In common speak this is, “Forcing your morals down my throat.”

The second half of the wager lays down a huge assumption followed by a condescending stereotype/misrepresentation. It starts by assuming that a hypothetical God would agree with our idea of justice (the mysterious guidelines that we all agree on…). It also assumes that God is Just (the universal concept again) and that our concepts of love, kindness, etc. are also just.

It then paints all religious believers with the broad stroke of naivety – claiming they have no ground for their beliefs (this belief itself – having no grounds). This is provably false if you have ever studied even 30 seconds of religious theology.

It further implodes as it non-scientifically states “lack of evidence” (once again – a statement ignorant of philosophy, theology, apologetics, etc.) – as a proof of non-existence. (Non-existence being something impossible to prove through science.)

It turns out, this isn’t a wager. This is the blind.

Blind

13 Responses to “A response to an Agnostic Atheism Wager”

  1. Thinking Ape Says:

    You sound like a politician, SMA’s and all. You obviously don’t bother with any ethical philosophy outside of your own paradigm or engage with contemporary moral evolutionary theory. Instead of criticizing the conclusion, criticize the premises.

    But I suppose that is why you left a two line response on the atheist-agnostic blog and then felt it necessary to bring your argument over here.

    Cheers and may the gods bless you.

  2. Liz Says:

    ” If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe when there is a significant lack of evidence of his/her existence.”

    How convenient that at the time of their deaths, atheists are confident that the God they didn’t believe existed will undoubtedly judge them in the manner they saw fit in their lifetime of denial. They state in the affirmative, “You will be judged on your actions.” However, when one considers that humans consistently manage to fall short of even our own weak standards of decency and morality, I wonder that there would be any comfort at all in being judged by our actions.

  3. Matt Turkington Says:

    Well, first, that “two line response” is what we here in the blogging community call a “trackback.” WordPress automatically adds it in when someone links to your blog, including the first few lines of their post.

    Second, congratulations on the ad hominem! You seemed like a pretty smart guy, so I was expecting it to take a little longer before you abandoned reason altogether and started bashing those who disagree with you. Really, top notch example of solid logic. You’ve convinced me! So, if I may redirect your argument back at you:
    Instead of criticizing the person, criticize the premises.

  4. whatthecrap? Says:

    Thinking Ape-
    I have to say, I am somewhat less than impressed with your response.

    You begin your statement with a prominent Ad Hominem attack. (replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to the person making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim.) I would expect you to know this considering you are a frequent contributor to a blog designed around philosophical discussion. Perhaps this one just slipped through the cracks?

    At least – I have to assume it’s an attack, given that on average – no-one likes politicians. However – I will give you the benefit of the doubt here (though I feel you haven’t earned it.) and concede the possibility that you meant it as a compliment towards my speaking and writing ability. In this regard – thanks!

    Unfortunately, the Ad Hominem doesn’t end here.

    “You obviously don’t bother with any ethical philosophy outside of your own paradigm or engage with contemporary moral evolutionary theory.”

    The next line of your statement seems to impugn my method of philosophy. You imply that either I don’t philosophize outside my own paradigm, or that if I do – I do it unethically. Well, I admit to being highly sarcastic on occasion… However, I find it unlikely said sarcasm would warrant an inditement from the Ethical Philosophy Coalition – if it existed. (Speaking of sarcasm: “Cheers and may the gods bless you.” Unethical Philosophizing?) Either way, I am not sure how you concluded your assumptions about my philosophic methodology to be “obvious.” Have we met? Are you a WhatTheCrap regular? Clairvoyant? A prognosticator? (Of course, as you are likely a Naturalist, you couldn’t be. Well, technically – you could be, but you wouldn’t believe it yourself.)

    Where are you drawing these conclusions?

    And how do you know that I “don’t bother” to “engage with contemporary moral evolutionary theory?” Perhaps I have already discussed the theory at length, found it to be irrational or inadequate, and rejected it on logical grounds. Perhaps I have determined that there is an equal or greater body of evidence sufficient to debunk evolutionary theory.

    Furthermore – don’t patronize me about my so-called non-engagement. You failed to engage even one aspect of my argument above. My article discusses the rational grounding of “An Agnostic Atheism Wager”. You have abandoned philosophic reasoning, addressing neither my conclusion or premise, instead resorting to an irrelevant “boot-in-the-junk” personal attack. A case could be made, according to Netiquette Guidlines, that your response is borderline “Forum Troll.”

    Also – your comment above fails to fall within your own guidelines. Your site’s About section states clearly:

    “This blog attempts to critically, but respectfully, address issues with these religious ideologies, especially Christianity.”.

    Once again, your response failed to address any point whatsoever, it was clearly disrespectful, and addressed no issues beyond your own ignorant assumptions about my character and motives.

    Oh, and by the way, the “two line response” is an automatic comment created by WordPress called a Trackback. But I guess if you are willing to assume one thing, why not everything?

    In light of the many assumptions you have made in your comment, it only seems fair that I be allowed one…
    As the great philosopher Solo once said,

    “I must have hit her pretty close to the mark to get her all riled up like that, huh, kid??”
    -Han Solo

  5. Liz Says:

    Thinking Ape…your critics have spoken. Prove your good intentions and enter the dialogue! If I may ask one question: How could you possibly assert that What the Crap attacked the conclusion, and not the premise? The entire post sytematically examined every premise of your atheistic wager, breaking down the definitions and assumptions behind your terms. How is this not the premise of your argument? By way of a quick refresher:

    prem·ise: Logic: a proposition supporting or helping to support a conclusion; a proposition upon which an argument is based or from which a conclusion is drawn;
    One of the propositions in a deductive argument;
    Either the major or the minor proposition of a syllogism, from which the conclusion is drawn; a statement that is assumed to be true and from which a conclusion can be drawn;
    Law: a. a basis, stated or assumed, on which reasoning proceeds.
    b. an earlier statement in a document.

  6. Dave2 Says:

    whatthecrap,

    I think you’re making a couple of assumptions, and I’d like to see them defended. You seem to assume that there’s some conflict between naturalism and atheism, on the one hand, and objective morality, on the other. And you seem to assume that selfishness is justified by default, and that altruism requires special justification. Neither one of these assumptions is self-evidently true, and as far as I can tell, you don’t try to provide any support for them. So (if I’m right that you are making these assumptions) I’d like to know why you think they are true.

    Also I suspect that you think that God serves as the foundation for objective morality. So I’m curious as to how you respond to the Euthyphro dilemma and the related cluster of problems for God-based metaethics. Do you think God makes commands for no reasons at all, so that morality is fundamentally arbitrary and God no longer counts as a rational being? Do you think that God has good reasons backing up his commands, and if so, then do you think they count as good reasons because God declared them to be good reasons, or instead that they count as good reasons independently of God’s declarations? Do you think that, if God declared animal torture to be morally okay, it would therefore actually become morally okay? What reasons do we have to follow the rules laid down by God? Is it that God is more powerful than us, that he is our creator, that there are sanctions in the afterlife, etc.? Each of those reasons is a somewhat unseemly motive for moral behavior, and seems to presuppose an independent standard of reasons. And why does God count as good? Is it simply because he declared himself to be good? If so, why don’t schmucks like me get to declare ourselves good? Is it because God has some legitimate commanding authority we don’t have? If so, why does God count as having that authority? And so on.

    Don’t get me wrong. Providing an ultimate foundation for morality and rationality is, I think, very difficult. It’s just that I don’t think theism helps out with the problem.

  7. agnosticatheist Says:

    Thanks for the response. As soon as I have some time, I’ll take a read and respond.

    aA

  8. A Carnival on Holy Books: To Read or Not To Read « de-conversion Says:

    […] The post also received a quick acknowledgement on several blogs including lematou’s blog entry entitled “We, we (that means ‘yes’ in French),” Cyn’s Ungodly Funnies, innowhere’s “the holy book“ and Scavella’s Blogsphere. whatthecrap also used the opportunity to give a response to the Agnostic Atheism Wager. […]

  9. Benjamin Durk-A-Durrr Hanes Says:

    I was going to post very similar questions to what Dave2 posted. Namely the fact that if the concept of God is the only thing behind morals/ethics, it still doesn’t answer where they came from.

    [i]”Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place.”[/i]
    On the whole, I agree with you WTC. In a relative world, there is nothing to back up this statement. One could say the opposite and it wouldn’t make any difference: [i]“Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with [b]hate, meanness, indifference, cruelty and intolerance[/b] while trying to make the world a [b]worse[/b] place.”[/i] : )

    If you believe in God, then God stated absolutes and rules that you are to live by and you are to obey them. “Thou shalt not…”. However, you have [b]hinged everything on this concept of God[/b]. If there isn’t any reason to love/hate without God, then there isn’t any reason to love/hate with God EXCEPT for the reason that he commands it. If God commanded that we “hate your neighbor”, it would be the same thing. [b]The truth of it all is there is nothing ‘behind’ this God. There still is no absolute reason to love or hate your fellow man, only relative reasons.[/b]

    Currently I feel that there are no absolute reasons to love or hate, only relative reasons. To stamp God behind it all as the absolute reason for ethics/morals just pushes the question back further, but does not answer it. God is a very convenient cap for many of the hard questions. The question here is: Are ethics/morals absolute/universal or are they relative?

  10. Benjamin Durk-A-Durrr Hanes Says:

    Recently I have noticed that the dialog is almost exactly the same concerning the creation of the universe. Here is a poor example of what I mean:

    How was the universe/everything created?
    Deist: God created it.
    Atheist: Actually attempting to answer the question.

    How were morals/ethics created?
    Deist: God created it.
    Atheist: Actually attempting to answer the question.

    Deists have an answer. Atheists don’t, or their attempts seem to stretch out to be as ridiculous as deists or take just as much ‘faith’.

    These are BIG questions that don’t have simple answers. If I asked, “Then what created God?” The answer is “He always was”. If that is the answer, then on the same lines couldn’t an atheist say the universe always was? It wouldn’t be any more ridiculous.

    It was kind of a silly rant but in general my point is that the concept of God seems to be a cap when it comes to philosophical debate. It is stamped as a closing point or end to questions that have more complex answers. But essentially, the “God cap” hasn’t answered the question. For example; Why are we to love etc.? Deist Answer: God. But WHY would God tell us to love etc?… Ahhhh, now we see. ; ) The question wasn’t answered even with God in the picture.

    I believe you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place… for your own sake because your life will be better. It is a relative reason. This leads to the big question; Is Altruism possible?

  11. James Says:

    Your counter to the wager is weak.

    Luckily you glossed over the weakness with nice writing.

    Too bad it’s still weak.

    Everyone can see through your glossy cover. Nice try, though.

  12. Glen Says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager

    Pardon my digression. The application made by Mr Gambit’s original theory, has become lost in the context of his original notes (incomplete; non-complete as a treatise in defense of Christianity) and further within these comments, my own included, the statement made @ “RationalWiki FAQ for the Newly Deconverted” – http://www.rationalwiki.com/wiki/index.php/RationalWiki_Atheism_FAQ_for_the_Newly_Deconverted

    For anyone unfamiliar with De-Conversion, please refer to http://de-conversion.com/ and in response to whatthecrap.com, thank you expanding on this most interesting of subjects.

    “I will not be threatened by a walking meat loaf!” – David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London 1981)

  13. Devo Says:

    Yeah i dont believe in God because I dont believe in fairy tales.


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