The Instigator
Fenrir
Pro (for)
Losing
10 Points
The Contender
tgoloubentsev
Con (against)
Winning
24 Points

The Logic of Religion--Belief in an After-life

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/20/2008 Category: Religion
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 1,302 times Debate No: 2024
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (10)
Votes (10)

 

Fenrir

Pro

This is somewhat of an unorthodox approach to supporting religion, but I thought it might be kind of fun.

The idea I am proposing is pretty simple--that it is logically a better idea to believe in some sort of after-life than not. We'll look at this with two absolutes: you believe in an after-life or you don't, and there is or isn't one. While there is certainly the possibility that one is speculative or unsure about the existance of an afterlife, it will not be relevant to this debate (which I will explain in greater detail shortly).

If one does not believe in an afterlife and, in fact, there isn't one, they will never have the satisfaction of knowing they were correct, because if they reach the point at which they find out there is no afterlife, they will already be dead. Conversely, if it turns out they were wrong, they will be aware of their incorrect belief.

Now, if you do believe in some afterlife, you will never know if you were wrong--because if it turns out you don't "live" again after dying, you will never be around to know. The only possible result of discovery is that you find out you were, at least to a degree, correct (as there are beliefs is different types of after-lives). With regard to speculation about an after-life, it is essentially the same as believing in one, for the purpose that you will not be "wrong" as you have remained neutral in belief concerning this.

In short, it is better to believe in some sort of after-life because you essentially cannot be proven wrong, while not believing in an after-life--that is, believing that there is not one--will result in you only being wrong.
tgoloubentsev

Con

Thanks for introducing the interesting topic for this debate, I find it a good debate to serve as an inaugural for me.

Your position is really similar to Pascal's Wager, which is a believe that he held that it would be better to bet on the existence of a deity than to deny one. His logic was that if the deity existed, and you denied him, that you essentially denied yourself of an eternal afterlife of happiness. If you do wager that a deity exists, you have eternal salvation and risk nothing during the life on Earth, and hence it would always be best to argue for the existence of a deity than rejecting it.

There are several logical fallacies with this proposition:

First, I'd argue that the assumption you ought to follow a religious edict to attain salvation is ridiculous - blindly believing a secular construct such as a church doesn't lead to salvation, but rather living by the principles is what does. In other words, by attending mass you're no better a Catholic than an atheist - it's the implementation of Christ's beliefs into your life that will earn you the privilege of salvation. The implication is that believe is an insufficient means at achieving the infinite benefit you describe, and thus the wager fails.

Second, I'd argue that the Atheist's Wager is more appealing at a utilitarian scale. It contends that living as a good person in the secular would please a deity if he does, indeed, exists. And if he doesn't exists, you've increased the net utils within a society anyways, and thus are a morally "good" individual. From the consequentialist perspective, it doesn't matter whether you believe in a god or don't, it's the actions that will speak for themselves.

Furthermore, I'd argue that a deity would prefer an individual following the Atheist's Wager over Pascal's Wager. The concept in modern monotheistic structures is the concept of choice - individuals are bestowed with the liberty to make a choice to be either morally porous or morally good. Pascal's wager seems to imply that it is better to coerce individuals into accepting a religious structure and religion in the hope of them becoming believers, but I'm sure that a god would be more benevolent to a person who lived morally than a person who did it simply to do it. The implication is simple: I am extremely skeptical that a god is capable of forgiving a murderer and not a moral unbeliever.

Third, I'd say that Pascal's Wager is logically unappealing because it functions under the model that it is true because it cannot be proven untrue. It's only justification is that it would be comparatively better to believe than to not believe, but that is blatantly not the case. There are multiple examples:
Example A: The coercion of American Indian (the new politically correct term.. go figure) tribes into Christianity by the British and the French, and the coerced "Christianification" of Native African tribes has led to a repression of their social systems and values, which I'd argue is the ultimate form of subjugation and thus that moral imperialism or ethnocentrism is morally repulsive. Forcing non believers to adopt a system of belief under the agenda of "helping" them achieve eternal salvation disproportionately rejects minority rights, which I'd argue is also unjustified.
Example B: Religious edicts are often extraneous and an inconvenience to individuals, which would mean sacrificing utils (measures of happiness). Insofar as Pascal's Wager contends that it maximizes utils and instead restricts and rejects utils, it's antithetical to it's own purpose and must be rejected.

Finally, and perhaps the most blunt, I'd argue that Pascal's Wager leads to eternal damnation. I doubt eternal felicity can be won as a result of a coldly calculated, extremely cynical wager. If the deity is vengeful or ascribes to a merit-based framework, I'd say that the god would rather punish than reward the immoral means and attempt to secure his trust.

Pascal's Wager ought to be rejected and the Atheist's Wager is comparatively more appealing.

*Note: I'm not prompting everyone that is religious to deny religion, nor am I condemning the religious at all. The purpose of this debate is to analyze whether trivializing faith as promoted by Pascal's Wager is worth it or not. In other words, the positions presented by the negation are neither representative nor meant to represent the author, and in no way are meant to be offensive to anyone. Please view this debate from a logical perspective and analyze it by quality, not bias.
Debate Round No. 1
Fenrir

Pro

Haha, I must say, it's an unhealthy boost to my ego to realize that some idea I conceived when I was probably about ten years of age is a published idea by a philosopher.

Anyway, enough marvelling about how awesome I am, and on to the debate. I will accept the fact that simply believing in a deity would most likely not be enough to gain whatever eternal paradise might be promised you, or however you want to say it. My argument, however, dealt more with the basic satisfaction of being right or wrong, regardless of how things played out after that, and also eliminating much of the moral aspect of this argument. Thus, I can technically say that you did not specifically address the exact point I made. I'm not going to, however, because that would pretty much be a really obnoxious tactic to get out of an obviously potentially interesting debate. So, I'll augment my argument to be more than just dealing with a small bit of personal satisfaction:

It is better to live in such a way that will ensure (or, at least, make likely) happiness in an afterlife than to not, because of not believing in one, live morally.

So, yes, it is probably true that as long as you do live morally and virtuously but do not believe in a deity you will be, more or less, as well as an otherwise similar person who did beleive in a deity, but this would also be covered with my argument, I believe.

And while the argument I posed would make it seem like the logical choice would be to believe, it does not necessitate that one do so, and thus there is not need to consider coersion. True, it is always a possibility, but this is because people tend to have the habit of trying to impose their beliefs upon others, especially when dealing with religion and salvation, and is not so much about what the logical choice would be.

With regard to the utilitarianist aspect of this, I still think the argument is sound. Let's assume that that some--or, for the sake of argument, even all--religious moral codes that lead to eternal salvation are counterproductive to one's earthly happiness. I believe this would still not negate the logic in following it. Assuming that the end result would involve more happiness than what was sacrificed to obtain it, utilitarianism still defends working for an afterlife regardless of sacrifices. Indeed, one must agree that just because excerise may cause discomfort, fatigue, and muscular soreness does not mean that it is intrinsically bad, because in the long run its benefits of health outway its cost of temporary discomfort.

Now, let's assume that one causes, because of faith, an increase in unhappiness without the ultimate reward of an after-life--that is, their sacrifice was in vain. My rebuttal would be a callous "so what?" It may seem cruel, but if there is nothing more to this life, what does it matter what pain we cause? If our existence is limited to our life on earth, with nothing proceding, then our significance is nullified. If there is no reason for us, and there is no greater purpose, then one could contend that all is pointless besides working for our own pleasure to enjoy our finite existence, and if we take joy in the belief that there will be something greater for us, then we should do that.

Lastly, I do not think living virtuously in order to obtain happiness is a bad thing. I will concede it may be better to do the right thing because it is right, and not because it will benefit you. However, I do not think it fair that one should be punised for not have the purest of motives. Let's say two boys each help an old lady cross the street. One boy does it because it is the right thing to do; the other does it because he enjoys the feeling of altruism, and knows he will be happier for helping the lady. Would we say it is just to reward the first boy and punish the second? I certainly doubt it.
tgoloubentsev

Con

In reference to the original question that you sought to debate, the argument about how Pascal's Wager (or your wager to believe in an afterlife) is logically inconsistent as a proposition answers it directly. Because you cannot prove that there is an afterlife or that it is a good afterlife (one that is desirable to enter), you cannot offer it as a weighing mechanism in terms of how we ought to live our lives in the present.

However, lets go down the other arguments;

I'd argue that there is a distinct alternative to using Pascal's Wager (the Atheist's Wager) which secures the same benefits as believing in an afterlife, and none of the harms (inconveniences to secular order). Assuming that religious edicts are usually restrictive, accepting your logic still promotes some degree of inconvenience, whereas by rejecting religious edicts and living a pure life would still lead you into the afterlife (a good Samaritan is always welcome, I suppose), and worst case scenario - you'll be remembered and revered for your altruistic contribution to the world. Thus, preferring the Atheist's Wager over belief in an afterlife or Pascal's Wager outweights in terms of benefits, as it reduces inconveniences.
This covers the utilitarianist argument, because rejecting your model is comparatively better on a utilitarian scale than accepting it.
Furthermore, the desirability of an afterlife comes into play here as well - there is no way to ensure that those sacrifices in the secular world are worth it at all! In other words, your current model assumes the chances of 50/50 (there either is an afterlife or is not), but it's more like 45%-55% once you factor in the probability of an undesirable afterlife. From a mathematical perspective, the probability of success is marginalized and the risk ought to be avoided.
But even if we decide to gamble with these marginally acceptable chances, I'd argue that a deity would scorn us for gambling on his existence. After all, finding a faith is supposed to be one of the most sacred of all rites of passage that an individual goes through during his stay on Earth - trivializing that is callous and disgraceful.

Onto the "so what" response, I'd say that a utilitarianist framework would say that the model under which you're operating (the Wager) is abusive because it decreases utils (measures of happiness) without a reason. Insofar as there is no marginal gain in the sacrifices, the sacrifices ought to be abolished - it is sadistic to enforce policies that harm individual liberties without a reason (from almost any moral framework: deontological, consequentialist, utilitarian, transcendentalist, etc).

Onto "altruism", I say that the rebuttal is nonresponsive; my argument was that gambling on the existence of a god was wrong, not that altruism ought not be punished because of the alternative motive it represents.

The arguments on coercion in an empirical setting (the American Indian and African examples) illustrate the harms of saying that "you ought to believe" as a utilitarian maxim, by saying that the harms such as ethnocentrism and cultural repression. These provide reasons why, aside from a logical perspective, why the Wager should be rejected.

In comparison to the Atheist's Wager - Pascal's Wager and your analysis ought to be rejected because the Atheist's Wager provides a more utilitarian alternative.
Debate Round No. 2
Fenrir

Pro

Fenrir forfeited this round.
tgoloubentsev

Con

Seeing as my opponent failed to respond, I thought I'd clarify the debate:

First and foremost, you ought to consider the argument regarding the illogicality of Pascal's Wager (or more directly, Fenrir's Wager). The argument is illogical because it makes an infinite presuppositions, and then expects everything to weigh into its favor. The problem with this is there are too many unknowns for a reasonable person to accept Pascal's or Fenrir's Wager - what if the god or the afterlife is undesirable? What if there is no after life? With these uncertainties, the crux of Pascal's and Fenrir's argument is refuted: it's not a fifty-fifty percent chance of a good and bad ending. It's tilted towards the bad.
That's the first reason why it's a bad idea to believe in an after life or in a "god".

The second reason is the alternative that I presented in my position called "the Atheist's Wager". It proposes that insteaqd of proactively trying to gain admission into an afterlife or God's good graces, we should simply live moral lives on Earth, which secures the same benefits and none of the inconveniences required with religious practices or rituals. In other words, the Atheist's Wager outperforms the Pascal's Wager and Fenrir's Wager, because with no cost you achieve in the same, eternal, gain.

The third reason is that Fenrir's justification for taking the risk in gambling is callous and immoral in and of itself. The argument that a god would not like it at all if people started to brutally rationalize his existence instead of taking in the message and believing. The risks of believing are increased, because then you have angered the gods (or the God of your choice), and have the risk of being punished. The atheist's wager avoids this by not trivializing his (or its, or whatever) existence.

Finally, the last consideration in the debate ought to be the empirical costs of using this wager. By probability, secular institutions would abuse Pascal's Wager and manipulate it for the purpose of using its religious authority for its own end. This abuse has empirically resulted in oppression, repression, and violence (as seen with the American Indians and Africans). The Atheist's Wager avoids this as an alternative, because it doesn't amplify state power with religious authority, and moreover because it doesn't alienate people on a basis of belief or creed.
Furthermore, even if we say that these empirical costs are acceptable, I'd argue that they're inhumane; remember the argument that using this maxim allows repressive conditions, and doesn't even guarentee a positive result - so adopting this maxim (the Wager) is immoral using a consequentialist (looking at the consequences of an action) and utilitarian (the ends justify the means) paradigm.

For these reasons, it's better to not accept the "logic of religion" and gamble on the belief of an afterlife. It's much better to just live a moral life, sit back, and help the fellow man without concerning yourself in this rhetoric. Negate.
Debate Round No. 3
10 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Undeniable-Love 9 years ago
Undeniable-Love
Pascal's Wager is pointless, unless someone can prove otherwise.

If there is a being that is capable of creating the earth and man, along with every animal, insect, and plant, and it would be He(r) who instigated an afterlife, then you can safely assume(S)He would be intelligent enough to realize you were 'believing' in that being just to be accepted into His/Her realm. Once that happens, you can say goodbye to any chance of being allowed in.

Then, assuming there isn't a greater being, it would be irrelevant to believe in an afterlife because you would go there anyway. What could possibly stop you?
Posted by Ozymandias 9 years ago
Ozymandias
True, if you could eliminate all positions except for Christianity and Atheism, the wager would have one fewer problem-- but it still, in my mind, would be not valid, because it assumes that belief is a conscious decision, rather than a reaction to the arguments presented-- something that is not true-- at least not for me. I can't choose to believe something that I do not think is true, no matter how much I would like to believe it. If I could, I would force myself to believe that Bush is no longer president and that the food I eat on my college student's budget actually tastes like a nice, juicy steak.

I can't do this, nor can I choose to believe in God if the evidence does not convince me. The only other way the wager works is if you can pretend to believe, and that that will fool God-- but God is supposed to be omniscient, so you obviously cannot fool him.

That, and I feel that the only reason to believe something is if you have evidence to believe it's true, but that could be an entire debate in and of itself.

Aaaanyawy, all that aside, I don't see how you can eliminate all choices but Christianity and Atheism, so that's all besides the point.
Posted by thinkingduck 9 years ago
thinkingduck
The dichotomy in Pascal's Wager is not necessarily false. If you could prove that salvation is achieved by many paths, then it would be false. However, no one has any proof of fate after death. So Pascal's Wager is a very useful tool if in your contemplations you have reasonably eliminated choices other than Christianity and atheism.
Posted by mmadderom 9 years ago
mmadderom
No, Ozymandias, I assume nothing other than whether I am right or wrong and the consequences of such. Don't over analyze.
Posted by Undeniable-Love 9 years ago
Undeniable-Love
Exactly. What about Hinduism, Paganism, Satanism, Bhuddism, Demonism, Jhuddism, Protestant, Catholicism, blah blah blah

They all describe an afterlife. Well, demonism, I'm not so sure about, and Satanism actually speculates the existence of heaven and hell, but the others do. Each one is somewhat the same. (Protestant and catholic are virtually identical while catholicism and paganism are quite different)

Alright, I'm REALLY tired and am not sure where I'm going with that, or if I went anywhere with that, but anyone who wants to draw their own conclusions from that are perfectly welcome to it.
Posted by Ozymandias 9 years ago
Ozymandias
mmadderom, that's ridiculous. You're guilty of a fallacy known as a "false dichotomy." That is, you ignore all possible outcomes but two: Atheism and Christianity. You assume that there are no other religions, which is a stupid assumption to make.
Posted by mmadderom 9 years ago
mmadderom
The theory behind Pascal's Wager is undeniable. You did nothing to dispute the theory itself.

It's real simple. IF I'm right, you aren't going to "Heaven". IF I'm wrong you STILL aren't going to Heaven.

No matter how you slice it, the odds for a non-believer are zero. If you are right you lose if you are wrong you lose. It's only a degree of how much you lose...
Posted by Undeniable-Love 9 years ago
Undeniable-Love
I'm sleepy and I don't have the patience to read all of this. I got halfway through round two, and I have to say the pro's debate is a much easier one to read. Of course, I favor the con's debate because it, so far, seems to outweigh the other simply with it's logic.
Posted by thinkingduck 9 years ago
thinkingduck
Good debate, but this is premised on a skewed view of the Christian faith, to which Pascal was referring. He was working from the basis that faith saves, not works. In an orthodox interpretation of Christianity, its pretty clear that works alone do not save. Furthermore, to have real faith will be to have done good works anyway. See James 2:14-17, faith without works is dead. Pascal's Wager is supposed to be a win-win because, as Ravi Zacharias explains, it is existentially fulfilling even if God does not exist. Not only this, those around the believer benefit from his good works too.
Posted by happypancakeeater 9 years ago
happypancakeeater
Good debate, your only mistake was assuming that pascal's wager and the atheist wager are mutually exclusive.
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