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Religion Thu, 24 May 2012

God: To Believe or not to Believe

As I sit down to commit these words to paper, I cannot help but be reminded of poor Hamlet, the title character from Shakespeare’s play, standing in the graveyard, holding a skull and contemplating his existence—“To be or not to be?” he asks himself before giving in to a long-winded philosophical monologue about life and its myriad challenges. For Hamlet, that agonizing moment was not just a moment of a man going mad. But rather one in which a man is caught up in the throes of serious decision-making—a decision that when made could alter his existence for better or for worse.

While most of us would not stand in a graveyard and hold a skull like Hamlet when we are about to make a life-changing decision, we would nonetheless agree that making life-changing decisions tend to be agonizing, like, for example, choosing to believe or disbelieve in the existence of God, which is the subject of this article. What makes this decision agonizing does not necessarily stem from the fact that our future may depend on it, but more importantly because of how it would come to affect our immediate lives—that is, our identity, our attitude toward society, our choices, whether or not the choice we make would bring us freedom and peace of mind or whether it would cause us to lose friends and make enemies. Yet, regardless of how long it takes, in the end we all have to make a decision—we all have to take a stand.

I have chosen to take my stand now. I should let you know, firstly, that this is not a decision I am making out of a spur of the moment, but rather, one that had been three years in the making—since early 2009. During that time, while I was in my junior year of college, I decided to abandon everything I knew and commit myself to some sort of journey—a journey for truth, if you will—to seek and to understand the workings of the universe, life and whatnot; to ask serious questions with an open mind and open heart and be prepared to accept whatever answers my mind and heart lead me to. The result of my quest is what I am here to share with you (and I will try to make it brief). It is my sincere hope that you will grant me a fair hearing as we try to reason together on this ancient subject of subjects. We may not agree in the end, but that should not stop you from using this opportunity to go on your own individual journey for truth. Maybe, just maybe, you may arrive at a conclusion that might end up convincing me.

With that said, is there a God or not? My honest answer to you is that I do not know with certainty whether God exists or not—and I’m sure 99.9% of humans around the world would agree that they do not know with certainty as well. Should anyone ever claim that they are certain beyond reasonable doubt, you should view such individual with suspicion as the idea of the existence of God, from both theistic and atheistic perspectives, is mostly speculation, although both positions would claim to have all the necessary facts to back their individual positions. Notwithstanding that, I do believe in the existence of God, and here’s why.

You would agree with me that the statements, there is God and there is no God, cannot both be true. Likewise the statements, there is an afterlife and there is no afterlife. Both theists and atheists have strong arguments to support their positions, arguments which I will not delve into for reasons of brevity, but what both sides would not concede to is the fact that there are also weaknesses to their arguments. All things being equal, however, someone has to be wrong as they both cannot be right, right?

Since from our limited human perspective we cannot know with certainty whether God exists or not, here’s my take on the issue via the beautiful mind of the great mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal. If we were to take a coin and have “heads” stand for “there is God” and “tails” stand for “there is no God,” it would be mathematically sound to say that with a coin toss, the probability of there being a God or there not being a God is one-half as there is a one-half chance of “heads” turning up and a one-half chance of “tails” turning up. In other words, there would be a fifty-fifty chance of there being a God and there not being a God. What this means is that, from a mathematical standpoint, it can go either way—and that is our default position.

Now, imagine yourself as a gambler (not that I would approve of you adhering to that life style) sitting in a casino. Furthermore, imagine you are dealt two cards—one red, one black—and told that if you choose to play the red card, you might gain $1 million, and that if you choose to play the black card, you’ll not gain but might lose $1 million. Which card would you play? Would it not be wise of you to play the red card as there is a possible reward at the end?

That’s how things are with belief in the existence of God! Just like with the coin toss, let’s assume that picking the red card translates into there being a God and picking the black card translates into there being no God. Which card would you pick? I’m sure you would elect to pick the red card as it presents you with the possibility of a reward, right?

Now let’s say that you happened to pick the red card and found out that there was nothing to gain (no $1 million), what do you lose? NOTHING! Likewise, let’s say you foolishly picked the black (or decided not to pick any card at all, which is the same as choosing to pick the black card), what do you lose? Again NOTHING.

In the same vein, what do you lose if you choose to believe that there’s a God and it turns out there’s no God? NOTHING! (Well, it’s not like you’d be able to tell anyhow because you’d be dead). Yet, what would you lose if you choose to believe that there’s no God and it turns out there’s one? EVERYTHING!

So picking the black card over the red when there’s a possibility of gaining something from picking the red would definitely be considered foolish, wouldn’t it? In that light, it’s not courage to believe that there’s no God; it’s sheer stupidity!

Of course, some might argue that the aforementioned perspective is limited and should be expanded to include more options. But in reality, if you observe closely, you’ll realize that there are hardly any other options regarding the idea that God exists or not; it’s an either/or question with no middle ground whatsoever. As a result, any options that would be manufactured and imposed on the aforementioned perspective are in fact false.

What’s more, some might even question the morality of such perspective. But this is less an issue of morality and more an issue of survival—like a pilot asking you to choose between jumping out of a burning plane without a parachute and jumping out of a plane with a defective parachute, the only parachute left on board. Hopefully, you never find yourself in that plane-burning situation, but if you do, friend, always take a chance on the defective parachute! After all, what do you have to lose?

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Source: Edmund Tamakloe