This question really isn’t about basic Christian philosophy, but the context is so interesting I decided to answer it. I know no one will become a Christian based on this, but it does emphasize that if you are an atheist, you better be 100% sure you are right, because the risk-reward ratio on this bet is awful.
So what exactly is the “bet” of Christianity and/or atheism? The Christian is betting this life, literally, on the hope of an eternal life after death in heaven. The atheist is keeping this life entirely for himself and betting there is no eternal life of misery in hell. To calculate the mathematical risk/reward aspect of each bet we need to put a monetary value on this life, and on eternal life. Lets give it a try. These numbers are mine, feel free to substitute your own values and do the equation yourself.
If you were told you were going to die in a month, how much would you pay to extend you life by 1 year? That question is very difficult. If you looked at what we spend on healthcare for the critically ill, you would put the number very high – at least $500,000. I think that may not be a fair value because if people actually paid for their own healthcare many would not spend that much. Lets try something else. Most Americans would say a salary of $100,000 per year is pretty good. Lets just quadruple that and use $400,000. No I would personally hold that living a Christian life does not deter from my life, but adds to it, so the acutal cost or risk of Christianity is $0, but for the sake of argument I will allow you to treat a Christian lifestyle as a complete and total waste of a life.
Now, how about a year in heaven (assume it exist for the sake of discussion)? What is the comparable value of a year with no pain, no death, no sorrow etc. etc. – for yourself and everyone else around you? Or put it another way, what would you pay to avoid a year of complete torment and misery in hell (think of it as being slowly grilled for an entire year)? If a year in this life is worth $400,000, a year in heaven (or not in hell) surely is worth $800,000. I think I’m being extremely conservative in that.
Lastly, how long is a life on earth and how long is eternity? Life on earth is pretty easy to gauge and 80 years is a reasonable number. Eternity is more difficult because math with infinity is too complex for this discussion. However, astronomers tell us it has been about 18,000,000,000 years since the big bang, so lets go with that number.
So now lets evaluate the bet a Christian is making.
One year in this life $ 400,000
Approximately years in normal life 80
Total value of risk – value that can be lost $32,000,000
One year of eternal life in heaven $ 800,000
Approximate years in eternity 18,000,000,000
Total reward – value that can be won $14,400,000,000,000,000
Those numbers are too big to think about conceptually, so lets reduce the risk ($32,000,000) to $0.01 (one penny). That would make the value of reward $450,000,000.
So lets put this in a real life scenario. The Christian would be going into a casino and betting one penny with the chance, however slim, that he may win $450,000,000. The atheist is making the opposite bet. The atheist would be betting $450,000,000 on the chance that he might win one penny. Honestly, are there any odds that would make the atheist bet reasonable? Do you think there is a single professional gambler who would play that game, regardless of the odds? Who is mathematically making the more intelligent decision, the Christian or the atheist? Are you THAT sure there is no God?
I know all about Pascal’s Wager and I know there are lots of arguments about this. As I said at the beginning, this isn’t going to lead you to salvation or faith. I just hope it makes everyone see and understand the high risk of their position and prompts you to think.[cref logically-christian Logically Christian Home Page]