The Atheist’s Wager is reminiscent of the famous Pascal’s Wager, championed by Blaise Pascal. Pascal outlined a wager now named for him to explain why agnostics should choose to believe in God. The wager can be imagined as a 2-by-2 matrix of four possibilities:
Either one chooses to believe in God or not and God exists or not. If one believes in God, whether or not He exists, they are safe from the eternity of hell. If one does not believe in God, then there is a 50/50 chance of going to hell. As the argument goes, one should profess a belief in God just to be safe in order to avoid eternity in hell. Some theologians think that the evidence for God is so scant because God wants to reward those accept his existence on faith and not on evidence. Because it’s important for God that people have the free will to reject Him or not, He conceals his presence to allow people to choose Him or not as a test of their faith alone.
If a belief in the right God matters in order to get into heaven, then there are today (and certainly were previously) millions of people living in remote areas who are resigned to hell because they were never exposed to missionaries carrying the Word from the One, True God. If they never had the opportunity to hear the Word, how can God punish them for eternity for putting them in a geographic area that precluded them from finding salvation? Even if we are to accept that God has a special plan for these people or in some way has intervened on their behalf for some inexplicable reason, there would of course be the question on every freethinker’s mind: how do you even know that?! And if these people are spared from a lifetime in hell even when they haven’t Jesus, why does one need faith in God at all?
So, ignoring for the moment that one cannot will themselves into a belief (stop believing in gravity right now…) and that an omniscient (all-seeing) God would be able to tell when one is merely feigning loyalty, anyway, there are some serious drawbacks to this argument. One, it assumes that there is only form of Christianity. In fact, this is demonstrably false; assuming for the sake of argument that God exists and one were to devote their life to service of the Lord on the off chance that He exists, they better choose the right God because each denomination and sect within Christianity (out of approximately 38,000 Christian denominations) makes it clear that True belief requires a belief in the right God and only the right God. If you devote yourself to Catholicism and the One True God is the one as described by the Eastern Orthodox church, you are no more protected from God’s wrath than a practicing Jew, Muslim, atheist, or Zoroastrian. Assuming that the One, True God is a Christian God at all. Second, it assumes that an omnibenevolent God perfectly rewards faith and punishes skepticism and that faith is of overriding importance to doing good deeds.
The Atheist’s Wager, therefore, is an alternative to the Pascal’s Wager in two ways. First, it allows for the possibility that a God is not omnibenevolent (all-good) and second, if omnibenevolent, it allows for a God that judges people on their actions and not just on their beliefs. So, if you live your life doing good things and God exists, you will have infinite (think heavenly) rewards whether or not you believe in God. And if live your life doing good deeds and God doesn’t exist, you will reap earthly albeit finite rewards, whether or not you believe in God. On the other hand, if you live a life that does not emphasize doing good deeds, and God does exist, whether or not you believe in God you will receive infinitely negative rewards (think hell). But if you live your life not devoted to doing good deeds and it turns out God doesn’t exist, then you reap negative, but nonetheless finite rewards, whether or not you believe in God.
With Pascal’s Wager, the faithful can now assimilate the non-believers with a simple go-to: “Don’t believe in God right now? Then that’s the biggest reason why you should believe in God for later!” Effectively, it reduces devotion to faith in God to a Las Vegas poker table; where the House always wins. If you feel comfortable gambling on your immortal soul with what happens after you die, then belief in the afterlife is not that important for you. When the stakes on your immortal soul are this high, you’re better off walking away from the table and putting your time to good use here on Earth while you can, rather than joining the likes of religious players, who are going all in on a bluff.