Scott Adams makes his argument against atheism. Let’s just say that Adams makes McGrath look like a brilliant, nuanced genius by comparison. All he’s got is the cartoonist’s version of Pascal’s Wager, and his own profound misconceptions about what atheists are.
In order to be certain that God doesn’t exist, you have to possess a godlike mental capacity — the ability to be 100% certain. A human can’t be 100% certain about anything. Our brains aren’t that reliable. Therefore, to be a true atheist, you have to believe you are the very thing that you argue doesn’t exist: God.
Ummm, he forgot to capitalize True Atheist™.
Atheists do not claim 100% certainty. We prefer to point to the lack of evidence for religion, which makes their certainty look ridiculous, and argue instead that we have reasonable grounds to doubt claims of talking snakes, stationary suns, and resurrected rabbis. His premise that atheism is all about perfect certainty is false, making the rest of his argument irrelevant, but the rest of his argument is so stupid that we’ll include it for its entertainment value.
Let me put this in perspective. You might be willing to accept a 10% risk of going skiing and getting hurt, but you wouldn’t accept a 10% risk of a nuclear war. The larger the potential problem, the less risk you are willing to tolerate.
An eternity in Hell is the largest penalty there could ever be. So while you might not worry about a .00000000001% chance of ending up in Hell, you can’t deny the math. .00000000001% of eternity is a lot longer than your entire mortal life. Infinitely longer.
Ah, the Argument from Imaginary Improbabilities. That’s a dangerous game to play, because any fool can invent them, including me.
Maybe God is perverse, and if you believe in him in the absence of any credible evidence, he’s going to shout “You got punk’d!” when you show up at the Pearly Gates, toss you into Hell, and all the atheists get ushered into Heaven to join the ranks of celestial wise-asses who get to mock all the faith-heads forever. There’s a minute chance that if you aren’t an atheist, you’ll go to hell.
Maybe I’m God. If you don’t worship me and tithe to me, I’ll send you to PZ’s Hell when you die. You should worry, because every torment in my Hell is a million times worse than the torments in the Christian Hell — every magma smoothie is a thousand degrees hotter than theirs, to every poke with a pitchfork we add an anal reaming with a hook-suckered tentacle, every hill up which you must push boulders is 15° steeper, every lake of vomit contains twice as many chunks. Obviously, the potential problem is much greater in my Hell than your pedestrian Christian Hell, therefore you should believe in Me. Donate now, or suffer.
Or maybe you could just realize that an assortment of imaginary probabilities, no matter how dire, are entirely incoherent, contradictory, arbitrary, and unresolvable, and therefore negligible. You don’t have to be 100% certain to be able to dismiss the rantings of bearded prophets as lacking grounds for concern. We usually develop an intellectual discriminatory filter that allows us to screen out the silly threats from the real ones; religion is a massive perforation in that sensible screen that encourages people to ignore evidence and accept Imaginary Improbabilities as Inarguable Inevitabilities. Rejecting it should be regarded as an important issue of self-defense.
But then, we have churchly institutions that make gullibility a sacrament and worship the holy gaps in our rationality, and urge their believers to widen and deepen their credulity to let the invisible imaginary beings in. We also have a fair number of people, like certain cartoonists, who are simply not smart enough to grasp simple ideas, even if they are uncontaminated by the preachings of a church.