Thursday, March 09, 2006

Expanding on Pascal's Wager

I read a rather entertaining post from God is for Suckers! the other day about Pascal's Wager. Basically, Pascal says that it is best to believe in god because if you don't and there is a god, well, you've angered that god, and probably condemned yourself to some horrible torture. I don't want to overstate what was already written in the post, but there's something about this that I've been doing for years.

Back in the day, when I moved back to Chicago from NYC, I was unemployed. I was up particularly late watching science programs and drinking beer, two of my favorite activities, when I started watching a program about the cosmos. What most folks don't really realize is that there's a lot of room in the universe. We're just one little tiny planet circling a small yellow star in the an arm of a rather ordinary galaxy which contains probably 100,000,000,000 stars in it. If that doesn't drive home the point, scientists believe that there are about 140,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe. That's a whole lot of stars out there.

As I'm watching this particular program, I get a idea somewhat like Pascal's Wager. What if, in the universe, there are other planets with intelligent life, and what if, on those planets those intelligent beings have developed religions (say about 5 a piece) and they all think that they're right, just like our religions tend to do around here.

Ok, Mr. Pascal, Mr. Mathematician-turned-Theologist, let's have some fun. According to A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, scientists figure that there are 10 billion trillion planets out there. For those of you who like the dramatic effect of it, here's what that looks like:
That's a pretty damn huge number, no matter where you're from. Anyways, I learned, if you call it that, that one in 43,000 planets has intelligent life (This comes from the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise, for those who think I'm just pulling that number out of my ass, in reality, there is no study to confirm or deny these things, so let's just call this an unconfirmed assumption.). So, if we do some math, we'll see that, according to the combination of these two numbers, that there are supposedly 232,558,139,534,883,721 planets in our universe that have intelligent life on them.

Next, let's assume that on those 232 quadrillion and change planets, that those beings have developed say 4 major religions (personally, I think this number is rather low, considering how many different religions have been developed throughout human history). Let's also assume that there is some all-knowing, all-wise, all-seeing superbeing out there that created everything, and that somewhere in the universe, someone has build a religion around this superbeing. If you work out this little bit of math, you'll find that the odds of actually choosing the "one, true religion" are one in 930,232,558,139,534,884.

Let me put that into perspective. If you take a penny and etch an X on both sides of it, then put that one penny into a bag containing that many pennies, the bag would be slightly larger than three earths (slightly larger meaning about 9% larger, which turns out to be 97,488,000,000 cubic kilometers). That's a big bag o' pennies, friends and neighbors.

So, Mr. Pascal, Mr. Mathematician-turned-Theologist, I'll stick with my slightly militant atheism. The odds just don't favor anyone. I'll also heed the advice that I learned at the end of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life:
Well, it's nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations. And, finally, here are some completely gratuitous pictures of penises to annoy the censors and to hopefully spark some sort of controversy, which, it seems, is the only way, these days, to get the jaded, video-sated public off their fucking arses and back in the sodding cinema. Family entertainment? Bollocks. What they want is filth: people doing things to each other with chainsaws during tupperware parties, babysitters being stabbed with knitting needles by gay presidential candidates, vigilante groups strangling chickens, armed bands of theatre critics exterminating mutant goats. Where's the fun in pictures? Oh, well, there we are. Here's the theme music. Goodnight.


Blogger Henry said...

You know you're going to hell. I'll bring some beer. I think Michael and Shari will have something tasty to eat. I'm sure a lot of your friends will have some good stuff, too. I'll bring my ipod for music, oh, and wear my Chelios jersey! Will you bring the scotch?

9:51 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home