The Meaning of Life
Chapter Six: Pascal’s Wager
Members of the Abrahamic religions have a strong argument to convince people that it is a good idea to accept religion. It can be summed up in something called ‘Pascal’s Wager.’
Here is the basic idea behind Pascal’s wager:
If you decide NOT to believe in God, you are making a wager (bet). If you are wrong, and there is a God, you will go to hell and suffer eternity in endless misery, torture, pain, and agony. If you are right, however, and it turns out there is no God or afterlife judgment of your beliefs, nothing bad will happen to you. So, choosing NOT to believe in God exposes you to the maximum possible in afterlife risk, with no potential for an upside benefit.
If you choose to believe, you are making the opposite wager, with the opposite set of possible outcomes: If you are right and win the wager, you will spend eternity in comfort and pleasure (and possibly endless sex with virgins, a big benefit to young men of fighting age who were raised with several of the current Abrahamic religions). If you are wrong, and there is no God, there is no downside at all: you won’t punished for believing, because there is no God to punish you.
So, the argument called ‘Pascal’s Wager’ goes, you are being foolish not to accept God and the teachings of the religious texts. If you do, you can only benefit, at least in the afterlife. There is no possibility of harm.
The Problem with Pascal’s Wager
Pascal’s wager has been presented in many forms; it is the basic logical premise behind evangelism and missionary doctrine. It has convinced a great many people. The problem is that it ignores reality. If we accept reality (if we accept the evidence of our own senses, as categorized in the fields collectively called ‘science,’) we can easily see that these beliefs bring truly horrific results. In fact, they are virtually guaranteed to bring horrific results. Here is the reason:
If we accept that a being with superpowers directs all activities on Earth, we are led to believe that we, the members of the human race, are helpless pawns of the superbeing, with no ability to affect events here on Earth. If we even allow ourselves to question the premise that we are helpless, we are showing a lack of faith and, if we truly believe, we know that even thinking it is possible that humans are the dominant beings on Earth will lead to everlasting torture and agony. We have seen in Forensic History and Possible Societies that, if we look at the world logically, accepting the teachings of science, we must accept that human race has great capabilities.
We have the ability to reorganize our existence, if we want to do this. If we open our minds to the options, and compare them objectively, we can see that the option our ancestors have chosen for us is destructive and will ultimately destroy us if we don’t change it. We can also see that other options are possible (within the capabilities of the human race) and that these options can take us off of the destructive path and put us on a path to a better world. In fact, we know that non-destructive options are possible because these other modes of existence have existed, for far longer than the mode of existence that was chosen for us. We have seen, in the two previous works, that if we accept these other options are possible, analyze the difference between them and the system that we were born into, and make methodological changes to the system we inherited, it will change into a system that can meet our needs.
Why hasn’t this been done a long time ago?
The main problem appears to be the apparent advantage of Pascal’s wager, which turns into a real world disadvantage: Pascal’s wager holds that you can only be harmed by NOT believing that God is in charge of earthly events, and can only benefit by accepting this. The only way to lose this wager (the wager holds) is to ever let your mind accept that it is possible that humans are in charge of their own destiny, at least here on Earth. If you accept this, you have shown a lack of faith and will lose the wager (if the all-seeing and known God detects your momentary lapse). So, you have to resist every attempt that anyone may make to get you to accept that the human race may NOT be under the control of a superbeing. Anything that leads to this mode of thought is to be twisted, in your mind, to allow you to reject it without even considering the implications.
Is Panspermia Correct?
I have proposed that our notions about the meaning of life depend, to a large degree, on our notions about how life came to exist on this world.
If we accept that an invisible superbeing created everything and directs it from an (invisible) perch, we are led to believe that the meaning of life is whatever the people who are able to convince us they are most in tune with God tell us. If these people tell us that we are here to protect and defend the ‘nations’ that they tell us God created, by participating in the giant military industrial complex, and we believe they are in tune with God, we will accept that they are right: that is what life is for, to fight, build tools of murder, and sacrifice our lives for the ideals they claim came from God. (Forensic History explains how such a notion may come to have been a part of our world about 6,000 years ago).
Many people have seen how much harm such a belief system creates and have tried hard to come up with an alternative explanation for the way life came to exist on this world, because they find the above belief set morally offensive, primitive, and self-serving to the powered elite for whom ordinary people are sacrificing their lives. They have tried to convince people that it is all random and there is no order to anything. This doesn’t provide any real guidance that may help us get to a better world, and it is not intellectually satisfying: It the wonders of life really do appear to be far too good to have come about by chance. (The more I learn about DNA and the activities inside living things, the harder it is for me to believe that they are the result of random chance.) The only real advantage to ‘its all random’ argument is that it allows us to reject the common rationalizations for war and the miseries that accompany our war-based societies (like environmental destruction and the almost indescribable inequality in rights and incomes). Many people reject the ‘its all random’ argument simply because it doesn’t square with reality and what our senses tell us.
What else is there?
The third possible way life could have come to exist on Earth is this: It could have been designed somewhere else (on some other world) by being that are subject to the same physical laws as we are. (In other words, not superbeings with magical powers.) Then, it could have come, by some process, to Earth. Francis Crick’s Panspermia theory holds that, if this did happen, it is so likely to have been done intentionally that, for practical purposes, we can ignore all other options and concentrate on this one. But, for now, let’s leave the idea of internationality aside and think only about how the premise of non-magical creators would affect the idea of the meaning of life. If there are creators with no magic powers (in other words, they are subject to the same physical laws as bind us) on another world, they can’t possibly be directing events here on Earth: the law of relativity holds that no energy, mass, or information may move faster than the speed of light. Since the nearest potentially-habitable exoplanet is more than 10 light years away, it would take more than 10 years just for them to be able to see what we are doing here, and, if they had the best technology that doesn’t violate the laws of relativity, another 10 years for any effects of their manipulation to become reality. The idea of the creator(s) determining the winner of the Superbowl (as many people claim happens for God) is therefore an impossibility. (If God lives on the nearest inhabitable world, he wouldn’t even know who was playing in the Superbowl each year world until 10 years after it was played.) The idea the creator(s) determining the winner of war battles is just as silly. In fact, if we accept even this one scientific law, we have to realize that science simply doesn’t allow day-to-day events on Earth to be manipulated by an extra-solarsystem race of people.
I propose that, if we look at the world scientifically, we will start with the theory that conforms to observations and is the most likely (of all theories that conform to the evidence) to be correct. The evidence holds that life on Earth came to exist some time between the year Earth formed (about 4.38 billion years ago) and the time of the first fossil records (3.58 billion years ago). The very first living things were built on DNA and had coded messages written in their DNA which are in the same code as the messages in human DNA, telling us that this code and its messages are NOT the result of evolution from non-living things. (Again: evolution implies change. If the living things had evolved from non-living things, we would have found many, many different life-supporting molecules built on simpler foundations and with messages written with a different code. There would have to have been many of them because the random processes would not have hit on what we have now—which is very close to perfection from a bio-chemical perspective—without trying less effective options first.) We have not only not found ‘many many’ other options, we haven’t found a single one, ever. From a scientific perspective, we would have to put ‘evolution from a non-living precursor) at the end of the list of possible ways life and humans could have come to exist. It is almost impossibly unlikely, so it makes sense to start with the more likely options and only move to the ‘almost impossibly unlikely’ option after we have found ways to discard the more likely options.
The ‘spontaneous generation’ argument is in the same category. DNA-based life is so incredibly complex—and was from the very beginning—that it is almost impossibly unlikely that it simply came to exist as a result of random alignment of atoms that were infused with a life force that came from lighting or some other natural energy source. We can’t totally rule this out, because given enough time, it is possible for even a very complex thing (like a human baby) to come to exist as a result of random chance, and if this happened enough times under the right circumstances, and it is possible that a life force could enter the living thing in the same way that electricity can spark a heart to beat normally. But the odds of this happening are so incredibly remote that, if we are to be practical, we would not want to start with this option. We would look for something that is more likely.
From a scientific perspective, we must also reject any argument that requires the violation of physics. The idea of a superbeing creating it all by incantations (saying certain words) implies a belief that the laws of physics are not the same everywhere in the universe, but there are places where they don’t hold and beings for whom they don’t apply. Of course, we can’t know for certain that there are no beings who are not bound by the laws we can observe and prove apply to us and everything we can detect with our senses in every single case. But it is not scientific to start an analysis by rejecting science. If we are to be scientific, we would have to reject any explanation for the origin of life that doesn’t conform to the laws of physics.
After we have rejected all of the above explanations, what is left?
Only one explanation remains: Roughly 3.58 billion years ago, life arrived on Earth from some other world.
This is the only explanation that conforms to the scientific evidence and is not ‘impossibly unlikely.’ It makes sense to start with this as the most likely way life arrived on Earth. Without getting into the ‘why’ or ‘how’ at this point, let’s just accept that this is AN explanation for ‘the way life got onto Earth’ that conforms to science, is consistent with the evidence we have, and which is not ‘impossibly unlikely.’ What would this imply about the meaning of life?
The Meaning Of Life
If we accept ANY premise for ‘the beginning of life on Earth’ that is built on the premise that the known laws of science (particularly physics) are real laws and apply everywhere all the time, AND which accepts the scientific evidence of our past, we have a foundation for understanding the meaning of life which excludes certain explanations:
First, we must exclude the premise that we are doomed to go extinct and were doomed from the very beginning. It would take a lot of time and effort to build a package that would be able to send all of the essentials of life across the remoteness of inter-stellar space. No being with intent would go to the trouble of sending microorganisms across intestellar space to ‘teraform’ this world and make it capable of supporting advanced life, knowing this would take billions of years, and send all of the essentials of advanced life here, knowing that intelligent life would require hundreds of millions more years after the terraforming, if the intelligent life had absolutely no chance of making it. Perhaps the ones who set this all up had a science of society and knew that the intelligent life forms, when they/we evolved, would face hurdles. But if this is true, it wouldn’t make sense to go to all this trouble if there was no chance whatever we would make it over these hurdles.
Perhaps they worked out the same scientific principles as we have worked out, including the principle Einstein called ‘relativity’ that shows that it is impossible to affect events on distant worlds fast enough to affect events on a world on a different solar system. Perhaps they believed these laws were real laws (which many humans don’t seem to affect) and concluded that this meant they would not be there to help us some of the difficult times, including the times we are going through now. Perhaps they calculated the odds of us getting through this particular period in our evolution, and perhaps the odds were quite high against us.
The idea if ‘panspermia’ implies sending the packages that contain life to many different potentially habitable worlds. Perhaps most weren’t expected to make it. Perhaps MOST of them weren’t expected to make it. Perhaps they wrote off 90% of all the packages they sent as expected failures, and perhaps they wrote off 99.9999999999% of the packages they sent.
I never had any school spirit. (My father was in the military so I moved every year, and never went to the same school twice.) I didn’t ever feel very ‘patriotic’ and had no real ‘national sprit.’ (I went to my first 2 years of school in the French public school system at a time when the United States was occupying France and not seen as a friendly occupier. The people in France didn’t instill good feelings about the United States.) I never really cared for sports or had any team spirit. But I am not without feelings of belonging. I belong to a wonderful race of people who have done incredible things. We have pulled ourselves out of the slime and mud and developed language, music, math, and incredible engineering skills. In my opinion, we haven’t yet scratched the surface of our capabilities. We are capable of far more than we have accomplished and, if we can get past our inherited primitive ways of thinking, our future is potentially endless.
I believe there is a purpose for our being here. I have been convinced by the massive evidence I see all around me that tells me this. I don’t know exactly what this purpose is, but I am absolutely convinced we were NOT placed here to fight, kill, and destroy the world to protect the imaginary lines called ‘borders’ that separate the imaginary entities called ‘nations.’ Whatever our purpose, we must get through this stage in our evolution to get there. I have some pride in our race—the human race—and know we are capable of getting through this era and make progress toward whatever destiny and purpose awaits us. Whatever this destiny is, we must do one thing as a prerequisite: we must reorganize our existence to reduce the strength of the destructive and violent forces that are part of the societies our ancestors created and passed down to us. I am convinced that our race can do this; all we have to do is accept that reality is real and the principles we can derive from reality are real. The field that categorizes reality (things we can see and analyze with our senses) is called ‘science.’ All we have to do is get over the inherited tendency that members of our race have to attribute things we don’t understand to magic and beings with magic powers.
Books in this series
This book is a part of a series of four books about the important realities of human existence. They are:
1. Forensic History: uses new scientific tools and information sources to reconstruct the series of events that put the human race on the path it is now on. It explains how the realities of human existence came to be as they are. It focuses on the events led to the existence of the power structures that dominate the world today, including the entities called 'nations,' organized religions, and the massive and extremely powerful entities we call 'corporations.' These entities did not appear by magic. They came to exist as a result of decisions people made in the past. If we want to understand the realities of human existence, we have to understand who made these decisions, why they were made, and how the decisions made in the past have led to the realities that we see around us.
2. Possible Societies goes over the capabilities of the human race and the limitations we have for organizing the realities of our existence. It is an attempt to categorize all possible methods of organizing human existence—or all possible societies—in a methodological and organized way. Once we understand the different options we have for organizing societies, we can go over them to determine which of the options are able to meet our needs without constant problems such as war and unnecessary environmental destruction.
3. Reforming Societies: We were born onto a world that was organized in a very dangerous way. It was cut up with imaginary lines into the entities we call 'nations.' Each nation had formed a government which claimed that everything within that nation belonged to the people who were born inside the imaginary lines. Any society built on this foundation necessarily has very serious problems, which include powerful forces these entities surrounded by imaginary lines to engage in activities that are the most horrific destructive within the capability of any physical beings with the power to think on a rational level. The pressure to perform these horrible acts is so powerful that the industries devoted to war and the support of war, combined, make up the largest industries on Earth: More wealth, manpower, effort, skills, talents, capital, and resources are devoted to organized mass murder and destruction than any other activity on the planet. People have gone as far as building weapons that will destroy the planet if used and actually deployed these weapons, making them ready for instant use if certain circumstances arise. Given enough time, these circumstances are certain to arise.
What if we—the current members of the human race—decide we don't like these particular realities of existence? What if we decide we want some other destiny for our race (than extinction)? It is possible to organize the realities of our world in different ways. (Even children should realize this: humans need food, water, air, sleep, and protection from the elements; the imaginary lines that cut the world into 'nations' don't give us any of these things.)
But is it possible to actually build them?
If we know other methods of organizing the realities of human existence are possible, we can work out the exact structural differences between the realities of these other societies and the current realities of human existence.
We can figure out practical steps to take to change the form of ('reform') other societies. It explains the exact practical steps that ordinary people like you and I can take to put the human race on a path to one of these societies, if we should decide we want to do this.
4. The Meaning of Life explains why this matters. The societies we were born into must raise children to think a certain way so they will be willing to sacrifice for and participate in the wars that are an inherent part of societies built on the division of the world into 'nations.' To make them willing to participate, they must raise children to believe that there is a higher purpose behind the wars and behind the existence of the nations: They must make children believe that they were born to and exist to protect their nations, to respect the claimed founding principles, to honor the nation and, through ceremonies that all children are taught in schools, to even worship the nation, in the same way they are taught to worship the higher power that they were told created the nation. To make them do the horrible things that people must do to have wars, they must make children believe that this is the meaning of life and the reason they were born.
New scientific evidence is allowing us to put together messages that are encoded in our DNA and evident from the structures that are necessary for the process we call 'life' to exist in ways that can show us that there are scientifically acceptable and mathematically likely explanations for the existence of life on Earth that totally conflict with the premises taught to keep people willing to fight, kill, maim, cripple, destroy, risk and accept death for the benefits of the entities called 'nations.' If we accept science, logic, and reason, we can put together a picture of the meaning of existence that can help us see that the claimed reasons for existence that have been taught in schools and accepted for thousands of years are basically propaganda, created for the express purpose of allowing rationalization of horrific acts. If they could put together some rational picture of the reason we are here, people would not be willing to do the things that they spend their lives doing today.
What if we find there is a real meaning to our existence and it has nothing whatever to do with worshiping invisible superbeings or protecting nations? The entire rationalization for dividing the world into 'nations' and making war basically disappears. We must accept that the realities of existence on Earth are as they are because people made certain decisions. These people are no longer alive. We are here. We can make our own decisions. We can decide where we want to go from here and begin going there.