To get the obvious out of the way: The typical atheist, myself included, does NOT believe that the existence of deities to be impossible. I simply see no good evidence for them, just like I see no good evidence for leprechauns, fairies, oni, ghosts, chupacabras, aliens currently visiting Earth, hushaboom explosives, unicorns, displacer beasts, beholders, Hogwarts, Klingons, Wookies, Delvians, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Don't be surprised if someone shows up to pull a variant on Pascal's Wager for one of them, by the way.
Despite any risk to Tinkerbell, I will say that I'm confident that there's no such thing as fairies. There's no evidence thus far, even though we'd expect to see some. I could be wrong, but the mere possibility of me being wrong isn't a good reason to believe in fairies anyway. Bring me a little winged person in a jar or shut up.
Now, replace "Tinkerbell" with "the Judeo-Christian god," "fairies" with "deities," and the winged person in a jar with a successfully generated miracle under controlled conditions. Deities aren't really any different from fairies on the scientific front. No evidence, no good reason to believe.
Onto Pascal's Wager: The wager is essentially an appeal to selfishness over truth, logic, and evidence. Which benefits you more: Belief or disbelief?
What's more is that they presume that there's only one type of deity in question: A kind of deity who sadistically tortures people for not believing and rewards people for believing. Usually, the people who bring up Pascal's Wager will do everything they can to pretend that there can't be other kinds of deities, or consider hypotheticals they didn't propose to be "cheating."
So here's a list of what ifs to irritate all of them:
1. What if the deity punishes people for doing evil deeds and rewards them for doing good deeds, with no regard for beliefs?
2. What if the deity punishes people for blindly believing in him and rewards them for thinking critically and thus doubting him?
3. What if the deity rewards everyone, regardless of what they do or believe?
4. What if the deity rewards people on a random basis?
5. What if the deity only punishes those who step on cracks in a sidewalk?
6. What if the deity doesn't care at all about human beings and only thinks about them as a meaningless, uninteresting by-product of a brane/string experiment he conducted 13.7 billion years ago?
7. What if the deity just throws everyone's souls up on the roof, where they get stuck?
I could go on and on. Even more so if you don't insert an a priori requirement that polytheism be impossible. For every hypothetical deity that rewards one action, we can make up another hypothetical deity that punishes that action. The only reason some deities get emphasized over other is for what amounts to American Idol epistemology: Popularity is seen as an indicator of truth or plausibility. Text in your votes during the commercial break.
All of this just amounts to argumentum ad baculum: Trying to convince someone to cave into the threat of force. For this mentality, truth is relative to whoever has the biggest club, and Hell is one of the favorites.
Adams makes the stupidity worse:
The problems with this analogy are:
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.
1. We're pretty confident that there is such a thing as skiing accidents, and that they have a non-zero probability of happening. We can say no such thing about deities. No evidence.
2. How can we do anything to change the odds of receiving eternal punishment? Countless hypothetical deities, remember? Every action we take (or even inaction) will get on the nerves of one of them. I think I can safely say that we can go about our business as usual until the evidence is forthcoming. Then we'll know what to do or not do for a reward.
Now, just watch, Adams gets even stupider:
Personally, if I were more rational, and less focused on immediate gratification, I would become a moderate, peace-loving Muslim. My reasoning is that Islam has the best chance of becoming the dominant world religion in the future, and therefore probably has God’s backing, if he exists. The Muslim belief that death is sometimes a good thing is a huge advantage in a future where weapons are improving, and the only thing keeping people from using them is fear of death.Adams assumes, without reason, that the deity wants to be popular, cares about humans, and has a hard-on for tribalism. That may work as an entertaining premise in one of my D&D adventures, but I see no reason why reality must be constrained to having only anthropocentric deities, or why popularity equals plausibility.
If you believe God exists, the smart money says he’s backing the team with the best strategy and long term viability. Based on what I see today, I’m betting on Islam being the only religion in a thousand years. Once you can build your own nuke from stuff you buy online, don’t be betting on the Buddhists.