Pascal’s Wager

Fortunately, most moderately intelligent theists won’t bother playing the Pascal card when debating religion, but nevertheless there are many who do. The purpose of this post is to respond only to those who feel the Wager is a legitimate reason to believe in their god. I make no attempt to prove or disprove the existence of any god in this post; just to counter the Pascal’s Wager argument.

For those of you unfamiliar with Pascal’s Wager, it goes a little something like this (paraphrased):

God either exists or does not exist. Salvation and eternal happiness is through belief in and worship of God. If you “bet” on God’s existence and you’re wrong, you’ve lost nothing; if you’re right, you will receive salvation and everlasting life. If you bet on God’s non-existence and you’re wrong, you’re destined to an eternity in Hell. Therefore it is safer to bet on God’s existence.

Now if you’ve got any mind at all you’ll see the obvious flaws in this. However, I’ve had people who I had previously thought of as fairly respectable play this one on me, so you never know who might fall for it.

First, being that he was Christian, it’s clear Blaise Pascal was referring to belief in the Christian god. To the skeptic, however, one need only swap the name God for another name (Allah, Zeus, Odin, et al) because the fact is that most mainstream gods demand worship and punish those who don’t offer it. So which god should I bet on? How do you know the god you’re betting on is the right god? Is anybody really making a safe bet?

Second, belief is not a light switch. One can’t just say “Oh, in that case I believe.” In order to believe something is true, one must be convinced of its truthfulness. Threats like Pascal’s Wager do nothing to convince anybody of anything.

Third, chances are the god you’re trying to convince me exists is omnipotent according to your religion’s textbook. Surely it can see through somebody who claims they believe simply because it’s the “safer bet.”

Finally, the part of the Wager which states “If you believe and you’re wrong, you’ve lost nothing” is absolutely wrong. What about all the time you wasted on your knees praying or in a church singing? What about the scientific or medical advances you’ve ignored (extreme cases) because your religion states that all you need is your god? If you believe in a god and you’re wrong, then you’ve lived your entire life thinking you had an eternity of happiness and pleasure to look forward to in an afterlife without paying as much heed to the life you’re currently living.

I and many atheists like me, on the other hand, see this life as our only one. We are more inclined to live our lives to its absolute fullest; making sure we make a lasting impression on others, hoping that once our bodies are decaying and our atoms are moving on to other endeavors that our legacy will live on in the memories of others.

So maybe the safer “bet” is that no gods exist. We’ve got a 50/50 shot at being right, while the odds that your particular god is the only one who exists are far lower. Bet on non-existence and perhaps you’ll see a whole new value in your one and only life.

6 thoughts on “Pascal’s Wager

  1. As a Christian, I agree that this is a horrible argument and will not be a convincing factor. Any time you try to play the odds you negate everything you say you believe in. I have a reason for the hope that lies within me so why should I try to argue it as only a probability.

  2. One can apply the same kind of logic to demonstrate that the only way to win this gambit is by not playing it. Observe:

    1. There are many Gods (tens of thousands)
    2. Of the many Gods, most are mutually exclusive (or exclusive to their own pantheon)
    3. Of the many Gods, those which are applicable to this argument promise infinite reward for belief in them and infinite punishment for non-belief
    4. Whichever God or pantheon one chooses, one’s odds are 1/(the number of other Gods/Pantheons) of infinite reward, and the inverse of infinite punishment
    5. No matter which God one chooses, one is vastly more likely to experience infinite punishment than infinite reward.

    Therefore, there is no “good bet” in this gambit, so the only reasonable chance of coming away unharmed is to not play (atheism).

    As a similar example, suppose you’re offered a gamble where 10 people each have straws and one has a short straw. You can pick from amongst the 10, and if you pick the one with a short straw you get 1000 dollars. If you pick the wrong one, the other 9 will beat the hell out of you. The wise person walks away from this gamble.

  3. Pingback: …on the Other Hand | Dan McCormick

  4. Pingback: Pascal vs Atheism (You Decide) | All American Atheist

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