Pascal’s Wager

Pascal’s Wager can be summarized as the following:

“If you believe in God and turn out to be incorrect, you have lost nothing — but if you don’t believe in God and turn out to be incorrect, you will go to hell. Therefore it is foolish to be an atheist.”

Issues with Pascal’s Wager:

1) It doesn’t point to which god to believe in: YHWH, Ganesha, Odin, Loki, Cthulu, Satan, Flying Spaghetti Monster. There are many mutually exclusive religions out there. This leads to the “avoiding the wrong hell” dilemma. Even if we’re just counting the number of religions that exist or have existed in known history, we still have thousands of options. Assuming, of course, that somebody had it right. If we count all the unknown religions out there, there are literally infinite gods to follow.

 

2) There are religions (if we can call them that) which may make it very disadvantageous to believe in god. For example, if Buddhism is correct, we must enlighten ourselves to cease the cycle of reincarnations and reach nirvana. Part of enlightenment could very well be understanding that there are no deities. And I’m quite certain that tricking yourself into believing in one is on the wrong path to enlightenment.

3) The statement “If you believe in God and turn out to be incorrect, you have lost nothing” isn’t true. What if you believe in the wrong god, and the real god punishes you for being a heathen? And what about the religions that substitute medicine with prayer? You have also wasted a good portion of your life attending religious rituals, praying, working to tithe your church, and annoying people who don’t want to hear the “good word” (and trust me, it is annoying).

 

4) The argument seems to suggest that the “two” possibilities are of equal likelihood. If the probability of god is much smaller, the argument becomes much less persuasive.

5) No atheist I know disbelieves by choice. It’s not like we know that there is a god, but choose to ignore the fact. Most atheists disbelieve simply because they know of no compelling evidence to suggest that any sort of god exists.

6) If we are unsure as to what god exists, should we take the implied statement of “being an atheist is bad for your eternal soul if god exists” as a given truth? What weight does it carry over any similar assumption? Isn’t it just as likely that god will be angry with people who believe for personal gain? If god really is omniscient, then it’ll know who is believing on a wager. Assuming, of course, that god cares who believes at all.

 

7) This hypothetical God may require more than simple belief. Almost all Christians believe that the Christian God requires an element of trust and obedience from his followers. That destroys the assertion that if you believe but are wrong, you lose nothing.

8) It amounts to a thinly-veiled threat. “Believe in my god or he’ll send you to hell!” (But remember, you’re only being threatened with hell because of all the love in this religion.)

9) The biggest flaw in Pascal’s Wager (to me) is that it does nothing whatsoever to show that god actually exists. The wager, at best, leads the atheist to say “I sincerely wish I believed in god on the off-chance that he exists and it will give me a cushier spot in the afterlife.” For most intellectually honest people, belief is based upon evidence and intuition, not cost-benefit analysis. For example, please try to convince yourself – sincerely convince yourself – that 2 + 2 = 7. Can you do it? Pascal’s Wager does not garner sincere belief, only the wish of belief.

 


“It’s basically Pascal’s Wager for the paranoid prankster.”

 

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~ by kriskodisko on June 19, 2013.

4 Responses to “Pascal’s Wager”

  1. Lets be honest though, your problem isnt that his wager isnt logical from his perspective, its that it is illogical from your perspective. If one does believe in God, then it makes sense to use such a wager. What his wager really means is that if you believe in God and are wrong, you lose nothing (because there was nothing to begin with but you did live a good life nonetheless).. but if you dont believe in God and are wrong, you really do lose a lot.

    Now, you suggest he didnt say what God, but Pascal was Christian, so it is pretty obvious he meant Jesus and God (the Father). You have to remmeber than in the time of Pascal, they did not know about these other religions (not really, mostly they just called them heretics or pagans). The main thing is Pascals time was not Pluralism but The Enlightenment and Science. Pascal was trying to answer logical questions for those people who saw Science as higher than God or in replacement of God. Therefore, to him, there was only the choice between Christianity (that God existed) and Science (Atheism, that no God existed).

    Yes, looking at his stuff today we see many fallacies, but you cant fault someone in the past for not knowing all the things that would come up in the future. Now, what you can do is say someone in the present is illogical considering the things of past and present, that is acceptable in my opinion. I still think Pascals wager makes sense (from HIS perspective and other Christians, though it is quote short-sighed by today’s standards), but it is basically a bumper sticker argument of the time. It is short and meant to start a much larger conversation in my opinion.

    • My argument is with the modern use of Pascal’s Wager, not the historical one. I should have made that more clear.

    • Regardless of the time frame, KriskoDisko’s objection #4 hints at a limitation in the logic known as the “False Dichotomy” – in this case, that the argument presents the only two possible premises. You must conclude that one or the other is true, and your conclusion will either be correct or incorrect in the context of those two choices.

      There is at least one other choice: “I don’t know.” What happens in that case? It’s not logically equivalent to either choice. The only way to adapt this choice to the wager is to assume that one of the two outcomes in the wager will be applied to this choice. Which one? Christians might say, “No problem. Unless you specifically say you believe, then you go to hell.”

      That just repeats the false dichotomy: you must choose one of these two options, specifically, it must be the one that agrees with “my” choice.

      In addition, there is an implicit arrogrance in enforcing one of the responses to the false dichotomy that is “Pascal’s Wager”: “I know who is going to hell and who isn’t.”

  2. It’s a blanket statement, it doesn’t really mean anything. I don’t think he ever intended it as a valid argument for convincing someone else that that is why they should be a Christian, because I would never say that to a non-christian. I doubt that I would even say it to a Christian. It focuses too much on the “reward” of the afterlife and Christianity isn’t supposed to just be about fire insurance. In the words of one of my favourite movies, Black Snake Moan, “I think folks carry on about heaven too much, like it’s some kind of all you can eat buffet up in the clouds and folks just do as they told so they can eat what they want behind some pearly gates. There’s sinning in my heart. There’s evil in the world. But when I got no one, I talk to God. I ask for strength, I ask for forgiveness. Not peace at the end of my days when I got no more life to live or no more good to do, but today. Right now.”

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