On Pascal’s wager

Pascal’s wager is something I had never heard of until yesterday. It is an excellent example of a false dilemma, also known as a false dichotomy.

Essentially, it states that it is better to believe in God than to risk eternity in Hell. From the rational wiki link, it can be summarized as:

  1. If you believe in God and God does exist, you will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven: thus an infinite gain.
  2. If you do not believe in God and God does exist, you will be condemned to remain in hell forever: thus an infinite loss.
  3. If you believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded: thus a finite loss.
  4. If you do not believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded, but you have lived your own life: thus a finite gain.

It can be tabulated as:

God exists God does not exist
Believe in God Infinite gain in heaven Insignificant loss
Disbelieve in God Infinite loss in hell Insignificant gain

But there are a number of problems with this wager:

  1. Which god should I wager on?
  2. I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe something just because I choose to believe it.
  3. If there is a god, would he not know that I chose to believe rather than believed sincerely?
  4. Why would god reward me for belief alone, and punish me for disbelief?

Which God should I wager on?

Pascal’s wager starts with the implicit assumption that the god he already worshipped, the Christian god, is the one true god. This oversimplifies the options into a binary choice. Either god will reward you or punish you. But the only difference between theists with different gods is that they were brought up and taught – indoctrinated – to believe in their god. Every religion has good (and bad) people. All are equally sincere, and all are convinced that their god is the true god, and all other gods are false. There is no way of knowing which god is the right god (though personally, I don’t believe in any of them), and there is no way of knowing if the true god might punish you for worshipping a false god. In fact, all Abrahamic religions teach you that you will go to hell if you don’t believe in their particular god.

Thus the seemingly simple gain versus risk binary choice falls away. With thousands of gods to choose from, even if one of them was correct, the probability of choosing the correct one is negligible.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe something just because I choose to believe it.

This one should not require further explanation. If you hold a gun to my head I might profess belief in whatever you ask, but I won’t really believe it. I can’t just switch on belief.

If there is a god, would he not know that I chose to believe rather than believed sincerely?

Surely an omnipotent, all-powerful, all-knowing god would know that I was faking it. Maybe his ego is so almighty he wouldn’t care?

Why would god reward me for belief alone, and punish me for disbelief?

There have been plenty of atrocities committed by people who believed in god. Even Adolf Hitler was sincere in his belief. Is he in heaven now? Maybe his Christian god is the true one and is rewarding him for punishing all those worshippers of the wrong god? Seriously, this is absurd. I am good to other people and try to live the best life I can because I have empathy for others. My morals didn’t come from any religion, and I didn’t stop caring about my fellow humanity when I lost my faith in god. On the contrary, I have no excuse for racism, misogyny, homophobia, or any other prejudice. Sincere believers have used their religion to justify all manner of injustice, and even if there was a god, which I’m certain there is not, I can not believe that those people would be rewarded just for believing.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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7 Responses to On Pascal’s wager

  1. Be very wary of anyone offering you the truth via a wager. That person is very likely to have snake oil in a suitcase nearby.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. makagutu says:

    I think the Wager is one of the weakest reasons to believe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerome says:

      Agreed. But also to a theist who is unable to see past their narrow-minded indoctrinated perspective (i.e. their brainwashing), it looks like a strong argument, because most will never realize that their god is no different to all the others that were ever worshiped.

      Like

      • makagutu says:

        You are right on that. I have just been having a discussion on the same with a fellow who thinks the Wager is a serious argument

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jerome says:

          Meh. Arguments with theists make me want to pull my little remaining hair out. That moment when you have made the most rational, logical, reasonable and scientific argument against theism to an intelligent person, and think to yourself that you have finally broken through and that they will see reason; then they fuck it all up by quoting the bible and saying that it is proof of being true because the word of the fucking lord proves it… Might as well argue with a potato.

          And yet, I used to believe. (OK a very long time ago and I never did accept some of the nonsense. But I did kind of believe until I grew up.) So I always hope to get through. Never seem to get it right though.

          Like

  3. bbnewsab says:

    Reblogged this on Mass Delusions a.k.a. Magical & Religious Woo-Bullshit Thinking and commented:
    A brilliant rebuttal of Pascal’s wager.

    Like

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