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Getting Real : Faith No More

Blaise Pascals' Wager

from openmind - Saturday, February 19, 2005
accessed 1849 times

Pascal's Wager is well-known to many atheists. On the internet, it is probably the most common argument heard from Christians, and the regulars of some newsgroups feel cheated if a week goes by without someone bringing it up (this rarely happens), only to be shot down in flames (this always happens). Pascal's Wager is quite simple, and superficially appears to be a strong and compelling argument for theism. However, a little close scrutiny soon reveals the flawed logic and reasoning behind it, which actually makes it one of the weakest arguments a theist could come up with.

Pascal's Wager can be presented in many different forms, usually something like this:
"If you believe, and God exists, you gain everything. If you disbelieve, and God exists, you lose everything."
Alternatively :
"It makes more sense to believe in God than to not believe. If you believe, and God exists, you will be rewarded in the afterlife. If you do not believe, and He exists, you will be punished for your disbelief. If He does not exist, you have lost nothing either way. "
It amounts to hedging your bets. The consequences upon your death are shown here:
If God does not exist, nothing happens for believers / disbelievers. If God does exist then the believers "Go To Heaven", and the disbelievers "Burn In Hell". The worst case for the theist is no afterlife, the worst case for the atheist is an eternity in Hell. You can see why at first this appears to be a potentially convincing argument - it is sensible to choose the least-worst case.
The flaws:
The most obvious problems with Pascal's Wager are:
1. How do you know which God to believe in? There are plenty to choose from, and if you pick the wrong one, you could be in big trouble (e.g. what if you choose Jesus, but get to heaven only to come face-to-trunk with Ganesh?). This is known as the "Avoiding the wrong Hell problem". If a dozen people of different religions came to you with Pascal's Wager, how could you possibly choose between them? After all, many religions are quite specific that they are the One True Religion, and not any others. Jesus Christ said "I am the way, the truth and the light. None shall come to the Father except through me." [emphasis added] and no doubt most other religions make similar claims. If a Christian considers the Wager as strong support for his faith, surely he must accept that it is equally valid for all other religions when presented to himself?
2. God is not stupid. Won't He know that you're just trying to get a free ride into Heaven? How can you sincerely believe in a God simply out of convenience?
3. If there is no God, you have still lost something. You have wasted a good portion of your life performing the various devotional rituals, attending Churches, praying, reading scripture and discussing your deity with His other followers. Not to mention giving your hard-earned money to the church, wasting your intelligence on theological endeavours and boring the hell out of people who really don't want to hear your Good News.
4. Can you get away with just sort of generally believing in a Supreme Being, without specifically believing in one particular Deity? Probably not - God will still know what you're up to. Also, many Gods are quite particular about how they should be worshipped. Many born-again Christians will tell you that the only way to Heaven is through accepting Jesus Christ as your personal saviour - nothing more and nothing less. General-Deity-Belief and being nice simply won't do. Many people believe that all the different religions are merely alternative routes to the same destination. Nice and tolerant (if a little warm'n'fuzzy) though this may be, there is no valid reason to accept this stance over the fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist position : if the fundies are right, then the un-Saved liberal theists are in just as much trouble as the nonbelievers.
5. Few, if any, atheists disbelieve in deities out of choice. It's not as if we know the god is really there, but somehow refuse to believe in it (for example, see if you can choose to truly believe that Australia does not exist). Most atheists disbelieve simply because they know of no compelling evidence to suggest that any sort of god exists. If you want an atheist to believe, show her some good evidence, don't just say it's in her best interests to believe even if there is no god. A person cannot choose to sincerely believe in something, just because it is pragmatic to do so. Sure, you could say all the right prayers and attend church regularly, but that is not the same thing as actually believing , and any God worth his salt would obviously see straight through that.
6. It is quite insulting. It amounts to a thinly veiled threat, little better than saying "Believe in my God or He'll send you to Hell" (in fact, this is often the form it is presented in). Also, the theist making this threat assumes that the atheist believes there is a Hell or a God to send her there in the first place. If you don't believe in Hell anyway, it's not a scary thing to be threatened with - a bit like saying "If you don't start believing in unicorns, one will trample you to death while you're sleeping." Who would be worried by that?
7. It is often self-refuting, depending on the person's description of God. If you believe that God will forgive anyone for anything, or judge people purely on how they lived their life and not what they believed, or that everyone gets to Heaven regardless (unless maybe they were genocidal cannibal serial killers), then the Wager is meaningless. You might as well say "Believe in God, or you'll... erm... go to Heaven anyway." In such a case, it doesn't make a scrap of difference whether the person believes or not.
Pascal's Wager is hopelessly flawed. It sounds good at first, but poke it with the spike of reason and it quickly deflates, letting out all the hot air. An alternative - The Atheist's Wager. This seems to be much more reasonable, both for atheists and theists :
"It is better to live your life as if there are no Gods, and try to make the world a better place for your being in it. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by those you left behind. If there is a benevolent God, He will judge you on your merits and not just on whether or not you believed in Him." (And if God is not benevolent, he's gonna git ya whatever you do!) This can be shown as: If God exists then believers may "Go to Heaven". Disbelievers may also "Go to heaven" because of being good people. If God doesn't exist, then believers have wasted a life praying etc. while you've made the world a better place.

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from BlackElk
Tuesday, February 22, 2005 - 07:18


The way Pascal developed his argument, the real issue isn't whether or not there is a God, but what happens to self awareness after death. I say "self awareness" rather than "the soul," because we can demonstrate the existence of self awareness, whereas the soul is a metaphysical speculation. I tend to believe that "self" is more or less a hologram produced by the arrangement of molecules and atoms that make up the physical body. Once the body fails, the self fades from existence.

Despite that assumption about death, I wonder quite a lot about evidence that suggests my unique participation in life is a manifestation of an over-arching matrix of intentionality and awareness. Anyone see the movie, What the [bleep] do we know? These ideas are also themes in a more entertaining movie, The Matrix.
(reply to this comment)

from openmind
Monday, February 21, 2005 - 15:30

Average visitor agreement is 4 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 4 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 4 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 4 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 4 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
the fool hath said in his heart "their is no God" but a wise one says that with his mouth
(reply to this comment)
From Nancy
Monday, February 21, 2005, 16:12


The dyslexic hath said in his heart "There is no Dog"

Nancy, change your password!(reply to this comment

From Nancy
Monday, February 21, 2005, 16:44



I expect more from you! "Unto whom much is given..."

;)(reply to this comment

from exister
Monday, February 21, 2005 - 14:37

Average visitor agreement is 1 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)

A corollary to Pascal's wager:

Your car will someday break down. If you are driving it when it breaks down you will have to call a tow truck. If you stay home all of the time and sell your car before it breaks down then you will never be inconvenienced by it, but you will never go anywhere either. What Pascal was really saying is, "be Reality's little bitch and live in abject fear of everything," which is of course the reasoning that gave rise to all religion in the first place.

As for the idea that you would lose nothing by believing in God, what about all of that mind blowing sex that I had in my wasted youth?
(reply to this comment)

from Perry
Monday, February 21, 2005 - 11:04


Dear OpenMind,

Where were you when I needed you most? When the cult came knocking I let them in and locked the door behind them. I wasted the next 20 years of my life. You let me down. All that time I thought Pascals' Wager was a sure bet and so I relied on it. I know better now, thanks to you. Now all my "money" is on the Atheist's Wager.
(reply to this comment)

From cocomojo
Tuesday, February 22, 2005, 12:03

Your problem was locking the door on the firemen when your house started to burn around your ears. Second problem was relying on a bet, any bet. Third mistake, not learning the above lessons well enough apparently. (reply to this comment
From Fish
Tuesday, February 22, 2005, 07:57

This is a joke, right??(reply to this comment
From LOL
Monday, February 21, 2005, 11:10

That would be your own lack of logical reasoning>(reply to this comment
From Perry
Monday, February 21, 2005, 11:18

You're right. But in case you didn't get, I was referring to my own mind (capitalized) that let me down at that time, not the openmind (lower case) who posted the article. (reply to this comment
from moon beam
Monday, February 21, 2005 - 08:42

Well said, I agree.
After going through an abusive relationship at 17, I gained another perspective of christianity and the nature of worship, being, that "God/Jesus" was the a "Treat'em mean, Keep'em keen" kind of a guy! All that "we are not worthy" "Do what you want with me" "I will praise you no matter what" " "We are weak, but he is strong" Singing all those songs with those typs of lyrics puts you into a suggestable state , like hypinosis. Coupled with the peer group pressure to conform. Our subconscious doesn't reason.

I gave religion plenty of thought and can't come up with a single reason to be a diciple dedicated to any of them, I won't be a hypocrite and "Hedge my bets". In fact what I found were plenty of good reasons not to be one.
Breaking away from an abusive relationship is similar to breaking away from "faith" You have to become strong and independent, learn to value yourself, become confident in your learning process and expression. (not to take the blame for your suffering-"You made me do this") To take heed or the blame for your part in yours or someone else's suffering, not blaming them and the devil.

But like with a relationship It becomes all you know, you are "safe" in what you know and the fear of never finding anyone else is a major contributer to remaining in that state, as your confidence is being destroyed. (a usual line is "You won't find some one who loves you as I do")
It's not surprising that in the last 2000 years the main religions have been Patriarchal, abusive to woman, with the equlibrium out of kilt, more Ying than Yang.

The Church silenced thousands of woman in the dark ages, calling them whitches and so forth, destroying pagan wisdom and knowledge of the earth and the balance between men and woman. For instance the Koran and Mohammad states that woman are to be equal in office and in her wealth. Infact in his time, woman could inherit and divorce, he described her as an equal, she also wrote her own books. The same seems to go for Jesus, it now comes to light that he and Mary were married that he loved her as a man loves a woman. So why did these 2 main religions in their progressive practise and through tradition, move so far away from such healthy ideals. Because it got screwed, not by some ficticious devil but through man, fear and control and censcorship, the take over of politics by religion.

Through the christian ages, thousands of people have been silenced and books destroyed anything that goes against Paul(a free roman), who never met Jesus and who started the church years after Jesus died. All the other accounts that Jesus, his brothers, friends and wife wrote are not in the book, the book about Jesus!

Christianity like controling boyfriends start out by not wanting you to go out alone ,to have different experiences, to not have other friends, tries to alienate your family, even better if you don't have one(or an unloving one) etc. All sound familiar?

Prayer is self hypinosis, when you wish for something, then that aids/propells the action of it coming true.
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