Posted in Agnosticism, Atheism, Everyday life, Morality, Religion, Science, The Conscious Disbeliever

Beating the dead horse…Pascal’s Wager

Look both ways before you cross, unless you have accepted the wager, if so, cross without looking.

I have read many a blog on this subject, and for the life of me, I have no idea why I insist on it. Why must I beat the dead horse?

Most blogs or journals are done as a manner of catharsis, to get things off our chests. And through this cathartic act, we hope to give the matter a bit of our personal touch. Sometimes to the liking of our readers, sometimes not.

The dead horse that I feel compelled to flog is Pascal’s Wager.

Let us see into the points he makes in the Section III of the Pensèes:

God is, or He is not”

“A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up What will you wager?”

“According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.”

” You must wager It is not optional You are embarked.”

“Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.”

“Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.”

Pascal describes a situation where both the non-existence and existence of God are impossible to prove by human reason. So we must through reason out the window and make our bet based on the possible consequences of the wager. If we bet on God, what is the prize for winning? If we bet against, what is the prize for winning? And of course we must consider the price of losing our wager.

If you bet on the existence of God and win, you get an eternity of bliss in heaven. If you bet on the existence of God and lose…well you get nothing. On the other hand if you bet on the non-existence of God and win, you gain nothing, but if you lose…you get the prize of burning in the flames of Hell forever. He does not mention Hell, but you get what he means.

And when asked ” I am not released, and am so made that I cannot believe, What, then, would you have me do?”

The response: “Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.” – “But this is what I am afraid of.” -“And why?What have you to lose?”

“To end this discourse. – Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, honest, humble grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. …you will see so great certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that you will last recognise that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have given nothing.”

An important flaw in this wager is the fact that other deities are not considered in the equation. What if you are not a Christian? You believe in a God, but alas, the wrong one, so burn in Hell you heathen, along with us atheists.

Well, things could go another direction. What if God sees things in a different light?

Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.

Thomas Jefferson

or even better:

Suppose there is a god who is watching us and choosing which souls of the deceased to bring to heaven, and this god really does want only the morally good to populate heaven. He will probably select from only those who made a significant and responsible effort to discover the truth. . .Therefore, only such people can be sufficiently moral and trustworthy to deserve a place in heaven — unless God wishes to fill heaven with the morally lazy, irresponsible, or untrustworthy.

Richard Carrier, The End of Pascal’s Wager: Only Nontheists Go to Heaven

I have many problems with this wager. First, the value of the existence of God is arbitrarily set at an infinite value and non-belief a finite value. Second, we are asked to leave reason out of the problem solving. Third, he requests that we pretend to have faith, a false belief, presented unto my fellow-man and God as true. Fourth, he insults his God’s intelligence, assuming that our ruse will not be discovered.

This man, otherwise a brilliant mathematician, physicist and writer, had the grave defect of being a Catholic philosopher and apologist. He left reason at the door on the matter of our discussion, something we should not be willing to do. Also the fact that he would ask of us to act with total hypocrisy, a double moral, is appalling. How could one go about acting as a Christian on the outside, but being an atheist on the inside? Maybe from fear of real punishment, like the Inquisition? Belief cannot be willed by us or upon us. And if his God is omniscient, would we not be discovered in our subterfuge, and then be doubly punished?

To my lone reader: If you have read thus far, my utmost thanks for joining me on my ramblings, I will not suffer you to go much further.

I will end with Pascals own words:

“If we submit everything to reason, our religion will have no mysterious and supernatural element. If we offend the principles of reason, our religion will be absurd and ridiculous.”

Blaise Pascal

Author:

Family man, gamer, neurosurgeon, "Born Again 6.9 Atheist" and of course, Coffee aficionado

6 thoughts on “Beating the dead horse…Pascal’s Wager

  1. The dark side of Pascal’s wager: What if there is no god, and you* have spent your life feeling guilty over non-existent crimes pronounced by a non-existent being?

    That’s an impersonal ‘you’, obviously.

  2. Even darker – you choose the wrong god out of the dozens available, live your life feeling guilty over the very real crimes pronounced by an existent divine being – and suffer eternal damnation because your culture directed you towards the wrong god.

    1. That is a very funny option. It poses a dilemma. On one hand we have the sad result of being proven wrong. On the other, although proven wrong, we find a deity that respects reason (much to the liking of Thomas Jefferson) and with great joy we get to have a posthumous life, without all the so-called pious.

      Thank you for commenting.

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