Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The problem I've long had with Pascal's wager

Pascal's wager has long seemed a bad way of trying to get people to believe in God. It first assumes that the decision is a binary one: believe in the Christian god or not believe in the Christian god. If you did the former, and the Christian god were real, then you would go to Heaven for an eternity of bliss. If you did the latter and the Christian god were real, then you would go to Hell for an eternity of damnation. If you did either the former or latter and the Christian god were not real, then you would just die. Therefore, as the argument goes, belief in God is a safer bet, since you are betting the length of an possible eternity of Heaven or Hell against a relatively insignificantly long existence on Earth.

However, it presupposes that the decision is binary. What if people revered a Christian god, even though there were none, but there actually existed another one (one who seemed as possible as the Christian god) that would consign you to a pit of Hell for eternity? By adding a single possibility, your "safer bet" option flies out the window, since you have two options of utter damnation vs. utter bliss, both against the possibility that neither exists. If you knew of the possibility of damnation if you followed the wrong religion, would you then take the "safe bet" and believe in both? In neither? Randomly choose one?

What if the choice included all the possible pantheon of gods revered throughout time? What if only one of them were the "true god"? How would you know which god to follow and which to spurn? The choice between choosing one over the other to save your eternal soul and choosing none becomes more and more like a lottery play: saving your money and not playing the lottery will -- for the majority of people -- not put you further back than playing it. Therefore, putting your trust in one of the many gods and goddesses and spirits that we've prayed to over our existence is just as good as putting your faith in yourself.

Of course, it took me several more paragraphs than Greta Christina:
"Believing in God is a safer bet" is a terrible reason to believe in God. How do you decide which god to bet on -- and which religion is right about how their god wants to be worshipped? For this bet to make sense, you'd need good evidence that the religion you've chosen is the right one -- which is exactly what atheists are asking for. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.
I could also make the argument that if motivation for belief were a true commodity, then becoming a follower because of the logic behind Pascal's wager wouldn't save you from a chance of an eternity in Hell, either. After all, how can the Christian god let you into Heaven under false pretenses?

1 comment:

tall penguin said...

Pascal's Wager has always seemed silly and juvenile to me. What kind of God wants to be served because worshipping he/she/it falls on the safer side of a cosmic bet?