Search This Blog

Monday, May 5, 2014

Pascal's Wager

Whenever I debate with Christians, there comes a point when they will say something to the effect of, "If you are right, then at least I led a good life, however if I am right, then you will end up in Hell." This is, of course, Pascal's Wager. It also begs the question of whether or not they actually led a "good" life. I have known many Christians who cheated, lied, fornicated and stole, among other "sins". Whether their lives were any more moral or better than others is highly debatable. In addition, it assumes that the atheist did not live a good life, which is very insulting.  If you are not familiar with the idea of Pascal's Wager, let me provide some background information. 

Pascal’s Wager is the idea that regardless of whether the existence of God can be proven through rational means, one should live their life as though God does exist, because living your life that way means you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. It was proposed by a French philosopher, mathematician and physicist named Blaise Pascal.

However, there are several problems with this idea. 

First, it assumes that there are only two alternatives to choose from; belief and disbelief in the biblical god. However, that is not accurate. There are thousands of different gods that mankind has dreamed up over the centuries. Therefore, he must also choose the correct deity to believe in. If the Romans, Hindus, Aztecs, Muslims, early Greeks or any of the thousands of other gods were correct, then the Christian is in as big of a problem as the atheist. Now, I am sure the Christian is not worried about whether the Greek or Aztec gods of old are the correct deity. Yet, why not? Millions of people have believed in these gods, with the same devote fervour as current day Christians. It could also be possible that the true god has not yet been revealed. It has been said many times, that there is little difference between a theist and an atheist. A theist does not believe in all of the thousands of other gods that mankind has thought up over the centuries, they just believe in the one they think is correct. An atheist agrees that all the other gods are myths and fables, we just add one more to the list; the one the theist believes in. 

Second,  even if the Christian God is the correct deity, there is still a problem of deciding which of the 30,000 Christian sects worships him the correct way. If the Catholics are right, then the Protestants have a problem, and of course, the reverse is true for the Catholic. If the Mormons are right, then most of the two billions Christians in the world have a huge problem.
Keep in mind that Pascal was a Catholic, and he was advocating for the Catholic version of Christianity. This always make it even more ironic when Protestants invoke his arguments. 

Third, if you only say you believe in order to hedge your bet for getting into heaven, it is doubtful that an all knowing god would let you in anyway, since you really did not believe. You simply went through the motions. 

Fourth, it assumes that God would only reward a believer no matter what other circumstances exist. It is certainly possible that God would reward rational and researched reasoning and punish blind or feigned faith.

Consider this argument given by Thomas Jefferson: "Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."

Richard Carrier adds to this idea with this statement: "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. For all others are untrustworthy, being cognitively or morally inferior, or both. They will also be less likely ever to discover and commit to true beliefs about right and wrong. That is, if they have a significant and trustworthy concern for doing right and avoiding wrong, it follows necessarily that they must have a significant and trustworthy concern for knowing right and wrong. Since this knowledge requires knowledge about many fundamental facts of the universe (such as whether there is a god), it follows necessarily that such people must have a significant and trustworthy concern for always seeking out, testing, and confirming that their beliefs about such things are probably correct. 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."

Fifth, it makes the assumption that a person can make themselves believe. This is, of course, nonsense. A person either actually believes something or they do not. You cannot force yourself to believe something. If someone was standing over you with a gun and said you either believe that green Martians are ruling the planet or I will kill you. You might tell them you believe. You might profess it wholeheartedly. You might sign a declaration to this statement. But you would not believe it. 

So, does Pascal's Wager hold up to scrutiny? I wouldn't bet on it.

No comments:

Post a Comment