Pascal’s Wager

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From the seventh century: Pascal’s Wager (or Pascal’s Gambit) is a suggestion posed by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should “wager” as though God exists, because so living has potentially everything to gain, and certainly nothing to lose. It was set out in note 233 of his Pensées, a posthumously published collection of notes made by Pascal in his last years as he worked on a treatise on Christian apologetics.

Historically, Pascal’s Wager was groundbreaking as it charted new territory in probability theory, was one of the first attempts to the use of the concept of infinity, marked the first formal use of decision theory, and anticipated the future philosophies of pragmatism and voluntarism.

Pascal’s wager is this: If there is no God and you are an atheist, you lose nothing whereas if you believe in God, and God does exist, you might gain everything (eternal bliss). But if you believe in God, and it turns out that God does not exist, you gain nothing, whereas if you do not believe in a God and there IS a God, you lose everything (eternal damnation).

This is, of course, assuming that you pick the right God or religion – but since there are thousands of religions in the world, how do you know you are picking the right one? If you have a thousand in one chance of picking the right God, Then you have a 999 in a thousand chance of going to hell because the religion you picked really didn’t have a God. In this case, since you don’t believe in the real God, you are going to hell after all!

To put it another way, Pascal’s wager fails in the fact that there are too many Gods to believe in and it would take more than a lifetime to examine all the religions. Additionally, after looking at all the religions and taking up Pascal’s Wager, wouldn’t you just choose the religion that has the least worse hell? A person cannot simply will himself to believe something that is evidently false to him; that the wager would apply as much to belief in the wrong God as it would to disbelief in all gods, leaving the the believer in any particular god in the same situation as the atheist or agnostic; that God would not reward belief in him based solely on hedging one’s bets.

If god is omniscient, he would know you were just ‘playing the odds’ and not truly believing in a religion, therefore you would still GO TO HELL!

If you were smart and decided to examine all the religions then pick the one with the least-worst hell, then you’d have to be a Muslim  – everyone gets out of hell in the Islamic faith.

The possibilities defined by Pascal’s Wager can be thought of as a decision under uncertainty with the values of the following decision matrix. (Pascal did not mention hell, nor address what the outcome would be of “God exists + Living as if God does not exist,” the prospect of infinite gain being sufficient to make his point.)

Richard Dawkins (a well-known atheist) suggests that the wager does not account for the possibility that there is a god that rewards honest attempted reasoning and instead punishes blind or feigned faith. Richard Carrier expands this argument as such:

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.

This would render the initial 4-box set inaccurate, because it does not include the possibility of a god who rewards nonbelief or punishes belief.