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Bad bets

I don’t think I’ve ever discussed Pascal’s Wager on here. Mostly because it’s a silly argument, but it was (rather inappropriately) brought up in a comments thread at Colby’s blog. Here’s a description:

God either exists or He doesn’t. Based on the testimony, both general revelation (nature) and special revelation (Scriptures/Bible), it is safe to assume that God does in fact exist. It is abundantly fair to conceive, that there is at least 50% chance that the Christian Creator God does in fact exist. Therefore, since we stand to gain eternity, and thus infinity, the wise and safe choice is to live as though God does exist. If we are right, we gain everything, and lose nothing. If we are wrong, we lose nothing and gain nothing. Therefore, based on simple mathematics, only the fool would choose to live a Godless life. Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have nothing to lose. 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.

Essentially, believing in God may turn out good or neutral, disbelieving in him will turn out neutral or bad. So, you should believer. There are numerous objections to this, most of them pretty obvious. The first is that this is a fallacious argument. Specifically, it’s an appeal to the consequences of belief. With that out of the way, let’s discuss why it’s a bad bet.

The main problem is that there are far too many unconsidered situations. A god who punishes and rewards disbelievers and believers, respectively, is not the only possibility. Here’s what I can think of:

1. God rewards disbelievers for seeing through mental biases and using logic and reason.
2. God rewards believers for believing.
3. God chooses at random.
4. God rewards those who behave well.
5. God punishes believers with certain dogmas.
6. God punishes disbelievers with certain dogmas.
7. God doesn’t exist

As you can see, there are a few more logically possible options. What I’ve come up with is essentially balanced, as well; whatever you choose to believe, it’s about 50-50 what happens to you.

Now, can we determine which of those options is more probable than the others? Nope, we can’t. You can’t do it by the religions in the world because a) new religions are created all the time and b) there’s no demonstrable link between the existence of a religion and its truth value. Believing that, say, a god who punishes believers is less likely than one who punishes disbelievers because that’s the way it is in the world is a theological assumption that isn’t shared by the other side of the debate. Unless you can make a case for it, you can use it in this argument.

Categories: Religion
  1. August 5, 2007 at 10:45 am

    There is certainly something mysterious going on here, having this universe. But to ascribe it all to the God of the Bible is ludicrous. I think that less than a 50-50 proposition.

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