Pascal’s Wager

pascals-wagerPascals wager is such a flawed argument that I find it rather staggering people use or even remember it.

The argument essentially is that since the benefits of believing in God and being right outweigh the benefits of not believing in God, right or wrong, that it’s in your best interest to choose to believe in him.

The three faults are thus:

First: You can not choose a belief. You can fake a belief, but your beliefs are not a choice anymore than who you love, what flavor of ice cream you like, or what poetry makes you cry are choices. You can’t make yourself believe something. You can listen to arguments, have your beliefs changed, but that’s not the result of a choice, it’s the conclusion of new evidence which changes your view. Anyone “choosing” to believe because of pascals wager is simply choosing to say they believe for the benefit of saying it. But since his wager offers no evidence, good or bad, for or against the existence of god, it has no impact on the actual belief.

Second: It assumes false belief is harmless, when it’s clearly far from it. First, an erroneous belief in heaven might lead to poor life decisions, especially regarding end of life care. Further, there is a proximate harm to others. Certainly Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, blacks, women, Protestants, Catholics, and homosexuals would vehemently disagree that belief, true or false, has no consequences. Certainly one could argue that Pascal’s Wager is one of personal choice, so only personal harm should be a part of the calculation, but if that’s true, then that makes the wager self-contradictory, immoral and selfish to boot (“Well, there may be harm to innocent people, but none to me, and I might go to heaven, so I’ll believe”).
Marcus-Aurelius-2Third: While most gods (including the Abrahamic one) insist on obedience regardless of belief, they also do insist on a strong belief (ask Abraham). If God truly is all knowing, than one must assume he’s aware that your “choice” to believe in him is not one of faith, but of hedging your bets. Indeed, it strikes me that even recommending false belief is in violation of the commandments against bearing false witness and against blasphemy.

pascal-v-homerI’ve been asked what I would say to God if, when I died, I found myself facing him. I’d apologize, certainly. Clearly I erred. But I would say (though I imagine he’d know, having made me) that my beliefs were always honest. I gave to charity because I believed in it, helped the old lady across the street because it was right, not because I thought I was getting a reward. I did what I thought I was right–and not haphazardly, closing my eyes and using good intentions as a shield against the hard work of reasoning, but rather through long, deliberative processes, using the tools he gave me to the best of my ability.

If there were a God, I must think he’d prefer my answer to Pascall’s.



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254 Comments on "Pascal’s Wager"

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Guy Lemieux

Tell me Mr McPherson, the bible wrote that the world was created in 7 days.
What’s your thought on this issue?
Now Let’s make something clear. I’m not trying to Bragg about this or whatever. But the issue about science and faith is quite intéresting in this concept.