Theistic Arguments: Pascal's Wager

Pascal's Wager is one of the most used arguments by theists, though it is not popular among those who seriously seek truth. The wager is not truly an argument for the existence of god, but more a reason for believing in god. Blaise Pascal, who first wrote it down, was a French philosopher, mathematician and physicist.

Pascal came to the conclusion that the existence of a god could not be established, that he could never know whether a god did or did not exist. But instead of accepting the position of atheistic agnosticism he made his famous, or maybe infamous, wager. The wager states that if we do not know if a god exists or not, we had better believe in him, for we can lose nothing by believing and being wrong, but we can lose a lot by not believing and being wrong. Consider the four possibilities:

  • If I believe and God exists: I'll be happy for eternity = infinite gain.
  • If I believe and God does not exist: I've lost nothing and gained nothing.
  • If I do not believe and God exists: I'll be punished for eternity = infinite loss.
  • If I do not believe and God does not exist: I've lost nothing and gained nothing.
  • Therefore by believing I cannot lose anything, but I can win a lot. But by not believing I can lose a lot, but cannot win anything. So I'd better believe.

    Is this a reasonable argument to believe in god? Is it flawless? Should we take the safe bet?

    No. Let us examine the first point. We have no knowledge of the nature of this god. If the true god is Allah, just believing in him won't do the trick. You need to do more. Maybe the true god let's us reincarnate. Maybe the true god supports no afterlife. Maybe the true god does not care about belief or unbelief. Maybe the true god does not care about humans at all. If you believe in god and god exists, you're still not sure of infinite, or any, gain.

    Worse, suppose that you believe in the wrong god. Suppose you believe in Jehovah and Allah is the true god. Man, you're going to be in trouble! And there are more than 5000 gods out there. Which is the true one? Which is the one in whom one should believe? You do not only need to believe in god, you must first find out what the true god is. Believing in the wrong god could be a disaster!

    The second point is untrue also. If you spend your life worshipping a god, and he does not exist, you've lost a lot. Think of all the time lost in worship and devotion. You have wasted all you have, the few years of your life, to serve a lie. That is an incredible loss. Thus, two of Pascal's wager's premisses fail.

    The third point is not valid either, for it too assumes that the god of the Universe is the Christian god Jehovah. Maybe the true god supports no hell. Maybe the true god is really merciful. Maybe he's a god of reason, and he thinks those who believe on faith are pathetic. Maybe none of the gods we know is true and we all are unbelievers; would we all end in hell? Maybe god does not care about humans and has made no afterlife. The third point is no more solid than the previous two.

    The final point: the atheist who is right gains nothing. Is this true? The atheist who is right has been right. He has discovered truth. He has spent his time not in worship of an empty notion, but in doing useful things. If the world is a better place for the fact that he has lived, then he has all the gain he can wish for. And the devout believer who has prayed and preached and hoped and believed has lost his entire life. The atheist has gained nothing? The atheist has gained a lot. He alone was in the position to make the most of his life. Pascal's fourth point is no better than the others.

    Pascal's wager betrays a deep scorn for truth. The one who brings this argument tells you not to believe because a god exists, but to believe because it could bring you pleasure in the future. Yet we believe things because we think they are true, not because we want them to be true. Using this 'reasoning' we would have to decide that we should believe in all the gods ever concieved, nay, in all the gods that are concievable and in addition in every other thing that could bring us pleasure if we believed in it. This is absurd, and the entire wager is a rape of Reason.

    A final argument might be that it is impossible to believe something which you deep down know to be false. Therefore it is impossible to believe in god even if we wanted to, without serious avidence. So Pascal's Wager tells us to do something impossible, making it even more preposterous. (If you don't believe it's impossible to make yourself believe things, try believing that Odin is the One True God.)

    Victor Gijsbers