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# Arguing against Pascal's Wager?

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How can I argue against Pascal's Wager? For those who don't know, it basically means "I may as well believe in God, because 'what do I have to lose?' If I die and believe and it's true, I go to heaven. If I don't, I go to hell. If it's not real, I don't lose anything. Why not believe?"

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What would Pascal have you do with your belief? Spend time in church? Give to the poor? What? If belief in God means: don't do anything different in your life, then what's the point? If it does imply some different action, then it has a cost.

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How can I argue against Pascal's Wager? For those who don't know, it basically means "I may as well believe in God, because 'what do I have to lose?' If I die and believe and it's true, I go to heaven. If I don't, I go to hell. If it's not real, I don't lose anything. Why not believe?"

What if you pick the wrong God to believe in?

Edit: Didn't Dawkins cover Pascal's Wager in the God Delusion?

Edited by Mammon

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How can I argue against Pascal's Wager? For those who don't know, it basically means "I may as well believe in God, because 'what do I have to lose?' If I die and believe and it's true, I go to heaven. If I don't, I go to hell. If it's not real, I don't lose anything. Why not believe?"

A couple points for arguing against Pascal's Wager:

First: epistemologically. Obviously, the idea of God is arbitrary (in the sense of Peikoff), and so any calculation of probability expectations is impossible since you don't know the sample space (and in fact the entire "expectation" calculation is occurring outside of reality). Meaning (flippantly assuming the premises for the moment) either you "might" really piss off Satan, Allah, the FSM or any other arbitrary entities by deciding to be Christian, or (more literally) there's only one "possibility" open to you, which is to accept reality and all of the facts therein at face value and not dream up alternatives.

Next: a false assumption. You've got a hell of a lot (so to speak) to lose choosing to be religious rather than reality-oriented in this life, and this doesn't appear in the expectation.

Finally: even assuming you accept Pascal's Wager, it doesn't really say anything about whether you actually accept the existence of God, just that you should go through life pretending that there is one "just in case." So it's not really an argument for the existence of God at all.

As an aside, it's very interesting to note the parallel between the Christian argument of Pascal's Wager and the "Precautionary Principle" of the environmentalists-- both are similar fallacies.

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You've got a hell of a lot (so to speak) to lose choosing to be religious rather than reality-oriented in this life, and this doesn't appear in the expectation.

THAT'S the big question. WHAT have you got to lose? I think specifics here are important. The usual argument for the wager is that "I'm happy being this way" so what could you show to convince them otherwise? What specifically would they be gaining that they could view as being HAPPIER than their fantasy?

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How can I argue against Pascal's Wager? For those who don't know, it basically means "I may as well believe in God, because 'what do I have to lose?' If I die and believe and it's true, I go to heaven. If I don't, I go to hell. If it's not real, I don't lose anything. Why not believe?"

Which god do I believe in? Surely if I pick the wrong one, the real God is going to be pissed off that I was sacrificing all those animals to a false idol.

Also, is God foolish enough to not see through your ruse?

Done and done.

Edited by brian0918

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The best argument for me against Pascal's wager is pointing out that we should due a whole number of pointless things because we can't prove they won't have a benefit.

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The best argument for me against Pascal's wager is pointing out that we should due a whole number of pointless things because we can't prove they won't have a benefit.

But surely your status in the afterlife is far more important than any goals you might have in the world of the living....

Edited by brian0918

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The best argument for me against Pascal's wager is pointing out that we should due a whole number of pointless things because we can't prove they won't have a benefit.

While I think this is certainly true, it is far too kind--it doesn't take into account the harmful epistemological effects that are involved in believing in an omnipotent and omniscient being for which there is no perceptual evidence. It means sacrificing the one and only means you have of knowing reality (your perception and valid means of conceptualization) for the sake of an arbitrary claim. It means sacrificing your rationality and your means of validating existence for the sake of what? Social convention? Political gain? Acceptance by those who have chosen to sacrifice their rationality for the sake of their so-called faith?

Pascal's wager amounts to little more than the threat of eternal damnation (for which there is no objective evidence) with the explicit claim that you have little or nothing to lose by the loss of your rationality. This is no wager, but a proposition for damnation, not in the fantasy of a claimed afterlife, but damnation and suffering in this and only real life.

Edited by RichardParker

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Pascal's Wager is incredibly subversive to the attempt to reason one's way to faith. The following is a rationalist refutation: it accepts the idea of God to refute the premise of the Wager.

It postulates that you can fool God by giving him a half-hearted hedging allegiance 'just-in-case' instead of a full, true and pure faith. But you can't fool God, and you will suffer for trying.

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But you can't fool God, and you will suffer for trying.

Oh really?

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The most powerful argument against the wager involves the wrong-god and infinite agony problem. Throg offers infinite happiness to those who believe in him and infinite agony to those who do not. The risk of believing in the Christian god is infinite, so a prudent man will believe in Throg.

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THAT'S the big question. WHAT have you got to lose? I think specifics here are important. The usual argument for the wager is that "I'm happy being this way" so what could you show to convince them otherwise? What specifically would they be gaining that they could view as being HAPPIER than their fantasy?

Well, the whole "it makes me feel good, so I do it" argument is distinct from Pascal's Wager on the surface: the former being an explicit argument from emotionalism and the latter being a rather rationalistic justification of same. But in any case, being religious is harmful because as the rational animal one uses reason to survive-- and so you surrender your means of survival when you in turn surrender the principle of living by reason. It's pretty much what Richard Parker was saying above.

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I think when someone posits Pascal's Wager, what they are leaving unsaid is: "Come on, look, you do really believe in God and the afterlife, you're just pretending not to because you think it's cool or because you want to have shiny buttons on your jacket". And from there it becomes a wager between this and something more worthwhile in the long run.

This belief stems, I think, from the Theist's perception of Atheists as stubborn, arrogant twats just trying to cause a lot of trouble - a bunch of guys basically protesting too much. And it's hardly surprising that they think so, considering the 'New Atheists' don't have any positive philosophy to point to, so all one ever sees of them is their laughing at God and coming up with new refutations of the idea of him, rather than anything else (besides propping up altruism as being a human trait that was evolved over time).

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But in any case, being religious is harmful because as the rational animal one uses reason to survive

But these people wouldn't care about that - that's the crux of Nick's question. When people don't care about man's nature, epistomology, etc. what do you say to them to convince them that even though they are "happy" believing in God, what about athiesm would make them happier? I realize that's a hedonistic argument, but it's the crux of what the thread is about.

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But these people wouldn't care about that - that's the crux of Nick's question. When people don't care about man's nature, epistomology, etc. what do you say to them to convince them that even though they are "happy" believing in God, what about athiesm would make them happier? I realize that's a hedonistic argument, but it's the crux of what the thread is about.

This reminds me of the line "I'd rather be happy than right." The obvious question in response is "How can you be happy knowing that you're wrong?" The implicit premise behind the hedonistic argument is that truth doesn't matter, the way the world actually is doesn't matter, only your subjective emotional state matters. This, of course, is wrong. If you want to express this in terms of bromides, it's a duel between "Ignorance is bliss" and "What you don't know can still hurt you." But at root there isn't really any way to argue with such a person. What kind of fact or logic can you present to change the emotions of someone who has as much as said that they consider their emotions more important than facts and logic?

That said, here's another argument against Pascal's Wager that was only briefly touched on before: It's impossible. You cannot make yourself believe something through sheer force of will. No matter how much you try, you can't believe that 2 + 2 = 5 if you see the reasons why it is really 4. Similarly, you can't make yourself believe in God. What you can do is make yourself act as if you believe in God. You can get on your knees and pray, you can go to church, you can tell other people you believe. But on the premise of the argument, God isn't interested in you going through the motions. He's interested in what's inside -- the state of your soul. Pascal's Wager is basically an attempt to lie to an allegedly omniscient God because you think you'll be able to trick him and get something out of it. I doubt that such a God, were he to exist, would fall for it. So accuse the religionist of being a con-man and get on with your life.

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The most powerful argument against the wager involves the wrong-god and infinite agony problem. Throg offers infinite happiness to those who believe in him and infinite agony to those who do not. The risk of believing in the Christian god is infinite, so a prudent man will believe in Throg.

Damnit, David, there you go again, spreading that nonsense about the demon Throg. It's well known and documented here on these platiniridium tablets I was given by an Angel of the True God Tarskyte, that Throg is actually quite evil though of course he does his best to convince his followers that Tarskyte is the Evil One.

(BTW: Due to the mystical powers of The True God Tarskyte, I am the only one capable of seeing, touching or even feeling the heft of the platiniridium tablets. Anyone else will be falsely convinced there is only insubtantial air there. So don't ask.)

I'll bet you one billion kwatloos that I'm right. Payable in the afterlife.

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It's well known and documented here on these platiniridium tablets I was given by an Angel of the True God Tarskyte, that Throg is actually quite evil though of course he does his best to convince his followers that Tarskyte is the Evil One.
Is Tarkyte infinitely merciful? If so, my ass is covered, since, following Pascal, I don't care who is good or evil, I only care about infinite (dis)benefits. I'd be screwed if Tarskyte were infinitely vengeful against his disbelievers, and uncountably screwed if there were an infinity of infinitely vengeful deities.

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Is Tarkyte infinitely merciful? If so, my ass is covered, since, following Pascal, I don't care who is good or evil, I only care about infinite (dis)benefits. I'd be screwed if Tarskyte were infinitely vengeful against his disbelievers, and uncountably screwed if there were an infinity of infinitely vengeful deities.

Infinitely vengeful. And you mispelled His name so you are already on thin ice for another reason.

Don't be too worried about the infinitude of deities, there is only the True God Tarskyte. But infinitely screwed is still infinitely screwed.

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The best answer I've seen to all forms of Pascal's wager is the following excerpt from a speech given by George Smith at a gathering of atheist. It's quite good, quote:

What if it turns out that there is a Christian god and He's up there and He's going to punish you for eternity for disbelieving in Him. Here's where my wager comes in. Let's suppose you're an atheist. What are the possibilities? The first possibility is there is no god, in that case, you'll die, that'll be it, you've lost nothing, and you've lived a happy life with the correct position. Secondly, a god may exist but he may not be concerned with human affairs. He may be the god of traditional Deism. He may have started the universe going and left it to its traditional devices, in which case you will simply die, that is all there is to it, again, and you've lost nothing.

Let's suppose that God exists and He is concerned with human affairs -- He's a personal god -- but that He is a just god. He's concerned with justice. If you have a just god, he could not possibly punish an honest error of belief where there is no moral turpitude or no wrongdoing involved. If this god is a creator god and He gave us reason as the basic means of understanding our world, then He would take pride in the conscientious and scrupulous use of reason on the part of His creatures, even if they committed errors from time to time, in the same way a benevolent father would take pride in the accomplishments of his son, even if the son committed errors from time to time. Therefore, if there exists a just god, we have absolutely nothing to fear from such a god. Such a god could not conceivably punish us for an honest error of belief.

Now we come to the last possibility. Suppose there exists an unjust god, specifically the god of Christianity, who doesn't give a damn about justice and who will burn us in Hell, regardless of whether we made honest mistakes or not. Such a god is necessarily unjust, for there is no more heinous injustice we could conceive of, than to punish a person for an honest error of belief, when he has tried to the best of his ability to ascertain the truth. The Christian thinks he's in a better position in case this kind of god exists. I wish to point out that he's not in any better position than we are. The earmark of injustice is unprincipled behavior, behavior that's not predictable. If there's an unjust god and He really gets all this glee out of burning sinners and disbelievers, then what could give him more glee than to tell Christians they would be saved, only to turn around and burn them anyway, for the Hell of it, just because he enjoys it? If you've got an unjust god, what worst injustice could there be than that? It's not that far-fetched. If a god is willing to punish you simply for an honest error of belief, you can't believe He's going to keep his word when He tells you He won't punish you if you believe in Him - because He's got to have a sadistic streak to begin with. Certainly He would get quite a bit of glee out of this behavior. Even if there exists this unjust god, then admittedly we live in a nightmarish universe, but we're in no worse position than the Christian is.

Again, if you're going to make the wager, you might as well wager on what your reason tells you, that atheism is correct, and go that route because you won't be able to do anything about an unjust god anyway, even if you accept Christianity. My wager says that you should in all cases wager on reason and accept the logical consequence, which in this case is atheism. If there's no god, you're correct; if there's an indifferent god, you won't suffer; if there's a just god, you have nothing to fear from the honest use of your reason; and if there's an unjust god, you have much to fear but so does the Christian.

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What are the possibilities? The first possibility is there is no god, in that case, you'll die, that'll be it, you've lost nothing, and you've lived a happy life with the correct position.

You have lost a great many things if the first case is true (which of course it is) you have lost all the time you spent pretending to believe in a fictitious monster. Furthermore, by accepting this sort of arbitrary assertion (with accompanying farcical morality) you have lost the sanctity of your own mind. You have lost the ability to live life to its fullest.

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You have lost a great many things if the first case is true (which of course it is) you have lost all the time you spent pretending to believe in a fictitious monster. Furthermore, by accepting this sort of arbitrary assertion (with accompanying farcical morality) you have lost the sanctity of your own mind. You have lost the ability to live life to its fullest.

I think you've misunderstood the context - all these possibilities assumes that you are already an atheist - as he clearly states.

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But these people wouldn't care about that - that's the crux of Nick's question. When people don't care about man's nature, epistomology, etc. what do you say to them to convince them that even though they are "happy" believing in God, what about athiesm would make them happier? I realize that's a hedonistic argument, but it's the crux of what the thread is about.

If somebody really doesn't care about man's nature and epistemology (that is, he doesn't care to understand how he can know what is true) then I don't think there's much you can do to reach him. He has tossed out his tool of survival - his mind, and will believe anything he feels like believing. Why would he be willing to consider any argument somebody made? If he has thrown out epistemology - no matter what you'd say to him, his response would just be some variant of "but I feel you're wrong."

Others here have given a good summary of what's wrong with accepting Pascal's wager. That is: to live a life based on the fear that there might be some fairy-tale monster (God) ready to burn you for eternity if you don't believe in him, means you'd have to base your life on something that doesn't exist. You'd be giving up the use of your mind; your whole life would be lived in service to a lie. Living one's life in accordance with reality matters: it's how we gain values.

Also, living in fear of eternal damnation if you don't do exactly what some God supposedly wants, means one would go through life thinking that the universe is a quite malevolent place. And all for no reason, because the universe isn't malevolent at all.

Then there's the problem of which god to believe in. I honestly don't know how the various religionists answer this objection: how can they use Pascal's wager to advocate being a Christian versus a Moslem? (And more: look at all of the groups of Christians who consider the other variants to be not true Christianity. In the past these groups have quite literally created living hell for each other - such as burning people at the stake who don't subscribe to the right variant of superstition.)

To whom would Pascal's wager appeal? A skeptic I suppose: one who goes through life thinking "well, you never know...." Somebody afraid to take a stand on anything.

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I honestly don't know how the various religionists answer this objection

Ah... I can shed some light on that having had experience with Mormons (I would consider them to be top of the line when it comes to marketing religion) - they use psychology. They tell you, if you read this book, you'll feel that it's true (and that feeling is god telling you it's true). It's just the placebo effect. People think they physically feel a warm feeling in their chest because some missionary told them they would.

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How can I argue against Pascal's Wager? For those who don't know, it basically means "I may as well believe in God, because 'what do I have to lose?' If I die and believe and it's true, I go to heaven. If I don't, I go to hell. If it's not real, I don't lose anything. Why not believe?"

Pascal's wager takes its entire persuasive force from the cultural biases of its audience. Imagine a similar argument for a god that you were not indoctrinated into worshipping, and a threat that is not part of the Christian mythology: "Llunga, the Kenyan god of crispy peaches, will tie your disembodied brain to a rock on the bottom of the ocean if you don't worship him." You would dismiss that argument out of hand. Pascal's Wager is no different. There is no reason to think that God, or the soul, or heaven, or hell, exists. Whenever an argument hinges on them, we can treat the conclusion of that argument as if it were asserted at random, without any premises.

Edited by ctrl y

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