How would you respond to Pascal’s wager? Pascal’s Wager is a hugely significant argument in apologetic philosophy, it relates to Blaise Pascal’s idea that all humans must wager on the existence of God with their own lives; the foundations of this argument are one of the earliest forms of game theory. The assumptions that are made in this argument are that if you do believe in God the payoff is infinite if God does in fact exist and there must be at least a slight chance that God does in fact exist. If in fact these statements are true a rational person should live as if God exists.
This is because a person would stand to gain an infinite reward if they do believe in god and he exists. Whilst without believing in god you only stand to gain or lose a finite amount which cannot compare to an infinite pay out. An interesting quote I found said ‘Pascal’s wager: Believing in and searching for kryptonite – on the off chance that Superman exists and wants to kill you. ‘I would not dismiss the wager outright as this quote does as I feel it does hold some value even if it merely an interesting thought experiment.
However for this essay I am going to argue against Pascal’s wager. The first and most obvious argument against Pascal’s wager is arguing that it is impossible just to choose to believe in God. One of the central mantras of the wager is that a person is able to believe in something because they want to. I would argue that it is clear that for at least a portion of the population this will not work. Beliefs are very often an instinctive action, most beliefs are based on personal experience, for example we have he belief that the sun will rise tomorrow because of our own experience (i. e. seeing the sun rise every day). However in the case of religion a relatively small amount of people can claim to actually have had any experience of God.
For example if someone told you that the world was created by a flying spaghetti monster, it seems impossible that you could believe that to be true, no matter how much you appeared to be inclined to believe it. Clearly people do not have complete free will (i. e. hey can’t just choose to believe in whatever they want) so I would argue that Pascal’s wager stumbles (if not falls down completely) at the first hurdle, his effort to give people a reason to believe merely has the power to make people to fake their belief in God rather than actually have any level of real belief. Therefore in order for the wager to hold any sway I would say that one must assume that god does not care if you fake it, as it is impossible to trick an all-powerful God into thinking you believe when you don’t as he knows really what is in your heart.
One of the core issues of Pascal’s wager is that it leads to a situation in which it has been presumed that the individual undertaking the wager only cares about themselves and only wants to further themselves (this appears to go against some of the core tenets of Christianity) this could lead to a situation in which a bad person would has committed heinous crimes could be rewarded just for having belief. An interesting idea in this vein is that Pascal’s wager can be used to justify infanticide.
This is because the overwhelming majority of interpretations of the bible agree that if you die very young you will go to heaven. This means that it makes sense to kill children just as they are born in order to enable them to go to heaven for sure rather than risk them growing up Atheist. What happens to the killer after that is either he is forgiven by God, as some would argue he could be or he goes to hell but if he was to kill enough infants even if he were to go to hell, using an tilitarian argument I would say it’s a good thing as a number of infants going to heaven outweighs one person going to hell. As it seems difficult to visualise a situation when a omnibenevolent god would be (directly or indirectly) encouraging infanticide this leads to a contradiction. Infinite pay off disproves god, this point flows along the lines of the inconsistent triad. If God is omnipotent which he must be in order to give an infinite pay off (be it positive or negative), however if he is Omnipotent he must also be Omniscient.
None of this ground breaking as this is the premise for the JudeoChristian God that Pascal was arguing for anyway. Yet his combined Omnipotent and Omniscience means that he does not need us to try/act/will ourselves/whatever to believe as he knows as soon as existence started how much we were going to believe in him. This fact makes the whole wager redundant and the only logical argument I can see against this is that he doesn’t know what we are going to do which makes him not Omniscient/Omnipotent and therefore by extension unable to offer us that infinite payoff that makes the wager work.
Infinity can never be divided into a finite number, therefore just starting to believe in god on your death bed would be enough as that should be enough to get you to heaven and as being in heaven results in an infinite pay off and even god cannot lessen this pay off. Although God is all powerful so logically he should be able to do even though it goes against all mathematical logic. However if I can the only way that it make sense to gain an infinite reward is that either you only get an infinite reward if you start believing in god as soon you are old enough to understand belief or you always get an infinite reward.
As in the overwhelming majority of religions they state that you still get rewarded with heaven if you convert late, I would have to say that it appears that it would make no difference whether you start believing aged 20 or aged 80. This appears to go against the whole reason for Pascal creating the wager as it appears to suggest that it is better to start believing as late as possible, as this minimises the inevitable finite loss you get in life from believing in God (e. g. a loss of small portion of their lifestyle due to spending time worshipping) so it would actually discourage worship and belief until as late in life as possible.
The argument against Pascal’s wager which I actually find most compelling is that there is multiple Gods to take into account when formulating the Wager. Clearly Pascal as a devout Christian made the wager unreasonably biased toward the Judeo-Christian God. The fact that any God one can imagine must have an equal probability of existing due to the wager being not reliant on evidence it means we are unable to give odds to the probability of any God existing and therefore must assign an equal value for any God existing.
Also to muddy the waters further there is the fact that there is an infinite Gods that have a chance of existing. This is because there is an infinite amount of attributes that a God could have and changing any one of them by any amount would create a new distinct God. If any God had a tangible level of probability it would enable Pascal’s wager to work. However as Pascal made his wager independent of evidence this falls down. The infinite God argument means that for every God there is an opposite God that punishes people for the same thing that the first God would reward them for.
Therefore no matter which God (or no God) you will always get a sum of zero of reward in the afterlife as there will always be the reverse of that God. So overall the wager actually makes no case for any God. Assuming that believing in God takes some small amount away from your life (due to effort of worshipping, etc. ) it is actually best to just not believe in any God. This is added to by the interesting example of what would happen if reincarnation, we could assign the same probability as we have to each of the different Gods to reincarnation, if reincarnation we true one could suffer an nfinite loss because assuming that there is some finite loss taken on by the given worshipper by worshipping a God as if reincarnation continues forever (i. e. an infinitely long time) the sum of all those finite losses would create an infinite sum, therefore creating an infinite negative value for believing in a God who causes a loss to lifestyle in your life. In conclusion I would say that the only possible use Pascal wager can have is either as an interesting thought experiment (and this fact does give it some merit).
The fact that it has no reliance on evidence which makes for one of its strengths in terms of simplicity also gives rise to one of its greatest weaknesses, the fact that Pascal and many others feel that they can use it to prove why you should believe in there God is simply Christian arrogance as due to the multi-God argument it is clear that in fact it makes no such case for the Christian God in fact one could argue that it actually makes a case for believing in no God or at least the one that requires the least input in terms of effort.
Although it does not work in terms of wagering for a Christian God, Pascal’s wager set the tone for modern day game theory and does work when you are talking about other situations, clearly this is not the wager that Pascal formulate but it is very similar, some examples would be Cryonics and Global warming in which both Pascal wager can solve a debate about with some conviction.