Revisiting Pascal’s wager


Early in the year, I did write a refutation of Pascal’s Wager where I did show that it seems to me as one of the weakest reasons to believe in god. I don’t think it can or should be taken as an argument for god. It is an argument that seeks to make faith a virtue. At the onset, Pascal has already said reason cannot arbitrate.

This blogger thinks it is one of the good arguments against atheism and he refers us to Peter Kreeft.

The assumption that we must wager is not valid. Why assume we survive our death? And why should the christian think that a god who could create the universe would care one way or the either whether I worshiped it or not?

Peter has given several analogies and he thinks they can be compared to the case of god belief. I don’t think this is the case. In the case of god belief, there is the bigger question on which god to place your bet on. Is it to be Jupiter, Zeus, Krishna among the many gods? Pascal thinks we should wager on the christian god, but the question is what happens to those who by a fault not of their own were born in the Amazon where there are no gods?

The question is what is there to lose in betting on god? The answer is everything. If gods don’t exist, everything depends on us, even happiness. If gods exists, then nothing depends on us but their whims.

Peter writes

To the high-minded objector who refuses to believe for the low motive of saving the eternal skin of his own soul, we may reply that the Wager works as well if we change the motive. Let us say we want to give God his due if there is a God. Now if there is a God, justice demands total faith, hope, love, obedience, and worship. If there is a God and we refuse to give him these things, we sin maximally against the truth.

and as a conscientious objector, I say slavery is not justice. If there is a god and that god created the universe, the evidence for such a god would not require such tortuous apologetics. If there is a god, and that god is as described by believers, we owe it nothing.

Pascal’s Wager is not a good reason to believe.

 

 

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

90 thoughts on “Revisiting Pascal’s wager

  1. Mordanicus says:

    We could easily reverse Pascal’s wager to the opposite way, by postulating a god who punishes those who only believe because they are betting.

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  2. Good post. Your line about twisted apologetics being needed to convince people of the “truth” of the christian god is a good one. There is no reason what so ever to believe in magical, invisible deities. And there is even less of a reason to believe that any one specific deity is any more “real” than any of the millions of others people have believed in throughout our history. Christianity spread, for the most part, through conquest and war. The conquered were forced to believe, on the surface at least, what their conquerors told them to. There’s a line associated with Charlemagne that goes: “You can either join my god, or meet him.” Worship what I tell you, or die. These methods and beliefs are human. Weak. Ignorant. Crude. Violent. But very, very human. No deity needs to exist to explain anything humans do, least of all the christian one.

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    • makagutu says:

      You have put this very well.
      Islam spread through conquest and war. Are we to believe it is true because they made people believe through force? No! That would be expecting too much from us mortals

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      • In Catholic school we learned Christianity spread because it was what “god” planned. All gods up to the point of the OT were just “prepping” us for the real deal: god and Jeebus. Total, apologetic bullshit. It spread because of violence and force. Period. Such methods do not radiate with love and warmth, IMO.

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  3. tildeb says:

    You hint at another way to understand the wager that I think should be promoted, namely, that betting there is a god – and a particular one that requires some level of submission (especially when supporting moral rules and the ethical standards that then follow) – means an equivalent loss of personal autonomy and responsibility, individual dignity, and a capitulation of ownership over moral choices and ethical considerations. One becomes a borrower and a follower accepting the role of forever remaining a dependent, a child, a minor.

    Betting there isn’t a god – especially any of the particular ones currently worshiped that include moral rules and ethical standards from scriptural authority – means an equivalent gain in personal autonomy and responsibility, individual dignity, and ownership over moral choices and ethical considerations. One becomes a owner and a self leader accepting authority and the responsibilities that come with them, making one independent, an adult, a fully empowered and legally responsible person.

    This is the bet, and it has tremendous ramifications on the quality and maturity of how well one lives one’s life. And this betting choice frames whatever meaning is applied to one’s life.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Soul Device says:

    I am the “blogger” who allegedly said Pascal’s Wager was a good argument against atheism. What I said it was a good argument being used in a bad way (namely, as a stand-alone argument against atheism).

    Pascal’s Wager takes place in a Western apologetic context wherein good arguments against specifically anti-Christian atheism have been given, yet for whatever reason the hearer is only moved to a “50/50” position on whether Christianity is true. FROM THERE the Wager argues that it’s better to bet on Christianity’s truth than its falsity (which I think is a good argument).

    It is only when people ignore the context of Pascal’s discussion and treat the Wager as a stand-alone argument for theism that it suffers from the standard critiques.

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    • makagutu says:

      My contention is, and I think you would agree, is that the choice is not only about Christianity and atheism. There is a big world out there and there are many choices. In fact even if it was just between atheism and christianity, there is the option of annihilation.

      What happens in a scenario when the basis of christianity, that is that a christ died and resurrected is found to be wanting, is still there a need even to consider the argument?

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      • Soul Device says:

        Yes, it would be a false dilemma to claim that it’s either Christianity or atheism. And if the Wager did that, it would be a problem (that’s why the context is important).

        I think that the Wager could be taken out of that context and applied more generically (whether Christianity were false or not) to other” theisms” that promise bliss for faith and morals as opposed to punishment disbelief and evil.

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        • makagutu says:

          The wager does that, by asking you to wager between Christianity and atheism or belief and non belief he is creating a false dilemma.

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        • I would argue that the wagers does that exactly, claim that it’s either Christianity or atheism. The context seems to be a writing from a man who is a Christian, Blaise Pascal, who wishes to make the claim that one should worship his god. Per the wiki entry on Pascal, the book that the wager comes from, Pensees, was to be called “Apologie de la religion Chrétienne” the apology for, or defense of, the Christian religion. Again, the context of the wager indicates that it is entirely meant to pose a choice between Christianity and atheism.

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          • Soul Device says:

            Pascal is not really my area – I read a graduate paper on the topic once where this point was argued though. If I can find it I’ll see if it is available to post.

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          • makagutu says:

            Just let me know when you do. My knowledge of the Pensees is based on reading them

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          • Soul Device says:

            I read them too but it was a long time ago and I was not concerned with this issue at the time. 🙂

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          • not really your area? And you are tell others that they are wrong about it? SD, that doesn’t track very well when you claim that there is some “context” that supports your view but now can’t seem to support that claim very well.

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          • Soul Device says:

            What I mean is I do not study pascal professionally. I was convinced of this issue by someone who does study him professionally, but it was 10 years ago and we have lost touch.

            I did not comment to start a debate or prove anything anyway – I was simply clarifying a single statement made about *my view* in the OP.

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          • You’ve made claims, SD. To then say that you aren’t interested in starting a debate when your claims have been shown false seems a little disingenuous.

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          • makagutu says:

            You keep saying you are clarifying a statement when i haven’t misrepresented you. You said in a comment here you do think the argument is good. Where is the misrepresentation?

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          • Soul Device says:

            I do not think the Wager is a good argument against atheism on it’s own. I did not say you misrepresented me, I just wanted to make sure your statement is understood correctly by your readers. I’m done now, peace.

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        • makagutu says:

          SD, in the Pensees, Pascal rules out other belief systems and argues only for the truth of Christianity so am at a loss what other context you mean

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          • Soul Device says:

            But he does not use the Wager to do it. The others are (at least theoretically) off the table because of other arguments. Pascal does not lead off with it.

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    • tildeb says:

      Moving to a 50/50 position is the heart of the problem with the wager because there is no reason to do so, no equivalent possibility or likelihood the claim about this god may be reasonably considered true. This is what most atheists challenged by the wager point out, that it is based on a terrible assumption.

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    • I think the estimate of 50/50 is untrue, since there are ostensibly more than just the christian god, assuming that the argument is Christian god or no god at all. I would also say that there are no good arguments against anti-Christian atheism offered at all in western apologetics because all of them depend on insisting that this singluar god exists and that no others do, which the Christian cannot demonstrate. However, soul device, if you think you might have a good one, I’d like to see it.

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    • ejwinner says:

      The problem is, the debate is not “50/50;” that may have been the default in the 18th century, but both our understanding of logic and of the world are far richer now. The sciences have explained much that seemed mysterious then. Consequently, in the contemporary debate, the burden is on the believer to produce evidence. Purely deductive arguments and recourse to scripture will no longer do.

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    • makagutu says:

      There are a lot of good arguments against atheism (like the argument from contingency). There are also some good ones which unfortunately have been used incorrectly so many times that they have been misidentified as bad ones (like Pascal’s Wager)

      I have reread that opening paragraph in your post and compared to what I said and don’t see how I have misrepresented you in any way. If I have, then my apologies.

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      • Soul Device says:

        I can see that – I did not explain what I meant in my OP. I was not attacking you, I was trying to explain what I meant. To be clear: I DO think Pascal’s Wager is a good argument per se – I just do not think it is a good argument when misused (i.e., out of its original context and purpose). 🙂

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  5. john zande says:

    How can anyone even posit the wager as an argument for the existence of a god, let alone the god of the Pentateuch? It’s not an argument in any shape, manner or form.

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  6. “Now if there is a God, justice demands total faith, hope, love, obedience, and worship. If there is a God and we refuse to give him these things, we sin maximally against the truth.”

    Pascal’s wager always indicated a particularly stupid god to me, if it will accept “fake it ’til you make it” from its supposed worshippers.

    The idea of “God” needs to be defined here. and so does the idea of “justice”. A god like the one in the bible doesn’t deserve “total faith, hope,love obedience and worship”. There is nothing appropriate in worshiping, loving or obeying a being that condones genocide. As for love, there is no love if it is entirely built on fear.

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  7. ladysighs says:

    You know I am never good with arguments of this and that.
    Everybody should just decide what they want to believe and keep it to themselves. 🙂

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  8. truthtangible says:

    If you are believing in God only to avoid hell, is that even really belief? The “fake it till you make it” comment is so true. Good post.

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  9. shelldigger says:

    As always Mak a thought provoking post and too many great comments to single one out.

    Love your stuff man.

    I always thought what kind of stupid god would allow someone to fake it till they make it? I mean this supposed god has to know they are faking? How the hell is that acceptable? I mean if it was me being this petty fucking god, and someone came along pretending to believe, I’d be borrowing IBTD1’s lightning bolts to set them straight.

    If this supposed god knows all, and accepts no less than absolute worship, letting people off the hook with PW would be like taking the dog for a walk and let it piss on your leg. From what I know having actually read the bible, I don’t think that’s going to fly.

    Not that I give a crap, most of us are pissing on that invisible leg anyway.

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  10. aguywithoutboxers says:

    “If there is a God and we refuse to give him these things, we sin maximally against the truth.” Then how does said believer justify the hypocrisy of such believers when they condemn gay people and seek to exclude them? If their deity teaches love and inclusion, then aren’t they, themselves, in practice, denying their deity?

    I hope you are well and safe, my Nairobi brother. Please continue to drive at or below the posted speed guidelines! 🙂

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