The Unrepentant Individual

...just hanging around until Dec 21, 2012

June 10, 2005

Pascal’s Wager

In college, I took a philosophy of religion course. One of the common “arguments” you hear is what is called Pascal’s Wager. I had been thinking of this post for a few days, but when Brian Moore (new blogroll addition) brought it up in a comment at Catallarchy, it was high time to get off my butt and post.

Pascal’s Wager is very simple. If there is a god, and you believe in him, you go to heaven (infinitely good). If there is a god, and you don’t believe in him, you go to hell (infinitely bad). If there isn’t a god, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in him or not, because you’re just worm food anyway. Thus, belief is either good or neutral, and non-belief is either neutral or bad, so belief is the preferred “bet”.

I think that was extremely dumb in Pascal’s time, and is even more so now. The second problem, of course, is which God to believe in? This wasn’t much of an issue in Pascal’s time, because the only “legitimate” option was the Judeo-Christian god, and further pretty well limited to Judaism or Catholicism. In today’s world, though, your choices are much more open. You have many different (sometimes incompatible) sects of Christianity. You have Islam (again, many different sects). Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and then the esoteric religions like Wicca, etc. And as gods go, most of the above will punish you if you don’t believe in the “right” one (except those like Hinduism, but they don’t have a “heaven” anyway). So what do you choose? I’d think Judaism is best, since they’ve been around the longest. They pretty much started the whole monotheism thing, and the Jews are still okay if God turns out to be Christian. I love bacon and cheeseburgers, though, so I couldn’t be a Jew. Christianity is pretty easy; if you “accept Jesus as your savior”, you’re in like Flynn. But I do have a bit of the problem with the pacifism of “turning the other cheek” instead of responding with both barrels, so that doesn’t jive with me. Islam has a bunch of rules to follow, and they’re pretty demanding about making sure you follow them, but if you do it right, you get a bunch of virgins in heaven. I’m married, though, and I think my wife would be pissed about me looking forward to a harem of virgins in the afterlife.

So it makes things pretty difficult. You have to roll the dice and hope you pick the right “team”, or you still end up eternally damned. But that’s just the second problem.

The first problem is even more of an issue. What God is going to let you into heaven because you faked or manufactured a belief as a “bet”? As I’ve said before, I think the whole ‘faith’ thing is something that you have or you don’t. I think a belief in God isn’t something that can come from response to argument. I’ve been through all the arguments for or against, and they all hit a wall. You simply cannot logically prove or disprove the existence of God. Furthermore, just deciding that you should believe in God because of the consequences of non-belief is intellectually dishonest.

In the stock market, you take a hedge position when you’re not sure of something to protect yourself. Pascal’s Wager is just hedging your atheism in the hopes that God’s going to reward you if he exists. I can’t claim to know whether or not God exists, but I’m pretty sure that if he does, hedged bets aren’t going to cut it. It’s gotta be all or nothing, and Pascal’s Wager doesn’t get you there. It’s a nice little philisophical construct, but if you don’t truly believe, philisophical constructs aren’t going to save you.

T. F. Stern's Rantings linked with Mormonism, we make it up as we go
Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 11:47 am || Permalink || Comments (6) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized


  1. Interesting take on the whole religion issue. I like to believe there is something beyond this… there is a higher power, or force, or supreme being(s) but honestly, I don’t think which ever one there is would much care for the whole ‘death in their name’ thing. Personally, I believe that if you treat others as you would like to be treated and behave yourself like a rational human being that if there is a “God” like figure, you’d probably be covered. To be moral and just without expecting an eternal reward is worth more than doing it just because you think it increases your chances with the head honcho.
    Then there is my whole “Babylon 5″ theory… for another day. :)

    Comment by ethne — June 10, 2005 @ 1:26 pm
  2. I agree as to Pascal’s Wager.

    As for the you can’t get faith by argument comment, I kind of disagree. Perhaps the hardest part is convincing that god exists at all. Once you get past that, it gets even easier.

    As to which team to bet on, I think you have to narrow it down to three: mainstream christianity (basically Catholics to presbeterians, but excluding Mormons and JWs and others that rewrite their own scriptures), Judaism and Muslims. They all claim the same father (Abraham), but only one still stands scrutiny.

    I will be brief: Jews have to explain how the messiah, if he has not yet come, can enter the temple (see, Isaiah), being that the temple was destroying by the Romans about 70 A.D., a few decades after Christ was crucified.

    The Muslims have a prophet that explained that the reason Jesus was a great prophet, but not divine, was b/c in the 4th Century (300’s A.D.) the Christian followers changed the text of the scriptures to put the self proclaimed son of god words in his mouth. From 600s AD (when Mohamed lived) to late 19th century, that could not be effectively disputed. But with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other 20th century discoveries, we have several of the four main texts (Matthew Mark Luke John) that date back to as early as 70 to 120 A.D., during the life of some disciples. The words of every one of them are the same as they are today. If you claim to be a prophet, and you don’t have an accurate grasp of history, then you are false in my book. Now I have read that some claim Mohammed never claimed alteration, but if that is the case, and Islam is supposed to uphold the Old and New Testaments, then why does Islam deny Christ’s divinity. You can’t have that both ways.

    That leaves the Christians. Thus far, the text, the prophecy (including Old Testament, but only if you accept the New Testament) and the claims stand up.

    But that’s just one man’s opinion, formed after hearing the arguments. :-)

    Comment by KJ — June 10, 2005 @ 1:46 pm
  3. Well, KJ, you’re right. The first step is a doozy. Getting the initial belief in a supreme being is the first part. After that, it might get easier, but the first step is no small matter. I’m not going to get into the specifics of which has the best claim. I.e. if the Koran makes a claim about the Biblical version that turns out to be wrong, that may reduce the likelihood that the Koran is right, but it doesn’t necessarily vet the Bible. You could easily claim that all the organized religions have it wrong.

    I think at this point, I’m going to stake my claim on trying to live a good and honorable life. Both for my own human satisfaction, and in the hopes that should a supreme being judge me one day, ethne is right that it will be enough to get the nod into the “good” afterlife.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — June 10, 2005 @ 7:30 pm
  4. Brad, I have never had any doubt that there is a supreme being. That has been the easiest part. Our earth and human life itself is just too intricate to have just started from a tad pole. As far a what to follow, I was raised a Baptist and TF a Presbeterian. We could not get any answers from our religion and basically quit going to church for a while. When we decided to start a family, we wanted to bring them up in the right manner. TF started studing other religions and when the “Mormon” missionaries came to our door we listened to them and prayed about their message. We had to decide if there was such a thing as a modern day prophet. To make a long story short. It is the best thing that we ever did. The more we studied the more we know it is true.
    Brad, this is a matter that you have to decide for yourself and your wife of course. I can’t imagine bringing up children, in this day and time, without a good moral compass. I appreciate the guidence I get from God and his word. I thank God for all the blessing in my life. Don’t forget my lighthouse story.
    I want to live my life as if there is an eternal reward and if there is not then I will have lived a good life.

    Comment by Lucy Stern — June 11, 2005 @ 6:55 am
  5. Mormonism, we make it up as we go

    “Everything you wanted to know about God…followed by a snicker and a smile as Johnny timed his answer, “Not quite, infidel and plunger of toilets.”

    Trackback by T. F. Stern's Rantings — June 11, 2005 @ 9:40 am
  6. It is simple dude…. Study nature and your own Heart……The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. ”- Psalm 19:1,2

    For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Romans 1

    Not proof, Just plenty of evidence for anyone……

    Comment by Mark — June 12, 2005 @ 12:22 am

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