Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pascal's Wager is not convincing

Most people who are knowledgeable of the debate about religion are probably familiar with Pascal's Wager. If you're not (you must be new to the religion debate), here's a quick tutorial.

A French mathematician and philosopher named, Blaise Pascal, suggested that even though we cannot prove whether or not god exists, we can live our lives so that we maximise our potential gains while minimising our potential losses. The argument goes that there are 4 possible combinations of reality vs. our belief.
  1. We believe in god, and it exists. We gain infinite reward in heaven.
  2. We believe in god, but it doesn't exist. We gain nothing and lose nothing.
  3. We don't believe in god, but it exists. We are infinitely punished in hell.
  4. We don't believe in god, and it doesn't exist. We gain nothing and lose nothing.
So as Pascal puts it, the only way we can possibly lose anything is if we don't believe in god, as in the third option on the list. Therefore, believing in god is a good gamble.

The standard rebuttal to Pascal's Wager is that if I believe in god, but it doesn't exist, I have wasted my life by naively and childishly worshiping something that doesn't exist, as well as donating some of my salary to the organisation which professes belief in the fairy tale. Since I only get one life, that's quite a loss.

Another rebuttal is that surely the all-knowing god would see through my deception. Wouldn't it be upset that I only chose to believe in it to try to win a wager? That's not genuine faith, and would surely anger it.

Yet another rebuttal to the wager is that Pascal only considered the possibility that the Christian god exists. What if there is a god, but it's another god? By worshiping the Christian god, we'd make this other god angrier and angrier, and would surely be sent to that god's version of hell for our blasphemy. Even Homer Simpson knew that, and stated it in an episode of his show. So there is a chance of infinite punishment for believing in (the wrong) god.

I have to conclude that the wager is of no use to us in deciding how to live our lives.

See the following video by a member of the YouTube atheist community, EdwardCurrent. He makes some pretty funny videos, and this one accurately portrays the dilemma confronted by anybody trying to guarantee their way into heaven by playing the odds.

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