family and crossDo you believe in God? Should you believe in God?

In the seventeenth century, the mathematician Blaise Pascal presented an argument for the belief in God, which is as follows:

  1. If you erroneously believe in God, then when you die, you lose nothing (assuming that death is the absolute end and there is eternal “nothingness”);
  2. If you correctly believe in God, then when you die, you gain everything (a heavenly, infinite existence);
  3. If you correctly disbelieve in God, then when you die, you gain nothing (death is absolute and ends all)
  4. If you erroneously disbelieve in God, then when you die, you lose everything (eternal damnation).
PASCAL’S WAGER
IF GOD EXISTS…
IF GOD DOESN’T EXIST…
IF I BELIEVE IN GOD…
(A) Go to Heaven
(B) Nothing happens
IF I DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD…
(D) Go to Hell
(C) Nothing happens

Now place your wager: how will you bet?

Regardless of any evidence for or against the existence of God, Pascal argued that failure to accept God’s existence risks losing everything with no potential reward, and that your best bet is to accept the existence of God, because you at least have a chance of some positive gain.

There are several clear objections to Pascal’s wager, which, once analyzed, render it invalid:

  1. Assuming God is omniscient (all-knowing), He would not reward belief in Him based solely on your bet that He exists (that is, He’d know that you’re just gambling you way into Heaven and eternal bliss, and that you don’t really believe)
  2. A person cannot simply will himself to believe something that is evidently false to him;
  3. The wager must apply as much to belief in the wrong God as it would to disbelief in all gods, leaving the gambler no further ahead;

In response to a girl asking, “What if you’re wrong?” about Pascal’s Wager to Richard Dawkin’s, he replied:

“Well, what if I’m wrong, I mean… anybody could be wrong. We could all be wrong about the flying spaghetti monster and the pink unicorn and the flying tea pot. Uhm, you happen to have been brought up, I would presume, in the Christian faith. You know what it’s like to not believe in a particular faith because you’re not a Muslim. You’re not a Hindu. Why aren’t you a Hindu? Because you happen to have been brought up in America, not in India. If you had been brought up in Indu- in India, you’d be a Hindu. If you had been brought up in… in uh.. Denmark in the time of the Vikings you’d be believing in Wotan and Thor. If you were brought up in classical Greece you’d be believing in, in Zeus. If you were brought up in central Africa you’d be believing in the great Ju-Ju up the mountain. There’s no particular reason to pick on the Judeo-Christian god, in which by the sheerest accident you happen to have been brought up and, and ask me the question, “What if I’m wrong?” What if you’re wrong about the great Ju-Ju at the bottom of the sea?”

How will you bet on Pascal’s Wager? Will you even play?

  • angela

    no i dont belive in god come on be real an be scientific i no its nice thinking aww when you die you go somewere but.. all we are is organic material were born we live we die an its best to be honest an not live in guilt everytime you "do the wrong thing" so to speak!we are only human lets face it do animals pray lol x

  • Thelonious_Cube

    It's nit-picky, I know, but Point C is incorrect. The wager as stated ONLY applies to gods who will condemn you to hell for not believing in them.

    As gods go, this appears to be a pretty small (but unaccountably popular) minority.

    The really lovely thing about Pascal's Wager is that it is explicitly fear-based – it's not about redemption or salvation or being a better person, it's about not going to hell.

    Taking Point A into account, I can't win because if there is such a god, I think he's an evil bastard and he knows it. Oh, well.

  • KingBollock

    The wager is wrong. If you do go down the route of believing in a God and you're wrong, it's not true that you don't lose anything, you'll have just wasted a perfectly good life, the only one you'll ever have.

  • Theophage

    Is that what you call a false dichotomy? I think it is!

  • Anonymous

    Which god? Which of the 10,000 (hundreds of thousands if you consider some sects of hinduism) is the one I should be believing in? And which sect of worship for that god, exactly? I mean, I want to get this right here, cause hell would just be awful. Unless you're talking about any of the religions that don't have a concept of hell.

    And while we're at it, I'm just really concerned about the myriad religions that say that believing anything other than them will result in going to hell. I mean, christians say that muslims will go to hell, and muslims say christians will go to hell. Can you help me out here? I haven't even gotten into hinduism, buddhism, sikhism, daoism, taoism, ancient greek gods, ancient roman gods… what would you recommend someone do?

  • Blitz

    @Anonymous, Jan 11, 3:44pm:

    You're very right – which God? Does it matter? We've covered a lot of these same questions here:

    http://therelativelyinterestingblog.blogspot.com/2010/12/questions-for-theists-god-and-religion.html

    You might find it an interesting read. The article is called "Questions for Theists, God, and Religion".

  • Johan Sigg

    Another ridiculously ignorant page. You should remember that Richard Dawkins knows absolutely nothing about theology–and yet, for some risible reason, he insists on endlessly debating about something he knows NOTHING about. Pascal’s Wager is the most caricatured idea in all of philosophy. Pascal did not mean this ever to be an argument to belief in God, he meant it as an argument to take the question of God’s existence SERIOUSLY. As to the “which God” ignorance, if you study intersectional theology at all, you’ll find that many believers conclude that it doesn’t really matter. God is not a petty, scrupulous tinkerer who will damn anyone who didn’t believe in the “right” version of him. God is above our human names, anthropomorphisms, and silly characterizations of him.