Pascal’s Wager is one of the common arguments that fundamentalists make to persuade others to believe in their god. The argument doesn’t actually try to provide any evidence for the existence of a god, but rather it argues that we should believe in it anyway. It goes like this:
It is safer to believe in God than not, because if God is real then you go to Hell, but if he is not real then there is no loss.
1) The Wager is not an argument for the existence of God
To begin, it is important to note that Pascal’s Wager is not about what is more likely to be true. The argument does not even attempt to support the claim that God actually exists. It is merely an argument about what is safer to believe, regardless of evidence or probability, given the potential consequences to oneself as a result of adopting one belief over another.
It is similar to arguing that it makes most sense to believe that there are monsters under your bed, because then – assuming that you take measures against them – you will not fall prey to them if it turns out that they indeed exist and have just been invisible or hiding (However, Pascal’s Wager is actually even worse than this, as will be explained in the following sections).
So even if one accepted the reasoning of Pascal’s Wager, they would still have no more logical reason to convince them that God actually exists than if they had never considered the Wager. The only reason Pascal’s Wager offers for believing in God is entirely a matter of avoiding a possible punishment.
2) Pascal’s Wager makes faulty assumptions
The Wager fails immediately because for the wager to even be seen as presenting the choice that a person actually faces, that person must first hold a particular set of initial beliefs that the Wager itself does not motivate a person to believe even if they thought the Wager’s logic held up internally. These requisite initial beliefs are as follows:
A) Assumes the only possible god is the Christian god
To work, the argument assumes that the only possible god that can exist in reality is the god as described in the Christian Bible — or rather, the god and “hell” which most modern Christians now think the Bible describes.
B) Assumes the Bible is accurate to original teachings of Jesus
It not only assumes the Bible’s description is the only option, but it also assumes that the Bible is accurate to the original teachings of Jesus despite centuries of human editing and ideological motives and political motives. Also it assumes that Jesus even existed (which I think is probable, but not conclusive).
C) Assumes the modern interpretation of Jesus’ teachings is correct
Their culturally modified belief of what this already edited Bible says is correct. At this point the Christians have made several orders of assumptions based on assumptions. What are the chances of them being all correct? I think the evidence of historical mixing of ideas and political motives edited into the copies and translations indicates those chances are quite small.
3) Wager is futile
But no religious belief actually has any logical support in evidence to indicate it is more likely true than any other. They are all equally, vastly, improbable (and “improbable” is being generous).
There are infinite possibilities, including gods we haven’t even imagined yet, or which we may not even be able to imagine. Literally anything could be true. And with infinite possibilities, there are infinite possible gods which would punish or reward any possible view you choose to hold, including atheism. So with these possibilities being infinite, believing or not believing have equal likelihood of resulting in torment or reward.
The odds are stacked massively against you equally no matter which belief you choose.
Consider some honestly legitimate examples:
1. There is just as much chance that the Quran is right and that Christians will be tortured in hell.
2. There is just as much chance of Satan being the powerful one who will reward you for turning against God; and that it is he, in fact, who has been in control of the universe for some time, and is deceiving all mankind, even answering prayers meant for God so that people will remain deceived and fall prey to his ploys.
3. There is just as much chance that God is a childish being who hides, and will reward you for disbelieving altogether because like a child he is happiest when he thinks he’s won a game of hide-and-seek. Or perhaps God wants heaven to be populated by wiser, more honest, less gullible people, and therefore the people he desires to let into heaven are those who adhere to rational principles most strongly and only believe in claims that the available evidence most strongly supports. And really, which is more likely given the evidence that a God does not show himself: a god that wants you to believe he is real, or one that does not want you to believe he is real?
There is no more likely risk for even being an atheist, and since “no gods” is what the evidence indicates, it certainly makes most sense to accept that the atheistic view is by far the most rational from every angle.
4) Wager changes if based on accurate Biblical belief
From a rational, objective standpoint, it appears that the Christian Bible never described a “hell” in which people are eternally tortured — the word “hell” itself being a misappropriated word used to [inconsistently] translate terms in the Bible which do not equate to the modern idea of what “hell” is. Rather Jesus appears to have taught an idea more closely based in his Jewish roots: a fiery lake that is meant to permanently destroy those cast into it.
This information changes the bet considerably. If you are an atheist, these are the potential results you face:
• If atheists are right, you just cease to exist. No eternal suffering.
• If Christians are right, you are destroyed violently then cease to exist. Still no eternal suffering.
So the consequences for being wrong are fundamentally identical. But now let’s consider the consequences of being a believer.
• If atheists are right, you just cease to exist. No eternal reward or suffering.
! If Christians are right, you are stuck living forever.
Be careful what you wish for. Because if you choose to be a Christian, and the Christians are right, then you will be forced into inescapable conscious existence for lifetimes, centuries, millennia,… aeons… living out the length of all of human history and the history of the stars and matter itself, then starting over again… forever. No matter how wonderful it was at first, a paradise ruled by a perfect being would have no purpose, no urgency. Everything that would be done would soon be done. You would have to simply exist, unable to even stop thinking to escape just being. The intensity of that frustration would eventually drive you into madness. It would be eternal torment.
Immortality seems wonderful to you now in your mortal life, because you’re mortal. But imagine, once God flips the immortality switch on, you can’t turn it off.
5) Belief is not a choice
Robert Green Ingersoll said, “Belief is not a voluntary thing. A man believes or disbelieves in spite of himself.” I certainly know that this is the case for myself in my own experience, so Pascal’s Wager can hold no relevance to what I believe despite atheists such as myself being the specific audience for which the Wager is intended to apply.
Pascal argued that if a person was convinced by the Wager’s logic but they still could not believe that God existed, then it was their feelings (or “passions”) that were entirely to blame for their disbelief. His basis for this claim is that reason had compelled the person to accept the Wager’s logic and therefore the remaining obstacle could only be one’s emotions.
However, his analysis is wrong because he has conflated two separate aspects of the Wager. A person who accepts the Wager’s logic has only been convinced that it is safer to choose to believe in God. Accepting the Wager’s logic does not convince a person that God actually exists. So reason is exactly what is preventing the person from believing. It is accepting the Wager that is based on emotions, since it is solely the Wager’s appeal to fear of punishment that coerces one into desiring to believe that God exists.
Pascal also argues that people could make themselves believe by going through the motions enough by acting as a believer, and that over time this would transform into genuine belief. But unless one is a total simpleton then such a method is unlikely to be effective.
6) Disingenuous belief won’t work
If you follow a religion due to Pascal’s Wager then it isn’t genuine belief and would therefore be useless. To fake belief, even if one genuienly desires to believe, is not the same as having actual belief. It would be a vain attempt to deceive a being which these religions claim knows everything. The Quran says these people are hypocrites who will all burn in hell, and the Bible condemns those who, “in their heart”, say that God does not exist.
7) Wager has known, immediate cost
For me this is the most important reason of all. Religion is KNOWN to cause problems in the only world we know exists, the only world for which there is even evidence THAT it exists.
So in the face of infinite futile possibilities in an afterlife which has no evidence of existence, it is absurd to pay an cost now and suffer the unnecessary consequences for it in the only life we know we have.