Bad Arguments: Pascal’s Wager

6a00d834515db069e2011571255a3f970c-800wiOver the last few years, I’ve really started studying apologetics. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, “apologetics” is the discipline of defending a position, usually, religious positions. Anytime you hear someone defend or give a reason for their faith, that is called apologetics. This is a practice that has gone back as long as… well as long as people have defended their opinions. In general, and for this article, I’m limiting it to the defense of religious beliefs. Actually, I’m going to limit it even further, and talk about one argument, Pascal’s Wager.

From WikiPedia, here’s Pascal’s Wager:

It posits that humans all bet with their lives either that God exists or does not exist. Given the possibility that God actually does exist and assuming the infinite gain or loss associated with belief in God or with unbelief, a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.).

The image above sums it up. The idea is that people should just pretend that God exists, because if they are wrong, nothing happens, but if they are correct, they go to heaven. Conversely, if you don’t believe that God exists, and you are wrong, you go to hell. Better safe than sorry. It’s almost always phrased as, “What if you’re wrong?”

This is a terrible argument, and I’ll show you why. First of all, this relies on a logical fallacy called the false dichotomy, or false dilemma. This fallacy makes the argument seem like there are only two options, when there may be more. In this case, Pascal’s Wager limits the options. Either God exists or God does not exist. While this is true, in this context, we are talking about the punishment or reward for picking God.

Thus, to be intellectually honest, we can’t just limit ourselves to ONE GOD. We have to assume that EVERY GOD might exist. That complicates things, doesn’t it? Instead of saying “we should believe in God, just in case”, we now have to say “we should believe in Zeus, Thor, Vishnu, etc, just in case”.

This also sways the argument in the atheist’s favor. There have been over 3000 gods in human history. Atheists don’t believe in any of them. Theists believe in one. Unless they are polytheists, like Hindus.

Let’s play with some math. To make it easy, I’m going to round the number of possible gods to an even 3000. If Zeus does not exist, I’m right. If Thor does not exist, I’m right. If Vishnu does not exist I’m right. The only time I’m wrong is if a god does exist. (1/3000).

Now let’s do the same thing with a Christian. If Yahweh does exist, the Christian is right. If Zeus exists, they are wrong. If Thor exists, they are wrong. If Vishnu exists, they are wrong. The Christian is wrong 2999/3000. It’s not just a matter of picking God, it’s picking the RIGHT god.


Click to Enlarge

You saw the image at the top. Here’s a more accurate one. That’s a lot of options. If you’re Christian, and it turns out Muslims are right, you go to hell. The chances are in my favor. There’s only a 1 in 3000 chance I’m going to hell. The Christian might go to hell 2999 times out of 3000. (Note, some religions don’t believe in hell, and some don’t believe that heretics will go to hell. So it’s not exactly 2999, but you get the idea.)

The next problem with Pascal’s Wager, is a small one. Namely, it suggests that you should believe in a god just to be safe. It’s motivated by fear. It doesn’t matter if the beliefs are true and accurate. Just believe just in case.

Theists, if you want to convert me, come up with evidence, or logical arguments. Oh. And for the love of your god, stop using this idiotic argument.

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