Pascal's Wager

Aug 30, 2017
Pascal's Wager
  • Here's how it's presented:

    There is a possibility of going to Hell after one dies, unless one buys into Christianity. There is also a possibility that absolutely nothing happens after one dies, of course. If one buys into Christianity, then that person has a shot at going to Heaven instead of Hell after they die. There is no downside to buying into Christianity but there's a huge risk if one does not, versus the relatively smaller risk of there being nothing at all after death (making adherence to Christianity a waste of time and resources). Heaven itself is a huge reward, but it is available only if that person buys into Christianity completely and does everything that the salesperson says a Christian should do. Therefore, it's sensible to buy into Christianity in order to avoid going to Hell and to gain the vast reward of Heaven.

    There are a great number of problems with this proposition: that it's possible to choose to believe something that someone thinks is nonsensical, that there are a lot more than two possibilities than "no god at all" and "the particular god of Christianity with the particular vision of the afterlife that Christianity claims exists," that there's no evidence whatsoever supporting any of Christianity's supernatural claims (and plenty of evidence that contradicts those claims), that adherence to Christianity typically involves a very great expenditure of time and resources that goes totally to waste if the religion's claims aren't true (rather than the negligible waste that Christians typically present in their sales pitches), and that the Christian god would be so stupid as to be fooled by someone pretending belief in order to avoid Hell and achieve Heaven.

    Also, let's face it, it's using threats to force compliance, and Christians should be ashamed of themselves for even going there without evidence to back up their threat. Nonetheless, some variant of this argument is a longstanding favorite with Christians, who sell their religion to others by flat-out declaring that they themselves find the argument compelling (and thus announce to the world that they're in the religion because they're either terrified or greedy).

    Outside of the Christian sphere, Pascal's Wager can be seen as a cautionary tale about using game theory in decision making: game theory strategies only make sense when the entire decision space is correctly parameterized. Incorrect assumptions of course lead to incorrect consequence matrices and poor choices.

    Roll to Disbelieve blog posts that touch on Pascal's Wager:

    Outside Sources That Refute Pascal's Wager:

    • A very high-flown examination of the argument can be found at Philosophy of Religion.
    • RationalWiki of course addresses the Wager in an accessible fashion, including a bit of game theory.
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