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Religion & Spirituality
Philosophy and Philosophers

Is Pascal's Wager a valid argument and why?

Answer

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October 19, 2015 10:38PM

Pascal's Wager, of course, depends on there being only two choices - no god, or his God. This is called basing an argument on a "False Dichotomy", saying the range of choices is limited to two when there are more potential options available. Of the several thousand gods worshipped throughout human history it is difficult to imagine a process to choose the "right" one. Even more difficult would be the process to imagine how to believe in this deity - does it require circumcision, blood sacrifices, or dietary conformity. Also one would have to hope the deity chosen offers some sort of eternal reward, not all of them do. Another consideration would be the consequences of choosing the wrong god. Some of them are pretty testy if you make a bad choice. Too bad if you are wrong!

The wagers results then become:
1. If you choose a god with an associated afterlife and he/she/it exists and cares anything about you (another question) and you are right in your choice you may get your "reward" if you haven't ticked him off by not following all the rules or by just believing in he/she/it with the ulterior motive of getting a reward. Note that not all afterlife's are pleasant even for the "good".
2. In the same case as above, and you choose to ignore this god/afterlife package, you probably wind up in a comparable situation - maybe a bit worse, maybe a bit better.
3. If there is no god, no afterlife, no continuation and you wasted your time mutilating yourself and your kids, eating a restricted diet or giving your time and money to a ragtag bunch of shaman's, you've missed a lot in this life - the only one you've got.
4. If case 3 is true and you live a normal life with no effort made to believe in any god or follow any "divine" rules - you win.

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October 18, 2015 8:00PM

opinion: Yes. Eternity is a very long time, so it does not pay to take chances with it.


What is it?

Pascal's Wager states that belief in God is the most rational choice due to the consequences of being wrong. If one were to believe in God and be wrong, there would be no consequences. However, if one were to deny God and be wrong, the consequences are eternally tragic. Therefore, the most rational choice is not agnosticism or atheism, but belief in God.


Which religion?

We are talking here about belief in principle. This is more fundamental than belief in a specific religion. Since atheism is worse than idolatry (Maimonides), the above principle still holds, even were a person to embrace the wrong religion. In the afterlife, he'd be better off than those who have no religion at all.

See also:

Does God exist?

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December 19, 2009 5:49PM

No, in my opinion. It seems good when you first hear it, but in fact it relies on one's ability to believe. A case can be made that a person can't, by an act of will, force himself to believe that God exists. The only sure result of Pascal's Wager is that one will pretend to believe (which is all you can do if you don't believe). If there is an Omnipotent God, he would know that you are faking it. So you would go to Hell anyway.

The argument can also be used for any god at all. What if one picks the wrong god? And who's to say this god actually rewards belief and punishes non-belief. Supposing we do pick one and it does reward belief, won't this omniscient god know we're only believing just to be safe? Would it still reward our fake belief? And if this god is not omniscient, is it really a god at all?

Answer

It is not a good argument. A simple refutation is simply to ask: "which god?"
If you pick the Christian god and the real god turns out to be Thor or Zeus or a Hindu god or another god altogether, then they may be even more angry with you than with atheists.
The argument is therefore weak because it can be applied to any god, not just the one Pascal was talking about.

Also, if you believed in a god because you wanted to have chance on your side, then the god would know this (being a god) and would know that your belief was not real.

Finally, it relies on the assumption that the god described is real and has those characteristics. If an argument begins with an assumption, and then draws the same assumption as its conclusion, then it is circular logic. You have to believe it in order to believe it. If you do not believe the initial assumption already, then the argument should not convince you.

Epicurus came up with a much more convincing argument for the non-existence of gods two thousand years before Pascal. It has the advantage of being logical, as well.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

Epicurus - BC 341-270


Answer:


Pascal's Wager, of course, depends on there being only two choices - no god, or his God. This is called basing an argument on a "False Dichotomy", saying the range of choices is limited to two when there are more potential options available. Of the several thousand gods worshipped throughout human history it is difficult to imagine a process to choose the "right" one. Even more difficult would be the process to imagine how to believe in this deity - does it require circumcision, blood sacrifices, or dietary conformity. Also one would have to hope the deity chosen offers some sort of eternal reward, not all of them do. Another consideration would be the consequences of choosing the wrong god. Some of them are pretty testy if you make a bad choice. Too bad if you are wrong!

The wagers results then become:
1. If you choose a god with an associated afterlife and he/she/it exists and cares anything about you (another question) and you are right in your choice you may get your "reward" if you haven't ticked him off by not following all the rules or by just believing in he/she/it with the ulterior motive of getting a reward. Note that not all afterlife's are pleasant even for the "good".
2. In the same case as above, and you choose to ignore this god/afterlife package, you probably wind up in a comparable situation - maybe a bit worse, maybe a bit better.
3. If there is no god, no afterlife, no continuation and you wasted your time mutilating yourself and your kids, eating a restricted diet or giving your time and money to a ragtag bunch of shaman's, you've missed a lot in this life - the only one you've got.
4. If case 3 is true and you live a normal life with no effort made to believe in any god or follow any "divine" rules - you win.