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What is Pascal's wager?

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August 08, 2010 2:33PM

Pascal's wager is touted to be one of the best argument for belief in God's existence. It says that if one believes in God and in the afterlife and if there is really a God, the person will gain everything. If one doesn't believe in God and in the end there is God, the person will eventually lose everything, and if one believes in God and in the end there is no God, the person will not lose anything because one cannot lose something which he or she did not gain.

This, of course, depends on there being only two choices - no god, or my god. 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 to get 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.