about Pascal’s Wager

What, if any, are the weaknesses of Pascal’s Wager?

I guess all of you are familiar with Blaise Pascal and his wager for belief. For those who are not, it is from his Pensees section 233. Allow me to digress a little before we look at the wager itself.

The good scientist, as he was, writes

If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to
us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is. This being so, who will dare to undertake
the decision of the question? Not we, who have no affinity to Him.

Had he stopped here, he would have done well for theology. He would stand in the same breadth as d’Holdbach when he writes that if god is infinite and incomprehensible to us, we have no business thinking about s/h/it. Pascal, however, didn’t stop here, he gave us his [in]famous wager.

He writes

Let us then examine this point, and say, “God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

The first weakness of the wager is here stated that reason has no part in it. It is a game. It is not for reasonable people and as such anyone who brings it up as a reason for belief has not read the wager. If reason cannot arbitrate, what shall? We are in an abyss whence we can’t get a release.

He continues thus

………Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since
you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.–“That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much.”–Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. It is all
divided; wherever the infinite is and there is not an infinity of chances of loss against that of gain, there is no time to hesitate, you must give all. And thus, when one is forced to play, he must renounce reason to preserve his life, rather than risk it for infinite gain, as likely to happen as the loss of nothingness.

Now that we have the body of the wager, I will point out the first weakness. It is based on a false dilemma. That the choice to be made is only between heaven and hell. He ignores the other most logical position that we don’t survive our deaths and as such there is really no need to wager. The second weakness, as I will show later, is he wagers the belief on the Catholic god. So that the Protestants, Muslims, Hindus and all else are doomed even before they read the wager. It ignores another logical argument that every time a believer prays, Satan who created this world of suffering gets offended and will wait to punish them for eternity. He has in the beginning told you reason can’t be of help. Abandon your reason and let faith, that is blindness, be your guide. For all that is reasonable, why are we discussing this?

What reason[s] have we to wager that god is? Is there any other than credulity?

I don’t think the probability is 50-50. By abandoning your reason, you live a life of fear, devoid of good sense and this is what has led men to folly. The loss in the present life, the life you know of, far much outweighs the gains to be had in a future life that you know nothing about. If one is to wager, though I see no need to do so, one must wager there is no god and consequently no future life to be spent in worship. The second wager is reasonable and is earthbound. It will make us improve the welfare of our brothers, take care of our environment and value our lives more.

Many seem to have followed the advice of Pascal to renounce reason to preserve their lives. How unfortunate to live a life devoid of reason to gain an eternity in a promised paradise where reason is not a requisite for membership. It is a place I wouldn’t want to spend my time in.

Here is where Pascal did so poorly, he asks, as a non believer would ask,

I confess it, I admit it. But, still, is there no means of seeing the faces of the cards?”–Yes, Scripture and the rest, etc. “Yes, but I have my hands tied and my mouth closed; I am forced to wager, and am not free. I am not released, and am so made that I cannot believe. What, then, would you have me do?”

and tells him thus,

True. But at least learn your inability to believe, since reason brings you to this, and yet you cannot  believe. Endeavour then to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions.

He advises a lobotomy. He tells you, forget reason, grope in the dark, you will find your way. I find this quite abhorrent. Why, if our reason is what separates us from the brutes, would one of the advocates of faith ask us to renounce it. If this isn’t a weakness of the wager, that is, it is meant for the unreasonable, then I don’t know what else is.

As I said earlier, Pascal believes in the catholic god and he writes towards the end of the wager than one should

[..]Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having
masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.–“

In conclusion, the wager is entirely about renouncing reason, deadening ones ability to question and at the end, he writes very openly that attending mass and taking [sic]holy water will deaden your acuteness. I find the wager weak in all its arguments and propositions and I think I have been able to demonstrate albeit briefly why I find it so.



Categories: faith, Faith-based Beliefs, Reason

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28 replies

  1. Reblogged this on Random thoughts and commented:

    I find the Wager to be a bad reason to believe in any god.

  2. He advises a lobotomy. He tells you, forget reason, grope in the dark, you will find your way. I find this quite abhorrent. Why, if our reason is what separates us from the brutes, would one of the advocates of faith ask us to renounce it. If this isn’t a weakness of the wager, that is, it is meant for the unreasonable, then I don’t know what else is.”

    Mak, these days I have little time to post on my blogs — there are so many superb posts to read, such as this one. Well done. Very well done. From a neuroplasticity standpoint, your analysis was spot on.

  3. I find it interesting to question people who point to this philosophical ditty to help explain why I should have faith. I comment that if one really believed in God and really got to choose between eternity in the fire or an eternity of boredom, you would have to be brain dead to choose the fire. So what do these people do? They say they believe in God and that’s about it. Have they read the Bible cover to cover to make sure they having missed anything they need to be saved? No, I ask, but didn’t fricking God write it and you haven’t read every word many times? You’re going to take your minister’s word for it? Did you ask how he graduated in his class at diviinty school? Is he one of those excellent teachers the GOP keeps talking about or just one of the the ordinary public school teacher-type ministers, in which case he could be wrong about a bunch of stuff.

    Eternity is a Hell of a long time and if you really believed such nonsesnse I would expect to see hair shirts, seven day per week church attendance and a lot of reading going on … but I don’t, So it is not an argument anyone takes seriously or even an idea anyone takes seriously because if they did …

    • This is such an excellent point and something I run into all the time. I live in the Bible Belt, and I’ll wager that very few have ever read their Bible once, much less multiples times, with exception of cherry picking. When I was a believer, I believed it was the inspired word of God, but like you mentioned, I was basing that on what I’d been told — over and over and over. But the difference between me and those around me who claimed that it was the inspired word of God, was that I actually studied it extensively. I knew that I could no longer worship a god like that. NFW.

      I watched a lecture from Stanford with Bart Ehrman . He asked his class, with well over 300 students, the following questions:

      “How many in here would agree with the proposition that the Bible is the inspired word of God.?”

      He said the entire room raised their hands. Then he asked:

      “How many of you have read the Da Vinci Code?”

      The entire class raised their hand. He then asked:

      “How many of you have read the entire Bible?”

      Scattered hands.

      He laughed and said:

      “I’m not telling you that I think God wrote the Bible. You’re telling me that you think God wrote the Bible. But if God wrote a book, wouldn’t you want to know what it said?”

    • Eternity is a Hell of a long time and if you really believed such nonsesnse I would expect to see hair shirts, seven day per week church attendance and a lot of reading going on … but I don’t,

      Excellent point.

  4. I could not agree with you more, Mak. This is a great refutation. He unintentionally creates multiple false dilemmas by (1) reducing humanity’s choices to such a small matrix, and (2) asserting a universal value system. That is, he says, essentially, that the atheist has nothing to gain and everything to lose; the Christian has everything to gain and nothing to lose.

    With regard to the value system, I do not value an afterlife like he does and thus, I do not think I have everything to gain by believing in the Christian god. I also do not view the absence of an afterlife as “nothing to gain.” The acknowledgment of life’s logical complement elevates my appreciation for life. Thus, I have everything to gain by removing illusory desires from my mind.

    I think we are both in agreement.

    • Oh yes, I agree. His assumption is the Christian has everything to gain and little to loose and maybe it is the Muslims who have been doing it right, killing everyone who disagrees and showing people their other faces every time they go to say prayers.

      We are in agreement

  5. “It ignores another logical argument that every time a believer prays, Satan who created this world of suffering gets offended and will wait to punish them for eternity.”

    Very acute observation…

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