What Pascal’s Wager Really Means

If you’re an atheist, you’ve likely heard Pascal’s Wager from a Christian at some point. It’s the “what if you’re wrong” speech. Essentially, it goes like this:

  • If you believe in God, and God exists, you go to heaven. (only upside)
  • If you believe in God, and God does not exist, nothing happens. (neutral)
  • If you don’t believe in God, and God exists, you go to hell. (only downside)
  • If you don’t believe in God, and God does not exist, nothing happens (neutral)

So essentially, the point is that, by believing in God, there is no downside, and by not believing, there is no upside, so just believe in God as a good bet.

One of the many problems with this matrix of outcomes is that it is, at a minimum, incomplete. So what I’d like to do is lay out some more potential outcomes that actually belong in the matrix.

 

Scenario 1: You Believe in God, and God Exists

  • All atheists are wrong.
  • Some theists may be right (if they picked the right religion), or all theists are wrong (“true” religion is not followed, or God is deist).
  • You go to heaven (or some other desirable place) after death.
  • God is a deist God, and is indifferent to your belief in him. This is not a neutral outcome, though, because your actions in life may have negative outcomes, including (1) wasting money by tithing or spending money on religious materials; (2) wasting time attending church and worshiping a God who is indifferent to worship; and (3) promoting actions and ideas that are detrimental to society, such as intolerance/bigotry, stifling science, not using contraception (unwanted children, STDs), etc. Let’s also consider that money spent on religion could have been spent on positive improvements in society, or could be spent on taxable purchases, which brings more money to the government, and thus, more services for everyone.
  • The god you have been worshiping is the wrong god, or the criteria you believe will get you into heaven is the wrong criteria. Thus, you may still go to hell (or purgatory, or some other undesirable place) after death.

  • Your belief in God is based on Pascal’s Wager, and thus, insincere. If God is truly all-knowing, God would know this, and will likely deny you entry into heaven (or other desirable place) after death, anyway.
  • Heaven doesn’t actually exist. When you die, that’s it. You just wasted the only life you have for absolutely nothing.

 

Scenario 2: You Believe in God, and God Does Not Exist

  • All atheists are right.
  • All theists are wrong.
  • The outcome is essentially the same as bullet 2 above, in Scenario 1. You have likely wasted your time and money. Your bigotry has slowed progress. Your ignorance of science stifles inquiry. You have taught your kids to rely on a 2,000-year old book, stifling their progress and ability to understand the nature of evidence. Your tithing slows economic growth, and results in lost tax dollars.

Scenario 3: You Do Not Believe in God, and God Exists

  • All atheists are wrong.
  • Some theists may be right (if they picked the right religion), or all theists are wrong (“true” religion is not followed, or God is deist).
  • You go to hell, purgatory, or some other undesirable place after death.
  • God is a deist god, and is indifferent to your beliefs, thus a neutral outcome.
  • The Bible is wrong or misinterpreted. Thus, there is no afterlife, heaven, or hell.

Scenario 4: You Do Not Believe in God, and God Does Not Exist

  • All atheists are right.
  • All theists are wrong.
  • Nothing happens.

I think that about sums it up. If you can think of other outcomes, please share!

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “What Pascal’s Wager Really Means

  1. I really enjoyed this post. It would be nice to include a statement that these scenarios do not include an exhaustive list, even though it is obvious that it is not.

  2. Nice analysis. I’m particularly glad you included the fifth bullet in the first scenario… God would know if you only “believe” because you feel it’s the safest bet.

    There’s another issue that is frequently overlooked: belief is not necessarily a choice one can freely change. I blogged about this as the “special pony” example here: http://bit.ly/1c64wAn

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