Assuming there is a non-zero chance that God exists, and assuming that the reward for believing in God (if he exists) is eternal salvation, and assuming that the penalty for NOT believing in God (if he exists) is eternal damnation, and assuming that there is no downside to believing in God even if he doesn't exist, then the only logical course of action is to believe in God.
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
If memory serves, Pascal's wager was essentially as follows:
Now, assuming that I haven't completely misrepresented Pascal's argument, here's my response. Basically, I think that all of his assumptions are false, or at least not verifiably true, To wit:
Assuming there is a non-zero chance that God exists:
Why assume that there is a non-zero chance that God exists? Given the complete lack of empirical data to prove his existence, and given the many counterarguments to his existence (the existence of evil in the world, the fact that different people have claimed to receive conflicting messages from God, the fact that many so-called "miracles" have been proven to be the result of natural forces or merely delusions, etc.), maybe there is only a one in a million chance that God exists, or perhaps a one in a billion chance. Or, perhaps even a zero chance that God exists. Pascal's wager could just as likely be used to prove the rationality of believing that a flock of pink elephants will fly into my window one night and grant my heart's fondest desires. I mean, anything’s possible, right?
Assuming that the reward for believing in God (if he exists) is eternal salvation:
What proof is there that believing in God will automatically result in eternal life, let alone eternal salvation? Different religions have different beliefs, and not all religions believe in an afterlife. Assuming there is a God of some sort, maybe he has simply created us as playthings and has no desire to let us return to his presence. Or maybe the whole purpose of life is to enjoy ourselves fully while we can, since the rest of eternity will be mind-numbing boredom as we sit on a cloud and strum a harp all day long.
Assuming that the penalty for NOT believing in God (if he exists) is eternal damnation:
Who is to say that the penalty for NOT believing is eternal damnation? Again, assuming there is a God of some sort, maybe He really doesn't care what we do here on earth. Claiming that all nonbelievers will have eternal torment and misery is pretty cruel and heartless when you think of all the BILLIONS of people who are raised in societies where a belief in God is not taught (not to mention all the BILLIONS of people who lived on the earth before the Bible was even written). God is the one who decides where and when somebody will be born, so why would he then condemn that person to Hell for never hearing about him?
Assuming that there is no downside to believing in God even if he doesn't exist:
Who's to say that there is no downside to believing in a non-existent God? Perhaps if you are a born again Christian who thinks that it is enough to simply “accept Jesus into your heart" to be saved, then this assumption is valid. The religion in which I was raised, however, taught that God demands a life of self-sacrifice and obedience; no premarital sex, no alcohol, 10% of your income donated to the church, significant amounts of time devoted to performing various tasks (attending meetings, visiting other members, preparing lessons, performing sacred ordinances, etc.). If you believe that all of this is required of you to gain the promised reward and there ISN'T really a God, you will have essentially wasted your entire life to some degree or another. Economists call this “Opportunity Cost.” This isn’t to say there can’t also be some benefits to trying to live a wholly religious life (maybe you get mutual support from other believers, maybe you have an easier time dealing with the death of a loved one, etc.), but these benefits don’t erase the potential costs.
An additional downside to believing in a nonexistent god is the sacrifice of my capacity to rationally distinguish between what is real and what is fantasy. If I'm willing to believe in God simply because it's a "safe bet", then why not also believe in UFOs, psychics, ghosts, etc.? Maybe the UFOs will only rescue those who believe in them when the day or Armageddon is at hand. Or maybe the TV psychics can only convey messages from the loved ones of those who believe in psychic powers. Or maybe ghosts only visit those who are willing to see them? Forcing myself to believe in something for which there is no evidence and plenty of counter-evidence can only diminish my ability to think rationally.
Then the only logical course of action is to believe in God:
Basically, I think the argument boils down to "the theoretical reward is so great, and the cost to play is so minimal, that it is in your best interest to play." I suppose an analogy could be made, perhaps, to one of those multi-state lotteries where the prize has risen to $300 million and the chance of wining is 1 in 100 million. If the tickets are only $1 each, it only makes sense to play, since the potential gain is enormous and the potential loss is trivial.
However, I don't think that analogy is really accurate. For a closer analogy, you would be required to sell everything that you own in order to enter the lottery with the same 1 in 100 million chance of winning. Not only that, but there are 4000 different lotteries to choose from, and — at most — one of them will not be a scam (that is, only one can possible be legitimate, but it’s possible that they are all scams). Oh — and if you lose (which is likely), your whole life would be ruined as a result.
To sum up, since there is no way to tell if there is any chance that God exists, and since there is no guarantee that God would reward belief with eternal life if He did exist, and since there's no guarantee that God would reward disbelief with eternal damnation, and since the penalty for believing in a nonexistent God is potentially very high, the only logical thing is to not believe in God.