Tackling Pascal’s Wager

I am sure many theists and atheists have heard of Pascal’s Wager.
It goes like this: It is safer to believe in God even if there is no proof that one exists. Because if there is a God, you go to Heaven. If there is no God, nothing happens to you.
Theists use this argument on me constantly. And  let me tell you reader: Its a tired old argument, and I am sick to death with it!

Even Ray “Banana-Man” Comfort dedicated a entire program to Pascal’s Wager on his DVD series: “The Greatest Gamble“. He may not have used the two words “Pascal Wager” anywhere in the video, but the core of his message is exactly the same.

Anyway, a little background on Pascal. Pascal was a mathematician, and he reasoned people should believe in God, even if there was a slight chance of God being real, because the penalty for not believing, namely going to hell, is so undesirable that it is more prudent to take our chances with belief.

Pascal described the pay-off of this “gamble” as follows: If God does not exist, then you neither gain nor lose anything from belief or disbelief. In either case, you just die and that is the end. However, if you choose to believe in God, and you are right, then the reward is
infinite: eternal bliss in heaven. On the other hand, if you choose not
to believe in God, and you are wrong, then your pay-off is negative
infinity: eternal suffering in hell.

Honestly, this Wager scared me for a long time when I was reconsidering my beliefs years ago as a young lad and a Christian. I was on the verge of reconsidering my entire beliefs. For many years I examined the Bible; thought about the validity of prayer; thought about miracles; etc and over time I came to the conclusion that they ALL did not meet any burden of proof and often times made absolutely no sense.

Despite not a single aspect of Christianity not making the least bit of sense, I could not shake off Pascal’s Wager. I thought Pascal was right and I should stay a believer just in case and be safe….but that fear lasted a short while and was shattered by a mere thought, a simple thought that even Homer Simpson from The Simpsons obliterated Pascal’s Wager.

And Homer’s Wager is spot on!!!
Its SO SIMPLE
If you think about it, if we allow the possibility that this supernatural “god” (whatever) may exist, we have opened the door to countless possible supernatural things. Man has imagined human gods with animal heads (like Anubis) or three gods could exist in one god (like the Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva). Man can think up tons of different gods/deities, and as Homer Simpson said, “what if you’ve chosen the wrong god?”

To share what I mean, let me first address how I can obliterate Pascal’s Wager with simple mathematics.
Pascal used math to make his famous argument…well allow me to do the same to destroy it completely using math.

Imagine you are in a very large room, sitting with hundreds of people in rows and rows of seats. Upfront there is a table on the stage. On the table, there is a closed box. Nobody can see inside it, nobody can touch it or approach it, or examine it up close in any way. They just sit there and examine the box from afar. You are instructed to take a guess on what could be inside the box. (If you think necessary, let’s say on the table there is a big picture of a box. Therefore, you have absolutely no way to examine the actual box)

Now, there is either something in the box, or it’s empty. Its a 50/50 chance situation. That is basically what theism and atheism is. One side is convinced that there is “something” in the box, the other rejects the claim that their idea is true and leans towards there may not be anything in the box.

This is essentially what Pascal Wagers idea is, better take the 50% side that gets you out of going to hell, just to be safe.

Okay, leaving that analogy now, let us examine this…is this “theism or atheism” really a 50/50 situation????

Now, theists think there is “something” in the box. Among these people are the Christians. Christians think their views and faith is the correct and only true faith. Now we may go into the whole “burden of proof is on the those making the positive claims (Christians)” debate, but we don’t have to go there with this. Normally, when Christians claim their religion is the true religion, atheists and non-believers ask Christians “what about Judaism and Islam?” Pascal said, “even if there is no evidence for God, you should believe in him just to be safe.” Without evidence, all you have is faith. Jews and Muslims have faith, so it is of equal footing with God/Jesus.

(I apologize in advance, I could not make any better graphs. I don’t have the resources, but if if you can please follow along)

On the Right Side: “A God Exists.” On the Left Side: “No God.”

As this pie chart above shows the chances of being correct, one half of the pie are the “theists”, they take the 50% choice that something is in the box. But there are different camps, which cuts this half of the pie into three bits: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The other half of the pie are the “atheists” — notice their half is not cut into any bits because their chances has not been changed by different opinions. Atheists are atheists, there is no difference of opinion regarding the lack of belief in “god(s).”

Now, the theists who subscribe to the Abraham God have a 15% chance. Why is this? Because half of the theism pie has been separated into three bits for each religion, which mathematically equals roughly 15% (50 / 3 = ~15). Essentially, Pascal’s Wager for Christians being 50% right has now been dropped to 15% once you add the possibility of “what if” Allah or Yahweh is the right god?

All the while, notice the Atheists side still remains 50%. They still maintain that the theist’s claims on what is in the box are all wrong. There is no disagreement among the non-believers, no division among them: they lack the belief there are god(s) – or what the believers specifically claim what is in the box. Ergo, the chances of the doubters/non-believers being right still remain at 50%.

So based on just math alone, the atheists are more likely to be right than the Christians.

Moving on, we have only addressed the chances of the Abrahamic God being the only options. But as humans know, there are hundreds of different faiths: Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Greek Mythology, Norse Mythology, Buddhism, Paganism, Native American spiritualism, Shaman religion, Chinese ancestry, Taoism, etc etc.

Each of these are all positive beliefs on what is inside the box. Remember, Pascal’s Wager already assumes that a supernatural god possibly exists, and since Pascal has already granted permission to assume the possibility of the “supernatural” for the sake of argument, I’m perfectly in the right to assume the possibility of any number of supernatural entities I choose. Do limit the number of possible “supernatural” entities to just one is to commit the special pleading logical fallacy.

Add ALL of these possibilities into the side of the pie that thinks that there is a “god.” Take all this into account, then the pie looks more like this:

Now look a the chances that the “theists” are right (whichever religion they pick).
(I could not add anymore sections to this pie, but truthfully there could be much much more).

Essentially, when you add the possibilities that any one of these “supernatural” beliefs could be right, suddenly the chances that a Christian could be right in this context is less than 1% (maybe even lower), whereas the chances the atheist is right remains 50% untouched.

 

WAIT, WE’RE NOT DONE!!!!!!!!

We have only dealt with the “gods” man has come up with. Man has come up with thousands of god(s) since the ancient times, and even then there has been different interpretations of those gods. Even still, man is still developing new ideas about gods, like Cthulu and Xenu (resisting to make a Scientology joke here)

Now, what about concepts of gods that man has yet to think up or discover????

Why stop with the images/concepts of deities man has made so far? Well, if you open this door, the possibility of types of gods are literally endless. For instance, if the Egyptians can think of a god with a jackal’s head (Anubis) what about a god with a rhinoceros body, parrot wings, and octopus legs and the head of a orangutang? Mix it up however you want.

What about cosmic time-transcending pixies? Omnipotent sharks? A human god with four heads and five arms? A all-knowing super computer? Galactus or Dark Side or any other god depicted from your favorite comic book?

What about a single all-powerful god who only lets atheists into heaven, because god is an atheist too! He doesn’t believe in a higher power above himself, so he is an atheist. Therefore, what if there was a god who only sent atheists to Heaven?

The combinations become endless. 

Essentially, if we open the door to the supernatural, theoretically there are an infinite number of possibilities of divinity’s that could exist.

The possibilities go beyond the human imagination. Sometimes a Christian will tell me we humans cannot “comprehend” something like god… well mate, we cannot comprehend the infinite number of different possible “supernatural” agents that could be true.

So, again using simple mathematics, what do we get when we have the number 1 and divide it by Infinity?

Answer: virtually absolute zero.

In conclusion, the pie chart from earlier will have the “theism” half of the pie cut razor sharp into so so so many different sections that they practically disappear from existence.

All the while, the other half of the pie (“Atheism”) remains untouched. Ergo, the only option with the best chance of being true using simple mathematics is…ATHEISM! Suck on that Pascal!

The theists are the one’s invoking the supernatural, and the supernatural is untestable and frankly unprovable. Christians claiming their particular religion is the right religion are like a group of people invoking there is a pink fairy inside the box on stage. They cannot prove it, and once you invoke the supernatural and open that can of worms, the possibilities of what could be in the box become endless.

This is why Pascal’s Wager is so useless. It is closed to only the possibility of one deity (God/Jesus) without providing any positive empirical proof that deity is even real, but if you open the door to allow all supernatural possibilities (which are just as likely and unproven as God/Jesus), the options become infinite. The likelihood that the Christians are right, mathematically, is absolute zero. This in turn makes the “theism” side virtually and literally an absolute joke.

In summary: If you are currently worried and/or scared about what will happen to you after you die, and you just want to live your life being on the “safe” side, its best if you just live life without worrying or concerning about gods or the afterlife.

6 comments

  • This is a very clear and well-written analysis. It, by itself, completely blows Pascal's Wager out of the water. As a "militant" atheist, I would go much further in the box analogy, though:

    – Theists are telling us there is a box in the other room, and that they know what is inside the box. We can not see if there is even a box. Physicists are coming to understand that time itself began with the big bang, so there was no "before creation" that needs to be explained.

    – Atheists also have constructed a myriad of machines that allow them to get a real picture of what is in the other room and nothing in the data these machines have reported indicates any thing in the box, and they can't even detect a box despite being able to detect a great deal of information about the other room.

    I don't think your argument is bad, but I don't consider the atheist/theist dichotomy to be a 50/50 proposition. There is so much that we have learned as humans that has continuously refuted the god claims of yore. There are so many things we now understand about human psychology and our ability to fool ourselves, our willingness to overlook contradictions for the sake of comfort, our need to find causes for phenomena, regardless of the presence of evidence for the causes we come up with. These things all point to a frightened and uncertain ancestry who concocted the whole concept of a god in order to help explain the world. It has been central to life for so long that now we are still afraid to let it go despite the mounting evidence that it was not a reasonable assumption to have made in the first place. So, no, not 50/50 at all.

  • Excellent post. I actually came to the same conclusion at a young age without even realizing. Once I learned about Greek/Roman Theology I came to the conclusion that with so many different belief systems out there the odds of any of them being right were absurd. I just never took the time to really do the math as you have done here. However, I have to admit I wrestled with Pascal's Wager myself for a while. As you have described above though, there's just no real argument there.

  • You forgot the newly evolving religion of Ancient Alien belief lol. Great piece!

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