Tuesday, July 10, 2012


“It is not possible for all religions to be true; but they can all be wrong.”
--common sense

In a previous post I discussed how the probability of a god existing drops as one actively searches, but finds no evidence. I wish to continue along this same vein, and consider a common apologist argument known as Pascal’s Wager. 
Blaise Pascal was a mathematician who attempted to give a reason for belief in god based on probabilities, despite a lack of evidence. Pascal’sWager goes like this:
  1. "God is, or He is not"
  2. A Game is being played... where heads or tails will turn up.
  3. According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
  4. You must wager. (It's not optional.)
  5. 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.
  6. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (...) 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. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
Concerning god’s existence, Pascal is saying there are two possible outcomes: either god exists or he doesn’t. The probability for either outcome, like a coin toss, is 50%. If god exists and you believe in him, then you “win” eternal life. If god exists and you do not believe in him, then you go to hell. If god does not exist, whether you believe or not, you lose nothing. So based on this reasoning, it is better to hedge your bets and believe in god—just in case.  
The logic of this wager is pretty solid, however, it is based on faulty premises. First, it assumes that the only possibilities are either the Christian god, or atheism. If this were the case, then we would have a true dichotomy, and I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But, there are many different gods—even in the Bible—so we cannot assume a dichotomy in this case. Second, Pascal claims the probability of god’s existence to be 50/50. As I explained in another post, while we may not be able to say there is 0 probability of a god, if our searches are continually fruitless, the probability drops and we can at least say it is unlikely.
People often hold humans on a pedestal in the animal kingdom. Much of this stems from the traditional creation myth in Genesis, where man is given dominion over the Earth and all the animals. While it is true that man is very good at certain things, there are many things which we cannot do. Yet, many of these things (i.e. flying, breathing in water, sleeping for several months at a time) are done quite easily by other animals. But still, because of our intellect, we can figure out ways of doing these things despite our limitations (i.e. airplanes, scuba gear, anesthesia/cryofreezing, ok we’re still working on that last one).  
Humans are likely the smartest animals on Earth. If god gave us our intelligence, why would he punish us for using it, and reward us for neglecting it? If we use our reason to determine that a god is unlikely to exist and withhold belief, why would he send us to hell?
In scripture, there are many instances of prophets condemning lawyers and judges for using reason in this way. If god exists it seems strange to me that he would despise intellectual honesty and award people for believing something for no good reason. It makes more sense to me that these scriptures were inserted by religious hucksters in order to scare the credulous into belief. This is what Pascal’s Wager is all about. It is an attempt to trick people into believing something for which there is no evidence, simply out of fear of eternal torture. This is no different than a mafia boss telling you to give him money or he will break your thumbs. If god would really use such an underhanded and evil tactic, then he is not worthy of worship.  
Intellectual honesty is greater than faith.

Here is the Atheist Experience discussing Pascal's Wager:

And Christopher Hitchens:

One more, How evangelists sound to Atheists:

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