I’m sure all of us have heard it uttered by a Theist at one point: ” I’d rather believe in God and be wrong, than not believe in God and it turns out he exists.”
This is of course a shortened version of Pascal’s wager. While it has been soundly debunked already, I still hope, that I might offer some new perspective on this argument. If nothing else I at least have something handy when it gets brought up.
In order to start we need to clear up the following: What Is Pascal’s wager?
For those of you, who are unfamiliar with it, proponents of Pascal’s wager present you with the following dichotomy: Either God exists or he doesn’t. You need to take a position on this issue. Either you believe or you don’t. If you believe in God and he exists, then you will go to Heaven where you get infinite reward, while believing in God when he’s nonexistent is no big deal since you haven’t lost anything. If you don’t believe in God and he doesn’t exist, then you’ll end up in the grave. No win, no loss. If however you don’t believe in God and he exists then you’ll end up in hell, which of course is undesirable.
So what’s wrong with the argument? It seems to be valid on the surface…until you realize that there’s more than one religion in this world. Even within Christianity we have many different groups who are considered to be heretics by other Christians. If we take all the current religions and all past and possible future religions into account the odds of being right go down to roughly zero for the Theist as well as the Atheist from a purely probabilistic perspective.
One can’t bank on all religions, since they are mutually exclusive. A Muslim cannot under any circumstances accept Jesus divinity. A Christian must.
It might also be the case that a God may exist but all of our conceptions of him are wrong. Depending on the deity that exists the Atheist might be better off than the Christian. If this God wanted to test us by staying purposefully hidden, then the Atheist might be rewarded for not accepting the proposition without sufficient evidence. This is of course a deity that defies all of our current God concepts but he might still exist.
Thirdly I don’t see how a supposedly loving God could punish me, for using my reason to arrive at the truth, though unfortunately landing in error. If God exists, he knows how I lived my life and he knows that I commited my life to the search for happiness and fulfillment but also the search for truth. He knows how I arrived at my conclusion. He knows that I read the Bible and he knows why it is that I’m unconvinced. If God is the Father figure he’s described to be, wouldn’t he be more forgiving towards his child, who tried his best to find the right conclusion for the difficult puzzle but just couldn’t solve it? Wouldn’t he in some sense be proud of my effort to arrive at truth, probably even more proud than of the child whose pieces just so happened to land in the right place?
The fourth and final point is that there’s a great deal of possible loss if you believe in God. I mean doesn’t epistemic responsibility go right out of the window? You could waste your time praying every day for one thing. You could also financially support an organization that promotes falsehoods as science and you could have a worldview that is ridiculously wrong as a result of religious belief. You could lose your one and only life in your effort to gain the next. You could cause other people their lives, because of your religious beliefs. Whether we admit it or not, belief in God does come with prize. Sure you can determine the prize for yourself, it’s your choice how much to invest but others buy into it too much, such that they become a threat to themselves and to the one and only guaranteed life, which we all get to enjoy right now.
Goodbye from yours truly,
Rene von Boenninghausen @Renevelation