Posts Tagged ‘pascal’s wager’

The Ultimate Response to Pascal’s Wager (note: Atheist’s Wager Goes Down With It)

Pascal’s Wager has a premise that is often taken for granted. This premise is almost unsupportable, yet the whole argument relies upon it.

Pascal’s Wager assumes that there are only two divine possibilities:

  1. An all knowing, all powerful, and perfectly moral God exists
  2. There is no God

This premise is false. The world’s actual possibilities are sadly much more varied and more numerous. If we grant that a perfectly moral God is possible, many other deities are also logically possible. Sadly, the only way for a conception of the divine to be logically impossible is if it has a contradiction built into it. [For example a deity can't both exist and not exist.]

To help illustrate how much Pascal’s Wager relies on this false assumption, let’s include a single additional possible deity. Let us call this god “The cruel deity”. This is a very powerful being that decides who goes to heaven and who to hell. However, this deity is not bound by morals or justice. In fact, it does the opposite of what morality would encourage. It sends those that do good deeds and believe in God to hell. Those who bring only suffering to their peers and refuse the idea of God are sent to heaven.

The New Possibilities:

Cruel Deity
Moral God
The Cruel Deity Exists
A Morally Perfect God Exists
There is no God

 

If we now consider that a cruel deity, a perfectly moral God, and no God are all possible, here are the after-death possibilities for one who believes in God:

Stick Figure in Hell -or-
Go to Heaven-or-
Dead Stick Figure
The Cruel Deity Exists
A Morally Perfect God Exists
There is no God

 

Here are are the after death possibilities for one who does not believe in God:

Go to Heaven-or-
Stick Figure in Hell-or-
Dead Stick Figure
The Cruel Deity Exists
A Morally Perfect God Exists
There is no God

 

It is also worth mentioning that challenging this assumption of Pascal’s Wager does just as much damage to the Atheist’s Wager.

They are the same, and there is no clear reward or punishment associated with either believing in or disbelieving of God. The logic of Pascal’s Wager comes to a different conclusion.

For those who really liked Pascal’s Wager, there is a way to salvage it. However, it is incredibly hard to support. Pascal’s Wager might still support the belief in God if the existence of a morally perfect God were more likely than the existence of other possibilities, like the cruel deity.

To be honest, I think this is something we all want to believe. Who really wants a cruel deity to exist? However, it is worth pointing out that horribly cruel events transpire in the world all the time. Given this, showing that a morally perfect God and is more likely to exist than any other option is a truly difficult line to hold.

 

Atheist’s Wager for Stick Figures

God is Immoral

A recently popular response to Pascal’s Wager argues that if God exists, he is not worthy of our devotion. This is not an argument against the existence of God, but one that encourages ‘just resistance’ to God.

Resist GodThe basic thrust of the argument is that if God is willing to reward and punish for the simple belief in him, independent of a person’s actions, then he is immoral. As the story goes, if such an immoral and cruel God exists we owe it to a sense of our own dignity to resist him.

Extreme reward and punishment for belief in God is the basis of Pascal’s Wager. Therefore the argument that God is immoral is well suited as a response to Pascal’s Wager.

This argument was recently posted on a blog called ‘Atheist’s Wager’. However, this is not the argument that is normally called the Atheist’s Wager.

The Atheist’s Wager

The Atheist’s Wager is an altered version of Pascal’s Wager. It takes the logic of Pascal’s Wager, and uses it to argue that belief in God is trivial regarding reward and punishment. The Atheist’s Wager is not actually an argument for atheism. In fact, it is indifferent about the existence of God.

  1. God is perfectly Moral.
  2. If there is a perfectly moral God, he will value moral actions (with or without belief in God) more than belief in him.
  3. God values moral actions (with or without belief in God) more than belief in him.

The big leap for this argument is right in the beginning. In order for this argument to work, God must value moral action more than simple belief in God.

If moral action is indeed more important to God than belief in God, we can lay out the following set of after-death possibilities:

  God Exists God Does Not Exist
Moral Action & Belief in God Go to Heaven Dead Stick Figure
Moral Action & No Belief in God Go to Heaven Dead Stick Figure
Immoral Action & Belief in God Stick Figure in Hell Dead Stick Figure
Immoral Action & No Belief in God Stick Figure in Hell Dead Stick Figure

In this set of possibilities, reward or punishment is only dependent on the morality of one’s actions. Therefore, one receives the most reward by acting morally.

These possibilities argue that if one acts morally, it never matters if one is an atheist or a theist. This does not refute Pascal’s Wager. It does not argue there is no God. Instead it tries to trump or circumvent Pascal’s Wager.

Action vs. Belief

The idea that actions are more important than belief in God is the basis of the Atheist’s Wager. However, it doesn’t seem all that absurd. To illustrate this, let us look at a few examples. First, we’ll look at the most extreme example I could think of.

GenocideImagine two stick figures. One performing some horribly immoral action (committing genocide) the other a clearly moral action (stopping genocide). It seems clear that a perfectly moral God should reward the stick figure acting morally and punish the stick figure acting immorally. Now what if we try to counter the morality of these actions with opposite beliefs in God? If the immoral stick figure believes in God isn’t he still worthy of punishment? How about the morally acting, yet atheist, stick figure? It seems reasonable to say that action trumps belief in God here.

Name CallingNow, let’s setup the same situation but instead of the horrendous act of genocide we put in something relatively trivial (like calling someone a name). Even in this mild case it doesn’t seem unreasonable to say the stick figure that acts morally is deserving of reward, and the one that acts immorally would get the punishment.

Afterthoughts

In my next post I will look at a very good response to both Pascal’s Wager and the Atheist’s Wager. This response may show all of these wagers to be fruitless and misguided. If that turns out to be the case, we will end up wherever we were at the beginning.

 

Pascal’s Wager for Stick Figures

Pascal’s Wager is an argument for the belief in God, whether or not he exists. This argument looks at the pros and cons of believing in God. In essence Pascal’s Wager says “what’s in it for me.” As the argument goes, the main advantages of belief in God are after one dies. Going to heaven being the ultimate reward for belief and going to hell being the ultimate punishment for disbelief.

Let’s take a quick look at the after death possibilities.

  God Exists God Does not Exist
One believes in God Go to Heaven Dead Stick Figure
One doesn’t believe in God Stick Figure in Hell Dead Stick Figure

In this version of Pascal’s Wager it doesn’t much matter whether or not one believes in God if he doesn’t exist. Things end up the same. However, if he does exist, there are great rewards and punishments involved.

This means that if our stick figure believes in God, these are his after death possibilities:

Go to Heaven -or – Dead Stick Figure

On the other hand if this stick figure does not believe in God these are his after death possibilities:

Stick Figure in Hell -or- Dead Stick Figure

Given these options, one is better off just believing in God. One doesn’t have much to lose, and a lot to gain.

In my next post I will go over one response to this argument, The Atheist’s Wager. One recently popular version of this can be found here. However, my explanation will be illustrated with stick figures. :) In the third post in my Pascal’s Wager series, I will explain a response to both of these wagers.