Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot more use of Pascal’s Wager by Christians. I’m not sure what’s up with that given that I thought that long ago everyone had agreed that it was stupid if not blasphemous. Oh well. It’s not like being let down by religious people is a new thing to me.
For those who don’t know, Pascal’s Wager is a philosophical argument for believing in God. Basically, it says you get little from not believing in God and infinite happiness if you do believe in God so you should believe in God. Some formulations of the argument are more sophisticated than others but this is what they all come down to.
Criticisms of Pascal’s Wager
There are lots of criticisms of this argument. The most obvious is that it assumes a god that cares that you believe in it and will reward you for this. But personally, I find a religious argument more compelling: Do you seriously think you can con God?! That God won’t notice that you are only “believing” because you ran the odds?!
Imagine if you took this approach in proposing to your significant other: “You aren’t even close to what I most desire but I’ve run the numbers and based on the fact that I’m ugly with few prospects, I’ve determined you are the best I can do. Will you marry me?!” I don’t think that would get a verbal answer — more likely a kick in the teeth.
But then I saw this video by Apologetics Squared. It is by a young guy who, in a spiritual sense, “Knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Of course, even with it, he plays fast and loose with the concept of infinity. Remember: Infinity is not a number! You need to be really careful with it.
What strikes me about the use that young Mr Squared makes of Pascal’s Wager is that he does a pretty good job with the formal logic but pays no attention to his premises. Basically, there’s no downside to believing in God and a huge upside.
But wait. For every god you can imagine that will reward you for believing in it, there is at least one god that will damn you to Hell for eternity and who will reward you with Infinity Constant Orgasm Time simply for not believing in that other god.
So if you want to go there, the odds seem to indicate that belief in Christianity is a bad bet. So it really comes down to, again, what you actually believe in. That is to say: Pascal’s Wager is bullshit.
Apologetics Squared is a classic subgenius: smart but not that smart. The truth is, there is a whole field of mathematics that deals with low-probability events. I don’t know much about it. In my years of study, I’ve come upon it a few times. But it’s clear that Mr to the Second Power knows nothing at all about it.
As a result, Christian apologists like him are better off studying their own faith rather than trying to make clever arguments against atheists. And please, can’t we bury Pascal’s Wager once and for all. Non-believers think it is a stupid argument. And believers should find it repellant.
I have a hunch that Christians who use Pascal’s Wager aren’t really that serious about their faith. But given my experience is that few Christians of any stripe are serious about their faith, this is hardly surprising.