Exponential Misuse of Pascal’s Wager by Apologetics Squared

Blaise Pascal

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.

Apologetics Squared

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.

Subgenius

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.


Cropped from Blaise Pascal a copy of the painting of François II Quesnel under CC BY 3.0.

4 thoughts on “Exponential Misuse of Pascal’s Wager by Apologetics Squared

  1. I once started a novel based on the concept that the Rapture was real, and would happen. What fascinated me was the widely-believed concept of how, post-rapture, when it’s really really clear exactly what God you should believe in to reach heaven, supposedly some people will fight for the Antichrist instead. Why? Once proof of a very specific, very petty “members only” God was established, who would choose certain damnation? Yeah, swearing a loyalty you don’t really believe is annoying, but if it’s a choice between Heaven/Hell and all you have to do is say some words one time, well, we’ve all signed apartment leases we don’t strictly agree with.

    My concept was to toss out the Antichrist (it makes no sense) and make the story about converted ex-atheists who gladly ratted out their former friends. After all, if God’s so petty as to prefer self-serving fake conversion to principled doubt, He’d probably be all in favor of earthly representatives enforcing the same. And definitely some people would push back on this, Rapture or no.

    I got as far as establishing the main characters, but was stuck on the Rapture. Should it be angelic choirs and rays of light beaming people skywards? Something else? I couldn’t work out any version I liked.

    Then LaHaye came out with “Left Behind,” where the Raptured just vanish, planes suddenly are missing pilots, cars missing drivers, mayhem ensues. (Those silly people who didn’t believe in time really get it in the neck! It’s disaster porn.) I was so jealous! That’s it, that’s exactly the Rapture my story needed! Oh, well, too late now.

    In my ending, a conversion refuser is condemned to Hell. But rather than demons/fire/pitchforks, Hell is eternal consciousness without sensation; a void of nothingness forever and ever. After original panic/despair, our condemned refuser begins creating mental stories to stave off boredom. And eventually decides to create a whole mental universe. Why not? They have eternity to work on it. And so in the beginning was the Word…

    • I think the Left Behind books just went for the Rapture that Evangelicals believe in. Even as straight fiction, it’s silly. As something people actually believe, it’s terrifying.

      It annoys me that people like this seem to take their religion as so obvious that they don’t need to spend time trying to understand it. So they can spend all their time on intellectual games meant to prove their tribe greater than the other tribe.

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