Pascal, Las Vegas, and Chinook Winds
French mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is given
credit for what is, perhaps, the most popular argument in favor of the
existence of God. This argument has persisted for over three hundred years
in spite of its defects. Christians are fond of quoting Pascal's Wager;
if the listener has a predisposition toward a belief in the supernatural,
it sounds logical. The facts are that you can place a better bet at any
casino. Here is the Wager:
(1) If you believe in God and God exists, you have a chance to gain everlasting
life and happiness after death. (2) If you believe in God and there is
no God, you have lost nothing. (3) If you don't believe in God and God
does exist, you have lost everything and you will suffer infinite torture
in Hell after death. (4) If you do not believe in God, and there is no
God, you have gained nothing. Therefore, you have nothing to lose and
everything to gain by believing in God and everything to lose by not believing.
by Jerry Billings
this article reprinted here for your convenience.
The original can be found here.
The Wager is often presented as being at least a fifty-fifty bet.
It fails to consider that the Wager, as an argument, is equally valid
in favor of every god ever conceived by humanity. It applies to Allah,
Brama, Juju, or Quetza lcotl as it does to the triune god of Christianity.
Since there are thousands of gods to from which to choose, the chance
of a person's selecting the correct god is so remote as to be close to
zero. The correct odds are nothing like fifty-fifty, but are closer
to ten thousand to one.
The Wager also naïvely assumes one can form a belief by an act of
Pascal's second point is, "If you believe in God and there is no
God, you have lost nothing." That does not seem to be true if one
considers that sacrifices involved in being a believer. The time-consuming,
wasteful acts worship and the expensive tithing and sacrifices required
by some religions are excellent reasons to dispute Pascal on this point.
A lifetime is not a cheap commodity to be wasted in futile acts of worship.
Every Jehovah's Witness who died, rather than having a life saving blood
transfusion, disputes this second point of Pascal. Every victim of every
religious war refutes Pascal's Wager.
Then, there is a fault in Pascal's Wager's basic premise. Point four says
"If you do not believe in God, and there is no God, you have gained
nothing." However, that is patently false. Atheists live happy productive
lives, free from the demands and artificial sins which place torment and
guilt on the religious ones among us.
We Atheists have learned that humanity and human reason hold the only
hope to solving humanity's problems. Atheism will force people to come
to grips with their own difficulties in life.
Benjamin Franklin proved that prayer and the ringing of church bells do
not keep lightning from the church steeple but his lightning rod will
do the job. Compare that with the remark of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who
demonstrated the wisdom of his god by pointing out that Allah does not
waste rain on the desert but makes it fall only on the fertile parts of
Then there are some people who argue that anything that is possible to
imagine has a chance, however remote, to exist in the universe, somewhere.
According to that argument, since you can imagine a god, a god becomes
possible and you are at risk by denying this god. When this argument is
tried, it sounds like it makes sense -- but consider this: we can also
imagine a totally evil god, one who would reward his followers with an
eternity in hell while rewarding skeptics with eternal happiness. The
believer, then, is at risk in believing. This argument also fails if you
are expecting it and know the answer.
The final word is that Pascal's Wager is a poor bet because it is based
upon faulty reasoning. Nevertheless, we continue to hear religious people
mouth the words that make up the Wager. To a person whose logic is wasted
by belief in gods and angels, anything that reinforces that view, no matter
how illogical, is welcome.
As Atheists, we know that the Wager is nonsense. The next time you have
it tried out on you, just recall one thing and it might prompt the believer
to change the subject. That one thing is the idea that the Wager applies
to all gods, equally.