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 IAmAnAtheist » Pascal’s Wager

Pascal’s Wager

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

An atheist and a Christian speaking across a card table on which the Christian is displaying various pamphlets.

Jacques: You’re sure going to a lot of trouble to try and get people to believe in God.

Isaac: Choosing to believe in God is the most important decision you can make in your life.

Jacques: Why? What’s the point?

Isaac: Look at it this way: You can believe in God or not. If you believe and you’re right, you get an eternity of bliss, but if you believe and are wrong, then you just die and nothing happens. It just makes sense to believe. You don’t risk anything, and if it turns out you’re right, you get a massive reward.

Jacques: Are you saying that I should consider the benefits of believing something instead of considering whether something is true or not?

Isaac: Of course it’s important to look for the truth. But in this case, since you don’t think there’s any way to prove whether or not God exists, this is a pragmatic solution.

Jacques: So that I can put this in some context, what religion are you?

Isaac: I’m evangelical, but it doesn’t make a difference for the argument.

Jacques: That’s interesting. As a Protestant, you believe that if you accept Jesus as your personal savior then after you die you’ll get to live out eternity in Heaven, right?

Isaac: Right.

Jacques: Did you know that if you’re a Mormon and die, then you not only get to live out eternity in bliss but you also get your own planet to command? It sounds to me like you get a bigger reward if you bet on Mormonism and are right than if you bet on Protestantism. Mormons still accept Jesus — you’re covered there. Are you going to be switching to Mormonism since it’s the better bet?

Isaac: But it’s not a better bet. Mormonism is a false religion, so I’d be damned if I converted.

Jacques: Then it isn’t a choice between believing and not believing, is it? I not only have to believe, I also have to choose the right religion to believe in. How do I choose?

Isaac: Christianity is the one, true religion. You just have to look at the evidence.

Jacques: If there’s evidence for me to examine, then what’s the point of me taking this bet that you described? Shouldn’t I just follow the evidence?

Isaac: The point is that you should choose belief instead of disbelief. If you don’t believe, you have no chance, but if you believe, at least there’s a chance you chose the right religion.

Jacques: A few months ago there was a man who predicted that the rapture was at hand. Did you make preparations in case he was right.

Isaac: I’m always prepared for the rapture.

Jacques: I’m sure your spiritual house is in order, but what I mean is did you settle your debts, fulfil all your obligations to other people, and things like that so that you could leave the world with all your moral responsibilities taken care of?

Isaac: No, but why should I have? Nobody knows when the end will come.

Jacques: But what if he had been right? If you’d prepared for the rapture, you would have been morally in the clear if he was right, and if he was wrong, at worst you would have paid off your debts and met your responsibilities. That’s hardly a bad thing. So why didn’t you prepare if the bet was so lopsided?

Isaac: Because the bet wasn’t lopsided. It would have been a big financial hardship to pay off my debts all at once. I don’t know if I could even do it. Add to that the fact that I knew there was essentially no chance the prediction was true, and it made no sense for me to go to the trouble.

Jacques: I feel the same way about the bet you proposed. I would have to massively change the way that I think and feel about the world to believe that God exists. I’d have to change the way that I sort fact from fiction, and if I became a Christian I’d be obligating myself to all sorts of things that would interfere with the kind of life I want to live.

Isaac: There is nothing wrong with being a Christian.

Jacques: I’m not saying there is. What I’m saying is that there is a cost in time, effort, and integrity of thought to being a Christian. Choosing to believe is not anywhere as costless as you’re implying. Maybe even worse, I’d be placing my faith and hope in something that I think is likely never to happen, and that could change my behavior for the rest of my life.

Isaac: But if you were a Christian, you wouldn’t think it was likely to never happen.

Jacques: So you’re saying that I need to believe God exists, and I need to also believe it’s likely I’ll go to Heaven when I die. I also need to believe that God doesn’t mind it when people decide to believe in Him for purely selfish reasons. That’s asking me to believe three things without evidence, and to me that’s a big deal.

Isaac: Not compare to the benefit if you are right.

Jacques: You’re wrong. What if I gave you a sealed envelope right now and told you that in it was a special lottery ticket that was guaranteed to win $100 million right after you die. It would be enough to support your family for generations after you’re gone, but if anyone looks in the envelope before you die, then the ticket will lose. After I gave you that envelope, would you agree to believe it really has a special lottery ticket in it and live your life accordingly? Remember, if you’re right your family wins $100 million, but if you’re wrong, you’ll be dead so it doesn’t make any difference to you.

Isaac: There’s no such thing as magical lottery tickets.

Jacques: Exactly. Have a nice day.


If you have a conversation that you’d like me to consider publishing on this blog or in an upcoming book, please see the conversation guidelines.

Posted on June 7, 2013 at 8:32 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Conversations

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Joakim Rosqvist
    on June 8, 2013 at 3:42 am
    Reply · Permalink

    What if the god that actually exists is a jealous one, that’ll give you a big reward if you believe in him, a small punishment if you don’t and a big punishment if you believe in a false god – yet another reason not to take the bet.

  2. Written by Bahb
    on June 8, 2013 at 11:07 am
    Reply · Permalink

    This is my favorite blog by far. Glad to see it active again! I saw a great YouTube video on this topic called ‘Betting on Infinity’ by excellent vloggers ThereminTrees and QualiaSoup. I don’t happen to have a link handy, but I highly recommend it.

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