I’m sure most of us have run into Pascal’s Wager. The supposedly logical argument for belief in god (if not god itself) as being the least worst situation. The argument runs something like this:
If I believe in god and I’m wrong, I lose nothing. We all end up in the same place, nowhere.
If I don’t believe in god and I’m wrong. I end up being tortured forever.
If I believe in god and I’m right, I win everything. I get eternal peace at god’s side.
If I don’t believe in god and I’m right. I just end up nowhere.
Therefore it’s better to believe in god than not, because I stand a chance of gaining everything and stand to lose nothing.
There are, needless to say, a multitude of problems with this proposition.
Pascal’s Wager makes a number of rather stupid assumptions in formulating its wager, I’ll try to keep to this gambling analogy later on. For now though, here’s a brief run down of the issues.
1. Pascal’s Wager presumes a binary choice. Believe in god or don’t. As we know, there are an infinite number of possible god concepts. There are something like 10,000+ god concepts just in recorded history on planet Earth and ‘god’ knows how many sub-sects of each one, all of which seem pretty convinced that if you believe what the other guys believe rather than what your little group believes in you’re going to hell, or some similar nasty thing will happen to you.
2. Pascal’s Wager presumes that you don’t lose anything by believing. Arguably you lose a lot. Many religions make demands upon people’s lives that decrease their quality of life from avoiding bacon to genital mutilation and everything in between. Not to mention all that time spent praying etc that could have been better spent masturbating or beating your head against a wall… or doing just about fucking anything other than worship. Then, as we see in point one, if you’ve backed the wrong horse, you’re STILL fucked. Double Fail.
3. Pascal’s Wager presumes that any god somehow doesn’t value ‘god given’ intelligence and rationality. It’s just as possible that any posited god prefers intelligent people with enough sense to realise there’s no evidence for him as slavish dickwads without two braincells to rub together or the sanity of a rabid wolverine in a sack.
4. Pascal’s Wager presumes that any god doesn’t have the power or sense to see through your bet-hedging cynicism and to condemn you to an eternity of pitchfork buttsex anyway for being a douche.
OK, so we can see that the basis of Pascal’s Wager is completely undermined because it’s presuppositions are all bullshit, but let’s examine JUST how bad a bet it is.
As you know, bets are calculated upon odds and odds are based upon things that we know. In roulette for example we know how many numbers are black, white or ‘green’, how many are in each number and what the chances are of getting any particular number individually or as part of a set. Taking that roulette wheel analogy lets examine Pascal’s Wager more realistically.
Well, strictly speaking the wheel would be one massive segment marked ‘naturalism’ and that would be that, but let’s entertain the possibility of a god of some sort. There’s absolutely no evidence for any god but what the hell, let’s be accommodating.
OK, so now we have 100 segments, 99 or which are marked naturalism and one of which is marked ‘theism’. This is massively overstating the odds in favour of theism, but what the hell. Let’s go with it.
We zoom in on the ‘theism’ segment only to find that it is divided into an infinite number of segments, each with the name of a different religion/god on it.
We zoom in further. Each of these religion god/segments is further subdivided by ‘sect’, ‘order’ or some similar designation.
Now then, let’s recap… when we toss the ball onto our hypothetical roulette wheel you have a 99% of landing on naturalism (atheism) where all the evidence is. You have a 1% chance of landing on theism (not even close to reality) but even if you land in that segment you only have a 1/∞ chance of hitting the right one. One divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds so there’s really no point you even guessing. You’re guaranteed to be wrong.
To put it another way. In a horse race, do you pick the thoroughbred Arabian or one of an infinite number of three-legged Shetland ponies with asthma?