Pascal was not a good gambler.

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?

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17 responses to “Pascal was not a good gambler.

  1. Okey, so Pascal’s Wager isn’t that good (granted, your numbers of 99% Atheism and 1% Theism on the roulette wheel is way off). There is one proof of God (and the afterlife) you can’t deny, and that is Near Death Experiences (NDE’s). Now, before you start calling NDE’s hallucinations, just know that that is almost as impossible as evolution. How can hundreds of thousands of people have the same hallucination? It’s not possible, that’s why. I explain this better in my blog: http://witaba.wordpress.com/ called The Four Reasons I Know There Is A God under the post My Reasons.

    • My figures are way off and massively in favour on theism in that example, but graspable numbers work better.

      NDEs aren’t evidence of an afterlife. They are evidence of human hallucinations. People didn’t used to have the same kind of experiences but popularisation of the whole ‘tunnel of light’ thing has made it widespread in much the same way alien abduction claims used to see a variety of creatures but is now dominated by ‘greys’.

      Evolution is a demonstrable, provable thing. Gods etc? Not so much.

      You should also note that people on the same kind of drug report the same kind of experiences. That too is a reason not to consider the similarity of NDEs evidence of something genuine beyond.

      Skepdic has a good section on this.

      • 1.) NDE’s can’t possibly be hallucinations because the brain is dead (most of the time) when people have these experiences. Now, is it possible to recreate a numinous experience? Absolutely, but you can’t recreate an NDE with phychedelics. You can create, though, out-of-body experiences and life changing experiences with phychedelics. There was some experiment done back in 60’s at some college where a group of, I think it was 4, people were given a phychedelic and were told to go to a sunday sermon along with a control group of people. The control group thought the sermon was normal, but the group who were given the phychedelic said that it was a life altering sermon. Fifty years later, when asked about the sermon, the control group said they didn’t even remember it while the test group said that they still remembered it as a life altering experience. My point in saying this is that the test group’s brains were alive while the NDE’ers brains are dead (most of the time).
        2.) Evolution is impossible. If it were true, then we would be seeing monkey transitioning into humans along with all the rest of the animals.
        3.) Please tell me the URL for Skepdic’s post on NDE’s.

        (PS: You should really visit my blog: http://witaba.wordpress.com/ The Four Reasons Why I Know There Is A God on the post: My Reasons. I think you’ll enjoy the debates we would have.)

      • 1. They can easily be hallucinations because it takes 5 minutes for your brain to be completely starved of oxygen and to BEGIN to die off. Under moments of extreme stress the brain releases large amounts of DMT – an hallucinogenic. The hallucinations occur on the way down, and on the way up (during reboot). Oxygen starvation while concious – incidentally – also creates the tunnel effect in vision.

        2. You don’t seem to understand much about evolution. Evolution follows a massive number of divergent paths. It’s not a hierarchy with humans at the top. Things evolve along their own path.

        3. http://www.skepdic.com/nde.html

      • 1.) http://www.near-death.com/experiences/evidence03.html Vicki Umipeg was born blind. She didn’t even know what colors looked like, let alone anything else, and yet, during her NDE, she was able to see. Now, before you start saying that blind people are able to see while on hallucinogenics, just know that they don’t. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_do_blind_people_see_when_they_take_hallucinogenic_drugs
        So then, if blind people can’t see while on hallucinogenics, then why can a blind person see during an NDE, or hallucination according to you. Because it’s not a hallucination, that’s why.
        2.) I know enough about evolution to know that, if it were true, we would be seeing at least one species transitioning into another species, which we don’t. Thus, evolution is impossible.
        3.) Tank you. I’ll be glad to comment about #1 on there.

      • 1.) Your “evidence” actually supports my theory on NDE’s.
        “It turns out, they can [see things while hallucinating], although this seems largely to be the case in blind people who had several years of sight to begin with, but who later lost their vision. Those blind from a very early age (younger than two years-old) did not report visual hallucinations…[in the actual report] Such phenomena occurred only in blind subjects who reported prior visual activity”. Vicki Umipeg was BORN blind and Alan Robinson lodt his sight do to a birth defect (probably at the age of 1 or younger).

        2.) I will make sure to read it when have more time, but , if “Every single member of every single species is a transition, from its parent to its eventual child. Changes are gradual.” were true then we would one species evolving into another just like the evolution chart of a chimp transitioning into a human. When I do read it, I will be sure to comment.

      • If you read what I linked to, that removes that suggestion. Also your samples are anecdotal, you’d need a much larger study.

        We do see species changing and chimps didn’t become humans. Humans and chimps are cousins. You wouldn’t expect your cousin to give birth to you would you? No, but you do share grandparents.

      • 1.) Hallucinations of the blind is called Charles Bonnet Syndrome. It is only found in the Adventitiously Blind, those who had sight and lost it later in life, but is not found in the Congenitally Blind, those who are born blind. In The Writer’s Forensics Blog: http://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2009/09/20/hallucinations-and-dreams-in-the-blind-and-the-deaf/ Hallucinations And Dreams In The Blind And Deaf, The Writer explains….
        “It likely depends on when the person became blind or deaf. If later in life, after they had seen the world and had learned to talk, they would have a fund of visual and auditory memories to call on to construct their psychotic hallucinations. They would see faces and people, buildings and cars, and would hear voices and music and any of the other sounds stored in their memory banks. But what if the person was blind from birth (congenitally blind) or became deaf before learning to speak (pre-lingual deafness)?
        Blind individuals can be considered in two broad categories. Congenitally Blind persons are sightless from birth, while Adventitiously Blind persons lose their sight at some later time. Children who are blinded before age five or so tend to have much in common with those who are congenitally blind. Since their blindness onset at such an early age, they possess little memory of images and colors and thus are less able to “see” things compared with those who became blind after age seven. This lack of imagery spills over into their hallucinations and dreams.” -The Writer
        Here are some more suggestions:

        http://archopht.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=416891#Abstract
        “Such visual hallucinations occur only in the context of acquired visual loss and never in those who are congenitally blind.” – Archives of Ophthamology

        http://www.revoptom.com/continuing_education/tabviewtest/lessonid/108116/
        “These hallucinations occur more frequently in the context of sudden visual loss and are never found in the congenitally blind.” -Review of Optemetry

        http://journals.lww.com/jneuro-ophthalmology/Fulltext/2004/06000/Visual_Hallucinations_During_Prolonged.3.aspx
        “Their findings also suggest that previous visual experience is an important contributor to the nature of visual hallucinations. This statement is supported by the fact that visual hallucinations have not been reported in the congenitally blind and only in the context of visual impairment.”
        -Journal of NeuroOphthamology

        http://www.cerebromente.org.br/n02/mente/significado_i.htm
        “The congenitally blind have auditory dreams, and those who lose their sight gradually lose their ability to dream visually [dreams being hallucinations].” -The Meaning of Dreams


        (I must’ve got the name wrong, though it’s probably her maiden name. It’ the same Vicki I mentioned in an earlier comment.)
        Your link says exactly what I quoted, by the way.

        2.) “We do see species changing.” What species, then?

      • Here’s a video for you to watch:

        I’m going to go further in studying the theory of evolution for now, so it may be some time before you hear from me on the subject of evolution again.

        Where’s this study that’s on “your side” about NDE’s?

  2. Pingback: My Reasons « The Four Reasons Why I Know There Is A God

  3. Pingback: Four Reasons that Don’t Hold Up | The AtheFist

  4. I think you do need to study the theory of evolution yes, but what you must realize when you are looking into it is that is is a theory, one with holes in it. Now, im not saying evolution an irrelevant theory, im saying is is constantly being re-evaluated. I believe they have found new evidence recently which puts how ago the earliest split from a form of chimp to question, possibly dating it back a few millions years more (dont quote me on that lol). That is an example of this process of re-evaluating.

    But, where evolution really scores is that it is, quite simply, the best and most accurate with our knowledge today or theories for understanding where we have come from and the evolution of every living thing on this planet.

    A creationist cant explain why forms of man have been found in different evolutionary states (think basically, part man part ape) in the ground as fossils, dating back millions of years, and before that, many cycles of life before man. As the first part of the video which you linked in your last posts states, our dating system might be inaccurate, well, it is. It is in the sense that we cant pinpoint things down to the day! Not even close! But, we can pretty much bet that we are much much older than 8000 years old but quite some margin. But, lets say for arguments sake that the way in which we date fossils is completely off, it still doesn’t account for the fact that we have found many cycles of life forms before man. Which goes against the creationist view that man was there at the beginning of time on our planet. We quite simply didn’t exist during the time of the dinosaurs. For a start, we wouldn’t have survived the laws of nature, being the survival of the fittest.

    Evolution, and this is where a creationist gets in wrong in my opinion, doesnt prove that god doesnt exist. It really doesnt. In fact, to me, evolution is in itself an amazing wonder, one that can provoke the thought of a designer of which you speak.

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