Bookie’s Hidden Options: Pascal’s Wager.

Pascal’s wager frames belief in a god as a simple bet. It’s magic is in being so simply presented. And like any good bookie, not all the odds are clear and it’s stacked against you. The wager is presented very simply: you can bet on either God does exist or God does not exist. You must put everything on the table. You cannot not bet. From a philosophical point, right off the bat, abstinence is not a considered option. The wager then goes like this:

  1. You vote God does exist. You are right. You win everything.
  2. You vote God does exist. You are wrong. You lose nothing.
  3. You vote God does not exist. You are right. You lose nothing.
  4. You vote God does not exist. You are wrong. You lose everything.

A wise gambler will notice at this stage there is no benefit to voting God does not exist; you can’t win anything but you can lose everything. No wise person would ever vote this way, because there is no benefit. Only risk.

A wise person, then, votes God does exist even if they don’t believe it. A sensible person has an ounce of doubt and that leaves room for winning everything, doesn’t it? Well, no. The bookie didn’t tell you everything. There are more options:

  1. You vote God does exist. You are right. You think the Almighty Father will give you everything, but actually you lose everything because the Almighty Mother doesn’t appreciate your deistic sexism.
  2. You vote God does exist. You are right. You think Yahweh will give you everything, but you lose everything because Allah thinks you an infidel. (Imagine the odds against getting the right God.)
  3. You vote God does exist because it’s the safe bet, but don’t believe it. Your vote is right. God sees through your deception and you lose everything.

There’s an important footnote to option 7. I cannot see how one can choose what they believe. Your mind works how it works and you have the evidence presented to you. For an elaboration, see my (shamelessly promoted) post.

  1. You vote God does exist. You are right. God judges on deeds, not faith; your vote was irrelevant to your loss or win.
  2. You vote God does not exist. You are wrong. God judges on deeds, not on faith; your vote was irrelevant to your loss or win.
  3. You vote God does not exist. You are wrong. God commends your honesty; you win everything.

From the conversations I have been a part of and the blogs I have read, I can safely say that most theists believe in the God described in option 8 and 9; a God of love and justice. This means that the wager is completely irrelevant. Theists seem to believe in the loving God until someone doesn’t believe in God, when suddenly this vengeful, narcissistic and jealous God emerges. They jump through semantic hoops made from sophistry and cliché to explain how holding a person to impossibly high standards and punishing them for failure is still “loving”. It is just, apparently, to demand worship in exchange for forgiveness. But I digress.

The point was that people superficially believe in the loving God of options 8 and 9, but still spout a philosophical wager that depends on narcissistic vanity.

Inspired by:

Sandra Li-Pham’s post Pascal’s Wager for Non-believers

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3 thoughts on “Bookie’s Hidden Options: Pascal’s Wager.”

  1. The whole wager needs adjustment. The word “vote” is meaningless. If we “vote” that God exists or does not exist, it has no effect on Him. And it has no effect on you; since there is no creditable theory that any God cares about your “vote” and so such a “vote” would have no effect on your relationship with Him.

    And “everything” and “nothing” are not accurate. They are binary absolutes, and since every view of God has you “trading” things in this world for a better option in the next world, you cannot get “everything” or lose “nothing”.

    Then there is the concept of the “wrong” God. Certainly a concern; but with care, that can be excluded from this wager. That is, the wager can be limited to whether any god exists.

    If you accept that a god exists, and you are right, then your odds of being treated beneficially in this life and after death are improved.
    If you accept that a god exists, and you are wrong, then there are still some benefits you might get in this life and there is no chance that things will be bad after your death.
    If you accept that no god exists, and you are right, you reject any help from Him in this life, and that your death is the end of you.
    If you accept that no god exists, and you are wrong, then you reject any help in this life, and accept that the odds of a poor existence after death are increased.

    1. We still have the ‘can’t feign belief’ problem.
      But, also, we have the problem of what a god would reward: faith, sincerity, deed, intent? God may scorn faith and value the kinds of enquiries that can be communicated (an issue you have noticed is lacking in the way religious faith works); the Jihadists could be right and all these peaceable interpretations of religions could be working against Heaven-entering merit. Basically, I don’t think it is meaningful to talk of increased “odds of a poor existence after death”, or beneficial treatment after death. What you think is virtuous could just as readily earn you the scorn of a God as Its praise.
      Here’s what I’d wager: your best odds of not having a bad after-death are in living an intellectually, socially and morally honest life. I think any god who designed humanity is more likely to respect that than worship.

      1. I did not say belief, so there is nothing to “feign”.

        Yes, that is a problem but not a problem for THIS wager. All we are saying is accepting the possible existence of God or rejecting the possible existence of God. Once you get past that hurdle, then figuring out WHICH God is a non-trivial task. And once you decode on which God, then you can attempt to determine what behavior He is looking for.

        Of course is it meaningful to discuss one’s situation after death. There is a part of us which is separated from the body when we die. Where does it go? Maybe it goes nowhere – just disintegrates. Maybe it is recycled. Maybe it exists in a different environment and is conscious of that environment. Since that is a possibility, then giving some thought to maximizing the enjoyment of that environment and minimizing the torture is not meaningless if you accept the possibility that God or gods exist. It might seem that it is meaningless if you have decided no gods exist, but then that is the whole point of the Wager. That your opinion does not have any effect whatsoever on what actually is.

        The way to please God depends on which God you determine to be the one. Once you make that decision, there should be guidance on what are that God’s criteria.

        I don’t agree with your wager. If no god exists, then the concept of an afterlife (or after-death) is meaningless, so all your efforts can be directed towards this life. If God exists and there is an after-death with varying degrees of pleasantness, then some of your efforts are best directed to maximizing this pleasantness. So here is MY wager: Your best odds of not having a bad after-death is accepting there likely is a God, determining which God is the right God, learning what His criteria are and doing your best to meet those criteria without causing harm to others AND without violating those criteria, live a life which has as great a benefit as you can manage to a majority of others.

        If a god designed humanity and was human, then your statement about His respect could be correct. Since God has to be so much more than human, it is useless for us to assume what he is likely to respect. It is very likely that He has criteria which seem “silly” to us, and to blow off or ignore the existence of those criteria is not likely to end well for us.

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