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:
- You vote God does exist. You are right. You win everything.
- You vote God does exist. You are wrong. You lose nothing.
- You vote God does not exist. You are right. You lose nothing.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- You vote God does exist. You are right. God judges on deeds, not faith; your vote was irrelevant to your loss or win.
- 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.
- 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.
Sandra Li-Pham’s post Pascal’s Wager for Non-believers