Pascals Flawed Wager

floats around the and as a fairly common reason to “believe in God.” In a nutshell the argument from the wager runs that:

  1. God either exists or does not exist. (In this context it is the Christian God being debated)
  2. If you believe in God and he does not exist, you have lost nothing and gained nothing.
  3. If you believe in God and he does exist, you have lost nothing and gained everything.
  4. If you do not believe in God and he does exist, you have lost everything and gained nothing.

This is supposed to lead the thinker to the conclusion that the only sensible course of action is to “wager” God exists and believe. In some respects, this early example of Game theory (remarkably similar to the prisoners dilemma), is quite ingenious and serves as good grounding in logical thinking. Some of the people who trumpet this line of “logic” do so without knowing the source and may even have developed it themselves (aren’t they clever).

Winter BerriesWhile Pascal’s Wager is superficially sound and appealing, it really does not hold up to scrutiny. While it may have been considered brilliant logic (although this is in doubt) in the seventeenth century, it certainly does not do so today.

The wager has some implicit assumptions which significantly undermine its logic. For example, the presupposition that God exists and is willing to punish non-believers is the basic assumption. If, for example, the God portrayed in Islam exists belief in the Christian God will ensure a life time damnation on a par with non-belief. Religions with mutually exclusive tenets cause all manner of problems for the “logic” of the wager

More importantly, it changes the nature of the belief. Even if (and it is a big if) the basic assumptions are correct and the Christian God exists or doesn’t exist, the idea that people who “believed” based on the wager would be rewarded as the faithful makes a mockery of the whole concept. Faith, surely, is not something which can stem from a logical argument?

There are lots of sites on the internet which will provide more detailed dissection of the logical flaws in Pascal’s Wager so I will stop now.

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