Refutations of Pascal’s Wager
and the Ontological Argument
When debating a theist about the existence of God, there are two arguments that many of them tend to rely on as last ditch efforts. These are Pascal’s Wager and the Ontological Argument. However, neither is valid because they both have been refuted.
Pascal’s wager, devised by Blaise Pascal, states that it is better to believe in God and be wrong than to not believe in God and be wrong. If one believes in God and is right, then he goes to Heaven. If he believes in God and is wrong, he simply ceases to exist. On the other hand, if one does not believe in God and he is right, he simply ceases to exist. If one does not believe in God and is wrong, then he faces an eternity in Hell. Pascal believes it is better to believe and be wrong than to not believe and be wrong; you have everything to gain with faith, and everything to lose with disbelief. This logic is flawed.
Pascal asks you to claim you have belief in God in order to save your self from the possibility of Hell. This is a selfish thing to do: a non-believer who claims to believe does so only to save himself from punishment. God, if he did exist, would see through the non-believers claim of belief; he is an omniscient god, after all.
And what if one really did believe, anyway, truly, but they believed in the wrong god? What if, when Pascal died, he was greeted by the goddess Hel, or the god Anubis? Considering the amount of gods that have “existed” throughout history, his chances of choosing the right one are rather questionable.
Anselm’s ontological argument is a much heftier argument, and can be very intimidating to atheists that do not know how to argue against it. The ontological argument makes the lofty claim: if it is possible for a necessary, perfect being to exist, then that necessary, perfect being does exist; a being greater than that which can be conceived. This mystifying piece of logic seems impossible to defeat at first, but it is not.
Firstly, Anselm assumes that all people imagine the same type of “perfect being.” When so many people throughout history have had such different views on what God is or should be, it seems more like an argument for the existence of millions of different "perfect" gods, rather than just one. It also does not seem true that because we imagine something to be perfect it follows that it is perfect.
Anselm assumes that existence is more perfect than non-existence. A philosopher named Douglas Gasking makes a good point against the ontological argument, albeit an amusing one: 1.) The Creation of the world is the most marvelous achievement imaginable; 2.) The merit of an achievement is the product of (a) its intrinsic quality, and (b) the ability of its creator; 3.) The greater the disability (or handicap) of the creator, the more impressive is its achievement; 4.) The Most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence; 5.) Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the product of an existent creator, we can conceive a greater being – namely, one that could create the world without existing; 6.) An existing God therefore would not be a being creator than which cannot be conceived because an even more formidable and incredible creator would be a God which did not exist; 7.) God does not exist.
The last problem with the ontological argument is the most simple. We can change the phrase to be about anything we want: if it is possible for a perfect relationship to exist, it must; if it is possible for a perfect island to exist, it does; if it is possible for a perfect planet to exist, it does. And what’s more, these arguments are all true about a “conceptual world.” There is the conceptual world, and the real world; the entire argument is nonsensical because it is only true in the conceptual world. And, of course, the conceptual world is different for every person.
Arguing against theism can be daunting if one is not prepared. Knowing how to refute these two arguments grants some high caliber ammunition in a debate.