Over on Facebook, a Christian, named Shawn, attempted to challenge my atheism.  He said: “The way I look at it you have a 50/50 chance of being right. So what happens if you are wrong? I will even ask you this: what happens if you are right?”

The following is my reply . . .


You’re paraphrasing Pascal’s wager, Shawn.  According to Wikipedia . . .

Pascal’s Wager (or Pascal’s Gambit) is a suggestion posed by the French philosopher, mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal that, even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.

First of all, the odds are NOT 50/50.  After all these millennia, if there’s still no concrete evidence of God (or anything else supernatural), the odds are vanishingly small that any exists.

As for Pascal’s wager, it’s already been debunked a long time ago.  Pascal’s wager assumes that one can choose to believe.  That is not the case.  As Arthur Schopenhauer pointed out, “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.“  If there is a God, does anybody really think we can hoodwink him into thinking we believe in him when we don’t?  It’s not necessarily delusional to believe in (a cosmic) God but thinking you can fool him is just plain nuts.

Then there’s the matter of subordinating your life to fear.  If you act as if you believe in God because you’re afraid of the consequences of not believing, then the core of your identity is wrapped around fear.  It is far better to get off your knees, stand upright and seek answers.

And finally, I’ll turn Pascal’s wager around.  What if there’s NO God and this is the only life you’ll ever have?  Will you surrender your quest for truth and understanding to the authority of a single religion?  After all, there’s thousands of them.  NOW what kind of odds are we talking about, Shawn?

If I’m wrong and there really is a personal God who will condemn me to eternal torture in hell, then I’ll be proud to have lived my life without paying homage to such a monster.  I’ll have all eternity to mock him.

If I’m right and there really is no God, then my purpose in life won’t have been wasted on an imaginary sky daddy.  I will have lived without surrendering my quest for truth.  And trust me, believing in impossible things (God, heaven, miracles, angels, etc.) IS surrendering your quest.


Originally posted at AtheistExile.com

© Jim Ashby, AtheistExile.com

Views: 57

Comment by Kenneth Montville D.D. on April 10, 2011 at 10:13am
I like that you brought Schopenhauer into it. That is an aspect of the argument that rarely gets as much attention. That said, I always like to include that the argument is a false dichotomy, one where the only choices are atheism and Christianity. But what about all the other gods who are mutually exclusive? Allah, Yahweh, Zeus, Baal, Marduk, Thor, Ahura Mazda, Horus, Brahman, etc? Even if Christianity is correct, what about the Christian sects which are mutually exclusive, Catholicism, Protestantism, Anglicanism, Eastern Orthodoxy? And the denominations within them, Latin Rites, Coptic Rights, Lutheranism, Baptists, Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism? And what about all the notions of God that have yet to be imagined? The notion becomes a nearly infinite to one chance of being correct when simple odds are played out with all things being equal.
Comment by Morgan Matthew on April 10, 2011 at 10:21am
Comment by Shanna on April 10, 2011 at 4:12pm
Simple and wonderful.
Comment by Tiago Martins on April 11, 2011 at 3:42am
Love it when people state this argument as if it was something revolutionary, which no one ever thought about or, therefore, tried to refute. Nice job, I always forget the reversal argument when dealing with this one.
Comment by Atheist Exile on April 11, 2011 at 8:21am
Hi Kenneth,

Your points are well taken.  I was aware that there were more arguments against Pascal's Wager.  I was tempted to use Hitchen's pat answer but thought it was overworked these last few years.  As for the false dichotomy, I alluded to it when I turned Pascal's Wager around ("Will you surrender your quest for truth and understanding to the authority of a single religion?  After all, there’s thousands of them.  NOW what kind of odds are we talking about, Shawn?")

As you point out, with so many notions of God and religion, God would have to shoehorn himself into one of those rigid ideologies . . . then we would still have to figure out which one he chose.  If God was made in man's image, then there's over 6 billion potential versions of him out there.
Comment by Atheist Exile on April 11, 2011 at 8:24am
Thanks Morgan, Shanna and Tiago. :-)
Comment by Atheist Exile on April 11, 2011 at 8:35am

By the way; here's Shawn's reply . . .

“The second to last paragraph… Good luck with that.  And this is my last post. May GOD have mercy when the time comes.”

Comment by scottjarvis123 on April 13, 2011 at 12:02am
What's revealed when a theist uses Pascal's Wager is that it is they who fear Hell and that they don't understand why atheists don't.
Comment by Atheist Exile on April 14, 2011 at 8:06am



Yes, I never looked at it that way but that's a completely valid assertion.  Billions of people: afraid of a mental construct that's not even theirs.  They had to accept it from somebody else.

Simply amazing.

Comment by Atheist Exile on April 22, 2011 at 10:49pm

Thanks, Lee,

I agree with you.  There must be SOME cognitive dissonance that believers are sublimating.  They can't compartmentalize 100%.  Doubt must always be nibbling at the edges of their faith.

I've never deconverted anybody before my very eyes but I have gotten them to admit that they believe for personal reasons . . . not logical ones.  That's a good start.


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