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Doubling Down on Pascal’s Wager

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“Hell no, I won’t go!”

Christians have all sorts of different arguments. They’re mostly fallacies. As I said in my post about the Creation Museum , the point of christian apologetics is not to actually find the truth, it’s to find Christianity in the evidence and verify it by twisting and contorting the facts and suspending your disbelief like you’re Roger Goodell and your disbelief is a Bengals cornerback. The goal of the scientist is to start with a hypothesis, test it, prove it or disprove it, and thusly work one’s way from a question to an answer. The goal of the christian apologist is to start with whatever interpretation of the Bible one accepts, and work your way back as successfully and creatively as possible… and with enough imagination, anything is possible.

That’s sort of where this blog comes in. We’re about a lot of things here, but we’re always looking for the humor in any situation… and when you’re trying intellectually to fit a round peg into a square hole, hilarity can and will ensue. The logical fallacies, circular arguments, the psychological mischief and mental gymnastics are completely mockable when not completely heartbreaking. My alltime favorite though is Pascal’s Wager.

Poor Pascal. So good at math. So bad at logic. He’s like Bobby Fischer if math were chess and having a conversation was NOT hating Jews and growing a crazyman-beard. Pascal’s Wager is the concept that one should believe in Christianity because it has a greater risk/reward scenario than other options, especially Atheism or Agnosticism. Because Christianity comes with a threat of hell, and a carrot on a stick in the form of Heaven; and because Atheism comes with no benefit for believing or adverse affects on not believing; it behooves you to accept Christianity based on the premise that there is quite literally “nothing” to be lost and “everything” to gain.

I can go on forever about what’s wrong with this. First of all, it’s not actual proof of anything. Voltaire responded to Pascal’s Wager by saying “the interest I have to believe a thing is no proof that such a thing exists.” It would most accurately be described as a sort of “strategy.” It views the world and all various concepts of the afterlife as a scenario that might be studied in a Game theory classroom, where pros and cons are weighed and a decision is made based on probabilities and positive and negative outcomes, resulting in a strategy. Even if the world is viewed this way, Christianity wouldn’t be a smart choice, as it over-emphasizes outcomes without weighing the probability of those outcomes. Aside from that, it’s an incredibly simplistic, cold approach to the world. I truly hope most Christians aren’t believers because it’s a strategic move. That would seem to negate the free-will love that God seeks so intently that he allows all sin, pain, and death to assure himself he has it. I hope and I do believe that most Christians base their faith upon what they believe to be personal experiences. I would hope that even if it’s a misguided viewpoint, that it’s at least an honest one.

Secondly, it’s just not possible to view the world that way. We’re surrounded by information. We see it all around us, and we can use books (yes, even the Bible) to inform our decision. The Bible informs my decision just as it informs a Christian’s decision, but to completely different results. How can Pascal’s Wager be taken seriously? You’re surrounded by information and evidence. For my Christians you have a huge book supposedly written by the god of the universe as a love letter (ugh.) to you. And you’ll bypass all that information and base your working theory on the nature of the universe on the magnitude of the various threats and promises you’re made? That’s disrespectful. It’s disrespectful to the world, to any god you believe in, and to yourself. Pragmatism is one thing. Some people believe because of social pressure, to keep the peace in a marriage, to fit in well at work, or to have a community. Those things can and I believe almost always do influence someone into belief. But to throw away all information and simply make a pragmatic choice to let the concepts of Heaven and Hell be all the convincing you need makes you a bit of a wimp and a bit of a sociopath. Oh, Pascal, you’re reinforcing so many hurtful stereotypes about mathematicians here…

I will say this about Pascal’s Wager: It reflects the nature of Christianity. It reflects the nature of most religion. It is a threat, and a promise. Religion is a cosmic pyramid scheme. You get in on the ground floor as a child. You avoid vices like drugs, alcohol, sexuality, and Pokemon as you grow up… you learn good manners, obedience, respect for elders, and give reassurance to those elders by following their path… paying forward your enjoyment of life to varying degrees, giving them peace of mind and a sense of control. As you get older you receive your pyramid scheme payments in small increments that keep you pushing on towards the big prize. Respect, stature, stability… your “faith” is reassured by these “blessings” being bestowed upon you. But just like in the pyramid scheme, few if any are actually getting that big cash payday. God promising you heaven is the sleazy Hollywood director telling the young starlet that he’ll make her a star if she just hops on the casting couch. It’s “YOU MAY HAVE ALREADY WON TEN MILLION DOLLARS.”  I think more accurately, it’s the abusive husband telling his poor wife that if she stays he’ll change. He swears. He’ll stop giving kids cancer and allowing war, hunger, and death, and he’ll be the man you always hoped he’d be.

In the same way, Hell is simply Heaven’s reflection. One is not really any more insidious than the other. What does the abusive husband always say to the battered wife when she threatens to leave? “If you leave me, I’ll kill you.” Think about that for a minute. Hell is a threat. God is threatening you. Is that love? How does that stack up with the love that’s described in your church?

Heaven is an absolute reward; it is described as perfectly good. There is literally no way to dislike it or to not be fully satisfied, by definition. Hell, too, is absolute. There can be no worse pain, no greater grief, and no worse fate, by definition, than this place with which God is threatening us.

Now that I’ve told you about why I have particular disdain for this childish argument, and why my Christian friends should as well; (Seriously… NEVER use this one. You’re better than that. Even if we do disagree.) let me tell you what your response to it should be when confronted with it.

When confronted by the Christian with any form of “If I’m wrong, X… but if YOU’RE WRONG, Y! It is time for you to proselytize back. Here are the steps.

1. Instantly discount the person who said it to you. Whatever respect you had for them, halve it. Actually, quarter it. Do this before proceeding.

2. Tell your friend that you actually have recently found faith. It’s a new faith that you’re eager to share with them. You’re excited, and also concerned for their eternal soul.

3. Your new religion is Johnianity. (You’ll have to show them my blog of course. It won’t make sense if you mention me and they’ve never heard of me.) Tell them that every single thing about Johnianity is exactly like Christianity, except for two main differences. First, Jesus Christ is not the savior. Jon and I are. We are co-saviors, and the Bible is a perfect book, EXCEPT in every instance where Christ is mentioned, an accidental search and replace cosmically replaced our names with his. We travelled back in time and did all that. You’re welcome. In Johnianity, you pray to us, you worship us. We are your new savior. (At this point, you know it’s working if your friend is dry-heaving violently. In with the good, out with the bad.) The second difference is that not believing is not punishable by hell. It’s actually punishable by another place. Brace yourself. This place is known as DOUBLE HELL.

4. Explain to them that DOUBLE HELL is exactly, perfectly like Hell, except that Jon and I have found a way to stoke the flames. It’s exactly, perfectly, to within a millionth of a degree, twice as bad as regular Hell. Now you’ve doubled down on Pascal’s Wager. You’ve called his bluff. Your friend’s argument for believing is the weight of the consequences, regardless of evidence. The main flaw in Johnianity is the embarrassing dearth of evidence. (For the life of me, I know I left the Time Machine and crowns of thorns at Jon’s house. He says it’s at mine.) However, Pascal’s Wager was absolutely made for Johnianity. Because the great strength of Johnianity is the weight of it’s consequences! And because your friend bases his/her choice ONLY on the weight of the consequences, they now must either abandon this unfortunate argument, or you can email us the name of our new minion so we can put him/her to work. (Also, if you’re dealing with a Scientologist, this is the time to hand them the credit app.)

5. I usually try to cap things off by getting in the Christian’s face and saying “So now how would YOU like to spend your eternity? Non-smoking, Smoking, or DOUBLE SMOKING???” (If you’re holding a microphone, this is where you would hold it out in front of you and drop it.)

Seriously, the first thing out of your mouth when someone tries to argue with you using any version of Pascal’s Wager is “Johnianity” (Or “_____ianity” with your name in the blank. I’m not that egotistical. You can be fake god. It’s your conversation.) and the concept of Double Hell. All joking aside, it crushes that argument. Of course, most believers will simply continue to backpedal into one of the safe havens, like “God is mysterious” or “You need to be praying about these things.” I don’t promise this will convert, I only promise it’s a logical shut down. Have fun!

Christians and Non-believers, what are your thoughts on this? Can any believer with a Pascalian Predilection give me a good response to “Double Hell?” Has anyone ever heard a form of this argument? (I’m sure it’s been thought of before somewhere, of course.) We’re starting to get some interesting discussions going, and I’d love to see it continue. Also, feel free to ask us any questions you’d like, or make any general comments you’d like. We’d love to discuss with and also make fun of you!

-John with an H.

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About John Hammon

I'm 34, I like pop-culture, sports, and history.

8 responses »

  1. EXCELLENT analysis of Pascal’s Wager, John, and very interesting perspectives you have about it, THANKS for sharing them!

    Whenever a theist presents it to me (which happens about twice a week on average, and about 15 times a day at the Kentucky State Fair when I am manning the atheist booth there), my own personal response to Pascal’s Wager is a bit shorter, and it goes like this:

    Pascal’s Wager (in any of its various explicit and implicit forms) is in effect an argument that one should believe — Truly BELIEVE — in the uncaused existence of a supernatural immaterial cognitively conscious and willful Almighty creator God (in particular, the Bible God Yahweh) JUST to PLAY SAFE.

    But the problem with that for me is that I do NOT KNOW HOW to believe — Truly BELIEVE — JUST to PLAY SAFE!

    And even if I DID know how to believe — Truly BELIEVE — JUST to PLAY SAFE, I cannot honestly think that would fool a genuine Almighty God (and neither do I think a genuine Almighty God would regard a person’s even truly believing JUST to PLAY SAFE to be a reward-worthy virtue).

    Reply
  2. I like that double hell…lol, you do make a good point. Cause if Pascal’s Wager is legit, then we should pick the religion with the worst Hell. It would be the most reasonable decision. Because of that, I will now convert to Johnianity and accept you and Jon as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

    I did my own post on Pascals Wager, way in the beginning before I officially woke up from the Christian Delusion. http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/what-if-the-atheist-is-wrong/

    But I would say yours is still better

    Reply
    • Welcome to Jo(h)nianity! You will be the rock on which we build our church. You will be given the keys to the kingdom of double heaven, double hell, and to the church Hyundai. Whatever you bind on earth we will bind in double heaven, and whatever you loose on earth we will also loose in double heaven, so as to make you feel better about the fact that you loosed it.

      Also, I checked out your blog post, and I hadn’t heard of the term “atheist wager” before, which I learned was loosely based on the writing of Marcus Aurelius. I love “Meditations” so I really enjoyed learning this. Thanks for that and thanks for the comment.

      -JNH

      Reply
      • We’ll bind it twice, and loose it twice. Hey, Jon… from one messiah to another… Do you think we’re OCD?

        The Atheist’s Wager (If I may play Angel’s Advocate) would be flawed to the Christian, because it’s a false dichotomy. It doesn’t account for the option that we have a god, he is not benevolent, and he rejects lifetimes of good work in favor of choosing correctly despite massive evidence to the contrary that he set into place.

        Putting my atheist’s hat back on (I’m imagining a black beret, unfortunately?) I would say that that’s really the only scenario where I lose in this “game scenario” and I can live with that. I don’t like that god. His values don’t match up with mine, and he created my values, so he’s Crazy-town Banana-pants, and this covenant he’s offering… We can’t trust it anyway.

        -JWAH

      • I think it also lacks taking in different considerations of christian sects. In a christian wager. we could ask, what if you choose the wrong christian denomination?

  3. i raise your wager by doubleing in with faith. my christian faith surpasses your johnistian faith, because my faith is almost to the point of moving mountains.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: The New Hell: God’s Holy Fangs « jesuschristpooperstar

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