Pascal’s Wager II: Who really wins if they’re right?
In yesterday’s post, I offered an argument for the things lost in making the ‘bet’ by opting for belief over unbelief if wrong, and said that I would also point out that believers are unlikely to gain even if they are correct in assuming two facts to be the case — let’s just assume two things true for the sake of argument:
that souls exist, are both immortal and require salvation, and…
…that a God or gods exist to do the saving
First, there is a potentially infinite number of possible ‘god concepts’ only limited according to the following and of course the fertile imaginations of humanity regarding gods known and yet to be known-
Potential god concepts – Unknown god concepts = Actual god concepts
Despite the logical inconsistency between the claim of Mr. Pascal that no knowledge about the mind of God is possible, and his own assumption in his Wager of knowledge of the mind of God — that God wants to be believed in — there are a few other problems with the assumptions going into it.
For instance, there’s the implicit (sometimes explicit) assumption that the God in question would necessarily have to be Pascal’s, specifically that of Christianity, just going by Pascal’s own writings on the subject.
But which sect of Christianity? As mentioned in yesterday’s post, each one claims a monopoly on the truth for itself, at least tacitly.
For thousands of years, every human civilization made the same assumption, that their gods were the true and right gods to appease and worship, from the religions throughout the prehistoric and ancient worlds, through the Middle Ages, to the present day religions.
Even the ancient gods are still worshiped by small groups of modern Neo-Pagans, so they continue even today, and let’s not even go into the real-life worshipers of Cthulhu…
My point is that the Wager can be applied to any god — Odin, Zeus, Ra, Serapis, Amaterasu, Shango, Azathoth, the Flying Spaghetti Monster — and that no logically necessary reason exists why “the” God has to be one that anyone currently worships, for there are gods yet to be imagined and worshiped. A little history of comparative religion shows that we tend to create God in whatever our own image happens to be at the time.
Assuming that SOME God or gods exist, could you pick and choose just any god? How will you know (besides the bias introduced from being born in a particular family, time and part of the world) objectively which is the correct choice to make out of a potentially infinite number of knowable deities? The likelihood of selecting just the right one is infinitesimal, and since many gods are notoriously jealous, you’re almost certain to anger at least one other god, perhaps multitudes of them, by picking any of them.
So if any God were real and did want to be worshiped, even in believing in some God, your chances of securing a safe bet are not good at all — I’d say infinitely close to zero. Even in the event that some God existed, the chances of it being the very one who you were born and raised to believe in are next to nil. All supreme gods can’t be real, because they are all of them mutually inconsistent. And that’s only dealing with conceivable gods, let alone known ones and not even considering the unimaginable ones that could exist unbeknownst to us.
And there’s no logical reason why any conceivable god would necessarily want to be worshiped. None. That’s just something we project onto our gods — we imagine them to be suspiciously like us in thought and habits.
Never mind blind, idiot, alien gods like Lovecraft’s Azathoth who care nothing for worship, and who are in fact said to be annoyed by it.
What if the world was set up the way it is with all it beauty and horrors to test rationality and critical thinking? — Why not? It’s just as likely as any other theological idea…
…what if God favors reason over faith? Skepticism over credulity? Again, why necessarily not?
What if it is actually those who question, who doubt, who think and infer, who accept what evidence, measurement, and logic tell them, who allow themselves to be lead by the data and sound argument toward more likely conclusions, who reject the need for non-mathematical certainty and the supernatural in their thinking, who don’t seek salvation who will nonetheless pass the test and achieve it?
Why not? There’s no good reason why that can’t be the case, and it strikes me as more honest and less ultimately self-serving than many currently accepted theological notions.
And who cares if few people actually believe that, if any do? — the argument ad populum is a fallacy even in this case — 50 million Frenchmen, and billions of current-day believers, CAN be wrong. Grossly wrong.
What if God’s annoyed by silly people claiming to know what He wants or thinks? What if Pascal is roasting in Hell for mercenary presumption in formulating his Wager? Maybe, as suggested by musician and comic artist Voltaire, “God prefers an atheist…”
Even if an unbeliever is wrong, a truly just, unconditionally loving God would accept them for themselves, as they are, for their actions and deeds, not merely for the creed affirmed or not.
And if right, an unbeliever can live this life for all it’s worth, living on in the memories and records of those after them who their deeds and works have touched. Either way, right or wrong, we avoid anyone’s pet concept of damnation.
My point is this: Given the realities of human belief and the facts of world religious history, logic, and our inferences of prehistoric practices, the Wager only looks like a knock-down argument if you ignore all this and all of the counterarguments to it. This post only barely scratches the surface of a vast body of literature and thought on the subject.
As with the post prior to this one, nonbelievers are no more likely to suffer (except at the hands of believers) for their nonbelief, and belief is problematic at best even if right, while almost certain to cause no small loss if wrong.