Pascal’s Wager- An Atheist Perspective

Have you ever been in a theological debate and heard this common phrase?

“Yeah, you may have a point. But if you’re wrong, you’re going to go to hell. So it makes sense to believe in my god just in case.”

This, ladies and gentlemen, is Pascals Wager (or Pascal’s Gambit). Blaise Pascal actually came up with this wager centuries ago. You can read more about Blaise Pascal and his writings here:

Pascal’s Wager states that there is a wager one must make concerning the existence of a god.

It says there are two options:

1) God exists

2) God does not exist

-and that both sides of the coin have equal value.

He states that to wager on this, one must consider the benefits and losses of either wager. The benefit of proposition one is that if God exists, there is a heaven and the consequence is that there is a hell. If one chooses to wager that a god does not exist, there is no benefit nor consequence in believing in a god or not.

So his wager states that if one were to “bet safely”, one must choose to believe in a god. The consequence of believing in a god is that if a person is correct in their wager then that person will go to heaven. If that person is incorrect, then there is no consequence of hell.

If a person wagers that there is no god, then if they are correct, there will be no consequences. But if that person is wrong and a god does exist, the consequences are major and that person will go to hell. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

If Pascal’s Wager was logical, one would obviously choose to believe in a god. After all, if you are wrong there will be no consequences (beside the waste of effort) but if you are right, you get to throw a party in Heaven with Jesus and Friends. But if one chooses not to believe in a god, if you are wrong you get to roast marshmallows with Hitler in Hell. And nobody wants to spend their afterlife with Hitler. I heard he’s a party killer.

Reasons Why Pascal’s Wager Is Illogical

1) Pascal assumes only the Christian version of a god. He does not assume other religions have the same weight on the wager. He equates them to having zero value- which is bad math, considering the hundreds of other religions and different versions of those religions. The odds become more spread out and you might as well pray to all gods that mankind has ever made up just to save your bum from the various horrible consequences of picking the wrong god. Now THAT is an undertaking worthy of a YouTube video:

2) Pascal assumes that there are only three paths after death: Heaven, Hell, and Nothing. This does not include reincarnation, ghosts/pure spiritual existences, ascendance to a higher order, crossing over into different dimensions, etc. All of these listed he has equated to “zero” as well, which is bad math. Again, the odds skyrocket into the millions that you will choose the right god AND the right afterlife doctrine.

3) Pascal assumes a person can make themselves believe in a god. This is stupid. Have you ever tried to make yourself believe something? Let’s try this little experiment: The earth is made of pudding. Trust me, just believe it with all of your heart. Is that working? No? Okay then, I repeat: Pascal’s Wager is stupid. It is used by others to persuade someone into believing in a god and it just DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY.

“It’s better to believe and be proven wrong than to disbelieve and be proven wrong, right?”

Well sure. Of course that sounds reasonable… at first glance. But when you really think about it, aren’t they just asking you to lie to their god (that may or may not exist)? If there isn’t a god, then I’m going to be fine if I just walk around lying to everyone and pretending to pray (which I would only be doing to fool other people and, if I’m dumb enough to twist my head around backward, to fool the god I don’t believe exists into that god believing I believe in him- Whew! That’s a mouthful!). But if there is a god and I, as an atheist, pretend to believe in a god to fool that all-powerful and all-knowing entity, isn’t he going to send me to hell for being a cowardly lying sack of doodoo anyway? Or is he going to give me points for the effort regardless of whether I believe or not?

What’s the point of Pascal’s Wager again?

I can tell you. I will give you a made-up conversation similar to many I have participated in since I realized I was an atheist. (And OH BOY, people just LOVE to bring up their own religious beliefs when they learn I don’t hold any beliefs of my own… as if that is an invite to puke existential nonsense all over me while I’m shopping for taco seasonings in Food City)

Older Woman- “You’re so sweet, thank you for reaching that bottle for me. Bless you, child. It’s sad that children aren’t raised to be courteous anymore. Your parents must have raised you to be a good Christian young lady?”

Me: “Um, it was no problem. But I’m not Christian. You have a good day.”

Attempt at awkward smile and trying to make a polite exit.

OW: “Oh. You haven’t found Jesus yet? You should go to Such And Such Church and speak to Paster So And So.”

Oh man, here we go…

Me: “No thank you. I’m an atheist.”

OW: “WHAT? But… that… um… Didn’t your parents ever bring you to church?” Incredulous look like I have offended her even as I am glancing around for a plausible exit.

Me: “Er, yes ma’am. I just don’t believe things like that. You have a good day.”

OW: “Well, that’s too bad. *insert Pascal’s Wager here*.”

She scurries off like she is confused and feeling uncomfortable.

Folks, this happens in real life often. Not just to me, either. And on the internet. Pascal’s Wager is the most common response in uncomfortable conversation and debate when the Wagerer does not know what to say when confronted with atheism.

Do you know what Pascal’s Wager is to the very core? It is a “feel good” statement to reinforce the Wagerer’s “choice” when confronted with the unknown or the unfamiliar. It is a security  blanket. When spoken or written, Pascal’s Wager is not MEANT for the participating atheist. It is MEANT for the speaker to convey “Your atheism frightens me. I don’t understand how someone can’t believe in my god. I get an awkward feeling around you so I will put up this shield where your words/ideas/feelings can’t touch me. I refuse to feel that I might be wrong and this is the only defense I have in my arsenal that may protect me from the unsettling idea that my god might not exist. GO AWAY.”

When Pascal’s Wager is used, it is a warning that one might see in the wild. A creature, that when feeling threatened (though, it is never my intention to be “threatening”), flashes bright colors to warn predators away from munching on them for a snack.

Pascal’s Wager is a cop out. It means nothing to me as an atheist except that the person I am interacting with does not have the emotional capacity to handle any deep, interesting discussions with me (if I even, rarely, initiate such discussions at all… especially not with strangers in a supermarket).



Filed under My Thoughts and Rants, Research Postings

15 responses to “Pascal’s Wager- An Atheist Perspective

  1. le me

    So basically give up because the possibility of that religion not being true? Sounds really lazy, and you would find much more meaning in your life if you followed a religion like Catholicism.

    • It’s not just a possibility. It’s irrational and statistically unlikely that any one religion is true. Know what I find lazy? -Not bothering to objectively evaluate a personal conviction when confronted with evidence to the contrary.

      • le me

        Evidence to the contrary? You haven’t provided any yet.

      • Not my job to provide you with evidence. YOU are accountable for being an intellectually honest person, not me. Google it if you truly care about evidence.

      • I do have the evidence for God’s existence, you choosing not to believe is one…but for the scientific, cold hard facts group, (scientists are not bad) what about miracles? The image of Mary on the tilma at Guadalupe?

      • What about the image of Charles Darwin on my toast? What about the image of blah blah blah… It’s called Pareidolia, something your brain does (quite often I might add, it even happens to me). Just the other day I saw a chicken riding a motorcycle in the clouds the other day. I don’t plan on worshiping the Hells Angel Pollo, though do I? No. Here’s the wiki link to explain that phenomenon.

        I can’t help it you have an inability to use How unfortunate. Then you’d realize how silly that question is (not to mention boring and debunked a million times).

      • but it exists. Not to mention that it’s made of a material that should’ve fallen about a while ago. About this whole Pascal’s Wager thing…Let’s say you were given the opportunity to enter a ticket into a lottery. Let’s say you didn’t even know for sure the lottery was real or fake. Your argument would be the equivalent of being given this opportunity and saying: “No, the odds that I will be right are tiny, there could be so many other right numbers out there. And I’m not even sure if the prize is real.” It is laziness. You think it’s helpless, considering how many options there are, so you give up on all the religions.

  2. le me

    Your point number 3 is so contradictory. You can’t make yourself believe something? Ok, you believe that the center of the earth is big, molten ball of metal that spins around? Have you ever seen it? I think that you believe that on good faith of what scientists tell you. And the sun- you believe the earth revolves around the sun right? Have you ever gone up to space in a shuttle or to the ISS to watch carefully and make a decision on which orbits which? I doubt it. Again, I think you believe something you can’t prove.

    • No. Point 3 is not contradictory. Point 3 stems from the consequences of Pascal’s wager (which is completely illogical feel good nonsense). The consequence of the Wager is that if you don’t actually find any logic or rational in believing in god, you should still believe it anyway. That is impossible. If you know something is illogical, if you know the possibilities of unicorns existing is in the negatives, can you make yourself believe it? That’s stupid. It’s a logical fallacy. The human brain doesn’t work that way. The earth is made of many different materials that you can observe with your senses, but if I told you it was made of pudding (preferably Jello brand) could you somehow accept that in any form? No. It isn’t a difficult concept and renders your other talking points invalid and obsolete to this conversation.

      • Also, we can measure the effects of the earth’s core because of our magnetic field. It could possibly be magnet fairies at the core, but it would make more sense given the density of the earth that it’s spinning molten iron. Or iron pudding. I think I just invented my new favorite snack.

      • Chris- Make this happen. Right now. I demand sustenance.

      • le me

        Do you find any logic in believing that the earth’s core is a big ball of metal? I don’t care what scientists have told you, what have YOU measured and noticed about the core?

      • Yes I do. I refuse to throw out “what scientists have told” me. Why? Because there is a difference in believing something because it feels good and actually having measurable and testable evidence to back up a claim. Science as a process makes observations and tests those observations until it comes to a consensus on, in this example, what the earth’s core is made of. Just because we cannot *see* the iron core does not mean that this fact is made up or baseless in assertion. We can measure this by the earth’s magnetism, gravity, etc. I am not a scientist but plan on being one one day and I can then, if I so desire, take all observations and facts laid out for me by the scientific community and research it ON MY OWN because it has been made available. I have the option of, if I find any discrepancy with the consensus that the earth has an iron core, of putting forth my own testable hypothesis to be picked apart and tested by my fellow colleagues. But the good thing is that, even if I do not personally witness an iron core or study the effects of the iron core on the earth itself, thousands of people who study that field have done this already. Any ideas put forth by religion and ancient books do NOT come close to being re-testable or falsifiable, which leads me personally to understand that science wins and religion fails miserably for explaining the world and universe we live in. So yes, if a large body of study in the science realm concludes that the earth has an iron core or that evolution is the best explanation for the diversity of life we see today, I am going to rank that higher on my list of what is fact.

  3. Ben

    Pascal’s wager seems to make so much sense if you’re a believer.
    I give my younger self major facepalms for buying it. A failure to truly think.

    • I remember thinking Pascal’s wager was a good argument for believing in god before I knew what it was called or that it was a logical fallacy.

      Can you give my younger self some face palms too? Lol.

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