In my post on why I’m not a Christian, I mentioned that it was more risky to be religious than not. Some of you may be thinking, “that’s not what Blaise Pascal said, and he’s way smarter than you!” Well, you’d be right on one count, Pascal looked at it logically and decided to believe in God, even though he didn’t really. What I’m talking about, of course, is Pascal’s Wager.
To summarize Pascal’s Wager, Blaise Pascal theorized that it is impossible for man to prove or disprove the existence of God. Therefore, if we could never know that God didn’t exist, the safe thing to do would be to act as if he did. The reasoning being that, if you were to logically assess the pros, cons and effort involved. If you do this, there are four outcomes, which I’ve conveniently tabulated below, along with the outcomes.
|God Exists||God Doesn’t Exist|
|Believe||You go the Heaven.||A bit of time wasted, and lost personal integrity.|
|Don’t Believe||You go to Hell.||Personal Integrity in tact, Sundays to yourself.|
So, there you have it. In a nutshell Pascal drew that matrix and made his decision. And to be fair, you can sort of see his reasoning. I God does exist, and you don’t believe, the punishment is infinite. If God does exist, and you fo believe, the reward is infinite. These are two polar opposites in terms of outcome. The two extremes of this matrix. By contrast, betting on the fact that God does not exist, has seemingly minor implications. Essentially, it boils down to your own integrity (can you go around saying you believe on God when you don’t really) and whether or not you get your Sundays free to sit around in your underwear. No brainer really.
That’s Pascal’s view. I don’t buy into it, and, in fact, I think he’s got it completely wrong. To me, the biggest risk is believing in God. Or, to be more precise, a God. Imagine, if you will, the scenario where you have arrived at the entrance to heaven. For your entire life you have been worshiping a God, and it turns out you got the wrong one. What’s worse? Worshiping a false God, or not worshiping a God at all? If I was a betting man, I know where I would be stacking my chips.
Of course, that’s not the only flaw in Pascal’s argument. He conveniently skirts around the fact that if there was a God, he would surely know that you were only believing in him because you were betting on the outcome which was associated with the least risk (although I question that), and not because you actually believe. There’s also the small fact that believing in God isn’t enough to get you into heaven. You also have to live as a practitioner of that religion. Depending on which religion turns out to be right, that could involve some major sacrifices on your part. Thereby skewing the logic of Pascal’s Matrix.
Have you ever tried to apply logic to your (non)beliefs?