This is not so much a logical principle as a demonstration of why something is illogical. Some of you may have heard of Pascal’s Wager (or Gambit). Again, I try to keep religious views out of this blog so keep in mind this isn’t proof of why god doesn’t exist – it’s just proof of why Pascal’s Wager is logically flawed.
So, basically Pascal’s Wager is a thought experiment that paved the way for decision theory (based on probability). The premise is that god may or may not exist and the conclusion is that based on a risk-return probability, you are better off believing that god does exist. The thought experiment roughly follows this process:
- “God is, or He is not”
- A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up.
- According to reason, you can defend either of the propositions.
- You must wager. (It’s not optional.)
- Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
- Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
Ok, so why is this wrong? First, it is based on a false dichotomy fallacy. Which god? People often forget, due to the self-absorbed nature of humanity, that there is more to the world than just what they believe in. Let’s not forget that there are any number of gods that are believed in equally strongly by their respective theists.
Second, if we factor in the existence of multiple gods, we must also factor in the potential punishment of following the wrong god. The first commandment makes it pretty clear that at least some gods don’t like it when you choose the wrong one. Additionally, the game is no longer a wager between two options. You have multiple options, with each option – except atheism – promising reward and punishment.
By now, we’ve pretty much destroyed step one of Pascal’s Wager. If you’re keeping up, you’ll release we’ve destroyed step two as well (it is no longer a 50/50 chance – heads or tails is no longer valid). But wait, there’s more! It was never an even chance to begin with. Recall two other logical principles I’ve mentioned, Occam’s Razor and Rationalism. A deity is the ultimate extreme of unlikeliness based on Occam’s Razor (because a god is inexplicable and has no beginning), and based on this, we can use rationalism to conclude that it is not reasonable to consider god as a “truth”. Remembering that rationalism deals with a priori knowledge and probability of likelihood, this is not to say that a god doesn’t exist, it’s just saying that the chances of a god existing are lower. That leaves us with atheism having a statistical edge (no solid numbers, it could be a lot or a little based on your personal beliefs, but atheism definitely has an advantage in terms of statistical accuracy, whether large or little). So not only is it not “heads or tails” any more, it’s far from it.
Now, considering that you are wagering for reward, we must ask ourselves, will this behaviour be met with reward? That is to say, if you choose to follow a religion in the hopes of winning some divine lottery, even if that religion was correct, will that god reward you considering your motive? Probably not. Again, statistical speculation based on scripture; it is often said that man cannot ever understand the mind of god, so there is a chance that god will reward you for betting on him, but given that such an action would conflict with the concepts of morality and ethics taught by religion, it would be a pretty self destructive process.
We’re at the end now – and given the logical reasons put forth above, we have reshaped the playing field of this game:
- A god or many gods or no gods may exist.
- A game is being played … where there are at least 20 options (based on a list of the major religious groups in this world), and the atheism option has at least a slightly better probability of being correct (exact amount debatable).
- According to reason, you can defend any of the at least 20 propositions.
- You must wager. (It’s not optional).
- Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering in a certain god or lack of god. In wagering for the existence of one of at least 20 gods, you may gain some reward from one god (in the unlikely event that god rewards you for your motive being to bet on him) if you are correct, and will receive punishment from at least 20 gods if you are incorrect. Further, you have a lower chance of being correct than if you pick the atheism proposition.
- Wager then based on your risk aversion (financial principle that basically means how much risk you are willing to take on an investment). However, risk aversion assumes rational investors that tradeoff risk for return. A rational investor will not pick a higher risk option (punishment from 20 gods with a lower chance of being correct is pretty risky) if the return does not offset taking on such risk (reward from 1 god; it depends what you think the reward will be then, and whether or not you will even receive this reward). Hence, betting on anything besides atheism (the safe bet), would be considered irrational both from a financial perspective, a statistician’s perspective and a logician’s perspective.
Again, it really depends. If somehow, you think it’s better to bet for one of the religions, it’s really up to you. The thought experiment is just pointing out that you’re better off betting on atheism (given the parameters of Pascal’s Wager). Again, I’m not trying to force any beliefs on anyone, nor am I even an atheist. I simply wanted to break down Pascal’s Wager so the topic of atheism was inevitable. Keep in mind, there are more parameters than just the ones put forth by Pascal’s Wager, so even by disproving it, you can still believe in god. However, this lack of encompassing parameters is the very same reason why Pascal’s Wager fails.
Apparently, an “Atheist’s Wager” also exists. I only bothered to take a quick look at it and it is more of an alternative to Pascal’s Wager with a broader scope concluding that choosing atheism is better than choosing a religion. I just want to differentiate the two topics – this post is pulling apart Pascal’s Wager and using it to demonstrate that Pascal is in fact wrong. The Atheist’s Wager is a thought experiment that follows a similar process to Pascal’s Wager. The difference here is that I am starting from Pascal’s Wager to tear it down, whereas the Atheist’s Wager seems to be a more accurate alternative (it can be a standalone).