Pascal's Wager: A Gift to Atheists

I've heard that Pascal's Wager is the atheist's nightmare. Actually, it's a gift to atheists.

It turns out it's hard to explain Pascal's idea without it sounding silly. Like this: "It's better to believe in a god that doesn't exist than to disbelieve in a god that does." Not mocking, but that just sounds comical.

Here is the most compelling version: "A rational person should live as though God exists and win infinite joy. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss."

Some fancy preachers make it sound like science, talking about statistics and probability theory. But the fancy talk dies quickly with a simple question:

Which god?

The Wikipedia List of Deities is actually a list of 100 *groups* of gods. Heck, the Hindus claim 33 million gods all by themselves. The Japanese have Seven Lucky Gods, and many others apparently less meritorious.

If you pick the wrong god, you'll fry in some other god's hell. Your pious good works will have been in vain. You can't even pick the top ten gods to worship, because the real god will be cranky that you worshiped the other nine fakes. Your chances at heaven are only 10%. So much for probability theory.

Which god? Thor, Osiris, Vishnu, Neptune? There are Armenian gods, Aztec gods, gods. Just counting the major ones, thousands of gods have been proposed and claimed to have existed. Which god?

(By the way, notice I keep using the word "god", in lower case. Very useful. See how different this looks: "I believe in the one true god." Again, it begs the question, "Which god?" How do you know?)

It turns out Pascal's argument only makes sense if you already believe there actually is one true god named God. To be valid, you must have sincerely considered all the other possible gods, which of course *nobody* does. Pascal's Wager is "presuppositional", meaning you have to pre-suppose a god exists, or it proves nothing.

Pascal himself thought so little of this thin idea that he never even published it, and he was a very religious man who published many great ideas.

To be sure, I do not argue with true believers. I believe what I want, and they can, too. But for someone with questions, who is truly confused, truly troubled, someone who really thinks there are statistical reasons to believe a good and just god will punish them for eternity for getting this question wrong, this answer is simple, soothing relief.

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