What is Pascal's Wager
Blaise Pascal and his "Pensees"
Blaise Pascal was born in Rouen France in 1623. A child prodigy, he has been classified as many things: A Mathematician, a Physicist, an Inventor, a Christian philosopher. He made contributions to the study of fluids, probability theory, geometry, economics, and even invented an early mechanic calculator.
But he is best remembered amongst Philosophers of religion for the wager or gambit he posed to those that claim, "I am so made that I cannot believe..." in his Pensees, published in 1669 (seven years after his death).
Pascal's Wager is a relatively simple bit a reasoning used to resolve what just might be the most dire of all decisions. Does god exist?
It is laid out classically as follows:
God either is or is not. you have no information that would influence your decision either way and so taking a stand on this question is essentially the equivalent of flipping a coin. You must wager, there is no option that allows you to abstain from choosing one of the two propositions.
Given these conditions let us surmise the gains and losses associated with each option. If you wager that god is and you are correct you stand to gain immortality in paradise, if you are incorrect then you lose nothing. While if you wager that god is not, you still likewise lose nothing if you are correct but risk eternal damnation if you are wrong. As Pascal put it, "If you gain, you gain all. If you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then, without hesitation, that He exists."
While this conclusion seems straight forward and logical enough a number of objections have been raised in regard to it's simplicity and apparently low regard for the attributes of god.
Firstly, the argument assumes that you are wagering on the correct god. Within the pantheon of deities among both current religions and long anachronistic mythologies, if the actual, "god," is not the Christian god (which is the one Pascal is writing on) might not you earn the increased brunt of this actual god's ire for believing in a false god rather than by simply abstaining from any belief?
The second problem flows from this idea of belief and the assumption that you can will yourself into believing something simply as a matter of pragmatic utility. Pascal mistakenly attributes wishful malleability to individual credulity. A carrot or a stick may drive a beast of burden forward but the beast does not move because he believes he is on the correct course to a predetermined destination. The point is that neither the supposed pleasantries of heaven nor the rumored anguish of hell is sufficient to create authentic belief where once none stood.
The final and most significant objection to Pascal's Wager is that it assumes god is a sycophant who can be duped and manipulated. Surely an omniscient god would, by definition, know the falsity of your belief and the motives behind it.
Though, an atheist, I would like to think that if there is a god I would garner more favor by not trying to deceive him. I would like to think god prizes intellectual honesty and an reason use of the mind's faculties over craven and insincere propitiations performed merely to avoid punishment or accrue reward.
And so I suppose it all comes down to your assessment of god. Is he indeed the fearful insecure father that neurotically needs to be loved as the first five commandment would have us believe? Or is he a benevolent force that prizes authenticity, intellectual honesty, and a life of good works over false conciliation and condescension?
The Wager is yours.