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rational basis for belief in God's existence - agnosticism and pascal's wager

Updated on August 30, 2012
Pascal's Wager
Pascal's Wager

Pascal's wager

Agnosticism is the belief that there is no conclusive evidence one way or the other regarding the existence of God. This however does not mean that agnostics cannot logically favour one side of the argument more, they just accept that it is not based upon any evidence. Pascal believed this lack of evidence was no reason not to form an opinion on the matter. He believed that there were options of which some were more beneficial than others and that the most beneficial was to believe in God.

Agnosticism is viewed by many as merely an option for those who have not quite decided what to believe in regards to God’s existence or lack of. Pascal felt that you might as well form an opinion and thought that the safest option to form was to believe in God. He worked out the results for believing in God and not believing in God if God does or does not exist. His findings can be put formally in stages: if you believe in God and God exists you’ll be rewarded in the afterlife; if you do not believe in God and God does exists you’ll be punished in the afterlife, if God does not exist then there will be no consequences in the afterlife if you believe or not; therefore, therefore there is more to gain from believing and so it makes more sense to believe. Pascal’s argument suggests that not having evidence for belief either way regarding the existence of God should mean that you decide to believe God exists as at worst it has a neutral outcome and at best may bring eternal benefits.

Pascal’s wager however is not the definitive answer for agnostics. There are three main objections to his argument. The first of which is that Pascal is asking people to believe in God because it’s the safest option and not because it is true. Generally this is not the usual reason for people believing in God as it is completely unrelated to faith and the only evidence the argument provides is that it would be more useful to believe. Forming a belief based on its fruitfulness rather than whether you actually believe it or whether it is true is generally not how beliefs are created. Also, is it truly fair to say that we have lost out on nothing if we believed in God and God does not exist? Belief in God requires abstinence, restraint, devotion etc. and these things restrict what one is able to do in life. It may be the case that not following these religious practices would allow you to enjoy your life more and if God does not exist then you have lost out on this because of religion and a false belief; it is not fair to claim that belief in God is purely beneficial. The final objection is that it is not as simple as Pascal makes it appear; even if we do believe in God we may not believe in the right God as there are varying Gods and religions in the world. If we have believed in God our entire lives and upon dying find that a god does exist but that it is not the God which we have believed in and been devoted to then we may still be punished in the afterlife in spite of the tears of dedication and abstinence. Belief in God is not all that is required, you must believe in the correct God and follow the correct rules. Pascal’s claim that believing in God when God exists definitely results in rewards in the afterlife is not certain and so the basis of the argument that believing in God will bring the best results is not longer to be fully trusted.

Thus, although Pascal’s agnostic argument does provide rational and logical support for the belief in God it is not as reliably beneficial as he claims and it certainly lacks evidences on which to firmly base the belief in God upon. Pascal makes little attempt to prove God’s existence instead merely arguing that if God does exist then it is better that you have believed and believing won’t jeopardise you either in life or after. This argument is weak because many have shown that there are disadvantages in life to believing in God. These disadvantages do not entirely rid the argument of its influence but it does make it a lot less reliable, especially because it does not provide evidence that the belief in God would in fact be the true. Both the Teleological argument and the Cosmological argument are far more equipped at providing evidence for God’s existence rather than merely using the slightly flawed logical for Pascal’s wager. However, if in need of some guidance as to what to believe then perhaps Pascal’s argument is a good place to turn as it does at least provide logical support to any belief you form, even if this does undermine the idea of religious faith.


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    • Comrade Joe profile image

      Comrade Joe 5 years ago from Glasgow, United Kingdom

      I think Pascal was so far off the mark. For one it would surely be better to say that if God exists and God is perfectly good then he will forgive us for not believing, and if he doesn't exist we were right to not belief.