by Geoffrey Bonis
Pascal’s Wager is one of the most well known philosophical arguments for, not so much the existence of god, but believing in god, or as I’ll point out, merely living in such a manner. Blaise Pascal was a philosopher, physicist, and mathematician in Seventeenth Century France who, in a posthumously published work on Christian apologetics, made the following argument:
One should live as though god exists. If one believes in god and it turns out god does exist, there will be infinite and unparalleled reward. If god turns out not to exist, the loss is marginal, a few luxuries or so, but it would be well worth the risk. As for the corollary, if one chooses to not believe in god, and turns out to be wrong, one will be met with eternal damnation (or if you’re Jewish, the more favorable punishment of temporary fire and brimstone). If god turns out to not exist, you’re very lucky- but it is not worth the risk. Therefore, one should, on the basis of probability, live as though god exists- make a wager.
I was first introduced to Pascal’s Wager, unidentified as such, in yeshiva. Certainly no one knew they were employing an old device of Christian apologetics. I wonder how it came their way and how they would feel about employing it if they knew of its distinctly Christian origin. I have three simple points to make about Pascal’s Wager.
When one finds oneself at the crossroads, wondering whether god exists or not, and what is the proper way to live, it is only fair to say that one does not entirely believe in god at that juncture. (A determined believer need not consider such a wager). Although one may be tempted by the potential reward that this gamble offers in the end, one would have to decide to believe in god. That, I say, is impossible. One cannot decide, so as to make a conscious decision, to believe something they do not believe. If we take the nuance of Pascal’s wager, that this is merely a gamble on how to live, and one decides to live as though one believes in god, then for sure an omniscient god will know that one is entirely full of it. In Christianity, as opposed to Judaism, true belief and faith are all that hold value. There is no reward for pretending, especially for selfish reasons, and as I’ve said, the all-knowing would easily make the distinction.
The next point is the one that came to me instantly the first time I heard this argument. I could not be convinced that, if one turned out to be wrong about god’s existence and put the eggs in the wrong basket, the losses would be negligible. I could not be convinced that there was no cost to living a long religious life if I were all-the-while in error for cutting the genitals of my child, taking an oath of celibacy, or spending countless hours muttering to an imaginary being. Best case scenario, I would have lived a life of profound waste. Best thing that could be said about this is that being wrong about god is defined by never knowing you’re wrong, because you’re just dead in the end. Lucky you.
The third point I would like to make is about the reality of betting on god as opposed to a reasoned and scientific alternative. When the evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins was invited to a Fox News segment with Bill O’reilly, O’reilly told Dawkins science doesn’t have the answer for the creation of the Universe whereas religion offers one, and therefore it seems inline with common sense to throw one’s hat in with religion on that question. Only someone inundated with the company of like-minded religious people could give such an over simplified and hence thoughtless declaration. There have been many gaps in our knowledge and understanding of our natural world and our Universe. As science has progressed we have been able to fill in so many gaps. To even begin to account for what we understand now compared to what we understood just two hundred years ago, or fifty years ago, is simply astounding. We went from thinking witches and demons caused common ailments to developing vaccines that eradicate polio and measles. We have put men on the moon and brought them back. We have self driving cars. Every single knowledge gap that has been filled in, has been filled in by scientific discovery. Religion has never filled in a knowledge gap, and most importantly, it has never tried to. It is not as though these are two different methods of collecting data in the world. Religion makes no attempt to discover anything, and is very often the motivation and impetus for opposing scientific discovery.
Now if one is faced with a knowledge gap, would you rather bet on science which has filled every singe knowledge gap humans have ever filled, or would you bet on religion, which has filled none, and has never tried to? Bill Oreilly’s answer lacks any common sense whatsoever.