Pascal’s wager

Assume 50-50 odds of God existing or not. Which way should you bet? With your afterlife, that is. This is “Pascal’s wager.”

Blaise Pascal was a 17th century French mathematical genius responsible for great advances in probability theory. He answered his question this way: if you go “yes” and are wrong, you lose nothing. But if you wrongly bet “no,” you can wind up in Hell. Therefore believing in God is the logical choice.

Childish though this little game might seem, it actually was a step toward a proper theory of decision-making and risk management. Pascal was propounding a method for analysis when weighing uncertain future possibilities, based on mapping out their consequences. It may seem obvious today, but in his time it wasn’t.

Yet Pascal’s analysis of the God problem was faulty (even assuming the odds really are 50-50). Betting “yes” is not actually cost-free. Far from it — as well illustrated by Pascal’s own life. At an early age he put all his chips on that bet, and devoted himself entirely to religion. He gave up mathematics completely. What a waste of genius!

However, there’s something very strange here. If Pascal was so deeply religious, how could he even have hypothesized God’s nonexistence? And then fail to foresee his loss if he were wrong? No true believer would think that way. But perhaps I’m making here the common mistake of imputing some sort of rationality to religious thinking. The true cost of faith is sacrificing your rational engagement with reality.

Anyhow, Pascal’s wager is as ridiculous as all so-called logical proofs of God’s existence that religious apologist philosophers indefatigably concoct. The simplest answer is to ask why Pascal’s same wager should not equally apply to every other religion in the world. Why bet on Christianity as opposed to Hinduism? Pascal would have to choose. Now the bet doesn’t look so easy.

Well, hello, there is no God, no Heaven or Hell; no religion is true. You can bet on it. The odds are 100%.


One Response to “Pascal’s wager”

  1. jim- Says:

    I had a post a while back about religion sidetracking and delaying great minds from real accomplishments. I did not know that about pascal great example if a great mind gone to waste.

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