Diagnosing Pascal’s Wager
Hewhay (yes, that’s Yahweh spelled backwards) is a jealous god. He absolutely hates the idea of the Christian god taking precedence over him in people’s minds. Hewhay is also an angry god, like the one in the Bible (especially the OT god). Therefore, he’s gonna punish you for believing in Yahweh.
You see, Hewhay is a fan of science fiction. He has constructed two kinds of Virtual Reality helmets. Every time someone dies, he’s gonna strap their souls in one of the two kinds of helmets. One helmet will eternally simulate your worst nightmares. The other will construct a virtual reality wherein all your wildest dreams come true. There’s no mercy: once you’re wearing a helmet, there’s no way it’s coming off for the rest of eternity.
Hewhay will punish Christians by strapping their souls to nightmare helmets. If you believe in any other god or no god at all, he’ll put you in a dream helmet.
It appears that your best move is to not believe in the Christian god. If you don’t and Hewhay exists, he’ll put you in the dream helmet. If you do and Hewhay exists, he’ll punish you with eternal nightmares. If Hewhay doesn’t exist, nothing happens, because we’re only concerned with one god. Here’s a helpful table:
|Don’t believe in Yahweh||Believe in Yahweh|
|Hewhay exists||+∞ (dream helmet)||-∞ (nightmare helmet)|
|Hewhay doesn’t exist||0||0|
The “don’t believe in Yahweh” column adds up to positive infinity, whereas the “believe in Yahweh” column adds up to minus infinity. The choice is easy, right? It’s obviously advantageous to “bet” on Hewhay existing. Therefore, you shouldn’t believe in the Christian god.
Does this sound familiar? It’s a bet in the spirit of Blaise Pascal’s famous wager, which attempts to argue that you’re better off believing in the Christian god than not, regardless of actual existence. Although largely deprecated by philosophers, this kind of reasoning is still in use among lay Christians. Yet I just turned it on its head and got the exact opposite result. What’s wrong here?
Diagnosing Pascal’s Wager
There’s a multitude of problems with Pascal’s wager. For one, it completely disregards other gods. Remember, the wager attempts to establish an advantage purely with mathematical means. It doesn’t take into account evidential status; instead, it tries to show that no matter what you do, believing at worst gives a neutral result and at best an infinite positive result, whereas disbelieving will at best give a neutral result and at worst result in eternal suffering. The wager fails to take into account the majority of options: it only considers the existence or non-existence of the Christian god, ignoring Hewhay, Allah, Buddha, Brahma, Thor, Zeus and all other gods. Pascal’s wager presents us with a two-dimensional slice of the infinite-dimensional object we’d need to represent all possibilities, including the infinite number of potential gods. Even so, the users of the wager pretend that this tiny subspace is in fact the whole space.
Another thing with Pascal’s wager is that it makes assumptions about life on earth and the afterlife it can’t support. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve read some of my fellow bloggers’ stories, and heard the examples of their lives actually becoming better after they deconverted. Clearly, the one-sided picture the wager presents, where disbelieving always gives a neutral result, is false. Another thing is that, just as there is an infinite space of possible gods, there is an infinite space of possible afterlifes. There could be Heaven and Hell, like in Christian mythology, or you could add in Purgatory, like in some brands of Christianity, or Nightmare VR Helmet and Dreams-Come-True VR Helmet like in Hewhayian mythology, or no afterlife at all, or an infinite number of other possibilities. Since the wager, again, doesn’t consider evidential status, and since it’s per definition impossible for living humans to experience the afterlife anyway, this is an unsupportable assumption and an unforgivable mistake in reasoning.
There are more holes in Pascal’s Wager. It assumes that you, by seeing the statistical advantages of believing, can either make yourself genuinely believe (i.e., you can consciously convince yourself to believe), or fool an omniscient being into believing your belief is genuine. Neither of these things seem to hold true in general. Normal humans cannot by willpower alone convince themselves to believe something they don’t. Instead, they would have to rely on self-delusion and drugs and probably make themselves mentally ill to delude themselves into believing if they were convinced not to. And if they instead of the hard route fake belief, by observing religious rituals without believing them to be true, they’re presuming that an omniscient being who per definition knows everything doesn’t know that they’re faking it. If anything, they’d be more likely to end up in Hell.
Another fault is that the wager without justification assumes the likelihoods of the Christian god existing and not existing are equal, so that we can disregard probabilities of existence when discussing possible outcomes. Once again, we’re presented only part of the picture as if it were all there is to it.
This diagnosis is hard to set, but there’s no doubt that something’s wrong. There’s so much wrong, so many symptoms that no single disease (read: fallacy or catchphrase) covers them all. But one thing is clear: using the wager as a support for your faith is inexcusable from an intellectual viewpoint.