Jul

22

"I don't know if there is a God or not, but there is no downside to believing in him and there's nothing but downside in rejecting him" — restatement of Pascal's Wager

Although the logic of this statement sounds good, It seems to me that the last part of the statement is one that is based on dogma and fear of consequences. Is it true? Is there really nothing but downside in rejecting God? Why? How so? Hellfire and eternal damnation? In my mind these are human constructs and cannot be taken at face value. I certainly will not attempt to persuade someone to change his beliefs, but I take issue with an argument that attempts to persuade by instilling fear.

Scott Brooks replies:

Religious dogma aside — e.g. jihad and dying in the service of your God like the Crusaders or modern suicide bombers — there is no downside to believing in God.

If that is the case, then how does that statement evoke fear?

If God is kind and benevolent, then there is no downside to believing in him. If he is a malevolent God, then "he is what is what he is" and the statement is a point in fact. If the statement is a point in fact, why blame the statement for the fear it invokes?

Chris Tucker explains:

I will accept that that religion has done much good. I merely meant to say that it doesn't appeal to me personally and so any argument I make will be biased in that direction. But when I hear "There's nothing but downside in rejecting him" I simply disagree. I don't see why that is a true statement, just a statement that says rejecting God is bad and you will most certainly pay for it. It is the subtle threat implicit in the statement that gets my hackles up. It is this fear of eternal consequences I reject.

Corban Bates says:

I understand how the "there's nothing but downside in rejecting him" claim can be made when looking at it from an afterlife perspective. There are many different religions in the world, and only one (if any) will turn out to be right. Applying statistics, the people of each religion have a certain chance that their religion turns out to be the right one and they enjoy their wonderful afterlife. All of the others will turn out to be wrong and spend eternity in some other not-so-great place. So although each religion has only only a small chance of being right, at least they have some chance. If you do not believe in anything, the chances of you having a good afterlife are 0%. So from an afterlife perspective, I see how you could make the claim that there is nothing but downside in rejecting religion. If you do not currently believe in anything, why not just pick a religion and hope for the best? If the one you pick turns out to be wrong, you're going to the same place you were going before you picked. And if absolutely nothing happens to us after we die, this will not change whether you believed in anything or not.

Nigel Davies responds:

I see the problem with this theory being not in Pascal's logic but in his implicit assumptions about the nature of existence.

Laurence Glazier says:

The issue of whether God exists has long proved a welcome distraction, and flight, from the more important project of whether we exist, as unified individuals, as opposed to rivers of fleeting whims, or espousers of popular memes. It is hard to face the existential terror, but believers and non-believers at least have common consent to the inevitability of their physical deaths. For those to whom religion is insufficient, art, though not a comfort, may be a salve and a psychological tool. Where logical thinking ends, psychological thinking begins.


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23 Comments so far

  1. Nic Chalmers on July 22, 2009 8:18 am

    God help those who rely on religion.

  2. Bill Welch on July 22, 2009 8:31 am

    Religion is a tradition of man, not of God (YHVH). His word is what changes us, not any man's preaching hellfire & brimstone. It is a life long process. You just have to listen to the Holy Spirit's voice and use wisdom (the greatest gift of God) to live you life. God & His kingdom is infinite! We in a fallen state are finite.

    Blessings, Bill

    P.S. where's Anatoly? no postings lately!

  3. Steve Leslie on July 22, 2009 8:46 am

    Two things that should not be discussed at a cocktail party are religion and politics. Each instills its own passions, prejudices, ideological dialogue and a Pandora's box of pestilence.

    With this cautionary note in mind: The above statement appears to be quite simple. To paraphrase: If there is no downside to believing in God then why not just do it. ? If one stops here then one would be comfortable. However moving on things become complicated. If there is "nothing" but downside to "rejecting" him then why do it.

    Two key words appear here are belief, nothing, and rejection.

    This is where the problems develop.

    First, what does one believe about God. Is he the creator of the Universe, is he omniscient, generous, loving, gracious,jealous, cruel, a taskmaster etc. Does God have human foibles. What vision of God did Pascal have. Did he embrace the Judeo, Christian view of God. Did he look at God as a Muslim might, a Hindu, an American Indian or a Shinto? Is God a necessary part to the function of the world. Did God make the world and then step aside for the most part and reappear when things get out of balance.

    Second, what is nothing. Is it an absolute. The word conjures up a perspective of an either or situation. What is nothing? Is it like space where no oxygen exists, is it referencing the fact that in rejection the door of access to an almighty being is irretriably closed. Is nothing referencing the Seven Deadly sins and the punishment that is prescribed for each individual rejection.

    Third, what is rejection. In Christian belief for example, if one should reject Jesus then one also is rejecting God. Jews of course take a different course. Muslims accept a God but view Mohammad as the prophet. Other faiths might look to a philosopher such as Buddha or the Dalai Lama.

    As one can see a simple statement can become complex. And the consequence of a protracted discussion can result it feelings hurt, relationships strained. After all Wars have been fought over theological beliefs since the dawn of time. In the words of Joshua in War Games "Strange game professor the only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?"

  4. Bill Welch on July 22, 2009 8:51 am

    Nic, you sound like my Mom was! On her death bed she accepted the Lord! You rely on God not man.

  5. Steve Leslie on July 22, 2009 10:03 am

    not to dimish the conversation but an analogy might be in order. Let's say that one wishes to try and prove or disprove the laws of physics. Beginning with gravity. One could take the path of Galileo and go to the top of Pisa and drop an object of mass. And one could measure the descent trajectory etc. One could compare the velocity to other objects. One could also lean over the side and jump. If the law of gravity does not apply then he is safe. If one proves that the laws apply then in all likelihood, the subject dies and his obituary is written. The point I am making is how far does one wish to go to prove a point. At what cost. It seems to me that Pascal is inferring that would it not be better to take the path of least resistance and harm and move on from there? And attend to other matters of importance.

  6. reid on July 22, 2009 10:03 am

    Man should be free to choose his context. Associations, governments, friends, beliefs.

  7. Steve Leslie on July 22, 2009 10:47 am

    to Reids point is that not what the Constition and the supporting Bill of Rights is all about. Thomas Jefferson wrote extensively on the importance of limited government and The first amendment pursues the other points. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Let us go back to the preamble to the Constitution: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,[1] promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

  8. Bill Welch on July 22, 2009 11:37 am

    Steve, the path of least resistance may get you to go with the flow faster & smoother, but, may not be the path to take for the “choice” ( the best, not a decision ) final outcome. A nice smoothly paved road with no curves will run you off a cliff easier than a bumpy one with lots of curves. I am sure there is a Native American & or Buddhist saying for this!

  9. Ken Drees on July 22, 2009 1:17 pm

    I do not think the wager is based on someone coming to the conclusion that they should go out and find a religion just in case and then really put their life’s attention to it. Since its a wager or a choice based on math it really puts the faith aspect of religion side by side with any other rational choice–like walking north or traveling by car. I think the wager aspect cheapens the entire concept.

    The fact of faith is what cannot be squared. Find me a non-believer, turned active believer based on Pascal’s wager–a rarer five leaf clover to be found indeed.

    No, the non-believer considers the wager and his choices more like this, should I believe in God based on a mathmatical hypothesis–just in case?

    If thats true and it works then I suppose this God is easily duped–lots of believers just catching a seat in his private railcar at the last minute. There have been many near death experiences that have been documented–and not all of them are about the white light, the tunnel and the warm smells of baking bread.

    Look up near death hell experiences on the net. ER technicians and doctors will tell you that most near death experinces are of the hellish type. I never knew this till I started researching this for myself.

    Everyone will face death. We die a little each day. It is a shame that most do not consider what happens after death when there is still time to do so. Its always the other guy who is going to die or get sick, or die in car crash–never oneself.

    Hell is eternal separation from God–and thats exactly what a lot of people want in their life–so that is what they get.

    One last thought: there is a website out there about a guy from New Zealand if I remember correctly. He was surfing around the world when a night reaf dive he got stung by the most poisoning type of jellyfish on earth–the box jellyfish. His name is Ian McCormick–I just found a link to his website:

    http://www.aglimpseofeternity.org/

    Its worth the time to read, since its an entertaining story even if you could care less about hell or heaven. But I think most intelligent people are curious about what happens when you die, and the different religious choices make the entire topic hard to understand. So this story relates to people who are searching for the truth.

    One last observation, the older you get, the less chance you have to change your mind about God. We slowly distill into our final character–whether that is a form of a Billy Graham or maybe a little bit of a Bernie Madoff.

  10. Mike Olds on July 22, 2009 3:29 pm

    Around 600 BC, a tad before Pascal, Gotama, The Buddha said this (my translation):

    Cover Your Bets
    The two-sided, safe position
    in the matter of whether there
    is or is not:

    A good rebounding consequence from good deeds
    a bad rebounding consequence from bad deeds
    heaven and hell
    mother and father
    rebirth according to one’s deeds
    god, gods, and evil ones
    seers who have seen for themselves

    is to conform one’s actions
    to the ways indicated by the position that
    “there is.”
    This way, if there is,
    one has made one’s self safe;
    if there is not,
    then even in the here and now
    the wise see
    that one has adopted the two-sided position.
    On the other hand,
    to say that “there is not”
    when one does not know,
    is to say that one does know
    what one does not know,
    which is to speak an intentional untruth,
    which the wise see
    is unwise
    even in the here and now.

    — Majjhima Nikaya #60

  11. bill fitzpatrick on July 22, 2009 3:41 pm

    Religion appears to me, a device created by the weak to protect them from the strong. It is a collection of stories and beliefs to keep people from breaking the rules of the society they live in. So… it isn't useless, as we are all weak at one time or other. It is fiction, though.

  12. Adam Kretschmann on July 22, 2009 5:37 pm

    In my view the current formulation of Pascal's wager is, "I don't know if there is a God or not however believers are happier and wealthier in this life notwithstanding the afterlife therefore belief in God is an end in and of itself". While I cannot find citations at the moment I have also read previously that believers are healthier and have more s-x. There is also this post from the NYT that evangelicals avoided the housing crisis:

    http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/30/houses-of-god-did-evangelicals-curb-the-housing-bubble/

    "For those who believe no explanation is necessary for those who do not none will suffice." Dunninger

  13. John White on July 22, 2009 5:38 pm

    The upside to not believing in God (or more accurately saying 'I don't know, but God's existence or lack there of has no observable impact on me) is that if It doesn't exist, you don't waste any resources obeying Its will. The excess return derived from deploying those resources to more productive endeavors can be substantial.

    If God does exist, and has given me the gift of intellect, and I use that gift to live my life the best way I can, and when I die he says, "You didn't follow my rules so you're going to hell." I'd rather go to hell. See most of you there.

  14. Jason Brown on July 22, 2009 6:39 pm

    Suppose God exists and there were no downside in rejecting him. How many people who claim to be his followers would still follow him? If people could still go to heaven without God would they then want anything to do with him? What if there were no hamburgers and BBQ in heaven?

  15. Nelson on July 22, 2009 8:09 pm

    I don’t know that any religion is supported by fact and if one were arguments such as Pascal’s would not be resorted to. There may be a finite number of religions on this planet but the number of possible religions is probably not finite. Therefore just picking one would increase one’s chances of having a heavenly afterlife by a vanishingly small amount if correct belief is the prerequisite for heaven. Therefore concentrate on being open to the good in this life where participation in religion might be a useful for many reasons. But some kind orthodox belief as a necessity I doubt.

  16. Robert on July 22, 2009 11:39 pm

    I can’t believe that on this site nobody actually looked at this through a trading perspective. Let’s talk expectation. Percentages as well as magnitudes. If there is only a very slim chance there is a God, and you didn’t take the trade…you just missed a million bagger. Not only that, you were leveraged 500-1 and it opened against you, limit down. In fact, they closed the exchange with no chance to recoup your losses. If there is no God, what exactly have you lost? Statistical surveys show that people of faith are happier than others, which makes sense, since believing everything you ever did or loved will just disappear into nothingness is kind of a downer. Don’t we all claim to be pursuing our happiness?

  17. Barman on July 23, 2009 9:09 am

    Pascal’s arguement is not logical. What if God hates brown nosers? “An eternity of punishment for you, you pretend believer”!

  18. Esko on July 23, 2009 9:43 am

    Pascal lived in a monotheistic culture when he formulated his wager. The wager applies to all mythical gods and gives no guidance toward which imaginary god you should worship. How about a sex god or goddess? That’s something I certainly don’t want to miss in the (possible) afterlife. But there are hundreds of mythical sex gods to choose from. Any suggestions? I’m leaning toward Min, the ancient Egyptian god of sexual potency. I don’t want to risk arriving in the afterlife as an old man and finding myself in need of Viagra.

  19. Diego Joachin on July 23, 2009 10:46 am

    Pascal’s wager is basically a long call position in the beginning of a secular bull market.

    But even that is pagan approach because he pretends to accept o believe in G-d as a insurance policy, not because of love.

    We humans always want the right but not the compromise in every single underlying of our lives: from our trading account up to the relation w/ some one else.

    G-d believers suppose to believe because of love to their G-d, revealed to them. They don’t believe because of fear; that would be extortion [that’s a Satan’s approach to human kind].

    Married people don’t love their wife or your husband because a downside risk if rejected. Usually the love each other and pretend to like learning about that person and enjoy spending time with each other. Same here.

    Jews and Christian Catholics should know this as the sepeculator knows the tick value of his most traded market. Specially Catholics with their Eucharist where they meet with God.

    Religion [from latin Re-Link] is so important that even Satanic religious celebrate their mass for linking with their master.

  20. Steve Leslie on July 23, 2009 11:05 am

    to suggest that there is a question as to whether any religion is supported by fact is an absurd statement.

    Fact there was a man named Jesus who lived had a 3 year ministry and died. His major follower Saul of Tarsus converted to Paul continued on with the ministry after the death of Jesus. There were apostles who lived feasted at the hand of Jesus and carried on with his mission.

    Fact Mohammad lived and had a ministry

    Fact Buddha lived

    Fact Brigham Young lived as did John Wesley Mary Baker Eddy and others.

    Fact There were men such as Moses, Abraham Solomon David and others.

    To suggest that there is no factual support of religion is entirely disingenuous. To debate the actual events surrounding each's ministries and historical accuracies is a different subject altogether.

  21. Wagers of Salvation. But… « gobbledygook… on July 23, 2009 11:25 am

    […] But lucid observations can be made, like this one by GM Davies on the existential premises assumed within said Wager. And a further remark on “unified individuals” by another commentator is also appreciated. […]

  22. Anonymous on July 23, 2009 7:26 pm

    @ Steve Leslie,

    When people say there is no factual basis for religion in my experience they typically point to a religion’s bigger claims: that there is an afterlife, a god, heaven and hell, the earth was made in seven days, there is a serpent so big that it encircles the earth and bites it’s tail, ect., ect. As far as I know none of these claims have been proven despite historical records the prove the existence of some individuals, places and events…

  23. Steve Leslie on July 24, 2009 4:22 am

    Debating one whose name is anonymous is akin to debating with the wind. However in the interest of edification, I can easily argue that there is physical factual evidence that God exists. It can be something as simple as looking at the world as an American Indian might. If there were no supreme being then how would one explain how the Earth were made? How was man created? How land that has seen no rain for many months suddenly is graced with rain? Provide me with an argument where modern man came from. I will take the opposite view and argue that without a supreme being overseeing everything it is impossible to explain the creation of a planet Earth from empty space or an living organism which suddenly appears on this planet. As a Christian, I can argue that Jesus was the son of God. He healed the sick, raised Lazarus from the dead, fed over 5,000 at one sitting from a few loaves and fishes, was crucified, died, placed in a sealed tomb for three days and rose to walk among people. Who then converted the chief persecutor of the Jews, Saul who became Paul, and began a great and incredible ministry. All of this was documented by thousands of observers. Not satisfied with something that happened 2,000 years ago, let's move forward to the present. I can point to alcoholics who wake up and accept Christ as savior and never have a taste for alcohol again, or pathological gamblers, narcotic abusers, pedophiles who no longer lust after children and so forth. Not content with anecdotal evidence such as this, let's go to the scientific world. Einstein even admitted that without the acceptance of a supreme being, many physical, chemical and other events may not be explained by human measure. How about a physician who sees a body consumed with cancer and without treatment observes an X-ray and miraculously the patient is devoid of cancer. Or a person whose is declared clinically dead and suddenly and without forewarning awakens and describes an out-of-body experience that is eerily similar to others whom that individual has never met or conferred with. Thousands and thousands of other documented cases may be cited and have been documented in scrolls and books throughout the millenia of recorded word. It is easy to make a global statement that there is no factual basis upon which any religion stands but that is an extremely weak position, hardly defensible. I have been taken to task here whenever I use absolutes such as never, none, nothing, nobody, nohow, noway. I challenge those who claim an atheistic stance to explain every single event that is documented in The Bible or scientific literature and defend their position. If the litmus test is a preponderance of the evidence, I am confident that a Monotheistic view will win out.

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