Monday, January 16, 2006

#10: Pascal's Wager

Pascal’s Wager is thus: “If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having, neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is ... you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then without hesitation that he is.”

Many Christians will state an equivalent argument. If you are a Christian and you are wrong, you have lost nothing. If Christians are right, and you choose otherwise, you could be condemned to hell. Therefore, take the path of least risk. Have you ever thought this way or used this as an argument for Christianity? I know I have heard it many times.

I had a strong set of thoughts about this wager the other day. A vision if you will. Suppose, for a moment, that there is indeed a judgmental god that will indeed separate the lambs from the goats, sending people to either Heaven or Hell after they die based not on their deeds, but on their beliefs. An imaginary conversation follows between you and God upon your death, at the Pearly Gates if that’s where you think you’ll be:

You say “Dear God, I accepted Jesus as my savior, saving me from Hell and giving me eternal life with Him. I accepted Jesus as my only path to you. I accepted the Bible as your inerrant holy word, and spread it’s message to others.”

God says, “For God’s sake, how could you possibly believe that I would create such an evil place as Hell? How could you accept that I would send even one of the people I created in love and perfection there? How could you think this for even one second?”.

You respond “But, but it says in the Bible that Jesus is the only path to you! And the Bible is The Truth!”.

“The bible is absurd!” booms God. “It was created by Satan as a test! As we did with Job, Satan wagered that man could actually come to believe that I could actually and physically create a place where humans would suffer! And Satan was so confident that he claimed these people would even believe it was for eternity! To know that you can believe this breaks my heart.” Tears flow down God's face.

“But why then did you send Jesus, if not to save us?” you ask.

“Jesus was my son, just as you are my daughter. Jesus was an example of what man could be. His message was distorted and twisted by those in the church under the influence of evil. The Bible has nothing to do with Who I Am.”

“But my dear Father,” you plead, “just because I believed in Hell, are you going to send me there?”.

At this point, the story could go in any direction you think God is willing to go. If you are a Christian, you believe God is perfectly capable of sending you to Hell. I am not. So, in my version, God continues thus:

“My sweet daughter, I could never do that to any of my creations. I have created every human being with love. You will have eternal life in Heaven, as will all of my beloved. Please enter with my blessing. Your brother Dave is there, eagerly waiting for you with open arms.”

Pascal’s Wager only makes sense if your choices are limited to precisely two. In the case of Christianity, there are far more choices. Pascal's Wager is a case against Christianity, not for it.


Rowan said...

I like your scenario. It is quite beautful.

But I have a hard time even getting to that point. I'm still hung up on:

" If you are a Christian and you are wrong, you have lost nothing. If Christians are right, and you choose otherwise, you could be condemned to hell. Therefore, take the path of least risk."

To me this is an absurd line of thought. It seem not only sleazy and cowardly, but fruitless. Any omniscient diety would surely look into your heart and see exactly why you made your decision. And were I a jealous (biblical) god, I'd probably send you somewhere nasty just for being such a chump.
This is the first of your reasons that I've gotten to read, yet. I'll be back. But right now I have to go pick up Maya from a friend's house.

(Coincidentally, my word verification is mmindwp - mind warp? That's kind of funny.)

Dave said...

Hi Rowan!

#10 was inspired by the excellent "Rejection of Pascal's Wager" site in my links. Here's a page from there that addresses this issue directly: (Often unavailable due to high traffic)

Your reasoning about God knowing why you would choose Christianity is excellent, and brings up the point that ANY reason that Christians state for choosing Christianity is essentially selfish. Eternal life, being a pal with Jesus, avoiding Hell, feeling the peace and love, are all dangling carrots that do nothing for anyone else. A reasonable God would reject any of these reasons in favor of someone who simply and selflessly does his best to help others.