Oct 3, 2007

Pascal's Wager


Pascal’s Wager refers to the philosophical defense for the existence of God. This philosophical assertion was named after the great philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal. Blaise Pascal was a genius of many interests and achievements. He was a true polymath. Among his significant contributions was the development of the very first analog computer. Some consider Pascal to be the father of modern-day computer science. Pascal’s genius was beyond the reach of most people of his time. Even today, there are few giant intellects that are comparable to Pascal. However, Pascal was not omniscient. He never claimed any knowledge of absolute truth. However, his defense regarding the existence of God was convincing for most people. Even some theologians quote Pascal when it comes to rational proof about God’s existence.

As the name suggests, Pascal’s wager was stated in the form of wager or bet. The Pascal’s Wager can be roughly summarized as follow: If there is a God and you believe in him, you have gained everything. However, if there is no God and you believe in him, you have lost nothing.” Conversely, this statement can be re-stated in this form: If there is no God and you don’t believe, you have gained nothing. However, if there is a God and you do not believe, you have lost everything.” At first glance, Pascal’s Wager seems very convincing. However, it has some logical flaws.

The so-called wager assumed that there is a system of reward and punishment based on the belief in God. The wager assumes that there is a benevolent God that would reward believers and would punish unbelievers. However, if we assume that God is omni-benevolent or perfectly good, punishing people merely on the basis of belief is unjust. Then, the question of what belief system is the most truthful system? Obviously, not all belief systems are truthful, considering their mutually exclusive or contradictory precepts. Even in the Christian religion itself, there are conflicts in dogmas. There is no true unity of faith. This is absurd, considering that God supposedly made perfect revelation about himself. How can there be wide disagreements even in groups of people who supposedly profess the same faith.

On the other hand, Pascal’s Wager can be logically applied to all other deities and not only to the Judeo-Christian God. Pascal’s wager is equally applicable to the beliefs of the Hindus and to the beliefs of ancient people such as Egyptians and Aztecs. What if the true God does not reward based on faith? What if the true God is Ra or Jupiter or some unknown cruel God? What if this God punishes all believers and rewards all non-believers? How can we even assume that this God even care about us? For all we know, the bacteria and other microscopic organisms are his or her pinnacle of creation (This is not an unlikely assumption considering that bacteria are the most successful and widely proliferating organisms in this planet. Bacteria have been existing for billions of years!). The Pascal’s Wager does not take account the nature of God and which god to believe.

Pascal’s wager is a logical fallacy that is more commonly known as argumentum ad baculum or argument based on fear and intimidation. Pascal’s argument is also fallacious because of the fact that it does not really logically prove the existence of God but simply has the intention to persuade people by appealing to their fears. This kind of argument is much similar to the argument that supports superstitions such as chain letters. The motivation for such beliefs is fear and not logical reasoning.

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