Jeff Cooper

Pascal's Folly: An Addendum to Pascal's Wager

Note: This post was imported from my old blog, created and written in my high school years

18 Aug 2009

Many people, especially those who like to debate the existence of a higher power ("God"), are familiar with Pascal's wager.  It basically states the following in an attempt to logically convince people that there's no disadvantage to living a religious life:

God Exists God Doesn't Exist
Religious Life Eternal happiness Nothing Happens
Non-Religious Life Eternal suffering Nothing Happens
And at first and second glance, it seems a pretty convincing argument. But as you begin to take a more global, historical perspective, this begins to smell fishy. Pascal assumed that a benevolent, omniscient God was equally as likely as no higher power. But what if neither is true? This begins to add columns to the table. What if there IS a higher power, but said higher power rewards people who have led evil lives? This is, according to Pascal, equally likely. So the neat box becomes this:
God Exists God Doesn't Exist Evil God Exists
Religious Life Eternal happiness Nothing Happens Eternal suffering
Non-Religious Life Eternal suffering Nothing Happens It depends
Evil Life Eternal Suffering Nothing Happens Eternal Happiness
This immediately negates Pascal's wager and is a form of what is sometimes called the "Atheist's Wager." But it doesn't stop there.  All possibilities are equally likely, right?

Most religious texts and non-religious philosophies agree that a person should be productive and produce good things for his or her society.  But be careful, don't be too good and pull an Arachne! If you boast that you've done something as well as a god might have, you'll get turned into a spider! What if the final judgment is performed by a giant, omnipotent version of the stereotypical college math professor? Only those who remember how to integrate arbitrary trigonometric functions will get eternal bliss!

And you can keep adding to the table, growing it into infinity.  Eventually, with some fuzzy math involving infinite improbabilities, you arrive exactly where you were before you ever heard of Pascal's wager: utterly clueless.

While we can't at present prove anything about any higher power's existence or lack thereof (the subject of much debate and another blog post. Before you start whining, note that I haven't taken a side here), we can definitively say that we don't know anything about how to live our lives in relation to said higher power.

So in closing, go do whatever you were doing for whatever reason you were doing it.  I'm not (at present) trying to convince you of anything except that Pascal's wager is a nice, simplified, horridly inaccurate way of describing life.

Edit: In no way am I suggesting that you go out and live a life of evil villainy. For whatever reason you choose, be good.

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