In the study of worldviews it is undeniable the influence Blasé Pascal has had on probability theory and how it relates to religion. For this piece I am going to be looking at a slightly expanded version of Pascal’s wager and making the claim that this is still valid and relevant today more than ever. With that said there is one issue I won’t be addressing; the validity of a probability based decision. In other words is a “faith” valid if it is considered hedging your bets? I will not be covering this here because it is invalid to the argument as I believe this argument should be used as a basis for exploration of views NOT as a solo basis for belief.
What is Pascal’s Wager?
Pascal’s wager in a nutshell is indicating that the Christian belief is the “best bet” because you have every thing to gain if it is correct but everything to lose if it is wrong. This is appling basic probability theory to religion or lack thereof. You have likely heard this used at least once in some context. The biggest refutation for Pascal’s wager is that there is no way to accurately compare with Christianity as there are thousands of different “god” beliefs and things would first have to be narrowed down or all belief systems would have to be considered. This is just not the case. Pascal’s wager hold not less but MORE validity when all religions are considered and that is exactly what we hope to cover here. This will not be completely comprehensive but hopefully it will be complete enough to make you reconsider the wager.
Pascal’s Wager has a number of unanswered questions, however, it can be used as a base for a discussion on the probability value of worldviews. The wager just has to go a bit further as a number of different beliefs have different outcomes. While this topic is massive it is my hope to scratch the surface just enough to have you consider the actual value of this argument and its implications across worldviews.
First lets start with our base belief in a higher power or lack of belief. Pascal of course suggests 1 has infinite rewards and 1 infinite consequences. This is a valid point but also neglects multiple religious beliefs as well as finite rewards and costs. With that said atheism gains a bit more ground as the finite rewards begin to build up in its favor. Or in other words I can live the way I want and rationalize away my feelings of guilt. Not to mention having more time to devote to activities that would bring more pleasure then a number of religious activities. Side note: I’m not mocking or downplaying this view, I am however way oversimplifying. I say this from a perspective of where I myself can honestly see the psychological rewards this view could have on life. On the atheist side of things I can most relate to Satanism for its focus on the pleasures of life and the built in sarcasm throughout…but I digress.
So on one side we have potentially infinite consequences but some significant finite rewards.
Under-Estimated Values of Atheism
Of course in between atheism and theism there are a number of other belief systems. Not to downplay these by any means but the rewards/costs of many of these systems ether fall under atheism or the later religious “good works” category I will describe in a moment. Agnostics for example I would place here, by default in this context there would be very little fundamental difference in the reward/cost system.
Now on the other side we have potential infinite rewards but what many theists neglect in this view is the “costs” that i think many atheists so keenly recognize; time spent in religious services, time and effort wasted in pushy faulty views on others, having to ostracize people/groups, and abstaining from “harmless” behaviors.
Now with all that said I have simply expanded the argument to include more factors that help (for me at least) to better contextualize the argument and to be able to more objectively look at beliefs within these categories.
Now at this point in my reasoning I have a presumably infinite unidentifiable reward on one side that might cost me something tangible and on the other side potentially infinite unidentifiable consequences but a tangible reward. I personally feel this is a much better starting point because we have to recognize that the costs and rewards are not as simple as Pascal put it…or at least not as simple as people today try to make the arguement.
Thousands of Religions….Why Chance Getting the Wrong One?
So from here, for me, it is critical to look at individual religions. The first question is where to start. For me Christianity held some compelling reasons to start there. First, the cost is “free”. Now I don’t intend on arguing this point because I know there are a lot who would contend against this but the true message of Christianity is that salvation is a gift, works and worship are a freely given response to this gift. Second, Christianity offers a worldview that is congruent with reality. Again, not a point I want to belabor but the more I study Christianity the more it answers what is going on in the world and it makes logical sense of the world without jumping through the hoops some other religions do. These points have their flaws but to me they at least provide some reasoning for starting with Christianity.
Now in comparison to Christianity many religions would fall under a “safety umbrella”(for lack of a better term). In other words, for a religion that focuses on good works a faithful Christian should be doing good works in response to his faith. However, works based faiths also have the issue of “when is the scale balanced?”. Thus Christianity offers the advantages that these religions would but also “covers” more. Christianity puts value on works but it is not works that does the “saving” if you will. However, If a faith where works are “saving” then a Christian should fair well if they have been true to their beliefs.
However, there are also significant conflicts with a religion like Islam, given that Christian’s would be doomed if Islam were true. For me Islam is not able to answer its critics as logically as Christianity and presents significant cost in regards to lifestyle. Not to mention evidence is stronger for Islam being a myth then it is for Christianity(another discussion for another time). But with all that said Islam would remain a valid consideration for any true seeker of truth. On a final note about Islam, it does not encompass the moral standards of other systems. Islam has some beliefs that would be quite negative if followed and another belief system turned out true.
A number of other beliefs, Buddhism, Wicca, Scientology, and so forth(mind you these are all vastly different), offer no “hope”, make clearly false claims, or do not provide value that would improve my eternal circumstances. Those I named often offer nice “advice”for life. But if I’m truely seeking truth then I should be looking beyond the superficial to seek the best reflection of reality.
Now, that does also leave behind a number of old world god beliefs that I still have to out right reject and risk offending these gods. However, I find little value in assessing these systems as I would hope that my beliefs or actions would have impressed at least one of the gods to the point of having someone on my side. Now this all is extremely generalized but I hope it can point to the line of logic I am attempting to express rather than diving too far down into the weeds.
Why the Take the Risk?
So why should I risk accepting atheism? I would gain some personal freedom however, all the freedoms I would gain would be from actions that would be morally questionable in the long run, even from a moral relativist position. This is not worth the risk. Christianity on the other hand offers me a belief system that is reasonable, moral, and livable. Now, on a final point as to why I would find Christianity to win out over atheism in my personal life. I find that I have a great deal of joy and contentment from my beliefs that I often lack even when I am not as committed a follower as I would like to be. I find this to be the final straw as I would far prefer to live this life then the one my body often attempts to trick me into. If you want to live a life of freedom with the best probable outcomes for an afterlife then Christianity is the clear choice.
Do You Gamble?
Despite the common objections to Pascal’s wager the fact of the matter is that the wager still stands as a reasonable statistical reason to consider Christianity as the most reasonable belief to “bet your life” on. Yet to compare it to a bet is an oversimplification in many ways. While it may be a valid reason to find the belief sustainable or even enticing it cannot be the only reason for accepting Christianity as true. A true Christian belief comes from accepting Jesus as a personal savior and then actually living out a life that attempts to shape your own in the direction of His. In the end this cannot be a gamble…it must be a full blown commitment to run the race. But we should still consider the consequences of all the things we place our commitment in in life because in the end we either have subjected ourselves to truth or will be subjected to it.