• Christopher Tanner

Secular Philosophy: Countering Pascal

“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” -Christopher Hitchens – God Is Not Great

One of the last bastions of faith is a proposition known as Pascal’s Wager. Presented by the philosopher Blaise Pascal and it goes like this.

“God is, or He is not”

A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up.

According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

You must wager (it is not optional).

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. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.

(Taken from Wikipedia)

As a fully organized thought this proposition essentially states that belief in god has the potential to win the person eternal existence if correct while disbelief has the potential to earn the person nothing. Based on this Pascal states that believing is better because the weight of eternity is greater than the weight of nothing for the non-believer.

This question has been addressed in numerous ways by numerous others before me but without going too much in-depth on those responses here are some great ones to each line one at a time.

The assumption that god is or is not is a false dichotomy, god may be, or gods may be, or perhaps a goddess may be or perhaps none.

The assumption that there is a fifty-fifty probability of one versus the other implies an equal value of likelihood between these two opposing positions. Personally, as I look at the mostly inhospitable universe, the sheer number of atrocities as well as natural disasters, and the inability to present any evidence leads me to assume that the higher probability is that there is no god or at least that no god desires to be found.

I do not have to defend either of these propositions, I only have to live my life to that which can be shown, if neither can be shown then the nature of the question is irrelevant and there becomes little reason for me to form a belief one way or the other so long as the question remains beyond reach. For this reason I do not believe in god. That is not to say I believe actively that no god exists, I just don’t believe in any.

I do not have to wager. I am a human person with the ability to both think for myself and care more for my fellow humans than I do existential questions about an invisible deity.

Given this premise, wrong either way you lose EVERYTHING. If you are wrong about god, and belief in the right one is required for eternal life, then you rot forever. If you are wrong and god does not exist you give up the ONLY life you get worshiping a false god and giving your critical thinking to someone else.

Finite things are more valuable than infinite things. Want a basis for this? What is more valuable rare comics or newspapers? The rarity and limited supply of something can inherently increase its effective value.

To these issues, at least for me, the most valid counter-point is the 5th. Assuming I desire life, I must desire it on my own terms, and the idea of giving away my critical thinking in the name of belief just in case, is profane, because the risk of losing the only life I might get definitely outweighs the potential to gain infinity.

Here is my Counter-Wager

If the only evidence for any given being, thing, or consciousness, is beyond the ability to test.

And if a person, sect, or organization stands to gain power and money as a result of people believing in it.

Especially if there are numerous and mutually exclusive accounts for what said being, thing, or consciousness may think, feel, or do. By this account we can assume that the concept being analyzed is unlikely to exist, at the very least,  not as described.

You must decide whether you consider said account credible, for it is either credible or it is not.Thus the level of credibility is established by the testability and objectivity of demonstrable evidence.

With only one life to live you cannot live accepting all claims without evidence or you’d be easily taken advantage of.

Thus the only logical conclusion is to bet on said being, thing, or consciousness not existing until such a time as its existence can be established through evidence. This is done not because we know said thing does not exist but because the likelihood of its existence matching the description given is incredibly unlikely with conflicting reports.

Let me put this to you another way.

Let’s say there is a death. Here are the verifiable facts.

There are five witnesses that all claim it was a murder.

One witness says the killer was an Asian man with a gun.

One witness says the killer was a blonde woman with a knife.

One witness says the killer was actually killers, and they were a local street gang.

One witness says the killer was a businessman in a suit with a baseball bat.

One witness says the killer was in a hood and could not give a full description.

There is forensic evidence that the victim actually died of a heart attack and the victim has a medical history of high risk health conditions for heart disease.


This is the nature of the problem presented and the studied non-believer for any given religion; the predicament for the believer is of course that they are one of the witnesses. So the question for the witness becomes whether they are willing to accept the possibility that their account might be incorrect or if they are going to believe their own account in spite of the natural evidence to the contrary.

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