Does Pascal’s Wager Lead To Christianity?

Pascal’s Wager isn’t an evidence in favor of God’s existence, even though it’s often misunderstood to be one.  It’s more of a cost benefit analysis between believing in or rejecting God.  Skeptics, I believe, are far too dismissive because I don’t think its weight is realized.  The wager holds no power for skeptics because “it doesn’t tell you which god, you need to pick the right God/religion”.  This is because of an over generalization of religions due either to lack of understanding, or refusal to distinguish between them or both.

Not every religious system bestows salvation to someone who merely believes.  Islam, for example, requires belief and enough good deeds to outweigh your bad — and even then Allah can still decide to exclude you from paradise.  Hinduism is karma driven, and thus based on how you’ve lived and reincarnation is virtually certain, not to mention polytheistic.  Mormonism (LDS) requires absolute moral perfection.  And Buddhism is atheistic.  In fact, all religions require the individual to, in essence, earn their way to a heavenly afterlife; you must believe and do good.  That is, except for Christianity.

This is what’s unique about the Christian faith.  There is no way to earn your way to heaven.  Salvation is not based upon what you do, but on whom you believe.  It is this aspect of Christianity which makes Pascal’s Wager more effective than is perceived, it’s the only religion for which Pascal’s Wager can even apply.  The Wager doesn’t allot for belief and behavior.  In this respect Pascal’s belief proposition — whether intentional or not — is a cost benefit analysis for Christianity.  Any old god doesn’t fit his Wager.  No God but the Christian God is capable of satisfying the costs and benefits Pascal’s Wager argues for.

While Pascal’s Wager is not an argument for the existence of God, it does point one in the direction of Christianity, not any of an array of gods and religion.  As far as the Wager is concerned, and Christianity being the only legitimate fit, the Wager is a good and accurate one.  If Christianity is true and you believe, heaven awaits.  If false, other than missing out on a life of lasciviousness, nothing has been lost.  However, rejecting Christianity can only be a losing bet.

Comments

  1. ubi dubium says:

    I don’t see how arguing the christianity is unique makes it any more likely to be the correct choice out of all the possible religions. Every religion is unique in some way. Just because it’s the one that you would most prefer to be true does not make it the one that IS true.

    Only Buddhism offers you a way out of the endless cycle of Karma and rebirth. No other religion does that. Christianity sure doesn’t. If you believe reincarnation happens, then Pascal’s Wager would make christianity a really bad bet.

    Only worship of Odin and Thor offers you endless drinking and fighting in Valhalla. No other religion does that.

    Only worship of Pikkiwoki the New Guinean Mud God offers you all the coconuts you can carry, and a pig! No other religion does that.

    As far as I can see, Pascal’s Wager would simply lead you to choose the religion with the worst punishment for non-belief (probably Islam). Or it could lead you to try to believe in as many different religions as possible, just to be safe (a la Ned Flanders, who even kept Kosher, just in case)

    Plus, since I don’t believe in your religion, what should I do with this wager – pretend to believe? If your god were actually real, don’t you think he could tell? Why would he want a bunch of people pretending to believe just to hedge their bets?

    • You seem to have really missed the point. Pascals wager doesn’t prove Christianity is true, and I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say that. Pascals wager is a cost benefit analysis of belief in God. Christianity is the only religion where God doesn’t have to be bribed with good deeds and salvation is based solely on your trust in him. This is what no other religion postulates and what the wager is based on. It is in this way that pascals wager is an argument for belief in the Christian God.

      I don’t think you quite understood.

      • ubi dubium says:

        Pastafarianism is the only religion where god doesn’t require being bribed with good deeds or belief, and will reward you with an eternity at the beer volcano as long as you aren’t too much of a jerk. This is what no other religion postulates. In this way, Pascals Wager is an argument for Pastafarianism.

        See, I’m still not following your logic about how the simple language of the wager connects to anything specifically about christianity. Your argument probably makes sense to christians, but the wager is really directed at christians in the first place.

        • OK so at least its obvious you’re not discussing this based on merit. Pastafarianism being a mockery of Christian theism is not offered as a legitimate religion, and you know that.

          What would you say is your overall point? My post addressed skeptics who criticize pascals wager on the basis that the wager doesn’t account for different religions or gods. Do you have anything to offer on my response to this criticism?

          • ubi dubium says:

            First, Pastafarianism is a satire of all theism, not just christianity in particular. You obviously have not made an in-depth study of the scriptures of the FSM. The Gospel and the Loose Canon are quite clear on this point. But that does not make any other religion any more legitimate than Pastafarianism, since I think they are all human inventions.

            My point is that your arguments have not been persuasive that Pascal’s wager points to christianity in particular. Nor have you established that christianity is the only religion that depends on belief alone. It’s just the only one you know of, but there are thousands of other religions, and many of them might be able to make the same claim.

            • OK, let me get this straight. I am wrong because maybe there might be another religion which affords salvation free from earning it? Please. Speculation is not refutation. I can tell you if the multitudes I have read up on over the years, I have not come across any. I listed the religions I did because they are the major religions.

              And my mistake on pastafarianism is of no concern to me. I don’t need to study satires of religion as if it deserved attention.

  2. It seems to me that limiting consideration of Pascal’s Wager to “legitimate” religions is a rather arbitrary stipulation. One can perform the cost-benefit analysis on pretty much any belief choice, including the IPU and the FSM. No, these are not merely attempts to mock Christianity, they are stock references to reductio arguments unbelievers use quite regularly. If you object to the tone, then so be it, but the initial argument does stand.

  3. ubi dubium says:

    So when we are looking at Pascal’s wager, you think we need only consider major religions? And who is to decide what constitutes a major religion? And what if the actual true religion is only being practiced by a few tribesmen in the Amazon? It they’re right, we’re all screwed. At one time christianity was a tiny cult practiced by just a few people in one small corner of the world, but I don’t think that affects your opinion as to whether it was worth considering then. A religion being “major” does not lead me to conclude that it has more likelihood of being correct, only that it’s better are making and keeping converts.

    And thank you, Daniel. The FSM is meant as a serious challenge to any religion. If an established religion cannot establish that it has more credibility than a fictional religion, then there is no need to give it any more consideration than a fictional religion.

    • Ubi

      Am I being unclear, or are you being g intentionally obtuse? what I said was that I listed the religions I did because they are the most widely known because they are the major religions. This has nothing to do with whether they are true of even likely to be true! Its pretty troubling that in every comment you offer you impose something into my post or comment I didn’t say.

      The reason I didn’t include any of an array of the world’s micro religions is because the majority of people reading this have never heard of them thus requiring me to do an exposè on them which is both boring to the reader and would make the post obnoxiously long guaranteeing it doesn’t get read. Or it sends reader to research on their own, and I’m not fond of assigning homework to my readers.

      I can tell you from my own research I have never come across a religious system which didn’t require good deeds and/or required rituals in addition to belief in the deity. Christianity seems to be the only one which for salvation requires only belief on God for salvation.

      I would like to think you aren’t intentionally misrepresenting me and putting words in my mouth, so let’s talk about what I actually wrote and not what you believe is between the lines.

      What does it mean for us if the true God is only believed by a small tribe somewhere? Well I guess it depends on the nature of the god.

      • ubi dubium says:

        You made a claim of uniqueness. You have not established that uniqueness, because there might be others fitting your requirement of “faith only”. Sounds like you need to modify your claim to “unique among the major religions”.

        I would be interested in hearing the point of view of a muslim scholar as to what would happen to someone who affirmed the basic statement of faith of Islam (there is no god but allah and Muhammed is his prophet), but did not perform any of the other four pillars. Would such a person be granted admission into heaven? I don’t know this answer, but it would also seem to be relevant to your claim of uniqueness.

        • The claim is unique even among the world’s micro religions as well.

          But as far as Islam, Muslims are not reticent to admit that good is required, and the good must outweigh the bad, and even still Allah may decide to send the person to hell.

        • Here’s the thing as well. I could post the soteriological doctrines of scores of micro religions, but wouldn’t you just reply that there may be some I am omitting? Do you expect me to post an exhaustive list?

          It wouldn’t bother me one bit if you were to document a religion which boasts the same requirements for salvation as Christianity.

          • ubi dubium says:

            Without an exhaustive list, a claim of “uniqueness” is impossible. And an exhaustive list is not possible without interviewing everyone in the world, so an exhaustive list is also impossible. Since uniqueness in this case means that your religion is the ONLY ONE to have the “belief only” feature, you can’t claim uniqueness, and nor can anybody else.

            You could legitimately claim “unique among the major religions”. That’s likely true.

            You could claim “probably unique”. I’d give you that one too.

            You could claim “special” instead of “unique”.

            But as soon as you proclaim “my religion is the only one in the whole world with property x” a skeptic will tune you out, because we know you have made a claim that is impossible to verify. Qualify your remarks and we might be more likely to listen.

            • Does this requirement fly with atheists such as yourself? I mean, unless you have exhaustive knowledge of the universe, you can’t claim God doesn’t exist.

              Look, I have been studying religion for roughly 6-7 years now. I have read up on multiple dozens of religions and their beliefs. Based on my research I make the claim I have. Now for you to impose exhaustive certainty in order to make my claim, you have placed a standard on me that is placed on no one else. I’m not going to argue over speculation. I don’t consider speculation an argument of any sort. So if you have something to offer other than speculation, I’d love to hear it. If not, then I appreciate the discussion up to this point and hope you comment again on another post.

  4. A few flaws in your argument. While Protestant religions believe in salvation by faith alone Catholicism teaches you need faith and good works. Also Christianity is not the only religion that emphasizes faith above works

    • ubi dubium says:

      Good point. So the argument would then be, not that christianity is (mostly) unique, but that some specific variety of christianity is (mostly) unique.

    • Robert

      Catholicism is not the same as Christianity, so the comparison is moot. And if you can cite an example of another religion where salvation is afforded to the believer based solely on belief in the deity, I’d like to know what it is.

      I’m not really going to entertain any more speculations on this. Just supposing their might be something out there neither refutes my argument or does anything to further dialogue.

      • ubi dubium says:

        Try telling that to a Catholic. Remember that Catholicism was the only form of (western) christianity for about fifteen hundred years.

        So now a skeptic is not only supposed to believe that christianity is somehow unique, but we are supposed to sort out which is the “real” christianity out of all the versions of it out there?

        Oh, and Pascal was Catholic.

        • Mormons also think they are under the umbrella of Christianity even though they are not. Just because a large swath of a particular religion believes something, even sincerely, doesn’t make it true does it? In fact, I know more Catholics that not who respond to the question: Are you Christian? With: Well, I’m Catholic. Even they see some separation between the two.

          http://truthinreligionandpolitics.com/2010/09/19/essentials-of-christianity-part-1/
          http://truthinreligionandpolitics.com/2010/09/19/essentials-of-christianity-part-2/

          • ubi dubium says:

            From an outsider’s point of view you are all christian, and I can’t judge one to be more “true christian” than another, since i don’t think there is such a thing.

            If four Muslims came to you, one a Sunni, one a Shi’a, one a Sufi and one an Ahmadi, could you choose which among them was the “true muslim”? I would think not. Yet you expect an outsider to believe you are a True Christian and that a Catholic is not. As far as i am concerned, no sect of christianity is any truer than any other.

            • All 4 are valid Muslim sects, as well as the ones you didn’t list. The differences between the sects of Muslims is vaguely similar to denominations in Christianity. However Roman Catholicism is not a denomination of Christianity, it is its own Christian based religion. And I would argue that if it all looks the same to you as an outsider, or to outsiders in general, that is good evidence that you or others have not investigated as deeply as claimed. The differences are pretty clear to people who look into it.

              • ubi dubium says:

                John,

                I’m finding your comment very ironic. If you asked each of those four Muslims which of them was the “true muslim” they would each say “I am, and these other men are not! The difference will be clear if you look into it!” Yet you say they are all four equally valid Muslims, and you claim to have made a study of religion.

                Yet if I asked you, and a Catholic, and a Mormon who was the “True Christian” you would all likewise say “I am, and these others are not! The difference will be clear if you look into it!” I say you are all equally valid christians, no matter how much each of you may protest that they are the sole sect entitled to that label.

              • Do you ever offer more than speculation? That seems to be every response you have.

                I work with at least half a dozen Muslims, they are very willing to discuss religion so I have multiple perspectives. If you look at the writings of the Mormons themselves you’d see it. Smith began Mormonism because Christianity in its modern form was of the devil and apostate.

                My advice is to scale back the supposing and ramp up the reading. Really, I’m quickly tiring of the speculation.

              • ubi dubium says:

                So the Sunni’s and Shi’a’s are warring on each other and blowing each other up in the mideast because they are open and willing to discuss religion? Sorry, no, that doesn’t work.

                Smith thought your version of christianity was of the devil and apostate. Catholics think the same about protestants, that they are apostates from the true religion. The point is that you are asking the rest of us to accept your judgment about who is a true christian and who is not. I have no reason to accept your opinion as more valid than a catholic’s opinion or a mormon’s opnion or any other person who claims to be a christian.

              • And you believe I was speaking of Arab Muslims who are warring are open to talking? No, American Muslims broadly speaking are very open to discussing religion with non Muslims. The major differences between Muslim sects is who should have legitimately succeeded Mohammed, (which is not doctrinal) and how strictly to follow the qurans dictates to follow Shari’a and Islam in government (again, not doctrinal) the majority of Muslim sects hold the same doctrines.

                You also seem to see no reason to investigate thing for yourself, which makes this difficult.

  5. To me, the point of Pascal’s Wager is to point towards the importance of seriously investigating faith. The stakes are so high that it is simply foolish to throw your arms in the air and say “who knows?”. The only prudent thing to do is to, the best of your ability, investigate the possibility of God. If God is there, I sincerely believe that he won’t turn away someone who honestly seeks Him. While proof isn’t found in numbers, it is certainly feasible to make a serious investigation of the major 6 or 7 world-faith systems. In fact, I think it would be absolutely foolish not to. THAT is Pascal’s Wager.

  6. John, I’m not totally following you. Are you suggesting that Catholics are not “Christian”? Yes, there are major differences in the way that they worship God and there are people who think that they are saved simply because they happen to be born into a Catholic family and attend mass once in a while. But, honestly, I have seen exactly the same attitude in people attending Southern Baptist churches! An honest adherance to “Catholic” doctrine is CERTAINLY “Christian” in my understanding – even if they don’t claim to BE a Christian.
    I don’t care whether the duck thinks it’s a duck – I only care if it quacks and waddles on webbed feet!

    • Tumeyn

      Tonight I will write a post on roman Catholicism and post it tomorrow because it need lots of clarification and I don’t want to get too far off topic here.

      • Tumeyn

        Regarding the Catholic church, if I’m going to do a write up, I want to be as detailed as possible, it’s going to take a few days. I know I said I’d do it tonight, but I want to gather all the documentation I can.

  7. ubi,
    If you look deeply at atheism and theism I think you’ll find that there are rather compelling logical and philosophical reasons for both beliefs. Purely logic and reason will not rule out either option. But, clearly, both are not true. One is true and one is false. Therefore, Pascal’s Wager suggests that you error on the side of caution and presume that theism is true. Once at that point, then you can begin a serious investigation of the truth claims of various faiths. I believe that you’ll find that all faiths are NOT equal – some of those truth claims are based in history while others appear to be based on fiction.

    But until you are ready to admit that both atheism and theism are both equally plausible, then I would suggest that bantering about the minutia of various religions is a waste of your time and ours. If you take theism seriously, then you’ll find some serious answers. Instead, you seem to think theism is a joke (as evidenced by your comments about “pastafarianism”). Given the stakes here, I suggest you are making a very foolish mistake.

    • ubi dubium says:

      Tumeyn, I was once a theist (presbyterian), until I realized that the real world is not in any way consistent with theism. You are correct that pure logic and reason will not rule out either option. What’s left to us is to use evidence. If theism were correct, I would expect there to be overwhelming evidence of this, and the evidence is lacking. Either god was hiding, or was ineffective at communicating clearly, or was non-existent. The more I studied religion, the more I came to the conclusion that “non-existent” was the most probable answer. So I discarded theism as being unsubstantiated. My world has made much more sense ever since that time. Pascal’s Wager is rather a cheap ploy, not meant to convert a non-believer (because it’s ineffective) but as part of the whole apologetic system that reassures believers of how correct they are.

      Assuming theism is a lousy way to establish the truth claims of various faiths. It puts a bias in your investigation that clouds judgment. If a faith’s claims are true, then that should be able to be established without first assuming anything.

      The challenge of pastafarianism is for other religions to establish that they are not a joke, and deserve to be taken seriously. They all have aspects that appear preposterous to outsiders. Ritual cannibalism. Talking Snakes and Evil Fruit. Astrology. Magic underwear. Forbidden foods. Speaking in tongues. Cutting pieces off of infant boys. Space aliens. Worldwide floods. Elephant gods. Reverence of parts of dead bodies. Wearing a miniature execution device as jewelry. Magic beads. Sacred cows. Each of these things is taken completely seriously by the followers of some religion, and looks totally ridiculous to followers of others. You are used to your religion, you probably grew up immersed in it, it seems perfectly normal and natural to you, you don’t see how it looks to those outside it. How are pirates and a drunken god any more preposterous than a god who plants a tree of evil fruit in a garden and tells people who have no concept of good or evil not to eat from it, then punishes all their descendants forever?

      John, You have made a claim that Pascals wager points to christianity because christianity is unique in only requiring faith for salvation. The claim of uniqueness is impossible to verify, and the “faith only” claim is only applicable to protestant christianity, which I do not accept as being any “truer” than other forms. I’ve had my say, and now I’ll sign off and leave you in peace.

      • Ubi

        It seems your hyper skepticism is only applied to religion and selectively so. If you were to apply the same degree of skepticism to every facet of life that you do for religion you wouldn’t be able to know anything. And this is really quite unreasonable.

  8. I just simply find Pascal’s Wager as ludicrous because it implies that you can make yourself believe in a god. I would think that the wager holds no sway for skeptics’ because we’re generally skeptical on the issue of magical beings in the sky and so even if we decided to follow the wager, it is more so for, as Richard Dawkins puts it, feigning a belief in God, and not believing.
    If there is a god and we go with the Christian one, isn’t not believing in the holy spirit a sin that leads to eternal damnation? So you can follow Pascal’s wager but by only feigning belief you’ll still end up in hell, the same as if you hadn’t believed.

    • Hi Emma,

      I think by referring to God as a magical being in the sky is a bit counterproductive if you’re trying to have a meaningful discussion. I agree that one cannot force oneself to have an emotional investment in something they cannot intellectually support. However, the bible never ties emotions to faith, that’s a relatively new christian phenomenon. I would argue that if one obeys and trusts even if not fully convinced, it would satisfy the command to believe.

      About Dawkins, he posited aliens being a plausible explanation for the origin of life. Though he may be a good biologist, he is an atrocious philosopher. Citing him for a subject outside his ken doesn’t help make your case.

      • But when it comes to Christianity, to obey the Bible you have to believe, don’t you – if you don’t you get eternal hell and so trusting and trying to obey wouldn’t really be enough. Plus, if the Christian god is real and is omniscient then there’s no point because he’ll know that you don’t actually believe.
        And the pope is celibate but people still listen to what he has to say on condoms. Aliens creating life on earth is as plausible as a supernatural being creating life on earth for some. Richard Dawkins though doesn’t believe that aliens created life on earth. If you take aliens as simple proteins on a meteor that crashed into earth so providing some of the building blocks of life – well that is more likely.
        You see Richard Dawkins as an atrocious philosopher but I happen to think that he raises good points and so don’t see my argument hindered on the simple basis that I made a reference to him.

  9. ubi,
    Pastafarianism is a parody of young-earth creationism, not theism in a broader sense.

    I’m a biochemist. I take science pretty seriously. I’m certainly no fan of young-earth creationism. That said, I am very familiar with how scientific theories work. I actually think of my faith in a very similar way. Scientific theories are believed on their explanatory and predictive value. Pastafarianism, from what I saw online, offers no explanatory value about who we are as people. Christianity, on the other hand, has a lot of “evidence” that I’m sure you must be familiar with:
    1) There was once this guy named Jesus – virtually nobody questions his historicity – and somehow he convinced a large number of people in the 1st century drop everything and devote their lives to his teachings. Many who had met him died rather gruesome deaths for their beliefs.
    2) Many people wrote down his various teachings and spread these documents throughout the known world in various languages. By 100 years after the death of Jesus, most of the New Testament is in wide circulation and we even have copies of most of the New Testament from within 150 years of his death. The texts are virtually identical to the texts used by Christians today.
    3) This belief system has exploded over the past 2000 years and ~30% of the world’s population believes the basic tenants of the faith. Why would they do such a crazy thing?
    4) Unlike atheism (or pastafarianism), the basic teachings of Christianity (and other monotheistic faiths) explain a great deal of who we are as people. Naturalism can’t explain our incredible creativity, our sense of altruism, our love of art and beauty, and music. Christianity, on the other hand, explains this quite well: It says that we are made in the image of our creator, who has these qualities as part of His nature.
    5) Unlike atheism, Christianity offers hope that our actions in this world really do matter. That the absurdities of this life really are there for a purpose. The death of Christ gives us a perfect picture that the God of this universe didn’t set this universe in motion and walk away – rather, He is actively involved in redeeming the tragedies of this life and remaking them into beautiful things.
    6) Unlike atheism, Christianity offers an explanation for guilt and even offers a SOLUTION for guilt. This solution, which you reject, has been a POWERFUL force in changing many, many lives. I have yet to see anyone’s life transformed to the better because of their atheism. But I have seen many many lives (including my own) transformed by their beliefs in God.

    There’s the evidence. That’s what makes pastafarianism different from Christianity.

  10. Thanks for the thoughtful post, John Barron.

    The problem of other gods is not a serious objection to Pascal’s Wager, because a lot of people would never be psychologically able to believe in a religion other than Christianity. If you’re a robot, then the problem of other gods will refute Pascal’s Wager, but a human who has been brought up a certain way and has a certain psychological makeup will have to find Pascal’s Wager compelling.

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