StudyBoss » Law » No Dice On The Wager: A Critical Discussion Of Pascals God Argument

No Dice On The Wager: A Critical Discussion Of Pascals God Argument

In the gambling world bets are made based on odds, the probability or likelihood that something would happen. In the court law, cases are decided upon by the weight evidence presented by the respective parties. The common link between these general scenarios is that decisions are made based on some outside evidential factor. The more probable something is likely to happen, or the more evidence presented in favor or opposed to something, the greater the tendency that a decision will coincide with that probability or evidence. This kind of logic has also been used when arguing about the existence of God.

It has been argued that God’s existence is necessary based on the logic that it is neither contingent not impossible and therefore must exist; it has also been argued that the presence of evil in the world is evidence enough that God, or at least God as we make Him out to be, does not exist. The decisions that people a make about their personal relationship with the being that has been dubbed “God” is usually based on this kind of criteria. But what if someone were to make a decision concerning God’s existence without having any evidence to sway us, how would that someone choose?

This problem is addressed by Blaise Pascal in his essay entitled The Wager. Pascal argues that the only rational choice to make about the existence of God with no evidence would be to believe that He does. The following pages of this essay will be a critical analysis and also critique of Pascal’s argument, for it is the argument of the author of this paper that a sincere decision would be impossible under these circumstances and without evidence we would not be able to make a rational choice concerning the issue of God’s existence.

Before the discussion is started let me first clarify some terminology is order to make my argument more clear. In my thesis statement I offered the premise that when given to the criteria put forth by Pascal that a sincere decision about belief in God would be impossible. By sincere decision I mean a decision that you can evaluate and reevaluate against anything that claims the opposite and still be able to hold to it. If you have a belief based on a decision that stems from no evidence then you have nothing to evaluate it by, so that belief cannot be sincere, it is merely a blind choice with no foundation or real support.

Let us start to discuss the essay itself. As we progress through Pascal’s writings a synopsis of his view point will be given and will be simultaneously accompanied by a criticism. Pascal starts off his essay by stating that, “If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensibleHe has no affinity to us. ” (Pascal, 78) This already poses a problem with the argument he is about to present in support of believing that God exists. The main question becomes, if there is a god and that this god is incomprehensible, then what is the point in believing whether or not such a being a actually exists?

It would obviously follow that we would never come to a full understanding of this god, and any efforts to believe in or worship him would be in vain. Are we just to believe that this god exists and that’s all, or is there a code of conduct that is to follow this belief? How do you act in a manner that is pleasing to being that you do not and never will wholly understand? Pascal goes on to state that once we have made this rational decision to believe in God then we start to act like we believe in this god and from practicing these actions habitually your belief will strengthen Pascal, 78).

The problem here lies in the basis of the strength for this belief. To make a decision and then act on that decision seems pretty consistent; but, to make a decision and have that decision become a belief based on habitual actions does not follow at all. Is this belief that your holding to a product of sincerity of habit? If you start to act you believe something then believe will the converse follow as well? If I decide to believe in God then act like I do, according to Pascal my belief would become stronger.

But if I decide to change my mind and start to act like I do not believe in God, will that belief also manifest? This logic reduces your belief to a mere product of habit and is anything but sincere. Pascal goes on to outline the benefits of this belief and why it pays more to believe than it does not to (hence the title, The Wager) that God exists (Pascal, 78). The choice that God does or does not exist is set against the assumption that He actually does or does not exists, and the consequences are drawn from there.

If you believe that God exists and He does, you stand to gain infinite happiness, if He does not, its only a small temporal loss. If you believe that God does not exist and He does you gain nothing and lose everything, but if He actually does not exist, you only have a small temporal gain. According to this arrangement you stand to gain more on all sides if you just believe that god exists, because if he does that means eternal happiness for you, and its only a small loss if He does not. At least you lived a moral and righteous life that benefited you and those around you.

The first issue I have with this set up right here is that it seems to assume automatically that if you believe something to be then you stand to reap the benefits of that belief. If someone lives a life based on totally fulfilling every impulse that comes across his mind while at the same time holding to the belief that God exists, does that person stand a better chance at receiving infinite happiness than the person who lives morally but has no belief in God? And even if you hold that belief and act accordingly, you’ll never know if how you are acting is the proper way, which leaves the ultimate decision up to God.

So if you do believe God exists, try to act accordingly, but fail to obtain infinite happiness, you would be left with nothing and was better off not believing in the first place. This set up also makes the motives for believing in God selfish motives. When looking at basing your decisions in terms reward/consequence you will more likely go with what is more rewarding. So assuming for the sake of argument that God does exist, would that god be pleased with a follower whose only purpose for choosing to do so was based on selfish gains?

Another, but not as obvious, point against this set up is its consequences and some are stressed more than others. According to the set up to believe that God exists and he does not only results in a small temporal loss meaning that you lived your short life morally, and wasn’t worth much to begin with anyway. But that small temporal loss was actually a wasted, unfulfilled life. Hypothetically speaking there was someone who went their entire lifespan holding fast to a belief, denied themselves countless opportunities to for happiness and enjoyment, but let it all go unfulfilled for a conviction that turned out to be false.

You could easily try to make a case the you can never miss what you never had, but that does not fit in here. Although you can’t miss what you never you had, you can regret having denied yourself an opportunity that you would have otherwise taken. To respond to the selfish gain counterpoint, Pascal argues that the more you practice your actions in accordance to your belief, that original selfish motivation starts to go away (Pascal, 79). But to bring up a question posed earlier in this essay, how do you act in a manner that is pleasing to an incomprehensible god?

Pascal says look to others who have been through what you’ve been through, and have made the decision that you are about to make and follow those examples (Pascal, 79). This response fails to satisfy the question. How is one to know that the way others behave is the proper way to act? Are actions right because the majority practice them? Should it apply to you simple because it applies to almost everyone else? No matter how you decide to act, it still remains that your belief is a product of habitual actions, whether they are your own or based on someone else’s.

Your only motivation for holding to that belief would still be based on selfish gains. There are some points that Pascal does not touch but I feel are relevant to the discussion when choosing to believe in God. It can be implied based on Pascal’s benefit/consequence set up that he is referring to the Christian god. According to the Christian scriptures it takes a lot more than belief and habitual actions to earn the infinite happiness promised to those who believe. Pascal failed to take into account the trials and tribulation that come with choosing to follow God.

It is mentioned in the Christian text that those who follow will be tempted to act against the word of God, but we are taught to resist at all costs, temptation (for example, James 1:12 or I Corinthians 10:13) . How can a person who acts purely off of habit with no real foundation for his beliefs other than selfish gains resist these temptations? At the first sign of adversity, a person who is basing his belief on the Pascal wager will surely fold under pressure. It’s a good thing that Christianity is based on forgiveness and repentance.

The second part of my thesis states that without some kind of evidence that we cannot make a rational decision about God’s existence. This goes back to the sincerity of a belief mentioned before. The main problem with Pascal’s Wager is that it gives true solid foundation for one’s belief outside of selfish gains. If you are going to evaluate and reevaluate that belief against selfish gains, then you will only hold to that belief as long as there is no other opportunity that presents seemingly better benefits.

Besides, to base a decision on something other than evidence or some supporting material could hardly be considered rational. But if you have evidence, supporting material, something that favors your belief that you can evaluate and reevaluate that belief by, you will hold to that belief more strongly than one based on selfish motives. This is true because the evidence that you’ve been presented with shows more pros than cons for your beliefs so it is sincere. You actions will then follow in accordance to the evidence.

Those actions will be deliberate and personal, not based on the actions of someone else. If you choose to change your actions, you will only change in a way that still lets you hold to your belief, a belief that has shown to be beneficial based on evidence not on some yet to be seen reward. To close this paper and stop the what could be continuous rant against Pascal, it is pretty obvious that the issue of God, his existence, and whether or not we should believe will forever be a perennial issue.

Pascal, Aquinas, James, or even myself can write essays until we run out of paper and printer ink, but the only thing that would accomplish is further add to the already ample confusion and conflict on this issue. Although Pascal offers a very simple reason of why we should believe in God, it is all to simple. And while I offer nothing but criticisms for his argument, I cannot myself offer a more sound argument that would less susceptible to the same kinds of criticisms I just wrote concerning The Wager. But we are human, created to be flawed, I just try to cover up. Anyone seen my fig leaf?

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Leave a Comment