What is the name of the idea that a person should believe in God because if God doesn’t exists and you believe in Him and He doesn’t exist you have lost nothing, but if you don’t believe in God and He does exist you are screwed?
You are most likely referring to Pascal’s Wager. It is commonly interpreted to mean “If you believe in God, and he exists, your belief will pay huge dividends. If you believe and he does not exist, your loss will be small; just time spent in a meaningless, finite life. So, in light of this cost/benefit analysis, we have rational grounds for belief in God.”
However, that’s not the really important or influential part of the idea. I’m sure many people have come up with a similar idea on their own, or just grasp it as intuitively true. I remember having a discussion along these very lines as a young child. The real merit to the argument is laid out elsewhere in the very short text. The really important idea Pascal argued was that practice precedes belief. If you want to believe in God, act as though you do, behave as though you really believe; and you will. Faith will never be attained through reason, it is predicated on behavior.
For some reason, people walk away from this text with only the ideas from the first part of the argument, and I’m not sure why. They’re really not all that special.
I’ve heard them called “fire-escape Christians”.
I would hardly call Pascal’s Wager to be “intuitively true”. Indeed, I see it as fundamentally immoral. One doesn’t really believe but one consents to belief merely through selfish “bet hedging”. That’s no basis for salvation.
I second what Dogface said. Pascal’s Wager (and its variations) also falls down for other reasons. How would we know which god or gods are the right ones to worship? Many of them are pretty keen on asserting that they and nly they must be worshipped - choose the wrong one and your lifetime of worship will actually damn you for eternity! And how would we know whether our chosen god or gods will honour the bargain? Maybe god can’t stand sycophants, and casts the sycophantic worshippers into the inferno while treating well the people who can think for themselves and stand up to him. Or maybe god thinks it’s a shame for people to waste the precious gift of life standing around in draughty buildings singing dull songs (Eddie Izzard’s summary of christianity) when they could be out doing something productive and useful? We don’t know.
All in all it’s a pretty dumb wager.
Well, just because someone “grasps something as intuitively true” doesn’t mean it actually is true. I just meant that for Pascal’s audience, I think it was either Christianity or nothing for the most part. If you already are into the Christian thing, the wager sounds almost obvious.
But my main point was that for whatever reason, popular interpretations of Pascal’s Wager haven’t really focused on the real philosophical meat of the argument. If all that he had said was ‘you should believe in God because if he doesn’t exist you haven’t lost all that much’, it never would have become a semi-famous argument. It’s unfair to dismiss the whole thing as “pretty dumb” based on a single (and I assert), lesser aspect of the text.
He’d have to be a pretty naive god to fall for that - “I’m only believing in you to hedge my bets.” - wouldn’t any god want sincere belief? Hmm…straying close to GD here.