# Winning Pascal's Wager

Pascal’s Wager essentially posits that it is better to bet that there is a god, because you really have nothing to lose.

One major flaw is that this fails to take in to account the sheer plethora of gods to choose from. What will get you in to one heaven will get you kicked out of another. There are any number of hells for us to rot in by making the wrong choice.

What set of beliefs is most likely to get you in to the most heavens or (perhaps more importantly) keep you out of the most hells? I’m not sure how to weigh the importance of a particular religion/sect (equal? proportional?), and what to include (I guess sects with differing afterlife beliefs should count differently…should we included dead religions?) so feel free to calculate this however you like.

The means of placing this bet is to believe. But how do you believe what you do not believe?

Excellent point: while some folks can choose what they believe, I don’t think I can. What I believe is not under my control.

There are many problems with Pascal’s Wager, the many-gods problem being just one. Some others (all of which assume that atheism is the wrong answer):

1. The Real God values honesty more than lip-service. Under such circumstances, holding true to your best conclusions about the universe is the best response.
2. The Real God values lip-service more than honesty. In this case, you ought to pray to the real God, not just give lip-service.

Given these two possibilities, it might seem that honesty is the best course, since honesty works for all gods who value honesty, but lip-service requires that you pay lip-service to the Real God, giving you an additional hurdle to clear. However, how do we judge the probability of an Honest God versus a Lip-Service God? If the Lip-Service variety is many times likelier than the Honest variety, you’re hosed if you go honest: you’re better off choosing a God to pay lip-service to.

1. The Real God will reward the faithful in an unpleasant fashion.

2. The Real God will reward the faithful in a pleasant fashion.
This one is relatively easy: it seems likely that a Real God who is capable of discerning faith would also be capable of discerning what would make for a good reward. However, there’s the possibility that The Real God is looking for brains in jars to power an infernal device; I don’t know how to judge the likelihood of this.

3. The Real God is a jealous God.

4. The Real God is not a jealous God (or there are many Real Gods).
This is a real conundrum. If God is jealous, then altars to many gods, Roman-style, is a Very Bad Idea. If God is not jealous, then altars to many gods maximizes your chance of hiting on the right God. If we assume there’s equal chance of either, then the many-altars is the best assumption, since a single altar will only hit one of the jealous gods, but many altars will hit all of the swingin gods.

Daniel

All true enough, but if you cannot get to the betting window, the odds are irrelevant.

True, but the first problem at least deals with whether you can get to the betting window: if all that God requires is that you profess belief (or that you make the appropriate sacrifices on holy days), then you’re able to get to the betting window.

Part of the sheer joyful wackiness of the wager is that you can’t even be sure if you can make it or not.

Daniel

(per Wikipedia)
Pascal argues that it is always a better “bet” to believe in God, because the expected value to be gained from believing in God is always greater than the expected value resulting from non-belief. Note that this is not an argument for the existence of God, but rather one for the belief in God.

This appears to be a case in which Wikipedia is unreliable, assuming you’re summarizing it accurately. From an in-depth examination of Pascal’s wager, it looks as though belief is not part of it.

You’re wagering in God’s existence in the same way that I might wager as to the likelihood of my getting in a wreck on my drive home today: I don’t believe I will, but I take specific steps to maximize my outcome on the off-chance that it happens (e.g., I wear a seatbelt).

If you decide to cast your wager on God’s existence, then you need to figure out what steps to take to maximize your happiness in case God exists. If God rquires sincere belief in His existence, then you’re basically hosed. But if God doesn’t, then there’s the whole lip service thing you can do–unless God requires you to be honest about your beliefs. Back to being hosed.

As near as I can tell, belief is a secondary issue, to be decided after you decide how to wager.

Daniel

I really wish the people would take the time to read OPs because the question posed is an interesting one. The “how can you be forced to believe in something you don’t” argument is not a part of the OP and is off topic. In addition, it has been discussed to death already. The OP is strictly about the “how do you know which god is the right god” argument.

Assuming that you are able to believe, which belief in a god or gods will give you the best odds?

It was cut and pasted, except for the bolding. But you’re right. Pascal, per your quotation (for which I thank you) holds that God’s existence is undecidable by reason, and we should act as if God existed. If God is defined as one who wants us to love our neighbor, it’s not really a bad idea anyhow, I guess.

Me, I really wish the people would take the time to read follow-up posts, in which the people might realize that the other people DID read the OP. At a minimum, I wish the people wouldn’t make snarky comments about how the people didn’t take the time to read the OP, since that kind of snark adds nothing to the thread.

Do you have anything constructive to say about the OP or about the follow-up posts?

Daniel

So which god* is* the right god?

Sure, but if we’re really looking at maximizing our own chances with God, is that a safe bet? A god who wants you to love your neighbor is probably not a jealous god: there are plenty of possible gods who want you to kill your neighbor for being an unbeliever, for exaple, and who will punish you for not doing His will in this regard.

Daniel

None of them. Every ghod ever mentioned by mankind has been dreamed up by a human being. They don’t exist.

You did address it. I didn’t mean you. I was trying to keep the discussion on track because I would like to learn something. I have no idea what the answer is.

I was looking at it not as a bet, but just as a good thing to do. I’m not really into this God thing.

Okay, sorry about my overreaction. I just hate it when folks do the “Why don’t you try reading the posts?” thing–on the board I mod, it leads to more flame wars than just about anything else. But I overreacted.

To continue things on topic, I think there are various characteristics we can look at: Honesty vs. Lip-Service, Jealousy vs. Tolerant, and Benevolent vs. Malevolent. I’m thinking to go for the Honest, Tolerant, Benevolent gods, simply because you can cover more possibilities through such practices than you can cover through wagering in a more restrictive god. That is, don’t pretend to believe something you don’t, but set out offerings to all the Gods just in case, or at least all the Gods that aren’t going to be horrid to their worshippers.

You’re covering more possibilities, but it could be that the Jealous god (for example) is much likelier a possibility than the Chillin god; if that’s the case, then maybe you ought to bank on the Jealous god, and not set a table for millions. However, I don’t see any way of judging the relative likelihood of different Godly characteristics; as such, I would treat all the possibilities as equally likely until someone offers a good yardstick.

(Again, I’m stipulating that we’re wagering on the existence of one or more Gods; in reality, I wager against 'em.)

Daniel

Once you postulate that there are many Gods (even though we have no evidence for any) and that they can all send you to Hell or Heaven, the correct procedure seems obscure.

If I say I believe that Christ is the Son of God, the Old Testament Judaic God might call me a false prophet and blat me.
If I don’t believe in Jesus the New Testament Christian God will sadly refuse me entrance to Heaven.

Probably best to lead a good agnostic life and hope for the best!

Thank you, Left Hand, for posting the words of Pascal. If we’re going to be discussing Pascal’s wager, it’s a good idea to look at what Blaise himself actually said.

As I understand it, Pascal is operating under the assumption that it is impossible to prove, one way or the other, whether God exists. It’s not something that can be decided by pure reason, anyway. So if you are absolutely convinced, one way or the other, about God’s existence, Pascal isn’t talking to you. End of discussion.

As for the objection of the OP (and others) about “the sheer plethora of gods to choose from,” I’m not sure I agree. I’d say that “God” (with a capital G), as discussed by Pascal, refers to one specific being, who either does or does not exist. Go around asking people whether or not they believe in God; I suspect most of them will say “yes” or “no” or “I’m not sure” or something like that, but very few will quibble about “which god” you’re talking about. All the different varieties of Christians, Moslems, Jews, etc. all believe in the same God, they just believe different things about God. If you believe in God, then you can worry about what God is like and which of the things that various people say about God are actually true. And most of these believers would probably tell you to “seek God” or try to get to know God better and better—through prayer, study, talking with believers of various sorts, trying to live up to as much of God’s will as you are reasonably sure of, etc. That, I think, is the answer to the OP’s question.

I agree with all this, but I think that within the context of the wager, you’ve got to quibble. Pascal essentially says that if you wager that God does exist and you’re wrong, you’ve lost nothing. If he’s talking about only one specific God (say, the God of the Catholic Church), and it turns out that another specific God (say, the God of the Westboro Baptist Church) exists, then you’ve lost a very great deal indeed.

First, while I respect this religious attitude immensely, it’s not a universal attitude. I believe you can find plenty of folks down at your local Calvary who will deny in the strongest possible terms that their God is the same as Allah. For an atheist like me, it’s difficult for me to judge which one of you is correct.

Second, even if you’re the correct one, that’s still leaving out Kali, Coyote, Diancecht, Pan Gu, and a host of others, deities who have a hard time fitting inside a single definition of God. If Greek mythology is correct, what’s going to happen to Jimmy Swaggart in the hereafter?

Daniel

Do those gods posit an afterlife or reincarnation that can be better or worse depending on belief? If not, we should take them off of the list. There is no percentage in believing in them.