Recently, I thought about why I haven’t really written about Pascal’s Wager. One might expect me to talk about it because I talk about belief in God (a lot) on this blog.
The reason I haven’t talked about the Wager is because Pascal’s Wager is more concerned with pragmatic reasons for believing that God exists. That is, Pascal is claiming that it would be good to believe that God exists. However, what would be good for one to believe isn’t the same thing as having evidence for what one believes.
On this blog, I am concerned with epistemic justification/warrant for belief in God, whether the “warrant” be some personal experience or the “justification” be publicly available…. like an argument (e.g. the moral argument for God’s existence).
Pascal seemed to be aware that we can’t just choose on a whim to believe something directly. Try believing right now that you can fly, or try believing that you have 1 trillion dollars in your bank account. That’s right, you can’t do it. However, Pascal’s answer was that one should engage in practices that tend to produce belief in God’s existence.
My answer to Pascal is that many people have engaged in practices to try and produce belief in God’s existence. In fact, many people’s nonbelief started in the context of them already having a relationship with God. Not to mention, it’s hard to see how there’s not a level of dishonesty here. If one is looking at the world and thinks, “Gee, it sure looks like God doesn’t exist, given all this suffering” one can’t simply handwave this by saying it would be better to believe that God exists. The simple fact is that people can’t just shake intellectual objections. And even if we could, it would be intellectually irresponsible to not try and look for answers.
The upshot is that what Pascal is proposing is just plain self-deception. Pascal is asking us to knowingly engage in practices that will produce belief, while at the same time, we are aware that the mechanisms that produce the belief in God aren’t based on the evidence available to us. Would God really prefer us to form a belief in God like this? In fact, would God want us to form any belief in this manner?
Someone might object by saying something like, “Look, engaging in practices that are good for us is rational. Believing in God is good for us; therefore, it is rational to believe that God exists.”
The problem with this objection is that even if it is true, the belief in question can still be irrational in other senses. But the further problem is that what is true in reality correlates heavily with what is good for us. Why do we bother believing anything that’s true? Because having an accurate model of reality helps us survive and thrive.
There are many other problems with Pascal’s Wager, and you are probably aware of some of the objections. I, for one, just don’t buy what Pascal is trying to sell. At best, we might agree that there are some benefits to believing that God exists, but that isn’t granting much. The lesson here is that we can’t ignore the question of evidence* when it comes to God’s existence. And, if we can’t ignore the evidence, then what use does Pascal’s Wager have? .
 For more on Pascal’s Wager, see here: https://perfectchaos.org/2018/01/18/pascals-wager-discussed/
*A common complaint I’ve been hearing lately is that “arguments aren’t evidence”. I’m planning to make a whole blog post about this, but I just want to comment real quick. First, a good argument should have premises that are supported by evidence. So, we need to distinguish between good arguments and bad arguments. Secondly, it’s not clear what this objection is even supposed to be, or what it would entail….even if it were true. Is this objection saying that arguments can’t make a belief in some proposition rational? If so, we know that’s not true. Is it saying that arguments can’t demonstrate something? This is a misunderstanding. A good argument IS a demonstration of something. It takes premises that are known to be true/evidenced in order to form a conclusion.