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Blaise Pascal,
Las Vegas, and Chinook Winds

by Jerry Billings (with Cliff Walker)

 FRENCH MATHEMATICIAN BLAISE PASCAL (1623-1662) is given credit for what is, perhaps, the most popular argument in favor of the existence of God. This argument has persisted for over three hundred years in spite of its defects. Christians are fond of quoting Pascal’s Wager; if the listener has a predisposition toward a belief in the supernatural, it sounds logical. The facts are that you can place a better bet at any casino. Here is the Wager:

  1. If you believe in God and God exists, you have a chance to gain everlasting life and happiness after death.
  2. If you believe in God and there is no God, you have lost nothing.
  3. If you don’t believe in God and God does exist, you have lost everything and you will suffer infinite torture in Hell after death.
  4. If you do not believe in God and there is no God, you have gained nothing. Therefore, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by believing in God; you have everything to lose by not believing.

The Wager is often presented as being at least a fifty-fifty bet. It fails to consider that the Wager, as an argument, is equally valid in favor of every god ever conceived by humanity. It applies to Allah, Brama, Juju, or Quetzalcoatl as it does to the triune god of Christianity. Since there are thousands of gods from which to choose, the chance of a person’s selecting the correct god is so remote as to be close to zero. The correct odds are nothing like fifty-fifty, but are closer to ten-thousand to one.

The Wager also naïvely assumes one can form a belief by an act of willpower.

PASCAL’S SECOND POINT is, “If you believe in God and there is no God, you have lost nothing.” That does not seem to be true if one considers that sacrifices involved in being a believer. The time-consuming, wasteful acts of worship and the expensive tithing and sacrifices required by some religions are excellent reasons to dispute Pascal on this point. A lifetime is not a cheap commodity to be wasted in futile acts of worship. Every Jehovah’s Witness who died rather than having a life saving blood transfusion disputes this second point. Every victim of every religious war refutes Pascal’s Wager.

THEN, THERE’S A FAULT in Pascal’s Wager’s basic premise. Point four says “If you do not believe in God, and there is no God, you have gained nothing.” However, that is patently false. Atheists live happy productive lives, free from the demands and artificial sins which place torment and guilt on the religious ones among us.

We Atheists have learned that humanity and human reason hold the only hope to solving humanity’s problems. Atheism will force people to come to grips with their own difficulties in life.

Benjamin Franklin proved that prayer and the ringing of church bells do not keep lightning from the church steeple but his lightning rod will do the job. Compare that with the remark of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who demonstrated the wisdom of his god by pointing out that Allah does not waste rain on the desert but makes it fall only on the fertile parts of the country.

SOME PEOPLE ARGUE that anything that is possible to imagine has a chance, however remote, to exist somewhere in the universe. According to that argument, since you can imagine a god, a god becomes possible. You are now at risk by denying this god. When this argument is tried, it sounds like it makes sense — but consider this: we can also imagine a totally evil god, one who would reward his followers with an eternity in hell while rewarding skeptics with eternal happiness. The believer, then, is at risk in believing. This argument also fails if you are expecting it and know the answer.

THE FINAL WORD is that Pascal’s Wager is a poor bet because it is based upon faulty reasoning. Nevertheless, we continue to hear religious people mouth the words that make up the Wager. To a person whose logic is wasted by belief in gods and angels, anything that reinforces that view, no matter how illogical, is welcome.

As Atheists, we know that the Wager is nonsense. The next time you have it tried out on you, just recall one thing and it might prompt the believer to change the subject. That one thing is the idea that the Wager applies to all gods, equally.

  
  

Why Bother Developing Original New Material?

There have been at least three different stolen (“mirrored”) copies of the above work posted on the Web at various times. Each copy was downloaded from the Positive Atheism site (or from a Web site that had obtained theirs by grabbing it from us). All th is was done without even asking permission. The culprits then adorned their versions with the names of their own Web sites, with commercial advertisements, and, worst of all, with eMail links that divert commentary on this piece from where it belongs: those who created it and who graciously made it available to the online communities.
     Mr Billings personally eMailed this particular work to Mr Walker, then-editor of Positive Atheism’s predecessor, shortly after he finished writing it. Mr Walker carefully combed the piece for stylistic errors and other idiosyncrasies, essentially rewriting the piece, per Mr Billings’ request. He also smoothed out other portions that otherwise made it more harder to read or more difficult to grasp. Then he groomed and toned these passages until this piece became the engaging, easy to read, readily understood piece that it is.

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