Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal

In the seventeeth century France lived a man called Blaise Pascal who was some sort of a philosopher. He has become famous for his wager for faith. Even today one may encounter people who defend faith with his logic, wich is as follows:

  1. “God is, or He is not”
  2. A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up.
  3. According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
  4. You must wager. (It’s not optional.)
  5. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
  6. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.

I am arrogant enough to answer this from my common sense, wich incidentally also is a favourite argument of many who stand for faith in some particular god. I am not familiar with any of the critique presented to the Pascal’s wager by others before me. I answer it from totally my own perspective.

As far as I can see there are two major problems about this sort of logical conclusion. First of all, if Pascal was right, then wich belief system should one choose? There are literally thousands of different religions and what a very great number of them is saying, is that theirs are the one and only faith through wich salvation is to be found. So, wich is it? Choose one randomly and hope for the best? Or are we to do as most people who believe in gods do and choose wich ever one feels the right one. This of course leads to the inevitable result, that most people choose what ever religion they are raised to and what is culturally most coherent with their own cultural backround. Wich in turn leads to the fact that most people are (according to Pascal’s wager) sent to eternal pain. If that sort of mechanism for dividing people into eternal bliss, or eternal torment actually exists, it describes any gods responsible for it as terrible inhumane and immoral monsters. Is it moral to play ball with them?

Second and more profound problem in this idea of Pascal’s wager to me is the problem of trying to fool a divinity. Is a human being able to fool a divine entity, by putting an effort to try and believe in something that is totally unplausible to the human? It is easy to tell other people that they should believe something, what is hard is to convince them that what you say is true. But it is at least twice as hard to convince yourself of something you really do not find believable to be true. Of course we are sometimes able to convince ourselves of nonreal things just because what we tell ourselves is the way we would want things to be, but still even so, if we would use that method to take the wager as Pascal instruckted, would that not result in us creating a god we would love and then believing in it, rather than taking any god from among the many offered to us by so many different religions and cultures as they are?

I for one would find it very hard, or even impossible, to convince myself of any religion I know of, for them to  be true, even if it gave me the sensation of security, by waging my alledged eternal soul on it. Even if people would be able to fool themselves by taking the wager, would they be able to fool a god? Could a god not see through their true intention and motives as plain selfish and not incorporating any real love for that divinity? As far as I am concerned, love motivated by fear is not real love.

Pascal claims that the existance of a god can not be defended or denied by reason. I must protest. It has been often enough both defended and denied by reason. However, in my opinion, a reasonable defence for such an entity would require more evidence for any of the suggeste deities to exist. There could be a god, that is not observable by any reasonable means, but a god described by any religion I know of, are all such we should be able to observe them and produce more real evidence of their existance than offered. 

If I have here come to the same conclusions as some others, I apologize for boring reading. However, it is to me interresting to find out, if others have come to the same conclusions. What I intend to do after having published this post is to find out what has been said of the wager by others and greater minds than mine.

It is easy to laugh at some ancient notions given by the many philosophers and religious demagogues throughout time, but of course they must be given value according to the information these people had in their use at the time when they presented their thoughts. I for one am quite willing to forgive Aristotle his notion that the human brain is just a great cooling unit of the body, since in his time it was common knowledge that the “soul” lived in the heart. He had no way of knowing of electrical synapses in our brain, that actually form our thoughts.

In the case of Pascal’s wager, he does not recieve cimilar mercy from me as I am willing to offer Aristotle. What was wrong about Pascal’s idea, was not in any way dependant on any knowledge he did not have in his disposal. By the time he lived, his native country France was allready a colonial superpower, and they had encountered many different religions and in fact the Europe had just endured a grimacing era of religious wars, where different denominations of christianity had fought each other for the power to claim the right to tell people through wich denomination is salvation to be found (and committed the most gruesome horrors to achieve this power). There is no way of demanding the right for making such a claim out of ignorance. Hence, this wager was as silly then as it is today.

What was Blaise Pascal thinking of? Was he actually trying to sell his soul in exchange for eternal life? Did he try to imply, that a god could be fooled to believe a person believes, even if that is not the reality? Did he actually suggest that ortopraxia is the more likely way to Heaven than ortodoxia (he could be right there, is such a thing ever existed as Heaven)? Or was the assertion of gamble as a metaphor just a sarcastic remark on the suggested unfair method of choosin who gets to be salvaged in the alledged afterlife?

What do you think?