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About God and Atheism

Six more weaknesses in Pascal's Wager: It
may not be safer to believe in God after all

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Three weaknesses in Pascal's Wager are described in detail in a separate essay

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Weakness #4  -- Is Heaven better than Hell?

Some visualize Heaven as a place where one praises God, sings hymns, basks in the presence of Jesus and God continuously. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) once commented that the average Christian has considerable difficulty sitting through a single church service every Sunday. The thought of having to endure a 24 hour service is dreadful. The image of what is essentially a church service of infinite length might be beyond endurance for many people.

Meanwhile, many Christian denominations have interpreted Hell as a place or condition where one is simply separated from the presence of God. Some Agnostics and Atheists live their entire lives continuously in this condition and are quite happy. On balance, some might prefer Hell to Heaven. Of course, they would have to ignore -- or treat as symbolic -- the passages in the Bible that discuss the flogging, unbearable heat and thirst, flesh-eating worms, and other horrendous punishments in Hell.

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Weakness #5  -- Can one make themselves believe?

Pascal seems to accept voluntarism: the concept that belief is a matter of the will. That is, a person can simply decide to believe in the existence of God. Some people cannot do this. "...many feel that for intellectually honest people, belief is based on evidence, with some amount of intuition. It is not a matter of will or cost-benefit analysis." 2 Many Agnostics, for example, have evaluated all the "proofs" for God's existence, and all of the "proofs" of God's non-existence. They conclude that neither belief can be substantiated. They feel that they can not rationally believe in the existence or non-existence of God; they must remain Agnostic. Under these conditions, a person can only believe in God if they violate their honesty. And God might punish a lack of honestly more severely than not being able to believe in God.

It can be argued that if people believe something on insufficient evidence, that the result is the promoting of credulity -- something that harms society. Again, that could be a sin that God is particularly concerned about punishing.

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Weakness #6  -- Is a greedy decision valid?

Some might argue that an insincere wager is worthless. God, being omniscient and omnipotent, knows our motivations. If a person decided to believe in God in order to increase their chances for a good life after death, then such an insincere decision might be rejected by God. In fact, if there were some doubt in God's mind whether the individual should be sent to Heaven or Hell, a deceitful decision might be counter-productive. It might tip the scales in favor of Hell.

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Weakness #7  -- Can we guess God's criteria for salvation?

Perhaps God does not care whether a person believes in him or not. Perhaps he will to treat the person who seeks to understand God but, to be honorable to himself, must remain an Agnostic. Perhaps he will treat people harshly if they blindly accept the existence of God without any proof. 

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Weakness #8  -- Is the probability that God exists greater than zero?

What is the possibility that a God exists who exhibits such intense wrath against unbelievers that he sends them all to Hell for eternal punishment? (The term "wrath" is a more commonly used term that "hatred" here because so many people associate God with pure love). Some feel that the possibility is zero. If so, then no possibility of an infinite reward results in no reward, and Pascal's Wager collapses. Massimo Pigliucci outlines two lines of thought that indicate the improbability of God's existence:

bullet"...every time we consider a God with physical attributes, that is one that actually does something in the universe...science invariably tells us that that God does not exist. We thought that God caused lightning, now we know better; we attributed to him a worldwide flood that modern geology says never occurred; and so on and so forth."

bullet"...even a much reduced version of God...assumes the existence of the supernatural; that is, of something we have absolutely no evidence of, which is not necessary to explain the world, and quite plainly is the result of wishful thinking on the part of a pathologically insecure humanity."

For those Atheist who are 100% convinced that God does not exist, Pascal's Wager is unconvincing. However, If one accepts that the probability of the existence of a wrath-filled God is, say, one in 100, then the Wager still makes some sense. A 1% chance at eternity in Heaven is still better than a 1% chance at Hell or a 99% chance at nothing. So, this weakness of Pascal's Wager is only valid if one can prove that God does not exist. Only a person who is omniscient could do that. There are no humans who have reached this level.

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Weakness #9: God is just:

Adults differ greatly in their ability to believe things by faith, and their degree of skepticism. These tendencies are observed in childhood before the age of accountability. Thus, it can be argued that the degree of skepticism and amount of faith that an adult has is outside their control; it is fixed, much like race, gender, and sexual orientation. It may be determined mainly by genes, or by some interaction between genes and environment. However, it is so fundamental a factor in a person's life that it is extremely difficult or impossible to change in adulthood.

Pascal himself once wrote of persons to whom belief by faith comes easily : "The heart has its reasons which reason does not know." 4 i.e. there are times when we can accept that something is true even if it cannot be proven through logic and observation. Among skeptics, this phrase is without validity.

Some would argue that for God to discriminate against skeptical individuals would be akin to racism, sexism and homophobia. He would not require a skeptic to believe in God in order to attain Heaven -- something that the skeptic could not achieve. It would be neither fair nor just.

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. T.M. Drange, "Pascal's Wager Refuted," at: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/
  2. "Pascal's Wager (God is a safe bet)," The Internet Infidels, at: http://www.infidels.org/news/atheism/
  3. Janet & Stewart Farrar, "The Witches' God," and "The Witches' Goddess.
  4. Passages cited by Rick Wade, "Blaise Pascal: An Apologist for Our Times," Probe Ministries, at: http://www.probe.org/docs/pascal.html

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Site navigation:

Home > Christianity > Christian personalities > God > Pascal's Wager > here

Home > Religious information > Pascal's Wager > here

Home > Spirituality > God> Pascal's Wager > here

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Copyright 2001 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-OCT-26
Latest update: 2012-SEP-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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