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No Dice on the Wager: A Critical Discussion of Pascal's God Argument

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In the gambling world bets are made based on odds, the probability or likelihood that something would happen. In the court law, cases are decided upon by the weight evidence presented by the respective parties. The common link between these general scenarios is that decisions are made based on some outside evidential factor. The more probable something is likely to happen, or the more evidence presented in favor or opposed to something, the greater the tendency that a decision will coincide with that probability or evidence. This kind of logic has also been used when arguing about the existence of God. It has been argued that God's existence is necessary based on the logic that it is neither contingent not impossible and therefore must exist; it has also been argued that the presence of evil in the world is evidence enough that God, or at least God as we make Him out to be, does not exist. The decisions that people a make about their personal relationship with the being that has been dubbed "God" is usually based on this kind of criteria. But what if someone were to make a decision concerning God's existence without having any evidence to sway us, how would that someone choose? This problem is addressed by Blaise Pascal in his essay entitled The Wager. Pascal argues that the only rational choice to make about the existence of God with no evidence would be to believe that He does. The following pages of this essay will be a critical analysis and also critique of Pascal's argument, for it is the argument of the author of this paper that a sincere decision would be impossible under these circumstances and without evidence we would not be able to make a rational choice concerning the issue of God's existence.

Before the discussion is started let me first clarify some terminology is order to make my argument more clear. In my thesis statement I offered the premise that when given to the criteria put forth by Pascal that a sincere decision about belief in God would be impossible. By sincere decision I mean a decision that you can evaluate and reevaluate against anything that claims the opposite and still be able to hold to it. If you have a belief based on a decision that stems from no evidence then you have nothing to evaluate it by, so that belief cannot be sincere, it is merely a blind choice with no foundation or real support.

Let us start to discuss the essay itself. As we progress through Pascal's writings a synopsis of his view point will be given and will be simultaneously accompanied by a criticism. Pascal starts off his essay by stating that, "If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible...He has no affinity to us." (Pascal, 78) This already poses a problem with the argument he is about to present in support of believing that God exists. The main question becomes, if there is a god and that this god is incomprehensible, then what is the point in believing whether or not such a being a actually exists? It would obviously follow that we would never come to a full understanding of this god, and any efforts to believe in or worship him would be in vain. Are we just to believe that this god exists and that's all, or is there a code of conduct that is to follow this belief? How do you act in a manner that is pleasing to being that you do not and never will wholly understand?

Pascal goes on to state that once we have made this rational decision to believe in God then we start to act like we believe in this god and from practicing these actions habitually your belief will strengthen Pascal, 78). The problem here lies in the basis of the strength for this belief. To make a decision and then act on that decision seems pretty consistent; but, to make a decision and have that decision become a belief based on habitual actions does not follow at all. Is this belief that your holding to a product of sincerity of habit? If you start to act you believe something then believe will the converse follow as well? If I decide to believe in God then act like I do, according to Pascal my belief would become stronger. But if I decide to change my mind and start to act like I do not believe in God, will that belief also manifest? This logic reduces your belief to a mere product of habit and is anything but sincere.

Pascal goes on to outline the benefits of this belief and why it pays more to believe than it does not to (...hence the title, The Wager) that God exists (Pascal, 78). The choice that God does or does not exist is set against the assumption that He actually does or does not exists, and the consequences are drawn from there. If you believe that God exists and He does, you stand to gain infinite happiness, if He does not, its only a small temporal loss. If you believe that God does not exist and He does you gain nothing and lose everything, but if He actually does not exist, you only have a small temporal gain. According to this arrangement you stand to gain more on all sides if you just believe that god exists, because if he does that means eternal happiness for you, and its only a small loss if He does not. At least you lived a moral and righteous life that benefited you and those around you.

The first issue I have with this set up right here is that it seems to assume automatically that if you believe something to be then you stand to reap the benefits of that belief. If someone lives a life based on totally fulfilling every impulse that comes across his mind while at the same time holding to the belief that God exists, does that person stand a better chance at receiving infinite happiness than the person who lives morally but has no belief in God? And even if you hold that belief and act accordingly, you'll never know if how you are acting is the proper way, which leaves the ultimate decision up to God. So if you do believe God exists, try to act accordingly, but fail to obtain infinite happiness, you would be left with nothing and was better off not believing in the first place. This set up also makes the motives for believing in God selfish motives. When looking at basing your decisions in terms reward/consequence you will more likely go with what is more rewarding. So assuming for the sake of argument that God does exist, would that god be pleased with a follower whose only purpose for choosing to do so was based on selfish gains? Another, but not as obvious, point against this set up is its consequences and some are stressed more than others. According to the set up to believe that God exists and he does not only results in a small temporal loss meaning that you lived your short life morally, and wasn't worth much to begin with anyway. But that small temporal loss was actually a wasted, unfulfilled life. Hypothetically speaking there was someone who went their entire lifespan holding fast to a belief, denied

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