apologetics

Counter-Counter-Apologetics 1: Redeeming Pascal’s Wager

When I first started to get into apologetics, one of the first sites I stumbled upon was Iron Chariots, a counter-apologetics site.

This site’s mission statement is “Iron Chariots is intended to provide information on apologetics and counter-apologetics. We’ll be collecting common arguments and providing responses, information and resources to help counter the glut of misinformation and poor arguments which masquerade as “evidence” for religious claims. ”

Note especially the scare quotes they use around evidence. This is a tactic atheists are very prone to using. Anything they disagree with, they put quotes around to make it look less true. Atheists are “right.” See? Fun, isn’t it? Does it do anything of value? No.

Anyway, it was sort of disturbing to see that there are those who are trying any means necessary to get around theism. I left the site a little scared, wondering if Christian Apologetics was all it is said to be. Well it is. After much more studying and forgetting completely about this site, I stumbled back upon it the other day, and decided to see what the anti-theists are saying about apologetics. Not much of value, in my opinion. And because I feel like it, I’m going to start countering their counter apologetics in a series of posts that will happen randomly interspersed with my others. These posts won’t just include arguments from this site, but will also include things like my counter for the “Argument from Atheism” (AKA “One Step Further Argument”).

This article will focus on Pascal’s Wager. Before I proceed, I should note that I absolutely do not think Pascal’s Wager is a good tool for witnessing, nor is it all that great as an argument. But it is, I think valid, and while it should not be used as a reason to believe, it does provide what, in logic, is called a dilemma for the atheists.

Pascal’s Wager is essentially as follows: God exists or He does not exist. If He does exist, there is infinite reward for believing in Him, but infinite loss for not believing in Him. If He does not exist, there is nothing to lose. “Nothing to lose, everything to gain,” is often the summing-up of this dilemma.

Iron Chariots accurately, in my opinion, points out that there isn’t nothing to lose by disbelieving. If there is no God then,

“For one thing, if you go through life believing a lie, that is a bad thing in itself. Besides that, there is more to being a believer than just saying “Okay, I believe now” and getting on with your life. Serious believers spend a lot of their time in church, and contribute a lot of money as well. There’s a reason why some towns have very affluent looking buildings for churches, and why large and elaborate cathedrals are possible: they’re funded by folks who donate a tenth of their income throughout their lives to tithing. This is surely quite a waste if the object of worship isn’t real.”

The article then goes on a rant about property taxes, persecution, etc., things which will not be discussed here because, frankly, I find these arguments ineffably dull, though I may be forced to talk about them in the future.

So yes, I concede that there is a reward for not believing if there is no God. They also accurately show that there can be finite rewards for believing in God even if He doesn’t exist, because of psychological benefits, society, etc. Unfortunately, they plug these positives into a table of good life vs. bad life instead of actually in Pascal’s Wager. So I’ll just do the work for them.

Pascal’s Wager
God Exists |      God Doesn’t Exist
Belief           ∞ +            |     Finite +
Disbelief    |  ∞ –          |      Finite +

Okay so the table isn’t working so well. I think it can be figured out. Anyway, the main argument is that there is after all, a reward for not believing if there is no God. The problem is that even if that reward outweighs the finite reward of believing in a non-existant God, that still must be weighed against the infinite negative of not believing if there is a God. The argument that there is a reward for not believing, so it is logical to not believe breaks down when you weigh the infinite negative of disbelief if God exists verses the finite positive of disbelief if God does not.

There is one final point I’d like to make. That is, that the same site continues to argue that another problem is which god to believe in. I’d like to counter that by saying that isn’t the point of Pascal’s Wager. Belief in a god is better than belief in no god, because the probability for infinite reward still increases (in that it will be 1/however many gods to choose from) verses the probability for infinite negative (which would be certain if there is a God). So Pascal’s Wager still stands. I grant that the probability increase would be very low, so some may then argue that it’s not worth giving up the finite reward of not believing in a god. The response could then be that there is still a granted finite reward in believing in a god if god doesn’t exist, and any increase in probability for infinite gain verses infinite loss would outweigh the any loss of finite reward that could be gained from disbelief. In other words, the increased probability plus the finite reward of believing in a god would outweigh the definite probability of infinite negative if there is a God combined with the finite reward of not believing in a God.

Sorry for the drawn out post, but I wanted to respond thoroughly. There is more I’d like to say, but that’s where I’ll end for now.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

18 thoughts on “Counter-Counter-Apologetics 1: Redeeming Pascal’s Wager

  1. Another problem with the wager is the fact it seems to assume that belief is controlled by will-power.

    Then there are, on a slightly different topic, the immoral implications of infinite punishments for finite crimes.

    Posted by morsec0de | July 27, 2009, 1:17 PM
  2. I’d agree. As I stated at the beginning it’s not great for witnessing or as an argument. It’s a “something to think about” idea.

    Your slight hint at the problem of evil is interesting there… a whole other discussion.

    But why no comment of my responses to the previous problems brought up with your other arguments?

    Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 27, 2009, 5:19 PM
  3. “But why no comment of my responses to the previous problems brought up with your other arguments?”

    Because I’m currently at work and don’t have time for a long response.

    By the way, you might want to check out The Atheist Experience. (Google it, it should come right up.) It’s a shown done in Austin, TX by some of the same people who made Iron Chariots. And they love getting calls from and talking to believers.

    Posted by morsec0de | July 27, 2009, 5:25 PM
  4. There’s a false premise in the table. That is, it is implicitly assumed that the truth of god(s) exist/god(s) don’t exist is a coin flip. It is not. The risk or reward is a product of probability and its consequences. If I were forced to attach a probability to the existence of god(s) it would be vanishingly small.

    I disagree that the which-religion-to-chose lottery doesn’t matter, since it is clear that this must also be included in the risk/reward calculation. If Christian god exists, it does indeed matter whether you believe in that god or in some other. So, according to the tenets of Christianity belief in another god has the same results as rejecting the existence of any deity.

    All in all, the Wager is a horrible argument rather unworthy of Blaise Pascal. But then even Newton had some whacky ideas.

    Posted by Shamelessly Atheist | July 27, 2009, 9:33 PM
  5. In addition, there is a theological problem with the Wager. Should one come to belief out of expectation of reward/fear of punishment? That kind of belief seems pretty contemptable, n’est-ce pas?

    Posted by Shamelessly Atheist | July 27, 2009, 9:34 PM
  6. I really don’t want to accuse you of anything, Shameless, but it seems as though in both your response to this post and the last you try to point out an error that was already corrected.

    “Before I proceed, I should note that I absolutely do not think Pascal’s Wager is a good tool for witnessing, nor is it all that great as an argument. But it is, I think valid, and while it should not be used as a reason to believe, it does provide what, in logic, is called a dilemma for the atheists.”

    I’m sort of unsure as to why then, you point out the “theological problem with the Wager”

    Further, I stated

    “Belief in a god is better than belief in no god, because the probability for infinite reward still increases (in that it will be 1/however many gods to choose from) verses the probability for infinite negative (which would be certain if there is a God).”

    Thus, I already responded to your first objection by pointing out that the probability is indeed low, strictly from a mathematical standpoint.

    It is, however, interesting that despite the fact that I am often accused by atheists of assuming that God exists or that there is evidence (I believe you yourself called it something like wishful thinking to say there is evidence), you turn around and suggest that the probability of the existence of a god is “vanishingly small” while not citing any reasons for doing so. In other words, you are going on your own presupposed position, while accusing me of holding to mine. Fair’s fair, and you’re not playing fair.

    Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 28, 2009, 3:24 AM
  7. Excellent post J.W. I look forward to the future installments of the series.

    Posted by T. Emmett Bramwell | July 31, 2009, 3:52 AM
  8. Both “importance” and “validity” are “gained” by adding “quotation” “marks” around “specific” words in a “sentence”, thereby “shaking” the “credibility” of the “opposing” argument.

    Yeah, that is fun! It also makes the sentence difficult to read.

    Posted by T. Emmett Bramwell | August 1, 2009, 5:22 AM
    • “Yes” “it” “does” “make” “for” “difficult” “reading” but, DOH! “but” “it” “also” “makes” “for” “really” “difficult” “typing” “!” “:O”

      “;)”

      Posted by Disciple | August 7, 2009, 10:43 PM
  9. You have no idea. Dawkins does it throughout the book, almost any time he mentions anything Christian.

    Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 1, 2009, 5:28 AM
    • You can even hear it in his voice in all his interviews and vids. He doesn’t even have to wiggle his widdle fingers. The mockery and sarcasm literally drips from his lips.

      Posted by Disciple | August 7, 2009, 10:44 PM
  10. You know, I noticed something. Agnostics and various types of deist/panetheist absorb just as much hate as atheists from apologists. And I know why: the real issue at stake here is cultural and moral, because all three of these categories (usually) postulate a God who has no moral interest in humanity or Its creation in general.

    By the way, this breaks Pascal’s Wager again: suppose there is a God, but It doesn’t care a lick about morals, or humans, or anything It made? Suppose it’s the kind of “blind gibbering idiot” eldritch abomination that features in H.P. Lovecraft’s more hallucinatory writing? Suppose, even, that It does send people to Hell and Heaven…but on the strength of their efforts made to logically *disprove* its existence! In other words, that Heaven is the reward for using the brain It gave you, and Hell is the natural fate of people who don’t question! A God of Atheists, if you will 🙂

    The Wager fails because it assumes that this God
    a) cares about its creations, specifically humans
    b) cares about their morals and actions
    and
    c) has created a Heaven and Hell (or generically, rewards/punishes Its creations)

    These are some heavy, heavy assumptions, and as they’re unprovable the entire Wager is moot.

    Posted by Jude | October 14, 2009, 11:50 PM
    • Interesting counter-points. They are, however, easily falsifiable and Pascal’s Wager still stands. Before I delve into that, however, I must immediately address your ad hominem attack on people of faith: “…Heaven is the reward for using the brain It gave you, and Hell is the natural fate of people who don’t question”–You have assumed that people of faith are not using their brains. I’ll take that as an insult, but not as any kind of truth.

      Now, why your counter-points can’t work:
      The gods you have described can’t be God. God, by definition, is maximally great. God cannot be some kind of “blind gibbering idiot” because then we could conceive of a being who is higher on the list than God (perhaps even we, who are not all blind gibbering idiots, are higher than this posited god!). We cannot worship something that we are higher than, or that other beings are higher than. If we can know of a being that is “better” (i.e. in power, knowledge, or the like) than the god we know of, then we can only conclude that this OTHER being is, in fact God, rather than that God that we had originally conceived of.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 15, 2009, 3:52 AM
  11. You just gave your definition of what God is or should be, in your own eyes, in order to be worshipped. I’m making no such claims, but merely pondering possibilities. Also, that wasn’t an ad hominem there; it was part and parcel of one of those hypotheses.

    Put more simply, just because you want something to be a certain way doesn’t necessarily make it so. At any rate, Pascal’s Wager fails on numerous other theological and philosophical grounds, the main one being “If you’re just betting on God’s existence as a kind of fire insurance, and we have it on Biblical authority that God does not accept this kind of lukewarm worship, you’re STILL boned since He can see right through you.”

    See, this is why people say hardcore Christians have a persecution complex and see attacks around every corner. I’m actually not an atheist myself (the claim makes as little sense to me as definitely stating that there IS a God, period), but you seem to have jumped to that assumption immediately. The majority of atheists I know are actually rather gentle about it and will readily admit that we can’t know, but that they just don’t see evidence; it’s only the “new atheists” like Dawkins and his ilk who go all holy war on theists. Ironic, isn’t it, how new atheism has all the trappings of a religion itself…

    Posted by Jude | October 16, 2009, 8:42 AM
    • No, what I am saying, is that by definition God is maximally great. It’s not that that’s what I want God to be, but that that is what God must be. If there was a being greater than God, then THAT being would be God. Period.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 16, 2009, 3:47 PM
    • further, it seems that, like others who have posted here before, you forget the part of my post in which I specifically state:
      “Before I proceed, I should note that I absolutely do not think Pascal’s Wager is a good tool for witnessing, nor is it all that great as an argument. But it is, I think valid, and while it should not be used as a reason to believe, it does provide what, in logic, is called a dilemma for the atheists.”

      In other words, you telling me that Pascal’s Wager fails on theological grounds is you telling me what I have already acknowledged. I know that it does, and I wouldn’t say it doesn’t.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 16, 2009, 4:42 PM
  12. You’re missing the point. Yes, by definition, God is maximally great…by *your* definition, and those who believe like you (or, conversely, those whom you believe like). You’re arguing from definition, which is a fallacy. This *is* what you want God to be like because you would not (and indeed, should not) worship any being who is not maximally great.

    But it is only one definition, and being held by over 4.5 billion people (Muslims and Chistians) does not make it true, cf. argumentum ad populum. There is no reason that “God must be maximally great” unless you are starting from the presupposition of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God. I’m starting from a blank slate, as it were. Arguments from definition are fallacies. It frightens me how obviously intelligent you are and what a heavy grip on the practice of logic and debate you have, but that you can’t see this.

    Posted by Jude | October 16, 2009, 7:28 PM

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