Some Musings on Pascal’s Wager

As you may know, my OCD flares up from time to time and centers around the fear of hell via Pascal’s wager (PW). I was listening to a podcast by The Scathing Atheist that went on about this topic of “what if you’re wrong” that made me realize a few things I wish to share with you. The fear of hell is a powerful motivator, but when one proposes ridiculous wagers , my OCD has tentacles that want to avert pain, but my repulsion of the wager ultimately wins out.

Here’s an example:

What if mustard and ketchup should never be combined, (especially on hot dogs … and especially not on July 4th) on pain of infinite punishment.

To many people this sounds ridiculous, and it is! I find it ridiculous, but I can’t help focusing on the infinite punishment part of the equation. Despite the fact that there is virtually 0.00% chance of this being true, there is a hint of manipulation in it that repulses me. My nature is at the same time pretty risk-averse.  These two ideas lead me into an internal fight with the wager. In other words, I don’t want to be presented with a wager in which there is an extreme consequence to such an arbitrary condition that has no evidence. This is no different than PW. There isn’t any evidence for the existence of God. I concede that it may be possible, but any actual independently verifiable evidence is non-existent. The Bible, Qur’an and most other holy books are extremely suspect and unclear while disagreeing between each other making a mockery of the verse; 1 Corinthians 14:33 God is not the author of confusion…

With regards to Christianity and PW, here’s is just a sampling of questions that are incomprehensible to me. It’s difficult to believe that a human can be both fully God and fully man. What does that even mean really!? Where’s the sacrifice? How does Jesus’ sacrifice atone for sin exactly? He was only dead for three days. How does this atone for all sins? What was accomplished? Even if he descended into hell for those three days, isn’t the punishment eternal damnation or annihilation? How does all of mankind’s sin (or the elect depending on your flavor of Christianity) become absolved through the act of a blood sacrifice? Why is believing it or not matter? The arbitrariness of belief is bizarre to me. How can one love something that simultaneously threatens them with eternal torture for not believing in these things? What does that say about the God that is being worshiped here? Clearly, hell is only a tactic of intimidation. It is with some irony that I would have probably remained some variant of Christian if it weren’t for the hell doctrine. I wouldn’t have questioned my beliefs because I wouldn’t have needed to. Such a gross injustice is so incompatible with mercy, whether perfect or not. On presenting God as a deity that is “infinitely just” and “infinitely merciful” it forces these two ideas to become the proverbial “immovable object meeting an irresistible force.” It broke my brain, so to speak, and it definitely broke my faith.

The problem with PW is that it presses the point so hard with an incomprehensibly bad outcome, that it nullifies itself – essentially breaking the wager. Any attempt to salvage PW with God’s love is simply a bad joke without a punchline.

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5 responses to “Some Musings on Pascal’s Wager”

  1. Ignostic Dave says :

    The problem with Pascal’s Wager is that it arbitrarily decides that the Christian God is the only possible option. I choose to believe that, if there is a god, he is deistic in nature, and only respects free thought. When good Bible thumpers die, their life ends, but when a rational skeptic – aware of how little he knows – dies, he is whisked off to an eternity of novel experiences in an infinite universe.

  2. Herb Schaffler says :

    I’m a materialist so I can’t see how the mind can continue to exist after the brain dies, because the brain gives rise to the mind. How can a spirit exist? How can such a spirit think without neurons? How can such a spirit be conscious of anything without senses?

    • The Scrupulous Atheist says :

      I’m a philosophical naturalist, but OCD makes it tough to sort out because of the way this stuff makes me feel. I’m of the same opinion that once dead, that’s it! But OCD is insidious. OCD undercuts the confidence of the mind which is why I struggle with irrational ideas. It’s as if my rational brain doesn’t match my emotional state in a specific way.

      • Herb Schaffler says :

        I know exactly what you mean. I have the same problem. It’s like the person who doubts whether or not he turned off the light when he can clearly see he did. His brain keeps telling him that he didn’t turn off the light. OCD is an emotional hallucination.

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