Pascal’s Wager Summary  To see larger chart or:

1. You should believe in God.

2. The chance that God exists is positive and finite.

3. If you believe in God and he exists, you’ll get an infinite reward. If you believe in God and he doesn’t exist, you’ll have only a finite loss.

[This may not be true, and even if it is true it’s not something that Pascal has any right to claim.]

4. Believing in God has an infinite expected utility.

5. If you don’t believe in God and he exists, you’ll either win nothing or else you’ll lose something. If you don’t believe in God and he doesn’t exist, you’ll win only a finite gain.

[This may not be true, and even if it is true it’s not something that Pascal has any right to claim.]

6. Not believing in God has a finite gain or negative expected utility.

7. Believing in God has a much higher expected utility than not believing in God.

8. You should do that which has the higher expected utility.

[Maybe we shouldn’t adopt beliefs on the basis of utility. And maybe it’s impossible to do so, anyway.]

Pascal addresses our criticism of premise 8 by endorsing a type of indirect voluntarism according to which, if we behave as though we believe in God, we will eventually acquire this belief. The fact that this acquisition may be at the expense of “deadening our acuteness” is of no concern to Pascal. His Wager, he thinks, has shown the importance of believing in God for whatever reason and at whatever cost.


If you want, we can consider how our study of the philosophy of religion raises the same questions that we saw in our study of epistemology.

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Replies to This Discussion

Okay ... the two points I tend to like to bring to Pascal's Bullshit Wager:

  1. How does one MAKE themselves believe something, particularly something patently unbelievable by any rational standard.
  2. Why should I expect to fool an omniscient god if I am only believing "just in case?"  Such a god would see through any attempt at deception.

Belief in god defies both logic and evidence, even as belief in either heaven or hell do.  While there has been no end of talk about all these concepts, not one ounce of hard evidence can be brought to the table in support of any of them.

I still count KNOWING as more important and more valuable than BELIEVING.  Anyone can believe anything, but belief still doesn't equate to confirmed knowledge, nor does it alter such knowledge.  It reminds me a bit of the childhood cry of "I know something you don't know!" when the one saying it may or may not know something of value, or is merely bluffing.

Blaise Pascal was and is bluffing a busted flush, and I'm not having any.

Oh dear, I didn't give enough information. I agree with you about the wager; I don't know anything about Pascal.  I was asked about Pascal's Wager and I sent this from another source. I gave the source from which I copied the information.

Didn't mean to lead you to think I had sunk back into that sink hole of religion.  

I didn't think you did, Joan ... but Pascal's Wager is a sore subject with me ... as is religion in general.

Loren and Gregg, I forgot that everyone reads or can read a post and I should have addressed my Pascal's Wager information.
I am glad you both know me well enough to know I am not trying to scare people into believing. I had done all my criticizing of it in the earlier comment on another link, as it turned out.

I've met some of these people who admit that atheists may be right but keep on believing ´just in case´. I despise them.

Chris, it is hard to understand blind faith. Some of the things I miss about being part of a religious community are the music, art, pot-luck suppers, summer camp for families.
Well, those things are doable; music that celebrates life makes me happier. Naturalistic art is one source of visual arts, and I am sure there are others that cause our spirits to rise and motivate us to be fully human. Developing close relationships with family and friends who do not bombard us with theology gets easier. Summer camp for me is not something I am interested in, but I do love a strong, powerful discussion with others about creating a healthier and happier life in community. Exploring locally for food sources takes me into new and interesting territory and people. Searching for energy sources other than fossil fuel often brings out interesting discoveries. Learning how to eat lower on the food chain invites one to experiment.
So, all-in-all, life is not only better, happier, more challenging and less stressful, it just plain feels good.
It is easy to state I am an atheist, I find no verifiable evidence of god or higher power, and I can stand with dignity and pride and self-awareness, even as I see and feel the pain of all that is wrong with religion.

Here's the real wager:  If I decide to try and fool God into thinking my belief is sincere, will I supplement that sentiment with such things as openly discriminating against homosexuals, kicking my gay child out into the streets, giving my hard earned and desparately needed savings to a televangeli$t, becoming a televangeli$t, indirectly encouraging the spread of AIDS and unwanted pregnancy by supporting my religion's position on contraception, giving charity towards an architectual addition to a church rather than the hungry homeless children in the church's neighborhood, contributing to the dumbing down of the next generation by supporting creationism in public school curriculum, etc.

Future, you nailed that coffin shut. There is just nothing to attract me, and it seems a lot of other people into the ranks of the obedient flocks of sheep. There is something about being obedient that attracts deviance of thought.
I know my prejudice shows with this statement, but in my experience, religious people and military people tend to have trouble finding a moral core that makes sense. It is as though they put their internal moral compass on "hold" and try to live by someone else's morals and make a mess of their own lives and the lives of others. How can a moral man walk into a hut and shoot everything that moves? Where does he find peace in that? In his religion?

The connection between religion and the military is incomprehensibly rigid to me.  How ironic is it that the military uses chaplains for the purpose of consoling the wounded and emboldening those heading into a theatre of war for which they may not return, and never uses them up the ranks to stop war from occuring in the first place, or in a position to bring peace as early as possible?  That seems very contrary to the teachings of their imaginary savior.

I just finished the book American Sniper, an autobiography of Chris Kyle - the most lethal sniper in American history.  This guy is a SEAL who has killed hundreds of insurgents, which served to protect our military.  He proudly proclaims that he loves war, and many times throughout the book announced that he is a Christian - and an extremely foul mouthed one at that.  The biggest conflict between he and his wife was the order of priorities that each had - his were God, country, family - hers were God, family, country.  It seems completely ridiculous that God is first in both lists, when the reality of the situation is that he killed men, women and teenagers for a living.

Future, I agree with everything you said. I was an army dependent for 12 years+ and an active member of the chapel. I went to our chaplains for help and was given excellent training in how to cope, not how to think if I should stand up for myself or get out of my hell. That is why I wrote "The Passive Gospel" and its consequences on me and our children. I am writing "A Splendid Heresy" now and having a devil of a time sticking with it. I like reading and writing on Atheist Nexus far more. 

One thing that bothered me about that life was the distinction between worthy rich and deserving poor. Just could never make that work for me. It was only after I realized the concept of "dominionism" did I realize why belief in god created so many terrible things throughout its history and such cognitive dissonance in me.  Slavery, subordination of women, hierarchical structures, etc. 

Atheism comes easily to me, I feel comfortable and empowered by its principle and those who participate. 


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