Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pascal's Wager

I’ve been convinced for a very long time that Pascal’s Wager is a very persuasive argument for many creationists.

Most people are probably familiar with Pascal’s Wager, but for those who haven’t heard about it the Wager was the brainchild of Blaise Pascal. Pascal was a famous 17th century French mathematician and philosopher. He was also a devout Christian and even wrote a treatise on Christian apologetics (i.e. providing a rational basis for believing in God primarily by “proving” that the Bible is inerrant). Pascal presented a logical argument in favor of believing in God which he called a "Wager". He gave a long, multi-paragraph explanation of his argument. Basically the argument is that believing in God gives you nothing to lose.

Creationists have summarized the Wager more succinctly. Here’s how the Answers in Genesis web site paraphrases it[1]:

“How can anyone lose who chooses to become a Christian? If, when he dies, there turns out to be no God and his faith was in vain, he has lost nothing—in fact, he has been happier in life than his non-believing friends. If, however, there is a God and a heaven and hell, then he has gained heaven and his skeptical friends will have lost everything in hell.

The appeal of the wager is obvious. In my view it is so appealing that it convinces many people who wouldn’t otherwise accept creationism to do so, Noah’s Ark and all.

Why wouldn’t it convince anyone?

There is, in fact, a very significant problem with the Wager.

Formally it suffers from a logical fallacy called the “False Dichotomy” also known as the “False Dilemma”. The wager assumes only two possible alternatives: atheism and Christianity. But, in fact, there are innumerable possible other alternatives.

For example, possibly the true “Master of the Universe” is Allah, the God of Islam. In that case, Allah might decide to punish the infidels who worship as Christians. Therefore being a Christian may guarantee that you end up with eternal punishment.

Most relevantly, it doesn’t address whether or not people should believe in evolution. There is no support for the idea that you’re going to hell if you believe in evolution. Surely it is possible to be a Christian and believe in evolution. So it makes absolutely no sense to use Pascal’s Wager as a reason to reject evolution and require a belief in an inerrant Bible.

Personally, I have always insisted that creationism demands a belief in a God who is cruel, deceptive and not very competent. Therefore creationism – as opposed to Christianity – is quite anti-God. It seems quite likely that if hell exists (I honestly don’t believe that it does) creationists - as opposed to evolution-believing Christians – are probably destined for there.

In that case, creationists lose both sides of Pascal’s Wager.

In other words, creationists are guaranteed losers.

[1] http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v20/i1/scientist.asp, referenced on May 5, 2009

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