Pascal's Wager Refuted

Theodore M. Drange


The argument (call it "PW") may be formulated as follows:

(a) If God exists, then whoever doesn't believe in him will end up being eternally tormented or at least annihilated. 

(b) If God exists, then whoever believes in him will gain eternal life. 

(c) If God doesn't exist, then whether or not people believe in him can't matter very much. 

(d) Hence [from (a)-(c)], nontheists are running a grave risk. At the very least, the expected utility of their belief situation is infinitely worse than that of theists. 

(e) But such people are able to self-induce theistic belief. 

(f) Therefore [from (d) & (e)], all nontheists ought to change their beliefs and become theists.

Here are some objections to PW:

1. It is possible to prove that God does not exist. [See the atheism section of the Secular Web.] Hence, premises (a) & (b) of PW are moot or irrelevant.

2. There is no good reason to believe PW's premise (a), and there are many theists who would deny it. Furthermore, if that premise were true, then that would provide a basis for the Argument from Nonbelief, which is a strong argument for God's nonexistence. Thus, the given premise is weak and conceptually problematic.

3. According to the Bible, more is required for salvation than mere belief in God. One also needs to believe in God's son (Mark 16:16; John 3:18,36, 8:21-25, 14:6; Acts 4:10-12; I John 5:12), repent (Luke 13:3,5), be born again (John 3:3), be born of the water and of the Spirit (John 3:5), believe everything in the gospel (Mark 16:16), eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood (John 6:53), be like a child (Mark 10:15), and do good deeds, esp. for needy people (Matt. 25:41-46; Rom. 2:5-10; John 5:28-29; James 2:14-26). Therefore, premise (b) of PW is not generally true, so far as the Bible is concerned. And, furthermore, apart from the Bible, there is no reason whatever to believe that premise. Thus, PW's premise (b) can reasonably be doubted.

4. Most people who believe in God devote significant time to prayer and church activities. Such people presumably also contribute money, perhaps a tithe (10% of their income). Without that belief, most of them would not do such things. In addition, many such people go through life with inhibitions on both thought and behavior. (Consider, for example, inhibitions regarding sexual practices, marriage & divorce, birth control, abortion, reading material, and association with other people.) In many cases, those inhibitions are quite extreme and may have great effects on one's life and the lives of others. In some communities, women are oppressed on the basis of theistic belief. Also, some theists have persecuted and even killed others (as in inquisitions, religious wars, attacks on homosexuals, abortionists, etc.) because of their belief that that is what God wants them to do. Furthermore, some people (e.g., clergymen) devote their entire lives to God. For these various reasons, even if God does not exist, it would indeed matter a great deal whether or not one believes in God, at least for most such believers. It follows that premise (c) of PW is false.

5. It may be that God does not exist and, instead, some other being rules the universe. That being may dislike intensely and may inflict infinite punishment on anyone who believes in God or who believes anything out of self-interest (as recommended in PW). But a person who comes to believe in God on the basis of PW would in that case be in "a heap of trouble," even though God does not exist. The expected utility of the theist's belief situation would be infinitely worse than that of the nontheist. It follows that premise (c) of PW is false.

6. To believe in God, one must believe propositions that are, from the standpoint of most nontheists, impossible (or at least very hard) to believe. For that reason, PW's premise (e) can be rejected.

7. Belief is not directly subject to the will. So, it is impossible (or at least very difficult) for nontheists to self-induce theistic belief. This also renders PW's premise (e) false.

For all of these reasons, PW ought to be rejected.

Top