Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fallacies: Pascal's Wager and Special Pleading

"Their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up."
-Hosea 13:16

This entire fallacy can be summed up in the question, "What if you're wrong?" The argument is then made as follows. If there is no god, you've lost nothing. If there is a God, then the believers get and infinite payoff and the nonbelievers get and infinite punishment or negative payoff, as shown in the following table:

Table of PayoffsBelieve in GodDon't believe in God
God doesn't exist00
God exists+∞ (Heaven)−∞ (Hell)
Theists claim that, even if the probability of God existing is unknown, believing has an infinitely better outcome than not believing, therefore you should believe in God just in case he exists, because it is a safe bet. There are innumerable things wrong with this wager. This will be a long post.

Begging the Question

This wager commits the fallacy of begging the question by assuming the conclusion in the premise. What if the god that exists is not the Judeo-Christian god, but is instead a god who rewards only those who have demonstrated logical prowess and skeptical thinking? Then only those who do not believe in god would go to heaven. The probabilities for either god's existence is unknown, making the expected outcomes for belief and non-belief undefined. This situation can be demonstrated as follows:

Table of PayoffsBelieve in GodDon't believe in God
God doesn't exist00
Conventional god exists+∞ (Heaven)−∞ (Hell)
Anti-conventional god exists−∞ (Hell)+∞ (Heaven)
Special Pleading

Special pleading is when you claim that a particular chain of logic applies to all things except whatever fits your argument. By making this argument, you invoke special pleading by ignoring the fact that this argument could be used by anyone from any religion. It is equally valid to suppose that you believe in your god for your entire life, then when you die, it turns out you were wrong, and the real god is one of a different religion. Now you're in the same boat I am. There are obscenely many different religions in the world, most of which claiming that you must believe to be rewarded in the afterlife. Every single one of those religions could make this claim, and, if you accept Pascal's Wager, you would be forced to accept all of these claims. What if I told you that you have to give me ten dollars every Saturday for the rest of your life. If you do, then when you die you get to live in a palace and experience pure pleasure forever. If you don't give me this money, then after you die 36 dogs will pee on you forever in the afterlife. You can't be sure, but compared to an eternity, its worth paying me right? This demonstrates just how flawed Pascal's Wager is.

More Than Nothing to Lose

Pascal's wager tends to assert that by believing in a god, you lose nothing. For one thing, you go through life believing a lie, which is a bad thing in itself. Most believers spend time in a church or synagogue or mosque and contribute a lot of money as well. Those massive churches and cathedrals you see around town are funded by those donations, and all of that is a waste if the god does not exist. Religious organizations are tax exempt, so all of that money could instead be going to schools and healthcare. Additionally, when you accept the mindset where you can just answer a question with 'God did it' you have little incentive to continue exploring the question. This limits us in both scientific inquiry, science education, and morality. Rather than actually thinking about what you do, you accept an arbitrary code of conduct, which may be fundamentally flawed. For anyone who says there is no downside to people believing, I encourage them to read up on the details of the story of Andrea Yates. She had five children, and their ages were approaching the teens. She was worried they would stop believing in God and did not want them to go to Hell. She murdered her five children because she reasoned that she would endure the fires of Hell if it meant that her children could be saved. Religion is not benign.

IV. Apostasy as the One Unforgivable Sin

According to this argument, the only way to go to Heaven is to believe, and if you do not then you go to Hell. This implies that if I spend my entire life doing only good deeds, and then I die because I jumped in front of a bus to save an orphan, I am sent to Hell where I will suffer an eternity of torture. On the other side, I can be a serial rapist who has killed 35 women, but as I'm getting shot down by the police, in the last three seconds of my life, if I say and mean, "Oh my god, I realized I was wrong, I believe now," then I go to an eternity of bliss. This is fundamentally flawed and immoral.

Hopefully this post has demonstrated just how flawed Pascal's Wager is. You admit not to know God's will, you have no idea which god, if any, exists, you do have something to lose by spending your life believing in a god, and your claim posits a completely immoral system of solifidarianism or salvation by faith alone. The argument is in many ways flawed.


  1. Makes perfect sense, in absence of all evidence of God's existence. Before anyone can gain meaning from this post, you need to show that there is no proof that he does.

  2. Not true, for the same reason that you don't have to show me evidence that after you die I wont zap you with my taser gun. You can't provide proof there is no reason to believe it, but you dont believe it, because it has no evidence. If you wish to supply me with evidence, go ahead.

  3. Right, but being that its your blog and not mine, and I don't feel like having a full debate right now, I would recommend that in a subsequent post you find some "common proofs of God" and disprove them. All of your articles are written as if you have done this already, and fall apart if you assume that you can prove God's existence to the point where you don't have to "gamble" because there is no uncertainty.

  4. "All of my articles" so far have simply been regarding fallacies, errors in reasoning and logic. And yes, obviously certain arguments would fall apart if there was proof that a god existed. Why would I assume God's existence could be proven? That's a very big assumption. Can you prove your god's existence to the point where there is no uncertainty? And I will eventually make such posts, just to save time in debates. I made this blog two days ago, though, not six months ago xD. Still working on it.

  5. kk just a sugestion ^^
    looking forward to it