Gambling on God is a Bad Bet

Wouldn't you rather believe in God and be wrong?
Than not to believe in God and be wrong?
If you believe in God and you're wrong, you've lost nothing,
But if you don't believe and you're wrong it's all suffering.

I've responded to this argument in previous posts, but would like to expand more fully in this post. Some theists, typically when they have no good arguments for their position or haven't carefully studied both sides of the arguments, attempt to employ Pascal's Wager (the above argument). At face value, for those who haven't really thought about this wager, believing in God seems to be the way to go because you'll get a reward instead of a punishment...and there's nothing to lose! I will argue that gambling on God is a bad bet that you simply can't afford to make.

  • Problem One: Intellectually honest belief is not a matter of choice.

If you're being intellectually honest, you simply can't "choose to believe" something. On matters of beliefs, we (hopefully) consider arguments for and against a position and come to a conclusion based on what we feel is correct and warranted. I can't simply choose to believe in Santa Claus, for example, because I am very confident that Santa Claus is a myth and I have seen no good evidence to suggest that Santa exists.

If I feel that there is no compelling evidence for a position, I simply shouldn't hold a positive belief. There's also no such thing as "no evidence either way." If I choose to "fake" a belief, an all-knowing God would be able to "read my mind"and see right through the facade. In order to really believe in God, we have to personally believe that he exists...especially when we committed to a personal philosophy of needing good evidence for belief.

I suppose that it is possible for a person to knowingly hold a belief on insufficient evidence or believe that God exists just because the belief provides comfort or because we want it to be true, but all of these reasons for belief are incredibly dishonest. We ought to believe in certain propositions because they are supported by sufficient evidence, reason, and good argument. We should want to have as many justified true beliefs as possible instead of beliefs that are "chosen."

  • Problem Two: Why pick on the Judeo-Christian God?

Pascal's Wager usually employs a specific god...but what about the other gods that might exist? What about the Skeptical God that rewards people for not believing in any gods and punishes people who believe in any gods? What if the Egyptian pantheon is true?

  • Problem Three : If we're worried about avoiding punishment, shouldn't we believe in all the gods to avoid their punishments?

  • Problem Four: We're assuming that what we're asserting exists...

How do we even know that God exists? If we don't have good reason to believe, we simply shouldn't believe...this should be the core question. It's very easy to find arguments for God and counter-arguments to the arguments. Instead of rolling dice to get a reward, we should first examine that what we're betting on actually exists.

  • Problem Five: A God who rewards on the basis of belief and punishes people who simply don't believe is immoral, evil, or both.

I find it very difficult to believe in a god like this. If the believer would agree that Hell doesn't exist or that non-believers won't go there, the implications of Heaven and Hell go out the window and the argument is invalid. If the theist insists that people will go to Hell just because they don't believe, I think that we could be justified in not believing that an all-loving god like this exists. If this sort of God does exist, he's evil, not worthy of worship, and the atheist is fucked. Oh well. I don't think the non-believer has to worry about the punishment, anyway, because there is no good reason to believe in the Christian god or Hell. Let's focus on the evidence instead of assuming that this god exists.

  • Problem Six: Belief isn't "Zero Cost"
Believers often "spend considerable amounts" attending to their religious duties including, but not limited to attending church, praying, tithing, giving up living a life they choose to live, feeling guilty about committing religious-based sins, etc. Belief may also cause a person to stop seeking knowledge about a certain topic and close the mind, cause someone to never have sex or masturbate, cause someone to harass people they disagree with, cause someone to convince others of a lie and lead others to loss of time, resources, and personal freedoms, etc. Many forms of religious belief inform actions and shape a person's life in a negative manner. If a person spends so much time devoting him/herself to God and this god doesn't exist, he/she certainly did not have a zero cost belief.

We shouldn't hold a belief because of potential rewards or punishments. We should demand proper evidence and reason to hold a belief. Pascal's Wager is a silly argument that should not cause a person to pause and want to believe. There's no reason fear Hell because there is no evidence that suggests it exists.

Enjoy this video by TheraminTrees: