Pascal’s Problem: A Mathematical Disproof of Pascal’s Wager

Pascal’s Problem: A Mathematical Disproof of Pascal’s Wager December 5, 2016

Guest Post This guest post comes from Chad DeVillier. He was raised Creationist/Christian, was very active in church, and attended bible college for a couple of years. He began questioning and eventually left the life of faith behind.

Pascal’s Wager (or Pascal’s Gambit) is stated in simple form thusly: It is better to bet on the existence of God because if you believe (B) and there is a god (G), your gain is +∞ (infinite reward), but if there isn’t a god (–G), your loss is –1 (inconsequentially small). If you don’t believe (–B) and there isn’t a god (–G), your gain is +1 (finite reward), but if there is a god (+G), your loss is –∞ (infinite punishment).

It can be expressed visually as follow:

image 1

The problem with Pascal’s Wager (the one I’m putting forth, anyway) is that it is one sided in its perspective. It was formulated within a Christian framework and, as with most ideas formulated in such a manner, it only takes into account the religious perspective.

The postulation states basically that belief in the specific deity yields infinite gain if true and finite loss if false, whereas disbelief in that deity yields infinite loss if true and finite gain if false. And from the selected monotheistic standpoint, this of course is true.

If your chosen deity exists, you lose one fleeting lifetime in pursuit of him (at the expense of your own autonomy) in order to gain blissful eternity by accepting him, rendering your lifetime on Earth unimportant in comparison. If one doesn’t believe in this deity, he or she loses out on said eternity because he or she wagered to win only one lifetime of pursuing his or her own brand of happiness. The choice, for the Christian, is clear.

But what if this were viewed from a non-religious context? Would the formula still look the same? I submit that no, it would not, and here’s why. Firstly, Blaise Pascal is allowing for two options and two alone—God or not God. He is ignoring the multitude of other gods, many of whom are expressly concerned with being the only god of choice. To choose one is to not only reject “not God” but to reject all the other gods fighting for your undivided allegiance.

The odds are now a very far cry from the 50/50 that Pascal initially proposed, because a bet in favor of any wrong god is a bet against the right one, and in addition to the thousands of known gods throughout history, the true god could yet be one that we have no knowledge of currently.

Secondly, a lifetime can only be understood as a finite gain or loss if your maximum understanding is infinity. But from the perspective of a nontheist, infinity is not on the table. The maximum span of a human’s existence is one lifetime, and therefore is the closest he or she can come to infinity.

Taking this perspective into account—with one lifetime being another infinity—the equation goes from this:

image 2

… to this:

image 3

The reason for this is simple: if there is no God, there is no infinite afterlife. The devout believer who is incorrect has not misspent one lifetime in the span of an eternity, they have misspent one lifetime when that is all there is and ever will be for them. A lifetime is their infinity, and the devout believer has spent it praying to either nothing or—random deity forbid—to the wrong god who is now disallowing them into the afterlife, bringing about either nonexistence or an afterlife of punishment.

In this last case, the net loss for the believer is infinitely negative. The formula above includes for such a contingent in the form of -∞. This allows for the parameters to be set by each specific possibility: in the maximum span of infinity, the infinite is infinite; in the maximum span of a lifetime, a lifetime is infinite.

One should notice that the above formula shows equal potential for gain or loss for both categories, the believer and the nonbeliever. If there are no other variables to take into account, there would be no perceivable benefit in either accepting the Christian god or rejecting him. Therefore, there is neither mathematical advantage nor disadvantage to disbelief.

It is important to note that, in matters of science, one must always begin with disbelief and only develop belief as facts emerge and are tested; one may indeed begin with an idea, but only an idea void of rigid belief since there exists at the onset no objective proof to form the basis of rigid belief. As the idea is tested, it is modified over time until it can be objectively seen as a credible and vindicated theory.

With mathematics unable to aid us in making a logical decision, the scientific mind must turn to other variables. Pascal’s Wager—while once explorative with probability theory and beneficial in the very inception of decision theory—is of no use here. It is antiquated and largely disproven, much like the religion it was intended to validate.

I have to confess that I now regard “the case for theism” as a fraud
and I can no longer take it seriously enough
to present it to a class as a respectable philosophical position—
no more than I could present intelligent design
as a legitimate biological theory.
— philosopher Keith Parsons,

on his leaving his profession

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  • Raging Bee

    As an alternative, I offer what I call the Rager’s Wager:

    If there is no god, or god doesn’t really care about humans, then the best policy would be to do the best we can, and be the best we can, in this life, since we have to do the right thing in this life anyway, and there’s little chance of any reward in the afterlife, if any.

    If there is a god, and he cares about how we act and treat each other in this life, then the best policy would be to do the best we can, and be the best we can, in this life, since we have to do the right thing in this life anyway, and that’s what would get us rewarded in the afterlife as well.

    If there is a god, and all he cares about is how slavishly we worship and praise and sacrifice for him/her/whatever, then the chances of us getting it right, or even good enough, in his eyes, is so small that we might as well just stick to doing the right things in this life, since, as I said above, we have to do that anyway.

    Place your bets, folks…

    • Jim Jones

      “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

      ― Marcus Aurelius (attributed)

      • Kevin K

        Yep. And since he wrote well before Pascal proposed his wager — Pascal was wrong before he even got started, wasn’t he?

      • Raging Bee

        Okay, so we call it the Aurelian Wager, he seems to have stated it first, and better.

      • Pofarmer

        I wish I could up vote this more times.

        • Robert Templeton

          I will up vote you to increase the times. 🙂

    • Humanist Manifesto 4.0!

      How about this version: Find the religion with the most hideous afterlife for nonbelievers and believe that one. Of course, it must be a religion with a doofus as a god so that he doesn’t know that you’re just hedging your bets.

  • Sophia Sadek

    Back in the day, failure to confess belief in the One True God (the material Creator of the flat and immobile Earth) could result in a violent death at the hands of the Inquisition. That proves the infinite mercy of deity in question…


    • Kodie

      So, belief or worship of whatever one true god they’re selling gains one the rest of the life you were already living, whereas denying it ends the only life you have, so the better bet is to believe, or at least say you do.

      • Pofarmer

        That’s Why I think there’s also a genetic component to beleif beyond just he psychological reasons. For centuries non believers were actively weeded out and ostracized.

    • I was listening to a podcast that listed the trials by ordeal that heretics or other bad people were forced to endure. Like walking on hot stones or metal, and then God would heal the injury quickly if you were bad. Or ducking, where if you drowned you were good and if you didn’t you got burned?

      But if God is called upon to give a clue to his preference, why not leave the person alone and ask God to do something bad to them if they’re a bad person? God is making clear his intentions either way (it’s a shame he can’t actually speak, but never mind).

      Maybe the Christian judges were just sadists.

      • Sophia Sadek

        I once believed that trials by water and fire were a Christian invention until I found them described in Pagan culture.

        • They carried over from pagan times. Eventually the Church thought of new methods, but not much better at first. Secret trials, torture, etc.

      • Joe

        Maybe the Christian judges were just sadists.

        I just think sadists were happy to be able to find an employer who valued their particular skill set.

      • Chad Courage DeVillier

        Christianity is a symphony of conundrums– God tells us not to kill, but himself kills many; God used to talk directly to people, but now our faith would somehow become counterfeit if he did so; God demands belief, but shrouds himself in obscurity and faulty logic.

        Regarding the sadism of those early Christians, many studies have shown that, when put in positions of domination over others, those with little education tend to abuse it, oftentimes malevolently; I think, in light of how much intelligent thought must be suspended in order to blindly embrace supernatural notions, this might very well explain the virulence of Christians, both in the time of heretics and today..

    • Actually, they largely believed the Earth was round.

      • se habla espol

        Yes, the Inerrant Truth had changed over the years.

        • That one wasn’t declared inerrant truth. Only a minority ever believed in it.

        • MNb

          A minority of what? Of all christians living in Europe, the Middle East and North-Africa?
          That’s something we can’t know.

        • A minority of Christians whose writings mention it.

        • adam
        • That’s heliocentrism, not the flat earth. Completely different.

        • adam

          Yet it does demonstrate willful IGNORANCE of the Church.

          On both subjects.

        • Not in those cases. They were both the consensus of science at the time. Galileo did not and could not prove heliocentrism. It wasn’t proven until the 1800s. This doesn’t excuse his treatment of course.

        • adam

          The notion that the Earth revolves around the Sun had been proposed as early as the 3rd century BC by Aristarchus of Samos,[2

          But understand the very same reason SO MANY people reject evolution over a STORY about Adam and Eve to this very day.

          And there is MUCH MUCH more evidence of evolution than heliocentrism.

        • I realize that, but it couldn’t be proven then. Not everyone had rejected the idea due to religious doctrine, but insufficient evidence. Anyway this is not related to the flat earth.

        • MNb

          What do you mean with proven?
          The observations of Tycho Brahe favoured heliocentrism.

          That’s ironical, because he did his observations to confirm his compromise between Ptolemaeus’ and Copernicus’ model. These observations heavily influenced Johannes Kepler:

          Plus heliocentrism was abandoned in the 1800s in favour of barycentrism – the barycentre of the Solar System usually is near, but outside of the surface of the Sun.

        • Well, the main objection they could not overcome from what I understand was that there should be a stellar parallax. The heliocentrists (rightly (said) this couldn’t be observe as the stars were too far away, but this wasn’t shown before the 1800s by more accurate telescopes. Of course I am not surprised it has been surpassed itself.

        • MNb

          That’s not really an answer. While that was a valid objection the observations of Brahe still favoured heliocentrism – they gave geocentrism even more problems.
          So your claim “could not prove” is an unjustified exaggeration, if only because in a proper meaning nothing can be proven in science anyway. What you have is evidence; that must be weighed and already in the early 17th Century it favoured heliocentrism.

        • How is that not really an answer? I’m going by what I’ve read on the subject, which disagreed with you. From what I remember, the majority of scientists then disagreed with heliocentrism. “Prove” does not mean show without doubt at all, but as you say to the point that anything can be in science. In any case this has gotten way off track after starting with the flat earth.

        • MNb

          Do you mean that people like Bishop Tiedemann Giese, Pope Paulus III, Archbishop Nicolaus von Schonberg and various Jesuits didn’t belong to the RCC?
          Or perhaps you are the one who is guilty of ignorance?
          The RCC is a complicated beast. You can present about as many authorities who opposed the advance of science as authorities who stimulated it. That’s the same today – it’s not hard to find creationist cardinals.
          Better not to generalize.

        • adam

          No, not people at all, the Church stance.

          I think even today the Church demonstrates wilful ignorance of condom use benefits.

        • MNb

          Thanks for clarification.

        • Sure. I should have made it clear. Very probably the commoners felt it was flat, if they ventured an opinion at all. I meant the scholars however. The earth being spherical was the consensus since the time of the ancient Greeks.

      • Zeta


        Like in Isaiah 40:22-“It is He who sits above the circle of the earth…”?
        Earth is a round disc?

        • The ancient Hebrews did probably believe in a flat earth. I was talking about the Christians however. Most didn’t interpret the passage literally, and conveniently that can be viewed as indicating the round earth too. Look up the flat earth for more information on historical views.

      • Sophia Sadek

        Yup. Round like a coin.

        • Or a ball.

        • Isaiah used both circle and sphere. There were two different words, like in English

        • Yes, that makes sense.

        • see Isaiah 40:22 and 22:18 for disk/perimeter and ball/sphere.

        • The second verse isn’t a reference to the earth.

        • Kodie

          I’m Henry the eighth I am
          Henry the eighth I am, I am
          I got married to the widow next door
          She’s been married seven times before
          And every one was an Henry (Henry)
          She wouldn’t have a Willy or a Sam (no Sam)
          I’m her eighth old man, I’m Henry
          Henry the eighth I am

        • Michael Neville

          I haven’t heard that song in years.

        • Exactly. They had a word for sphere but they chose not to use it. Conclusion: the author of that part of Isaiah thought the earth was flat.

        • busterggi

          No, it means their mother taught them never to use sphere words in public.

        • I agree that was likely the case.

        • Sophia Sadek

          It was a small number of people who subscribed to the spherical paradigm.

        • When? In medieval Europe, a majority agreed with it.

        • Sophia Sadek

          Look at references to the Antipodes. There was significant disagreement on its existence.

        • What they disagreed on was if anyone lived on the other side of the Earth, not its being round.

        • Sophia Sadek

          There were some who could not conceive of anyone living on the other side of the Earth because they would fall off. That can hardly be considered an advocate of a spherical Earth.

        • Yes, there was a minority who believed this, but the majority didn’t. That was my point.

        • Sophia Sadek

          Establishing the notion that the majority of “intellectuals” considered the Earth to be spherical is a tough row to hoe.

        • Not really, it’s the historical consensus (in Medieval Europe, I mean to say).

        • Sophia Sadek

          I have seen the assertion from Catholic “historians.” Do you know of a legitimate historian who considers that to be the case?

        • Does being Catholic make them wrong? So far I know, all legitimate historians now agree on this. Here is a very long list of references from the relevant Wikipedia page. I doubt they are all Catholic.

        • Sophia Sadek

          The meta research deserves more effort.

        • I’m not sure what you mean. Was that not a good indication of the historical consensus?

        • Sophia Sadek

          It was a good indication of someone’s perspective on the historical consensus.

        • Okay. I don’t know how to demonstrate it then.

        • adam
        • As I said elsewhere, they didn’t all take it literally.

        • adam

          Citation needed.

        • So look the information up for yourself. I’ve said enough on this I think.

        • adam

          Well, that why I asked:

          The flat Earth model is an archaic conception of the Earth’s shape as a plane or disk. Many ancient cultures subscribed to a flat Earth cosmography, including Greece until the classical period, the Bronze Age and Iron Age civilizations of the Near East until the Hellenistic period, India until the Gupta period (early centuries AD), and China until the 17th century. That paradigm was also typically held in the aboriginal cultures of the Americas, and the notion of a flat Earth domed by the firmament in the shape of an inverted bowl was common in pre-scientific societies.[1]

        • All right, well if you look further down on the page you’ll see what I’m talking about. Go see the “Declining support for the flat Earth” section.

        • adam

          Thank you.

        • Sure, no problem.

        • MNb

          I get a deja vu from that article. Illustrous names like Johannes Chrysostomos and Athanasius of Alexandria argue for a flath earth, despite the evidence. Others are neutral. Others defend the spherical earth and then it becomes widely accepted.
          Exactly that happened in the 16th – 18th Century with heliocentrism.
          Hopefully christian rejection of Evolution Theory will disappear in a similar way.
          It’s interesting to see how christianity always bumps behind scientific progress.

        • Did you note the part where they are the exceptions? Most weren’t “bumping behind” on the flat earth theory. As for heliocentrism, the article there does not indicate what you claim. Copernicus was a priest himself, and encouraged by the Catholic clergy to publish his theory (Luther was against it). It’s not so simple. As to evolution, most Christians seem to accept it. The US is a major outlier for that and other things (though even here I don’t know whether opponents are even a majority).

        • MNb

          Eh?! I write that christianity needed about two centuries to accept heliocentrism and you dispute that by mentioning one christian who supported it and one other who rejects it?!

          And where exactly did I contradict that most christians accept Evolution Theory?! In the USA about 40% of the population is creationist; in The Netherlands it’s 24%. Those numbers seem high enough to me to justify “christian rejection of Evolution Theory.”

          But me dumb, me not get yur comment.

        • My point was they were not “bumping behind”. It’s not possible so simple as saying “Christianity” did this thing or that, since there is no unified religion (hence my mention of Christians with different opinions).

          Regarding evolution, it would be the same. I misread your statement though, I’m sorry.

          Anyway, off track from the flat earth as I said. I think I’m going to drop it now.

        • MNb

          “My point was they were not “bumping behind”.”
          How is “christianity reaches consensus about spherical earth, the rejection of geocentrism and evolution theory 100 – 200 years after science establishes it not bumping behind?

        • It’s one of the least monolithic religions in existence, so expecting to reach consensus on anything is unlikely. Thus far, I haven’t in fact seen evidence a majority rejects/rejected these things.

        • MNb

          “Thus far, I haven’t in fact seen evidence a majority rejects/rejected these things.”
          It would be nice if you didn’t try to put worths in my mouth. That’s way beneath your normal level. I claimed that christianity only was capable of reaching consensus on scientific issues 100 – 200 years after they were established by science. I gave three specific examples, not that a majority of christians rejected them. This strongly smells like a strawman.

          “It’s one of the least monolithic religions in existence, so expecting to reach consensus on anything is unlikely.”
          Which only confirms my “christianity always bumps behind scientific progress” and contradicts your “My point was they were not bumping behind”.
          You’re getting silly.

          What’s more – “consensus on anything is unlikely” should be a problem for apologists claiming “other paths to knowledge”.

        • I wasn’t trying to put words in your mouth. My view was that consensus is an agreement by a majority, thus the comment. So it turns out I’m wrong, it means agreement by everyone in a group. My own ignorance.

          Well you said earlier they took so long to reach a consensus. I said they didn’t reach it at all. So, it seems I confused myself here. Anyway yes, there is no consensus, that is not all of the Christians everywhere agree with evolution, the round earth and heliocentrism I suppose. It seems we are both right… kind of? I honestly don’t know anymore.

          Sure, it would be a problem of theirs. One of many.

          I think this conversation should be ended now, sorry for any perceived insult. That definitely wasn’t my intent, just a result of some confusion.

        • MNb

          “it means agreement by everyone in a group.”
          Technically yes, but here I’d be satisfied with 95 % And I think it’s safe to say that at least 95% of all christians accept the spherical Earth and reject geocentrism (heliocentrism is actually as wrong as geocentrism – the Sun is not in the centre of our Universe).
          No need for apologies, I didn’t perceive any insult. If anyone you only harmed yourself.

          OK then, to rephrase it without any condescence: to make 95% of christians accept a sensitive scientific conclusion takes 100 – 200 years longer than it takes scientists. Better?

        • I wonder how many support evolution overall. Heliocentrism is still true in the solar system I thought, or was that wrong too?

          On evolution at least that appears to be true. I don’t know about the rest for sure.

        • MNb

          “wonder how many support evolution overall.”
          Like I already wrote, a bit more than 40% of all Americans and about 24% of all Dutch reject evolution.

          “Heliocentrism is still true in the solar system I thought”
          Depends. If you think mathematical simplicity a good reason, yes, then it’s true. If you don’t then no, you can put yourself in the centre of the Solar System as well. Calculating the orbit of the Moon becomes just very difficult.

        • epeeist

          If you don’t then no, you can put yourself in the centre of the Solar System as well.

          Put yourself at the centre, assume circular orbits and that the measured distances between planets is correct. Now calculate the velocity of Neptune…

        • MNb

          What is it? Sextic equation or something?

        • epeeist

          What is it? Sextic equation or something?

          Don’t try to make it so complicated.

          Put yourself at the centre of a circle, I presume that given the radius you can calculate the circle’s circumference 😉

          Now the closest that Neptune comes to Earth is 4.3 billion kilometres (source), which is 3.98 light hours. Thus the circumference of the circle is approximately 25 light hours. Given that FAPP Neptune appears at the same spot in the sky at the same time each night then it covers this distance in 24 hours…

        • Well yes, I meant for Christians overall in the world. I suppose there’s probably no data for that however.


        • adam

          “It’s one of the least monolithic religions in existence, so expecting to reach consensus on anything is unlikely”

          Which makes it the least reliable for truth claims.

        • It says nothing good that they have so much disagreement, indeed.

        • adam

          But it does say SOMETHING about the validity of its stated goals having the backing of s supreme being to meet those goals.

        • adam
        • They didn’t take it all literally.

        • MNb

          Nope. Try

          The last intellectual who accepted “round like a coin” died 24 centuries ago.

        • Are we talking about intellectuals?

        • Sophia Sadek

          There was a Jesuit who wrote about the competing paradigms in the sixteenth century. He pointed out that there were a significant number of “intellectuals” who considered the Earth to be flat.

        • MNb

          Do you have a source?

        • Sophia Sadek

          Check out the writings of this guy:

        • MNb

          A bit vague. But I’ll keep it in mind in case I meet confirmation.

        • Sophia Sadek

          Have you read what the guy wrote? It is anything but vague.

        • MNb

          Your comment and link was a bit vague. I didn’t assert anything about De Acosta, indeed because I never even had heard of him. Worse, I couldn’t find anything substantial on internet. And no, just in case, with my income in incourant valuta while living in a country suffering from a serious economical crisis (my purchasing power has been halved in a couple of months) I’m not going to order anything just because you recommend it.
          Hence I’ll keep it in mind.

        • Sophia Sadek

          I would never recommend purchasing the guy’s material. That is why the material Creator of the flat and immobile Earth invented libraries.

        • MNb

          As that creator of yours won’t pay my travel expenses I’ll have to ask you. Because I live here.

          Until then I’ll keep it in mind.

        • Sophia Sadek

          No wonder you do not have access to a library. You live in a Catholic country.

        • Michael Neville

          Carried on the backs of four elephants riding a giant turtle.

      • Myna

        Depends on where and when. Pythagoras may have suggested it in the 6th century, but places in India, China and some North American indigenous people followed the back of a turtle, serpent, elephant mythology as recent as 150 years ago.

        • Of course. I was discussing the medieval Christian West.

        • Myna

          Yes, I know. I just get a little bit cranky sometimes.

        • I’m passionate about history too, hence that comment below.

      • TheNuszAbides

        round doesn’t exclude flat. 😉

        EDIT: sorry, i get that you got into this already, but complaining about topic drift is a lame duck when you lead your ‘correction’ with “Actually, …”

        • Yes, it drifted significantly.

    • Chad Courage DeVillier

      God punishes anyone who doesn’t believe in him with an eternity of misery… he must be all-loving.

  • busterggi

    Of course there is the problem that even if there were a god and you believed in that god there is no guarantee that an infinite reward will be given as infinite punishment (at the god’s discretion) is just as likely.

    • Rick Molnar zona

      It does seem that that there was a missed option. Belief in god, but you were bad, did not tithe enough, etc… and still get sent to hell, just like the unbeliever. So the belief outcome is not stated correctly.

      • Pofarmer

        I think this is also what causes believers many sleepless nights, because you can never be sure you’ve been good enough.

    • Chad Courage DeVillier

      Pascal even points out himself that God is unknowable, so we need to use a wager rather than facts. He’s unknowable.. yet we know that he’ll make good on his offer of infinite reward! And all we have to do is shut off our critical thinking and bury our heads in the metaphorical sand! What a steal!

    • al kimeea

      How many Christians have Jesus tattoos or tats at all? Biblical no no iirc.

    • TheNuszAbides

      perhaps even Pascal himself didn’t realize that the practical point of his gambit was to get more butts in pews and thus more coins in the collection plate.

  • Joe

    If you go beyond the math, the wager gets worse. An infinity of anything would eventually be undesirable, and an infinity of torture would eventually become mundane. So you can’t really win with G.

    It’s far more preferable that no afterlife exists.

    • Chad Courage DeVillier

      Ask a religious person what *exactly* the afterlife that they’re so looking forward to actually entails. It’s always entertaining, and never biblically supported.

      • Michael Neville

        None of the “traditional” afterlifes seem enticing. The Muslim heaven is the wet dream of a 15 year old male virgin. The Jewish heaven is a debating contest strictly considering religious minutiae. The Norse have an endless brawl and steak house. The Christian heaven consists of singing praises to a narcissistic megalomaniac. I’d rather go with the nothing I had before I was born.

        • Myna

          Elysium sounds rather pleasant, though:

          “In no fix’d place the happy souls reside.
          In groves we live, and lie on mossy beds,
          By crystal streams, that murmur thro’ the meads:
          But pass yon easy hill, and thence descend;
          The path conducts you to your journey’s end.”

          “This said, he led them up the mountain’s brow, And shews them all the shining fields below. They wind the hill, and thro’ the blissful meadows go.”
          — Virgil, Aeneid (6.641)

        • TheNuszAbides

          this is still one of my favorite gaming supplements:

  • Tony D’Arcy

    A wee bit interesting when maths is brought into “proofs” or otherwise in explaining God. With Pascal we have the 2 horse race, one wins and the other ends in the water jump. Then we have characters like YEC Dumbski, arguing the odds of life forming without a God are horrendously low, yet here it is ! The odds of life on this planet are exactly 100% ! OK nothing to do with God as such, But there was the famous mathematician Hilbert with his Grand Hotel with an infinite number of guests seeking to prove that actual infinities can’t exist. An argument used by W. L Craig. Hilbert’s Hotel could always accommodate more visitors, just like heaven, except the Bible says that only 144,000 will get in there ! Has God got Hilbert to design Him an infinite extension ? And how many rooms does hell have ? Or are we all in that fiery lake ? Hmm some infinite energy to keep that place a bubbling ! And where does the devil derive his energy from ?

    And the actual number of positions my arm is in when straightening is …? Well infinite. Maybe a small infinite, but infinite all the same.

    • Chad Courage DeVillier

      I thought it fitting, since ol’ Blaise was a mathematician. If one is going to be proven wrong, one probably prefers being proven wrong in terms he is familiar with 😉

  • eric

    Blaise Pascal is allowing for two options and two alone—God or not God. He is ignoring the multitude of other god

    IIRC Pascal didn’t so much ignore other religions, as he just took it to be self-evident that they weren’t true (he was a 17th Century Frenchman, after all). IOW rather than not addressing them out of ignorance or because he didn’t know how, he knew about them but didn’t think he had to address them.
    There are of course many arguments against Pascal’s Wager, but here are my two faves.
    #1. Any argument that provides equal support for an infinite number of contradictory conclusions has no value in decision-making.
    #2. The Christian God to which Pascal targeted his wager supposedly knows whether we are sincere. Since the wager argues for an insincere, benefit-focused reason for belief, if you follow the advice of the wager you’ll still be in the bottom left quadrant. Put another way – merely knowing about the wager and accepting its logic is not what the wager itself counts as “+B”.

    • Joe

      he was a 17th Century Frenchman, after all

      Those are the worst kind of Frenchman.

      • eric

        LOL I was not trying to be insulting. I was trying to make a point that he was a man of his time and place, and it is somewhat historically wrong to criticize him for not noticing flaws in his argument that seem obvious to a 21st century westerner without his cultural baggage (but probably different baggage all our own). “OMG Pascal didn’t consider non-Christian religions!” is a bit like “OMG, Jefferson had slaves!”

    • From what I recall, he mentions other religions briefly and dismisses all of them as possibilities (naturally they were not every possible one).

    • Chad Courage DeVillier

      Those are solid arguments, either one of which is enough to deflate the entire Wager. I personally like to simply mention to the average “wielder of the wager”, as I call them starting right now, that the argument technically collapses as soon as we agree that other religions exist.

    • TheNuszAbides

      IOW rather than not addressing them out of ignorance or because he
      didn’t know how, he knew about them but didn’t think he had to address

      yep, almost as blind-spotted as C.S. Lewis pretending post hoc that he had a no-need-to-address-it excuse for proposing Liar, Lunatic and Lord possibilities yet ignoring his actual professional specialty, Legend.

  • Michael Neville

    The choices for Pascal’s Wager should include:

    1. A god who rewards those who believe in it and punishes those who don’t believe.
    b. A god who doesn’t care if anyone believes or not and doesn’t reward or punish anyone
    iii. A god who doesn’t care if anyone believes and rewards or punishes everyone.
    D. No god at all.

    Only one of these choices has a positive result for believing and a negative result for not believing. All of the other choices have no afterlife, rewards, or punishments not dependent on belief. So it’s more advantageous to not believe than to believe.

    • Chad Courage DeVillier

      This is the first line of logic I tend to employ when responding to someone using Pascal’s Wager (how does every Christian seem to know that one?), and it is usually met by them changing the subject.

    • Rudy R

      Or a god that punishes those that believe in it based on Pascal’s Wager.

    • Donalbain

      I always just posit Dave The Trickster God. He punishes Christians who use dumb wager arguments and rewards everyone else.

  • Pofarmer

    I like Homer Simpson’s wager. “What if there is a God who wants us to worship him, and we’re doing it wrong, and he just keeps getting madder…..and madder……”

  • guerillasurgeon

    It doesn’t need mathematical disproof. The idea that you can fool an all knowing God into thinking you believe when you don’t is ridiculous.

    • se habla espol

      My first analysis of PW, 60 years ago, took that into account, so it came up with three rows and two columns in the GT matrix. The columns are Believe+ and Believe-; the columns were MGOI+; AGOI+, GOI-, for moral god-of-interest exists, amoral god-of-interest exists, and god-of-interest does not exist.

      I also took into account my very own conscience, knowing that lying would torture me. So all the Believe+ cells were -∞ for lying, meaning that I had no choice in the matter, that the (god)+ cells were irrelevant.

      • TheNuszAbides

        i don’t know what the 17th-century French equivalent of “fake it ’til you make it” was, but that’s what i’ve assumed Pascal was counting on as far as ‘opening the door’ with insincere ‘belief’.

    • Chad Courage DeVillier

      Fooling the Skyman (cue the song “Dayman” from Always Sunny…) isn’t on the table for the religious person; they use Pascal’s Wager to defend what they already believe. They seem to think that, when their arguments involving blind faith and opening our hearts fail to land on atheists, they’ll try to reach us with what they consider a logical argument. The Wager does seem logical at first glance… but it quickly collapses under scrutiny; the problem is that “scrutiny” isn’t really a strong suit of the average religious individual…

      • TheNuszAbides

        They seem to think that, when their arguments involving blind faith and opening our hearts fail to land on atheists, they’ll try to reach us
        with what they consider a logical argument.

        Dillahunty reports being terribly disappointed when, as his faith melted away and family tried to plug the dike, his seminarian uncle had nothing better to throw at him than PW.

  • T-Paine
    • MNb

      I dispute “there is an infinity of infinitely happy life to gain”. That doesn’t logically follow, not even from an omnigood god.

    • Chad Courage DeVillier

      Exactly. As if the many reasons this video puts forth for discarding Blaise Pascal’s wager weren’t enough, I thought up one more. Now, to find a religious person who responds to logical arguments…

  • Illithid

    What if God, having provided no evidence for his existence, rewards those clever and honest enough to disbelieve, and annihilates the foolish believers?

    Self-serving, yes, but can we rule it out?

    • Chad Courage DeVillier

      I imagine any deity worthy of the allegiance of intelligent beings would see the logic in that, yes. If said deity is petty enough to deny salvation just for using basic logic to rule out faith in favor of evidence, then he’s one most of us would rather not meet anyway.

    • Rudy R

      If after death, I meet a god and the god asks me, why didn’t I believe, I would have to respond by saying, “where was the evidence?”

      • MNb

        Especially as the scientific method apparently is grounded in god.

      • sandy

        Richard Dawkins when faced with the same situation states that he would ask “so which god are you?”

  • JBSchmidt

    In your post “Rationalizing away the Canaanite Problem”, I drew out the notion that life on earth for the non-religious was in effect infinite. The discussion revolved around God’s eternal punishment and its injustice. I postulated then that if God’s eternal punishment was unjust, any non-religious person who believed in earthly punishments that involved life sentences was in effect doing the same thing. The assumption being that a finite life was an infinity to that person if no afterlife existed. I was told, “Do you think about this stuff before you write it? I think your agenda of defending God is making you say dumb things.”

    Now along comes a non-religious person making that point to discredit Christianity and suddenly it all makes perfect sense. Love the consistency.

    • adam

      ” I drew out the notion that life on earth for the non-religious was in effect infinite.”

      Using your crayons to draw again JB?

      Death is a fact for both the religious and non-religious, so you are making no sense.

      ” The discussion revolved around God’s eternal punishment and its injustice. ”

      God is an IMAGINARY character in a collection of stories, so talking about ‘God’s eternal punishment’ is equivilent to discussing Spidermans super powers.

      ” I postulated then that if God’s eternal punishment was unjust, any
      non-religious person who believed in earthly punishments that involved
      life sentences was in effect doing the same thing. ”

      Get some Exlax, that should flush your head out of your ass.

      ” Love the consistency.”

      I love the inconsistency call hypocrisy:

    • MNb

      I wasn’t involved in that discussion “Rationalizing away …..”, probably because my view is very simple.
      Eternal or not, punishment is a means to a goal and not a goal in itself. It’s a means to correct undesirable behaviour. If we assume that my atheism is undesirable according to your god and hence has to be corrected I don’t see how eternal punishment will achieve that goal. What’s more, I’ve explicitly made clear what your god can do to correct my behaviour here and now.
      And that means that a god punishing me eternally after I die instead of correcting me here and now is a piece of shit, not worth worshipping. As a teacher he wouldn’t last a day on every single decent school.
      That or eternal punishment by a god is just a reflection of badly outdated pedagogical thinking from 2000 years ago.

      • Prof_M

        Your view of punishment, as well as mine, is utilitarian. The other view (Kantian) is that punishment is an end in itself, receiving one’s just desserts, whether or not it corrects you “here and now.”

        • MNb

          Alas, you spoiled my trick. I hoped JBS would fall for it.
          Pascal’s Wager is also utilitarian.

    • Pofarmer

      You do realize that words mean things, right?

      • adam

        Not in Trump World.

        Meaning is meaningless, emotion is all.

        War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength

        Look how strong JB is in his ignorance.

        • Pofarmer

          The Stupid is indeed Strong, with this one.

        • Myna

          Not in Trump World. Meaning is meaningless, emotion is all.

          The other side of the mirror type of chaos.

      • Kevin K

        Obviously he doesn’t. And since you nailed it in one, I don’t need to pile on.

    • Comrade Carrot-Blog Vegetarian

      Was it the same non-religious person?

    • Joe

      The assumption being that a finite life was an infinity to that person if no afterlife existed

      Only if you define “infinite’ to mean ‘finite’. Why would you do that?

      • adam

        “Only if you define “infinite’ to mean ‘finite’. Why would you do that?”

        An attempt at deception.

    • eric

      I don’t think anyone is claiming life on earth is infinite. That would be silly. Nonbelievers think that this finite time is all we have, but that is not the same thing as infinite.

      Geez, you Christians probably agree with us on this. You don’t believe beetles have souls or go to an afterlife. So, does that mean you think they have infinite lives on earth? Of course you don’t. So why paint us as having such a silly belief?

      • JBSchmidt

        If you read this blog, the author is making that exact claim. That since a non-believer doesn’t accept an afterlife, their lifetime is their infinity. Not that life is infinite.

        • Kodie

          It still ends.

        • adam
        • kraut2

          “The maximum span of a human’s existence is one lifetime, and therefore is the closest he or she can come to infinity

          As you are not likely to be aware of the point of your death – you really don’t know that your life ever ended – you are subjectively living infinetely.

        • eric

          I must agree with kraut2 and the other respondents. Its very straw mannish to take the atheist notion ‘this finite life is as close to infinite as we will ever get’ and claim that the atheist author must therefore think that a (hypothetical) eternity in hell is not morally worse than life imprisonment.
          At the very least, you could just ask Bob if he thinks they’re equivalent rather than trying to put words in his mouth. And if you think his answer is inconsistent, you could then ask him to explain.

        • This was a guest post. Chad, the author, has dropped by to respond to comments (and I hope he’s still doing so). This wasn’t written the way I would do it, but that’s the idea behind a guest post–to showcase a new perspective.

  • RichardSRussell

    What a full-blown analysis of Pascal’s Wager will actually lead you to conclude is this: “Find the deity who claims the most fiendish, grisly, excruciating, horrible tortures imaginable for disbelieving in him and give him your unswerving allegiance forever and ever, or that’s what’ll befall you!

    It results in a race to the bottom to see which “spiritual” huckster can come up with the most imaginatively and persuasively sadistic deity — a veritable carnival of carnage in the ongoing evolutionary contest for the hearts and minds of the gullible.

    • Chad Courage DeVillier

      The Christian hell really is the most fiendish, grisly, excruciating, and horribly torturous afterlife of punishment ever conceived by a religion, isn’t it? What a benevolent, all-loving deity God must be to create such a place as a punishment for those who choose rationality over blind acceptance.

      • MNb

        Frankly, given eternity, I don’t see any substantial difference between christian hell and christian heaven.

      • TheNuszAbides

        the Islamic hell is supposedly more explicitly detailed. of course, some people apparently enjoy pain or humiliation or whatnot in the appropriate context …

    • TheNuszAbides

      that’s why Dan Barker points out it makes little sense that Pascal’s Bettor wouldn’t end up Muslim. i mean, De Sade hadn’t even turned up to rebalance the scales of imagination yet!

  • Rt1583
  • Pofarmer

    This makes me giggle

    “James the Lord’s “Brother” (i.e., Cousin)”

    • TheNuszAbides

      eh? got bored so he decided to take another elaborate stab at refuting the mythicism he’s already hand-waved to death?

  • Mark Dowd

    There is a much more fundamental problem with the Wager:

    Gods aren’t real, so the entire left side of the matrix is irrelevant. Only the payoffs on the right side matter, and the choice there is obvious.

    Pascal’s Wager is not even an argument, it is an emotional manipulation aimed at using our inherent fear and selfishness to encourage dishonesty.

    Christian values at their finest.

    • Kain

      You seem to fail to grasp the concept of ‘if’. When one answers a hypothetical question, they treat all possibilities as a potential perspective.

      • Mark Dowd

        I don’t think I’m failing to grasp anything. The different parts of the matrix must also be weighted by their likelihoods of being true. Given the fact that, in the realm of explaining reality no religious text has ever been found to be equal or superior to the explanations derived from observation and reasoning (aka science) ever in the entire history of humanity, it’s more than defensible to assign the G side a weighting of 0. If they can put infinities there, I can put 0s.

        And that’s not even getting into the validity of those infinities. How can they be so sure that the reward and punishment will be infinite? Are sure are they that what goes in those boxes are rewards and punishments, and not the reverse? How sure are they about the length of those terms? Given the actual way gods are described in holy books, they’re human enough to change their mind about things (Noah anyone?), so how are they factoring in the chance of hell’s inhabitants being pardoned? The chance of their deity going mad and turning heaven into an eternal dystopia?

        Another method of attack is that the choice presented by the wager is literally impossible to make. Every man has his price, and there is more than likely some kind of compensation that would cause me to go through the motions of religious rituals, but to actually believe? Impossible. To just arbitrarily choose to believe in some deity would be like me choosing to dislike peanut butter cookies.

        There’s multiple ways the Wager can be attacked in addition to what Bob focused on in this article. The Wager is like a soap bubble: it looks beautiful and perfect when you’re just looking at it, but the slightest poke of any kind of thought utterly destroys it.

        The complete emptiness and fragility of it shows that it was never a logical argument. It is, has been, and will always be an emotional manipulation.

        I’m not saying that everyone that says it is aware of the emptiness of it and intends to manipulate and deceive. It’s likely that a large percentage of them truly believe it’s a good wager to make. There is an enormous amount of study detailing the various different ways that our minds fail us when it comes to evaluating things, and I think it is very important to be aware of those traps and guard against it. One of those traps is loss aversion, where people will value a loss more significantly than a gain of the same amount. This it what can cause people, in the right conditions, to spend $50 to avoid losing $10. This is the bias in our mind that Pascal’s Wager tries to hook on to. It’s no different than Roko’s Basilisk.

  • Mr. A

    Oh, so someone else saw this. I was thinking I was the only one and was going to write something eventually on this… but I guess someone beat me to the punch. Oh well.

  • carbonUnit

    How can one truly believe in God based on the threat of losing the wager? The whole concept is pointless. All the wager does is give believers something to feel superior about – they will think themselves winners.

    • Myna

      All the wager does is give believers something to feel superior about – they will think themselves winners.

      I have visions of Trump sugarplums dancing inside my head.

      • TheNuszAbides

        sugardrumpf fairies?

    • Greg G.

      Especially when you consider that Paul refuted Pascal centuries earlier:

      1 Corinthians 15:19 (NRSV)19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

      Paul thought that if the Christian lost Pascal’s Wager, they should be pitied more than others.

    • Rt1583

      “How can one truly believe in God based on the threat of losing the wager?”

      The same way they’ve believed in gawd based on any other and all threats that have been passed down since the invention of the religion.

      All Pascal’s wager really did was to distill all the threats down to one easily remembered and repeatable quote.

    • Worse, how much of a doofus is God to not see that the “belief” isn’t sincere? Any god who you could fool this way isn’t worth believing in anyway.

      • carbonUnit

        Exactly. The math of the wager doesn’t matter, the whole notion of deciding to believe something you otherwise wouldn’t because you need to seems bogus.. You can maybe fool people, but how can you fool a god?

        That said, I’ve seen people do all sorts of mental gymnastics with respect to belief. People can fool themselves and after long enough, could believe they believe. So my statement is certainly does not apply in all cases.

        • Yes, I think Pascal’s goal was that you walk the walk reluctantly and then it just becomes part of who you are, so the belief creeps up on the (unreflexive?) mind.

          Augustine said, “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand.”

        • Kodie

          I wrote a response to someone a few weeks ago and disqus ate it, so I gave up trying a second time, but the gist of what it was:

          I feel like Pascal’s wager is more of a last resort kind of argument for Christians who think we can/should just shut up and go along. The argument, “what do you have to lose?” according to them seems pretty airtight. It’s not like most of us don’t have to pretend a certain amount of the day, such as at our jobs, or even sometimes with our families. For the greater outcome, or income, or family stability or whatever, we lie about what we believe, and everyone is happy. I feel like when they resort to Pascal’s wager, they have given up trying to convince anyone, and just want to stifle everyone with any remaining reason to disagree.

          Pascal’s wager is for their comfort, not ours. If you think about it too much, of course it doesn’t make sense, but even if you don’t think about it too much, pretending to believe something you don’t believe just for the generous reward at the end seems more like a bribe than a wager.

        • adam

          Pascal’s wager is propaganda fear-mongering of the worst kind.

        • Kodie

          It just doesn’t seem that simple to me. I don’t believe for a second that any believer who uses this as an argument believes because of it. It is an attempt to appeal to a logical rational side, the straw man atheist who sees the world coldly and clinically and measures life by what is personally advantageous. If you already don’t believe in hell, and nothing else has convinced you, Pascal’s wager just isn’t going to convince you at the last second. Pascal’s wager is more like a “shut up and be Christian like everyone else already so we can all live in peace” kind of statement.

          I was once living with a guy whose mother came to visit every couple of weeks (with no more than 2 hours’ notice, ever) and took us out to lunch, during which she would bring up all sorts of controversial right-wing topics. Bill Clinton was president at the time; her Planned Parenthood picketing, etc. And she’d say it with such a sunny pleasant voice as though it was understood, we all agree, right? Just talking about her day. That’s the Pascal’s wager. They don’t care what you really think, they just want you to smile and get along. The guy told me once about his sister used to speak up, and the mother would just respond “why do you have to be so disagreeable?” Just so we’re keeping track, it’s ok to say some disagreeable things as long as you say them first, have power, and politely call out people who are “negative” for being the spoilers of the local mood.

          I don’t feel threatened and fear-mongered by Pascal’s wager. I feel the people who use it as an argument are pawns like any other Christian who mean well, but given a tool that is ultimately meant to encourage people to shut up putting down religion. It’s not their very best argument, but they must feel it is the most logical and therefore most appealing to the most stubborn non-believers.

        • adam

          “I don’t believe for a second
          that any believer who uses this as an argument believes because of it.”

          That is not the point of the wager.

          The point is coercion.
          Using the fear of God, to gain ‘consensus’.

          “They don’t care what you really think, they just want you to smile and get along.”


          “I don’t feel threatened and fear-mongered by Pascal’s wager.”

          How would you feel if you were the only atheist in a christian town?
          Everyone else is going to live on Golden Streets in a MacMansion in heaven, while you burn mercilessly forever for bad gambling practice.

          Think about the time this comes from.

          ” It’s not their very best argument, but they must feel it is the most
          logical and therefore most appealing to the most stubborn non-believers.”

          It appears logical to them, because they dismiss every other god, and believe they have the only one. The problem with faith.

        • TheNuszAbides

          it’s ok to say some disagreeable things as long as you say them first, have power, and politely call out people who are “negative” for being the spoilers of the local mood.


        • That makes sense. One thing that’s odd, though, is Pascal himself making this argument. He was a pretty smart guy. Of course, he could’ve been making the argument for the plebes rather than the intelligentsia, which would explain things.

        • Kodie

          I don’t know the guy. I can’t speculate on why he would propose this argument. It seems to be pretty popular, but it’s like that “liar, lunatic, or lord” argument, and check out some marketing tactics. Being given a choice of popularity/youth/superiority and isolation/age/inferiority, etc., with the difference being that product… I mean, for example, if you are not social, buying a bag of potato chips or drinking a certain brand of soda or driving a certain car isn’t going to make strangers introduce themselves and invite you to more parties, but at least you have chips, soda, new car.

          The options you’re given in the advertisement seem to put a gun to your head to decide chips or loneliness. Or to take it from another angle, maybe you are popular but your party sucks because you lack this brand of chips which somehow guarantees the pleasure of your guests and they won’t think you’re lame. In reality, sociability is not a quality you can buy with snacks, but that option is not explored by the ad.

          Like I said, I don’t know what Pascal’s angle would have been. I don’t doubt the already-religious come up with lots of rationalizations to believe. It just feels like from the already-religious think that it sounds just like what the atheist wants to hear – an appeal to selfish interests, a quasi-logical proposition, none of that fantastical mumbo-jumbo we typically reject. It’s just that no other options are explored. To the already religious, what’s the downside to belief? To the non-religious, a whole lot.

          Ultimately, if they can snag any holdouts with this nonsense (which I think is the market demographic for this argument), they achieve the minimum type of believer – non-believers who pretend so they don’t upset their status quo. I don’t know what context Pascal had for coming up with this idea, but its usage as a popular argument seems to come with the expectation that it would be fine with most Christians if we all just pretended to be Christians for their comfort.

        • TheNuszAbides

          yep. doing his little part to get more buns in pews.

  • Martin Thomas

    I like most of what I have read here, except for one thing.
    That is that this stupid argument is called Pascal’s wager. It does come from what Pascal wrote in one of his notebooks, but it is uncertain whether he took it very seriously or if he was just playing with ideas. He never published it. He certainly never suggested that anyone should pretend to believe anything; such dishonesty was contrary to his whole way of life.

    He was a great scientist and mathematician and it is a pity that this silly argument is the main thing he is remembered for. See more here:

    • Thanks. I’d thought that the Wager was beneath Pascal.

    • TheNuszAbides

      its popularization makes so much more sense knowing that context. “look what we found! super smart guy scribbled down an excuse to go with the flow of overly-credulous society! let’s save this one for those pesky fence-sitters and question-askers …”

      (any philosopher going unsung is exactly zero surprise to me, given my jaded premise that authentically Thinking is historically difficult/rare)

  • Philmonomer


    I saw that you had a comment over on Thinking Christian (Tom Gilson’s site) responding to his recent Pascal Wager post. I see that Tom essentially considers you banned, and won’t post your comment.

    Do you mind posting it here? (or somewhere?) I’d be curious to read it. Thanks.


    • Pofarmer

      I’d be curious to repost it.

    • I searched for something about Pascal on but couldn’t find anything. If I commented on a Pascal’s Wager post there, I forget what I said.

      The concept of banning someone because what he writes makes you sad is a foreign concept to me, so I occasionally write up something thoughtful there, only to remember that it’s going into the bit bucket.

      I suppose it never occurs to him that his need to make a safe space says quite a lot about the validity of his beliefs.

      His most recent post was about the Liar, Lunatic, Lord … or Legend issue. He asked for feedback on his (weak) argument, and I replied. Whoops.

      If he ever writes anything interesting, I’ll write up a post about it here. I’ve replied to his stuff before (like here and here).

      • Philmonomer

        I searched for something about Pascal on but couldn’t find anything. If I commented on a Pascal’s Wager post there, I forget what I said.

        Ugh. I wrote Pascal’s wager, but I meant the Trilemma (Lord, Liar, Lunatic). Sorry about that.

      • Philmonomer

        His most recent post was about the Liar, Lunatic, Lord … or Legend
        issue. He asked for feedback on his (weak) argument, and I replied.

        Did you happen to save a copy of your reply?

        • Nope. I gullibly thought that my comment would get posted. I should’ve when I noticed that it was in moderation. I guess I’m just not paranoid enough to keep track of where I’m banned.

          I’ve replied to the Legend argument here.

        • Philmonomer


      • TheNuszAbides

        his need to make a safe space says quite a lot about the validity of his beliefs

        or at least his decision to appropriate the ‘safe space’ model from folks who might have a more (any?) valid ‘need’ for such. i’m wary of making any generalization about ‘safe space’, anyway.

      • Aldo Jackson

        Thank you for providing an open environment to debate and discuss things in. The Pascal’s Wager argument seems better to advocate in favor of assuming that we are not the most powerful entities or persons in the cosmos, and maintain humility as we pursue our ambitions and goals.

        • Greg G.

          But there are other gods with worse hells and some that are more angry with followers of the wrong god than those who don’t follow any religion.

          Paul disagrees with Pascal, though. He thinks that if you are wrong, then you have lived with hope for Christ in this life only, and you should be pitied the most:

          1 Corinthians 15:19 (NRSV)
          19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

        • Aldo Jackson

          It is a safer bet to assume that there are various phenomena/entities/persons that are more powerful than we are, then to assume that we are the strongest, and can do what we please unhindered.

        • Greg G.

          It is a safer bet to assume that there are various phenomena/entities/persons that are more powerful than we are, then to assume that we are the strongest, and can do what we please unhindered.

          As written, in the first clause, you are saying we should assume we are not the most powerful and in the second clause, you are saying we should assume we are the strongest, unless you meant “than to assume”.

          If there are higher beings, we would be like children to them. We understand the limited cognitive abilities of a four year old child and corrections would be part of a learning process. Yet a four year old has the ability to recognize things a two year old does wrong.

          Why would a higher being punish lesser beings when it is too late too learn from it? It would be pointless torture. Punishment would only be sadism on the part of the higher being. If the higher being is sadistic and liked to torture dead lesser beings, then it is likely to torture good people for being good, too, claiming that the good wasn’t good enough.

          But those higher beings would then have to worry about higher beings than themselves punishing them for being sadistic toward lesser beings.

        • Aldo Jackson

          Then should have than; I did mean “than to assume” sorry about that.
          Animals would do well to have some familiarity with our system of roads, traffic signals and such. But, since they don’t reflect on these things, many become roadkill. Thus, it is useful to endeavor to have some understanding of stuff that is bigger than we are, so that we don’t get caught it the crossfire.

        • Greg G.

          Then should have than; I did mean “than to assume” sorry about that.

          It seems that whenever I get over a pet peeve, a new one takes its place. I don’t recall ever noticing someone using “then” instead of “than” before fifteen years ago, but now it seems common. I think yours may have been the first time a sentence could be read either way.

          Animals would do well to have some familiarity with our system of roads, traffic signals and such. But, since they don’t reflect on these things, many become roadkill. Thus, it is useful to endeavor to have some understanding of stuff that is bigger than we are, so that we don’t get caught it the crossfire.

          I’ve seen crows at a city intersection waiting for the red light to walk out to eat something in the road, which may have been an animal that didn’t wait for the red light, then they would walk back to the sidewalk until the light changed back.

          But some people have “I Brake for Animals” bumper stickers. Shouldn’t it be the higher level beings that are invisible to us make sure we don’t get caught in the crossfire? We can’t tell an invisible being from an imaginary one and we can’t live a life dodging every being we can imagine.

        • Aldo Jackson

          That’s why they tend to send pretty clear signs and signals. People just use wishful thinking and/or having a conceptual framework that doesn’t make room for anything more powerful than they are. If you avoid wishful thinking, and adopt the proper conceptual framework, then you’ll be ready for whatever may come.

        • Greg G.

          Nobody has ever had a problem with a more powerful invisible being. There are no monsters under your bed or in your closet.

        • Aldo Jackson

          Agreed. There is always some means to detect a phenomena. We can link cause and effect together. It’s more that it’s safer to think that “There’s always a bigger fish”, then to think that you are the biggest.

        • Kodie

          The universe is enormous. So what?

        • Michael Neville

          The observable universe has a radius of 46 billion light years. That gives it a volume of 4.08 x 10³² cubic light years I doubt Aldo has any concept of how much that means. I certainly don’t.

        • Aldo Jackson

          That’s mind-blowingly vast, and with that, we are agreed.

        • Kodie

          I don’t understand the “either there’s a god out there in charge of everything, or if there isn’t, you get to do whatever you want and there is nothing getting in your way. Even if you take away the rest of the universe, there’s an earth full of people it behooves me to cooperate with as far as safely possible, etc., by which I mean, “don’t break the law”. Christians like to owe everything to god, like if a Christian wants to be a singer or any other impractical type of dream job, that’s them using a “gift” to fulfill their “purpose”, but if an atheist wants to be a singer, that is the atheist wanting to be their own god, and whatever fulfillment they get from pursuing and even succeeding at a dream job is shallow and empty.

          Yeah, so there’s this other part of the universe that says you have a terrible singing voice. That’s ok, plenty of famous singers have terrible singing voices. It’s this kind of thing where you can’t just write your own story and determine your own journey. You still have to live it, take chances, face criticism, decide to bail on the dream and sit at a desk or wait tables, etc., those kinds of things. That’s not “god” per se, but that sort of shit is definitely bigger than the individual. And anyway, as much as we might know about the universe so far, I know there’s going to be so much more left to future generations, but the stuff we know so far essentially amounts to looking up at the night sky and feeling small. Imagine just how much we know and for most people, it’s the same as it ever was.

        • Aldo Jackson

          If there’s no basis for a system, then problems naturally arise. Without a system, who is the final arbiter of disputes? Locke discusses this. Because we live in ordered civilizations that give us access to the interest, there are most likely Powers that Be, that guarantee these things, and are likely to persist through changing opinions. The exact nature of said Powers that Be, what natural form they take (human officials? light beings?) is much less important than their influence on things. The key thing is to develop a method, and see if it works in achieving your goal. It is a delightful luxury to simply obey the law, and not have to concern yourself with the motives and plans of those who are more powerful than you are, and I wouldn’t like to take that away from anyone. It’s too bad that some Christians were unpleasant about this matter of the dream job, as the world is made better by people fulfilling their true nature.

        • Kodie

          No one is the final arbiter of disputes. You talk like a bot.

        • Aldo Jackson

          In the U.S., we have the Supreme Court. Many disputes don’t need a final arbiter, but, for those that do, institutions are in place.

        • Kodie

          You really need to stop hopping all over the fucking place. The Supreme Court only deals with constitutional cases that even get that far. Please stop talking like you are generating meaningless space cadet phrases. I think I will go back to ignoring you, because you are really pointless to talk to.

        • Aldo Jackson

          If it makes you feel any better, you and the other commenters here have helped me. And, it is better have a Supreme Court and other high courts and not need them, then to need them and not have them.

        • Kodie

          That’s why who sends pretty clear signs and signals?

          Everyone knows there are things out of their own power. Batshit insane people think it’s an actual kind of person who is creating a story with them at the center of it.

        • Aldo Jackson

          The bigger fish.
          I’m glad we are agreed on this.
          Oh; the trouble is more not being at the center of it, and getting caught up in it regardless.

        • Kodie

          Don’t make a mistake – I don’t agree with you about anything.

        • Aldo Jackson

          Are you going to change your mind, so that you always disagree with me no matter what position I take?

        • Kodie

          I think you have a really flaky way of looking at things and expressing yourself, so the main disagreement is that you want something like a fixed framework, and you work extra-hard to try to construct it out of everything. You basically have a garbage-dump style of discernment. Every idea is added to the pile. That’s no way to go.

        • Aldo Jackson

          Since taking partisan positions can be hazardous and uncertain, I would rather find a niche, and fulfill my duty. A stable framework can counterbalance an unstable world.

        • Kodie

          I don’t know why you are talking to us about your personal preferences. If it’s helpful to you, stay safe and don’t be a danger to others.

        • Aldo Jackson

          Thanks. I replied to your statement about my style of thinking with an explanation about my style of thinking.

        • Kodie

          Your style of thinking is like maybe you should be supervised by a responsible adult.

        • Aldo Jackson

          Hmm, perhaps. What is your style of thinking?

        • adam

          ” If you avoid wishful thinking, and adopt the proper conceptual framework, then you’ll be ready for whatever may come.”

          Then we agree, invoking MAGIC is wishful thinking and leaves you ill prepared for whatever may come.

          The primary reason to reject magic over reason.

        • Aldo Jackson

          You don’t use a hammer for designing buildings, you use it and other tools to help build them. Similarly, you don’t use magic to plan, you use reason to plan, and magic to provide support and aid, if and as needed.

        • adam
        • Aldo Jackson

          If the devout are all delusional, then you would most likely be prevailing at every turn in all sorts of public policy matters, because they’d be being deluded, while you did the most strategic maneuvers. Unless, of course, the stuff worked for some reason we haven’t figured out yet. I’ll be content to look silly and foolish so long as it works for my purposes. We all have a school and method that we use. If you reserve-engineer magic and religion, then you can proceed to win on all fronts, because, once you understand how something works, you can generally develop an answer, so as to defeat any adversaries who might use it. We’ll see how this goes. Best of luck, my friends.

        • adam

          “If the devout are all delusional, then you would most likely be
          prevailing at every turn in all sorts of public policy matters, because
          they’d be being deluded, while you did the most strategic maneuvers.”

          Interesting because as the threat of violence and subversion by the Church diminishes that’s exactly what we see.

          But when MAGICAL thinking is involved its delusion thinking HAS to coerce believers.

          “once you understand how something works, you can generally develop an answer, so as to defeat any adversaries who might use it.”

          As we have defeated you and your magical thinking here, over and over and over and over again.

          However, magical thinking insulates itself from reality.

          As Abrahamists drive the world with their Magical thinking

        • Aldo Jackson

          Many people decide that the want to opt out of all of this, and become consumerists, or hedonists, or some other such mode of life. The threat of violence and subversion posed by the delusional is limited at best, as genuine power, of whatever sort, is held by those who don’t self destruct. I’m just on an adventure; I’m not really opposing you. No, your adversaries are the corrupt televangelists, and those who deny the power of science. I look forward to hearing about your victories over these.

        • adam

          ” The threat of violence and subversion posed by the delusional is limited at best,”

          Crusades, Inquisitions, witch burning, hanging blacks, killing gays.


          ” I’m just on an adventure; I’m not really opposing you.”

          But you are, because you are opposing reality and pushing MAGIC as equal to or in some cases superior to knowledge.

          ” No, your adversaries are the corrupt televangelists, and those who deny the power of science. ”

          The corrupt televangelists that YOU support, by reinforcing belief in MAGIC.

          But those are not my adversaries, but the billions who actually believe that MAGIC from a bunch of old stories is what will save them.

        • Aldo Jackson

          If you employ the sort of methods described in the Sun Tzu, and your enemies are full of easy-to-detect errors, you can capitalize of said errors, and achieve victory. Many animals wander around in the woods, and get eaten by mountain lions. That doesn’t happen so much to humans, because we know how mountain lions work, so we can mostly prevail vis-a-vis such creatures as needed.

          “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

          My critique of knowledge is not that it is worse than/equal to magic. My critique of knowledge is that it is sometimes not available when we need it. Nor do I oppose reality. Reality can attend to itself.

        • MNb

          Yeah, knowledge pretty often is not available when we need it. That sucks. Unfortunately that does nothing to increase the reliability of faith and belief. That reliability remains exactly zero.

        • Aldo Jackson

          The key is to avoid fatalism, and find the best answer you can. Some people have prospered by going with their gut, or relying on intuition or inspiration, when the knowledge was inadequate. Let’s hope that we can be among those people.

        • MNb

          The stoicists already realized that fatalism in some circumstances is the most productive attitude in terms of mental health. Hope what you want. I’m not with you. Once again you haven’t thought things through well enough.
          Way too many people have lost a lot by going with their gut, relying on intuition or inspiration. You may, but I rather not am among those people.

        • Aldo Jackson

          Harmonizing with the cosmos is crucial to see the hidden paths out of peril.

        • MNb

          Meaningless New Age gibberish. Shrug.

        • epeeist

          Meaningless New Age gibberish

          Nah, the Wisdom of Chopra.

        • Pofarmer

          That explains a lot.

        • Aldo Jackson

          It dates back to Taoism; but maybe that’s New Age also.

        • Raging Bee

          Yeah, because deluded people always concede when rational people speak up, right?

        • Aldo Jackson

          They concede when rational people outmaneuver them on the field of contest, even as the wild animals do.

        • Raging Bee

          “The field of contest?” Is that next-door to “the field of honor?” WTF are you talking about?

        • Aldo Jackson

          It’s like that, only more rough and ready. Elections, wars, that kind of thing. The games of game theory.

        • Kodie

          Sadism is just something these people won’t consider. They invent a big daddy who gives them little treats once in a while, in a world that feels dangerous, and can often be really shitty. They need to believe all of this happens because of mysterious reasons, and that this being really likes them, and because this being can squash them dead if they don’t please him. Jesus appears to be god’s way of saying “I finally came to terms you people are going to suck a lot and disappoint me so.” From another perspective, that’s humans coming up with a device to combat god for being so brutal. You don’t have to try anymore, you can be just terrible and give glory to god for your every single day you get to wake up and live and suck.

        • MNb

          Yeah. Earthquakes are stronger than me. So it’s safer not to assume that I can do what I please unhindered by earthquakes. Except I can exactly do that, because earthquakes don’t happen where I live. Preparing for them would be a waste of time, money and effort.

        • Aldo Jackson

          Indeed; if you did live near where earthquakes were reported, then it would be a good idea to prepare; but they don’t so there’s no need.

        • Raging Bee

          Who is assuming “we are the strongest?”

        • Aldo Jackson

          Fair enough; don’t want to make a strawman.

        • James

          Aurelius’s form of the wager covers the “wrong god problem”: “If the gods are unjust, you should not serve them.” Pascal’s cultural context did not have the pluralism that Aurelius’s or our own did and he did not address this. In the more modern context, many Christians preach service to a god that is, by any reasonable standard, unjust. This is bad theology, but it’s depressingly common.

          Paul is right: Betting on Christ is a real bet. Christianity requires that one give up a significant amount in this world in the hope of a payoff in the next. This is something that is rarely preached and often denied.

        • Greg G.

          Wikiquote says that quote is misattributed.

          But it says:

          This quote may be a paraphrase of Meditations, Book II:

          Since it is possible that thou mayest depart from life this very moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly.
          But to go away from among men, if there are gods, is not a thing to be afraid of, for the gods will not involve thee in evil;
          but if indeed they do not exist, or if they have no concern about human affairs, what is it to me to live in a universe devoid of gods or devoid of Providence?
          But Gods there are, undoubtedly, and they regard human affairs; and have put it wholly in our power, that we should not fall into what is truly evil

          I wonder if the paraphrase has been affected by Hebrews 6:10, which Google presented when I searched for the phrase?

          Hebrews 6:10 (NRSV)10 For God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.

        • Raging Bee

          IF you want to maintain humility, you’d do better following the advice of Marcus Aurelius: be as good as you can be in this life; if the gods are just, they’ll reward you for your goodness; if they’re not just, there was never any point in trying to appease them anyway; and if there are no gods, then you’ll still be remembered in this world for the good you did.

        • Aldo Jackson

          Indeed. Goodness or excellence is best understood in a strategic sense, so that you can build loyalty here and now, and be ready for what events may come in the course of existence.