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Pascal's Wager does not warrant for a belief in god (Read Description)

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/11/2015 Category: Religion
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 727 times Debate No: 73280
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Hello Everyone. Pascal's Wager is often a common argument from Christians based on a decision theory. It evaluates which is the best decision to take, to believe in god, or to not believe in him. It goes a little something like this:

If you believe that god exists, and you're right, you'll go to heavan.
If you believe that god exists, and you're wrong, you haven't lost anything.
But if you don't believe that god exists, and you're right, you haven't lost anything.
But if you don't believe that god exists, and you're wrong, then you'll go to hell.

The best bet is to believe in god.

Pascal's wager has many logical fallacies, and I will argue that Pacal's wager does NOT warrant for a belief in god.

Structure of the debate:

R1: Acceptance

R2: Arguements

R3: Rebuttals

R4: More Rebuttals and Conclusions


Dear KingDebater369, et al.,

Thank you for selecting this topic. I confess that I have done only nominal reading on this topic, primarily consisting of reviews of Pascal's Wager (Le Pari de Pascal, it is probably called in the original French) and a negative assessment through the rather famous atheist, Michael Martin, of Boston University. However, I do just happen to read and enjoy the French language so this particular debate will actually motivate me to read Pascal's wager in the original French which I have failed to do hitherto.

Also, I want to thank you personally, KingDebater369, for making this debate topic available for a lesser-experienced debater (on this site) to accept. I find that so many challenges have stipulations as to the debating experience of the interlocutors.

Alright. As to the argument itself, I believe that the context, at least the historical context of the argument, is betting. So, would it be rational to bet in a particular way, even if the odds were stacked against you? Alternatively, it is rational to bet when the odds are clearly in your favor? The latter seems to be fairly self-evident. But is it rational to bet in the former case? Some people might argue that they have intuitively rational basis upon which to argue the former case, even when oddsmakers are suggesting that it is not rational, or, at least, that they will not win the bet.

That is all quite interesting.

But let us approach the issue from a different angle. Let us approach the problem from the angle of betting against or for oneself. It does not seem rational to bet against oneself when one is highly confident of one's ability to accomplish a task. Let us say that my task is to drive to a local store, only a few block away from my residence. I know that I can get this done without entering into an automobile accident. And yet I bet against myself every time I take out a new automobile insurance police or renew an existing policy.

Why would I bet against myself when I am sure that I can make it to the store without an accident occurring?

Now, if I am sure (and rational?) about this decision, then I can certainly make a more rational decision, one where the betting is even less "betting" and more sound decision-making.

The Latin term is a fortiori.

If I will bet against myself when I am sure that I am right or competent and that decision (betting) is rational, then I would definitely, or a fortiori, bet against myself (rationally) when I am less sure of my competence or ability. Yet many skeptics are very sure of their ability to render a negative verdict about the existence of God? Are they sure of their ability to drive to a local store without getting into an accident? But they bet against themselves, or have already done so, by taking out an insurance policy. Is that rational? If not, can we ask whether they rationally rendered the verdict against God.

I'm just using that as an example but I believe it to be a powerful illustration of how rationality and betting are curiously intertwined and separated by thin strands.
Debate Round No. 1


I thank theisticscuffles for accepting the debate. I'm glad to see that he is interested in this topic very much. I'm not sure if what my opponent presented in the first round was simply an analysis, or actual arguments. But as stated in my opening round, round 2 Is the round for arguments so I believe it is most likely just analysis.

Anyways, I'm happy to be debating theisticscuffles and hope he has fun =)


Although at first Pascal’s wager is quite convincing, it fails to take into account key factors, and ultimately fails.In this opening round, I'll be highlighting the problems with this argument, and why it doesn't hold up.

I. Assumption of one god

This reminds me of a famous Homer Simpson quote: “Suppose we’ve chosen the wrong god, every time we go to the church we’re making him madder and madder!”

One of the many problems with the wager is that it assumes that its god (the Christian god) is the correct one. There are hundreds of different religions with many different gods and goddesses all with different heavens and hells (some don't even believe in heaven and hell), and among all of these is Christianity.

The probability of Pascal's wager assumes that there are only two options. Belief leads to heaven, and non-belief leads to hell. However that's a classical fallacy in this case. For example, let's say you buy a lottery ticket. There are only two outcomes: you win or you lose. But does that mean you have a 50-50 shot at winning the lottery? Of course not; there are millions of other lottery tickets that might be chosen.

Thus, considering the amount of religions in existence, it is unlikely that the god Pascal describes is the real one. Furthermore, the actual best bet is to not believe in a god at all. If you don't believe in one, than the god will probably be less angry than you than if you were to worship someone else.

II. The ability to believe

Another problem is that it assumes that people can make themselves believe in something. But is that really possible?

If I told you that we found life on another planet, the first thing you would do is to search google to see if it's true. You would look for the evidence to be there, photos, videos, articles, scientific papers, etc. You would want to see for yourself.

But if you had no access to anything and I just said it, could you really just blindly believe me? The truth is, you can't actually truly believe in anything on the inside without sufficient evidence changing your mind. Thus, Pascal’s wager just wants us to pretend to believe. Which brings me to my next point.

III. Is it really that easy?

Just pretending to believe? That's all it takes? Surely there is more to it than just believing. There are definitely Christians that go to hell too, right? Furthermore, if you forced yourself to believe, wouldn’t god see right through you?

IV. Do you really have nothing to lose?

While the wager assumes that I lose nothing by not believing, that isn’t the case. By conforming my beliefs, I have to spend precious hours of my time studying the bible (or whatever holy book), going to church (or whatever place of worship), etc. There are valuable parts of my life that would be taken away, or things that I would have to sacrifice because of following a particular god.



Thank you, again, KingDebater, for this exchange and the opportunity to grow in our thought and decision-making prowess.

Pascal starts out with the famous "bet" by discussing our background beliefs of infinity and finites things which are measurable. There are things like infinite numbers which are numerical. [1] We know that every number must be even or odd. Yet infinite numbers are neither. [2] We are unaware of much concerning infinite numbers but we know of their existence.

We understand finite things best because we are, in fact, finite creatures.

We know some things like infinity and that there is a unity of infinity and finite things.

Thus, we can know something very basic about an infinite god without having a great deal of intimate knowledge of him in the same way that we can know about an infinite number without knowing whether it is even or odd or whether such a thing is even possible.

Pascal is emphatic that one can certainly know of the existence of a thing without knowing the particulars of its nature. [3]

So, let's say that you have some idea of the existence of a thing or person, but you do not have much information beyond that. Someone approaches you and asks you to bet (hypothetically) and give a "yes" or "no" answer to the existence. "If you had to guess right now, what would you choose? Does the thing or person exist or not?"

Let me illustrate with the following analogy: You live in a medium-sized city in the U.S. with a population of around 75,000. There are at least a hand-ful of landscaping businesses in that city. You have not lived there long and don't know all the landscaping businesses but you've heard a few names dropped in conversation before. You would like to hire a landscaper in the near future.

A friend at work approaches you and states rather matter-of-factly: "Choose right now, yes or no. Does Dave's Landscaping Business, LLC., exist or not." This catches you off-guard. You think that you have seen a billboard somewhere where this business may have advertised but you are not certain. Also, you believe or suspect that someone has referred to this landscaping business in conversation. However, you don't know anything more than that. You have a pretty good but vague idea that Dave's Landscaping Business exists and that it probably provides landscaping services, given its title, but you could be mistaken. In fact, the billboard that you saw in passing might have read: "Rave's Landscaping Business" in which case your friend might be playing a little joke on you.

But he insists that you answer right now: "Yes" or "No" to the existence of this business. You rely on your hunch that there is, in fact, a business with that title. "Yes," you say.

"Correct!" he responds. "Now," he goes on. "You will hire that business to do your landscaping project, yes or no!"

This seems absolutely ridiculous at this point. You tell him calmly that you are saving up to pay for landscaping work on your property but that you do not have the money right now. You are just exploring your options and haven't even begun to look at landscaping businesses or quotes.

"I'll pay for it, the whole job," your friend then responds. "What?!?" you fire right back.

"I mean it," he goes on. "I will cover the costs for your project."

The whole thing seems too good to be true. But, unless your friend is simply pulling your leg, he is making an incredible offer.

In this analogy, I've broken down the steps between just affirming the basic existence of something and going on to committing to a decision beyond mere affirmation of existence. You may have detected already that the friend who is offering to pay for the job is Jesus who has already paid the price for sins [future costs of the construction project]. He has the cash reserves [payment for the landscaping service] to cover the costs and you have to commit to a decision.

You can legitimately waffle in your decision. Maybe the offer is too good to be true. Perhaps you will make the decision and even have your friend pay for it, but not like the work done on your yard. That's all possible. But you still have to choose for or against this particular offer.

The other argument that I was introducing earlier, perhaps a little too early, is that we can act rationally and still bet against a particular outcome that we are fairly sure of.

Let us suppose that I am about 95% certain that I will be able to drive successfully to my next appointment without getting into an accident or "fender bender." I am in my right mind...I don't believe that I have suddenly and inexplicably been brain-injured leaving me incompetent to drive...I am not intoxicated or under the influence. But I do bet against myself (rationally) when I have or pay for an automobile insurance policy. The person specified in the insurance contract, the insured, is betting that they will get into an accident when they provide payment to an insurance company, the insurer. The latter party is betting (confidently) that you will not get into an accident and that you will be in the right frame of mind when you drive. They do not want to pay out for an insurance claim, so they bet that you will not get into the accident. The former party is betting against themselves, even though they are rational to believe that they will, with almost absolute certainty, be able to drive without getting into an accident.

Thus, the skeptic who is 95% sure that God does not exist could still rationally bet against the reliability of his own faculties and his prior judgments against the existence of God! That is, the skeptic can and should bet for the existence of God, even though he or she is convinced otherwise since he or she will insure themselves (and bet against themselves rationally) when he or she takes out an insurance policy.

So, the person who, for whatever reason, holds that it is irrational to believe in the existence of God, unless they are 100% certain (and what human being with finite cognitive and memory functions would be in that position?), can and should bet on the existence of God since the funds are already provided for and there is no possibility of a deficit (no possible way that the positive bet will result in negative cash flow).

Of course, the skeptic can waffle which is, in effect, making a negative decision. But is it rational for the skeptic to take this bet, given how they live the rest of their life? That is the real question. If the positive bet is not irrational, then there is no reason not to take the bet. Why bet one way for most of your life but bet against the existence of God simply on account of your prejudice?

KingDebater, what is your choice? Even if you want to suspend indefinitely your judgment on the issues, how would you bet (hypothetically speaking)?

Thanks again and I really look forward to the rebuttal period where we can clarify strengths and acknowledge weaknesses in our own (and other people's) arguments.

Au revoir!

[1] Donc il est vrai qu'il y a un infini en nombre, mais nous ne savons ce qu'il est. " "Therefore, il is true that infinite numbers exist without knowing what they are" [my translation], in Blaise Pascal, Pensees: Extraits (Paris, France: Librairie Larousse, 1933) 98.

[2] Ibid.

[3] "Or j'ai deja montre qu'on peut bien connaitre l'existence d'une chose sans connaitre sa nature"; Ibid.
Debate Round No. 2


Thank you for your arguments. In this round, I will rebut your case.
A summary of my opponent's 1st argument here:
I honestly did not get the point of my opponent's first argument. If I understand it correctly, then I believe that this is a good summary:
- We can believe in that something exists, even if we don't know the minor details
- Then he draws an analogy in which I know very little about a new city, and that a friend asks me if "Dave's Landscaping Business " exists.
- I have a choice here, and I say yes.
- He says my decision is correct.
- He then asks if I should hire this business
- I say i'm still exploring options, and he says he will pay for it.
- Best thing to do here is to agree to this decision. He could be lying, but I won't lose anything. If he's telling the truth, then I'll get a great amount of gain.

A summary of my opponent's 2nd argument here:
- You decide to drive to your next appointment
- You aren't under the influence, or brain injured, etc.
- You are 95% sure you will make it, but you still pay for insurance.
- One cannot be 100% sure that god doesn't exist, thus they should bet in favor of god. It's possible not to bet in favor of god, but that's not the most rational decision.

I honestly believe that the first and second arguments are both trying to prove the same idea. That's why I will be specifically be adressing the second argument. However, by adressing the second, I'm sure that I will have successfully proven the flaws of the first one wrong as well, as they are both getting at the same basic principle.

While my opponent's analogy may look like Pascal's Wager on the surface, there are a few key differences between his analogy, and what Pascal's Wager proposes. I will rebut this by using the arguments that I presented in my own case in round 2.

Con believes that even if I am 95% sure, there is still a possbility of a car accident, and so I should [bet against my self and] accept the insurance policy, because that way, no matter what happened, I would end up being ok. Now this makes sense.

He then goes on to say that even if I am 95% sure God doesn't exist, I should [bet against myself] and still believe in him because I would be insuring myself by doing so. But am I really? You see, with the case of insurance, we are (theoretically) 100% sure that if an accident does happen, the insurance company will save me. But if I believe in god, am I 100% that God will save me?

Not exactly. Things are a bit more complicated than that, and this arrises mainlty due to God being a very unclear thing to believe in. As I stated in my own opening arguments, which god do I believe in?

Suppose I believe in Thor, would I be given myself 100% insurance? What about Allah? Would that give me 100% insurance? What about Krishna? What about the Christian God?

There are thousands of religions, each with their own gods and godesses (some being monotheistic and some polytheistic), with diffrent heavans and hells for each single one.

In reality, the chances of you believing in the correct god are very slim, and the chances of any god existing is very slim as well. Now, from a skeptic's point of view; he has thousands of gods to chose from, and he doesn't know which one is right, so what does he do?

Well, It's possible that he could just take a completely random guess, but how rational is that? Furthermore, if he were to believe in no god, theoretically, wouldn't that be better? If you think about it, not believing in any god, and then being confronted by Allah, is probably going to be a heck of a lot better than confronting Allah when you've been a devout Christian your whole life.

Now, addressing the idea that there is no possible defecit; to me there is a clear deficit. I have to give up much time and many valuable aspects of my life in order to "believe" in this God. As far as I'm concerned, i'm living the one life that we both know I have, and sacrificing it for a life that I have a very very slim chance of having isn't worth it.

I put the word "believe" in quotes because there is no way you can actually believe in something unless there is sufficient evidence for it (or I suppose unless you were brainwashed). The example I used in my opening argument is a good one. If I told you that we had found life on another planet, how would you just blindly believe me? You would most certainly ask for some type of proof?

For me, I ask for proof of god, and if there is no proof, I simply can't believe in him. I don't see how it's possible to change my view, unless I'm provided with certain evidence. But, I suppose there is the idea of just beating it into my head. It's possible that if I actually think that I believe in god, it will eventually get to the point where I will have brainwashed myself into belileving he exists. But this leads to another problem.

How would god not see through me at that point? It would be so obvious that I was a fake believer all along, and would just send me to hell anyway. So why even bother?

Answering my opponent's question: I would bet to not believe.

And I think the reasoning I have explained is quite sufficient.
Thank you.



KingDebater369, thanks for the interaction on Pascal's wager. It is a privilege to stand in the shadows of giants like Blaise Pascal who was a brilliant mathematician, inventor, and after whom we have named the computer programming language, PASCAL, Pascal's Triangle, and Pascal's wager.

It is the latter point that we are debating. Does Pascal's Wager warrant belief in God?

My opponent addresses the 2nd argument about insurance coverage and holds that the rebuttal will cover the 1st argument from Pascal.

The objections to the 2nd argument miss the force of the argument, I believe. His counterargument is that the insured believes that it's 100% true that the insurance coverage will pay out which is greater than the 95% confidence rate in insured's own ability to drive without accident.

There are two problems with this counterargument.

One is fairly obvious. There is no 100% rate at which insurance companies will pay out. Many times claims are denied for various reasons, including willful fraud. People know this. Thus, no one (except maybe the very na"ve) would believe that the insurance will kick in 100% of the time for an accident.

Two is an even bigger problem for my opponent and the central issue which is not addressed in his counterargument: rational people are still betting against themselves and their abilities, even when they are confident in these abilities! It doesn't matter the level of confidence that they have in their insurer's willingness to pay. That's irrelevant! The point is that they bet against themselves (with their own money!) when they drive with insurance.

If people rationally bet against themselves, then they could certainly bet for God, even though they don't know the "ins" and "outs" of theology. People know their own abilities and competencies and are confident yet they rationally go against this fact. Therefore, it is irrational to say, "Well, I just don't know enough about God in order to wager my belief-system on him."

Also, going back to the first argument (Pascal's rendition), KingDebater369 has short-changed this argument a bit, I think. In fact, properly understood, it will allay his fears that multiple gods make deciding rationally impossible. In effect, KingDebater is saying, "It's too confusing to choose which God; therefore, it's irrational to choose any god, so I choose no god." But Pascal address this response in his original argument! He is asking you to choose for or against his God because it is his God who offers this choice. Eternal bliss with Him or eternal unhappiness!

When reference is made to choosing simply in a random fashion what god to believe in, that ignores that Pascal is asking you to choose whether you would bet on the Christian God or not. What other religion demonstrates the power of life over death through the resurrection? What other religion is so honest that it tells you that your good works will never gain you entrance to heaven (since you could have logically committed some atrocious deed to outweigh your good works)? In what other religion do you find the assurance of salvation that you have within Christianity?

Even if you have significant doubts about these questions (and what skeptic wouldn't?), you still have to contend with Pascal's question. Would you bet on his God? His God is, after all, the one who he is proposing. He frames the question in terms of infinite numbers. You can know of their existence without knowing every particular or even whether they are odd or even.

Furthermore, the assumption the KingDebater makes about Islam is incorrect. It is not better better to be an absolute disbeliever than to be a Christian or a Jew. In fact, Christians and Jews are called People of the Book in the Qur'an.

I find it rather interesting that KingDebater refers to "deficits" and "sacrifices" that he would have to make to believe in the Christian God. Actually, it is the level of giving to charities (much higher among theists and religious believers than among skeptics) that usually motivates atheists and humanists to say, "Hey, we don't need a god to give more, even though we don't actually give more." So, KingDebater turns this whole point on its head and makes it a positive argument for disbelief. He would have to make sacrifices, give more to charity, give more of himself to this new god; therefore, he cannot make the decision. But the sacrifice is a positive thing -- it helps you benefit society by giving to charity and it improves your spiritual and mental health.

Kingdebater cannot believe without sufficient grounds. That is a myth. We all espouse beliefs that we do not have sufficient grounds to hold. Whether due to custom or tradition or simply to our cultural prejudices, not one single person has completely rational beliefs or can perfectly articulate why they believe what they believe. They can give reasons but that is not to say that these reasons are not informed by their psychology and sociology and spirituality. My 2nd argument just illustrates this fact.

In his opening, Kingdebater talks about the problem of having to make yourself believe. Another myth. Pascal is not asking anyone to make themselves believe. According to Pascal, the real problem is that we find ourselves too busy in life to reflect upon real, metaphysical choices. We are too preoccupied. It's not about making yourself believe anything; it's about reflectively considering your destiny in life.

KingDebater asks whether believing in God is like believing in life on other planets. Well, there are similarities and dissimilarities. There is plenty of evidence for the existence of God. Just using the tools that he mentions will lead to a trail leading to God.

Regarding the assumption of one God, it is rather simple to explain how this fits into Pascal's wager. In a polytheistic system, it does not make sense to have eternal bliss and punishment as outcomes. For one thing, there can't be any legitimate punishment for serving the wrong god since that god is merely one of many who could be worshiped. Furthermore, you wouldn't be worthy of any eternal happiness since you worshiped only one of many and there are many who could be revered. In a sense, Pascal's wager refutes polytheism since we have an intuitive sense of one God to whom we are accountable morally for our actions and beliefs.

In summary, neither of the arguments for Pascal's wager or bet have been fully addressed or accurately rebutted by my opponent.

The first argument, patterned after Pascal's original wager, maintains that just as we can know of the existence of something or someone rather vaguely without knowing its intimate qualities, so can we bet that God really exists without knowing his personal nature.

My opponent's response to this is to attempt to find a plurality of gods. But Pascal shows that infinite numbers do exist so that we can, correspondingly, know that an infinite being exists. Even granting the trajectory of my opponent's objection does not obviate the need to accept or reject Pascal's wager for the Christian God.

The second argument has been misunderstood by my opponent. He appears to believe that the presumed irrationality of betting against oneself, when one knows him or herself to be fully cognizant and rational, is not sufficient grounds for betting upon propositions that one may not be fully, 100% convinced of. As I show, the insured bets against themselves (somewhat irrationally) even if they counter-bet that their insurance pays out 100% (which I have shown to be a rather naive belief).

For these reasons, it is rational to bet positively on God's existence and, therefore, Pascal's wager does warrant belief in God.
Debate Round No. 3


KingDebater369 forfeited this round.


Thanks to the KingDebater369 for bringing up this interesting topic in the Philosophy of Religion.

It was a good exchange and I learned quite a bit in the process and trust that he had a similar

Thanks also to those who make a pit-stop here and check out the arguments for and against.
Debate Round No. 4
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by theisticscuffles 3 years ago
As with a lot of debaters, I have that lingering question after posting a response: "Was this the most succinct way to word my case?"
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by 8elB6U5THIqaSm5QhiNLVnRJA 3 years ago
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
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Who had better conduct:-Vote Checkmark-1 point
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Total points awarded:31 
Reasons for voting decision: Forfeited round by Pro means Con gets conduct. Pro wins argument though, as the point of 'which god do you believe in and why not the others' went fundamentally unrefuted all debate. Con's attack was emotional and unsubstantiated in comparison, relying on pure belief itself being warranted by a fear of what could happen in the afterlife. con ignored the issue of which God being the real one entirely.