The Instigator
Con (against)
8 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
0 Points

Pascal's Wager is a Sound Argument to Believe in God

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/19/2014 Category: Religion
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 588 times Debate No: 61984
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (2)
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I have challenged this user for his views on Pascal's Wager. First round is for acceptance.
Debate Round No. 1


Pascal's Wager is as follows:

"Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) offers a pragmatic reason for believing in God: even under the assumption that God"s existence is unlikely, the potential benefits of believing are so vast as to make betting on theism rational." [1]

However, this argument is flawed.

Contention One: Genuineness

The standard by which this argument assumes God is that God, if he exists, rewards those who believe in him. However, this is an ultimately unfounded assumption because nothing in the definition of God (a maximally great [entity] that would be omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and all good [2]) suggests this. However, even if we accept this idea, we are then faced with the problem that basing a belief on a mercenary bet does not actually result in genuine belief. To quote:

"According to doxastic voluntarism, believing and disbelieving are choices that are up to us to make. Intellectualists deny this; they say it is impossible to adopt a belief simply because we decide to. If I offered to pay you $1000 for believing the sky is green, for instance, could you sincerely adopt this belief simply by wishing to? Evidently not. Therefore, some say, Pascal"s wager does not give legitimate grounds for believing in God.

But although we cannot adopt a belief simply by deciding to, the same is true for other actions. For instance, we cannot go to school simply by deciding to; rather, we have to wake up by a certain time (which may mean first developing a certain kind of habit), we must get dressed, we must put one foot in front of another, and so forth. Then if we are lucky we will end up at our destination, though this is far from guaranteed. So it goes for any other endeavor in life: one chooses to become a doctor, or to marry by age 30, or to live in the tropics " the attainment of such goals can be facilitated, though not purely willed, by appropriate micro-steps that are more nearly under voluntary control. Indeed, even twitching your little finger is not entirely a matter of volition, as its success depends on a functioning neural system running from your brain, through your spine, and down your arm. Your minutest action is a joint product of internal volition and external contingencies. The same applies to theistic belief: although you cannot simply decide to be a theist, you can choose to read one-sided literature, you can choose to join a highly religious community, you can try to induce mystical experiences by ingesting psychedelic drugs like LSD, and you can choose to chant and pray. No mere exercise of will can guarantee that you will end up believing in God..." [3]

Contention Two: False Dichotomy

When presented with Pascal's Wager, we are given a false dichotomy: believe in God, or do not believe in God. While this first appears to be sound via disjunction introduction, the first option is in reality merely a compartmentalization of many more options, believing in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Animism, Paganism, Daoism, etc. At first this may seem to be splitting hairs, as Universalists insist that belief in any God is adequate. However, this idea breaks down when we see religions condemning each other.

"You shall have no other gods before me." - Exodus 20:3 [4]

Therefore, the simplistic idea held to previously that it is only necessary to believe in a God for infinite reward has now been shattered, as many religions supply that other believers are doomed. Even denominations condemn other denominations, sunnis condemning shias, catholics condemning protestants, hasidic jews condemning reform jews. Given the veritable thousands of options one has to choose from, the probability of infinite reward for choosing the right God has been shrunk to infinitesimally small proportions. And since every religion is unavailable to those who came before it, we have no way of knowing if the "true" God belongs to a religion that hasn't even been invented yet. We simply must accept the we have no way of knowing whether the "true" God is Yahweh, Allah, or even Cthulhu.

Contention Three: Probability

One might claim that no matter how unlikely one is to choose the correct God, all that matters is that the probability exists. To quote:

"It"s unlikely that the probability of God"s existing is exactly one-half, but this does not matter. Due to the infinite value[...], if God"s existence has any finite probability then the expectation for believing in God will be infinite." [5]

At first this appears to be a sound reasoning, but this falls under two main objections.

Subpoint A: Unknowability

When dealing with the nature of a God, assuming tenets about this nature is absurd. Pascal himself admits this.

"If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible...reason can decide nothing here." - Blaise Pascal.

When dealing with a deity that we can admittedly know nothing for certain about beyond its definition, to assume that this deity rewards believers is absurd. In fact, since the tenets of this deity are unknowable, any behavior we make is just as likely to be rewarded by that deity as it is to be punished. Therefore, an atheist is exactly is as likely to receive an infinite reward for their beliefs as an infinite punishment, as is a theist of any religion. This idea may seem strange or alien, but when dealing with a deity about which nothing can be known, any possibility is as likely as any other. Since the likelihood for any outcome is as likely to be positive infinity as it is to be negative, the expected values cancel out, leaving the payoffs for any belief, atheistic or theistic, at exactly zero.

Subpoint B: Self-Contradiction

Even if we ignore the above, we still need to understand that although the infinite reward and punishment do provide a dominant strategy for any probability of choosing the correct God, this only applies if that probability is greater than zero. However, given our definition of God (a maximally great [entity] that would be omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and all good) there are some contradictions in the basic nature of this entity that reduce the probability of His existence to zero. The paradox of the stone (If God can do anything, can God create a rock so heavy he cannot lift it?), the problem of evil (If God is all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing, how can bad things exist?), the prediction paradox (If God is all-knowing he knows what He will do, but if He is all-powerful, He can change it to falsify his knowledge), and the list goes on. In essence, when infinite sets are combined with self-referentiality (essentially the definition of God), the result is always a paradox. And a paradox cannot exist in reality.

Over to you, Pro.







( )

All of your points of contention have been answered for in the above article however I will address them individually.

1. "Indeed, it might not matter whether we can choose to have the beliefs we have. If Tables I or II be right then the fact would remain that it is pragmatically better to believe in God than not, insofar as theists, taken across all possible worlds, are on average better off than atheists. It does not matter whether theism results from personal will-power, God"s grace, or cosmic luck " regardless, being better off is being better off. Thus, Pascal"s wager need not succeed as a tool of persuasion for it to serve as a tool of assessment (Mougin & Sober 1994).", this is a part of ( your article.

I assert that Pascal's Wager is not a question of the value of belief choice but instead the value of pragmatism. "The Odds" if you will. So the latter paragraph is sufficient in your section you quoted to validate this.

2. As with the above the question of "Which deity" exceeds the values of the point.

"Finally, Bartha (2012) models one's probability assignments to various theistic hypotheses as evolving over time according to a "deliberational dynamics" somewhat analogous to the dynamics of evolution by natural selection. So understood, Pascal's Wager is not a single decision, but rather a sequence of decisions in which one's probabilities update sequentially in proportion to how choiceworthy each God appeared to be in the previous round. (This relies on a sophisticated handling of infinite utilities in terms of utility ratios given in his (2007); see below.) He argues that a given probability assignment is choiceworthy only if it is an equilibrium of this deliberational dynamics. He shows that certain assignments are choiceworthy by this criterion, thus providing a kind of vindication of Pascal against the many Gods objection."

(, Objections, point #5)

In essence the question asked is "Do I believe in a deity"? The question of "Which deity" lies beyond the original question however so it is not the same question. The previous question only has two answers: "Yes" and "No". 50/50. "Did I choose the right deity?" is a different matter. To illustrate take a simple cup game. There are two decisions in any given version of this game:

A. "Do I play?"

B. "What cup do I pick?"

Question B does not effect question A, so the matrix for A is 2x2 where you measure the Opportunity Cost.

3a. That's exactly why it works. Since reason cannot be applied the question falls less on the nature of the game and more on the actual Opportunity Cost to the player. The proposition is simply "I am choosing whether or not to believe in X.", this naturally incorporates all belief claims that come with it, tenets as well, which means that there is no absurdity in the decision. Let's go back to the cup game; there are two cups, you just have to pick one, and if you find the ball beneath it you win, it costs $1 to play. If the ball is green you also win $10,000 a year for life. If the ball is any other color you win your money back rate. There are four opportunity costs,

A. You play, and win, and the ball is green, you profit "eternally".
B. You play, and win, but the ball is not blue, you profit from the opportunity cost alone.
C. You play, and lose, you still profit from the opportunity cost alone.
D. You don't play, you simply lose the opportunity cost.

D is the worst option because it is the only one where the odds of winning are 0%. So the actual nature of the belief claim does not matter as it inherently is just a question of whether to ascribe in the first place thus again exiting the scope of the wager.

3b. This undermines itself because as you quoted:

"If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible...reason can decide nothing here." - Blaise Pascal

There is no self-contradiction unless you presume a specific entity (which you are) which does not effect the wager anyway. For instance if you decided to believe in a Taoist deity the odds in the wager do not change (because it's just a question of whether to take that step in the first place) no matter what the nature of the deity is. Since this focuses on a very specific definition of a deity there's really no value to it. You can't (according to Pascal) reason for it; this question is actually a question beneath a question in a string of questions:

A. Do I believe?
B. Which deity?
F(?). Is this theological construct sensible?

This is not a theological question.
Debate Round No. 2


1. I would like to highlight an important part of the quote you have selected.

"insofar as theists, taken across all possible worlds, are on average better off than atheists"

This is an assumption. It is not supported.

2. The problem with the isolation of the "Which deity?" question from the "Do I believe?" question is that in order to determine payoffs for corner of the game where God exists, certain fundamentals must be known about God, namely how one will be rewarded for their belief choice. And this is no trifling matter, as to make a dominant strategy dominant, we must know that the payoffs in that column are greater than each payoff in the all other columns. And if we isolate the question of which deity to believe in, then we have no way of determining the payoffs for belief. As I said before, if a God is truly unknowable (which you have not contested) then the payoff is as likely to be any number as any other number, so if we use expected values the positive and negative payoffs cancel out, resulting in the payoffs in each square of God exists being zero plus the payoffs in God does not exist.

However, if we decide that we can know something about God, namely that He rewards those who believe in His specific religion, things get worse. We must now incorporate all of the eternal suffering into our expected value as well as the one correct choice that results in eternal reward. With two options, we are faced with the same dilemma as before, namely that the payoffs cancel out. But as we know, there are more than two options, meaning that the expected value is negative infinity, the same as the expected value for atheists. The dilemma stands.

3a. The ball game you now describe is quite different from Pascal's Wager when you consider the unknowability of God. In the ball game you describe, the payoffs are known, making it a symmetric game. However, in the game of choosing whether or not to believe in God, nothing about the payoffs is known for God's existence. Therefore, all possible outcomes for belief if God exists are equally likely, so when evaluating the payoffs for the God exists half of the game the expected values cancel out, leaving you with zero. Considering this, if we were to actually represent this scenario as a game, this would be more accurate:

A. You play, and win, and the ball is green, and something happens but you don't know what.
B. You play, and win, but the ball is not green, and something happens but you don't know what.
C. You play, and lose, and you have simply lost money. (The cancellation means the opportunity cost doesn't actually change the payoffs as I mentioned previously.
D. You don't play, gaining nothing and losing nothing.

In this scenario, the only way you could conceivably lose money is by playing. Thus, not playing strictly dominates playing and this is what any rational person would choose.

3b. You are misusing the quote. Obviously Pascal does not mean we can know literally nothing about God, for if that were true then how would we know that we could know nothing? That by itself is contradictory. What this really means is that beyond the basic definition for God (which I provided in the previous round, with citation) we can know nothing about God. i.e., God's specific intentions, what God may look like, if God created an afterlife, etc.

Thus, the basic nature of God can be said to be from this definition only, self-contradictory. With that in mind, we know that the probability of the half God exists is 0%, and thus that half cannot be included in dominance calculations.

Over to Pro.


blackkid forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


Extend arguments.

FYI, they actually deactivated their account, so I can only assume that they will be forfeiting the other rounds as well.


blackkid forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by blackkid 2 years ago
You never know. I could do horribly.
Posted by FMAlchemist 2 years ago
Oh man surrealism is going to be destroyed.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by republicofdhar 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:40 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro forfeited.
Vote Placed by Ameliamk1 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:40 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro forfeits, and Con's arguments go without response.