Pascal’s Wager (and why it’s bullshit)

I’ve been on a Christopher Hitchens kick recently. Say what you will about his thoughts on Mother Theresa (a con artist), or George W. Bush (supporting the surge into Iraq), or Henry Kissinger (a war criminal), when he debated the religious he was always two things above all: smart and witty. As I watched him decimate the likes of the abrasive Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and enjoyed his running circles around the backhanded (and remarkably ignorant) host of “Wretched Radio”, it reminded me of the times I’ve been approached by the proselytizing, and one of their most common approaches gets to me like no other… a popular argument commonly referred to (when identified) as “Pascal’s Wager.”

It basically flows like this: if you don’t believe in G/god, and you’re wrong, you’re infinitely punished for your mistake. And if you believe and you’re right, then you’re infinitely rewarded via heaven. If you’re a non-believer and you happen to be correct about there not being an afterlife, then you’re still in the ground. You’re still dead. Right next to the religious person who was wrong in their assertion. It’s the making of a grid with four boxes, only one of them leading to eternal paradise, and only one side even proposing such a possibility.

“So why not take the chance?”

This is one of the oldest and most classic of the arguments in favor of believing in a higher power – at least, one with an assertion of an afterlife – and thus I think it deserves a specific rebuttal. Because the very concept of it to me, the thought that such an argument is still considered “valid” and not “insulting to the human mind”, is very, very stupid.