May 16, 2011

Why Doesn't Pascal's Wager Apply to Christians Too?

But what if you are wrong about God?
Gate of hellYou've undoubtedly heard this question from Christians many times. They begin a conversation by assuming that you believe in their god. You correct them, explaining that you do not. They then ask you this question, determined to show you the error of your ways. They point out that if you are wrong about their god, you will be tortured forever in their hell.

Eventually, they'll get around to some version of Pascal's Wager (i.e., the idea that you should believe in their god to protect yourself in case you end up being wrong). These Christians do not seem to realize that there are at least two serious problems with this argument.

As I have previously stated, Pascal's Wager is not in any way specific to Christianity and could be used on Christians to suggest that they believe in other gods. There is no reason why you couldn't turn the argument around and ask the Christian why he or she doesn't believe in [insert any particular god here]. If the wager is really about self-protection, the logical extension would be that one would need to simultaneously be an adherent of all religions.

Second, it does not take a genius to realize that belief does not work like Christians imply when they use the wager. Suppose for a second that I became genuinely concerned about the possibility of roasting in Christian hell. Even if I wanted to, it isn't as though I could simply flip a switch and start believing in the Christian god. The best I could do would be to feign belief. Perhaps that would be enough to appease the Christian, but it hardly saves my "soul."

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