Re: Pascal's Wager

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Sat, 05 Dec 1998 20:22:13 -0600

Lee Daniel Crocker saith:
> Pascal's wager is restated to argue a different point:
> > One: if you do not believe in christian god there are two
> > possibilities, if christian god exists you will go in hell,
> > if it doesn't nothing happen. Two: if you do believe in god,
> > and it doesn't exist, then there is no consequence, but if
> > it does (finally) exist, then JackpoT!!! you go in heaven.
> Poster contends that the fallacy is lack of probabilities,
> but it is actually quite a bit simpler and more obvious than
> that: the premises of the argument are simply false. There
> /is/ a cost to belief, and there /is/ a benefit to non-belief,
> and both the costs and benefits of both choices must be
> evaluated to make a rational choice.

Well, but even adding costs and probabilities is not enough. The claimed payoff is infinite, and the claimed consequence is infinite, so any finite probability and finite cost, when multiplied out, would give you Pascal's answer. What I pointed out is that there are more probable systems, requiring fewer assumptions, with infinite payoffs, that cancel out the two-sided wager. (This is a stronger version of the multiple-religions answer.)

> Indeed, I personally think that it is not possible for a
> person who honestly believes in God to be a moral person or
> lead an effective, worthwhile life, so the cost of belief
> is very high--the sacrifice of this life for the false hope
> in the next.

I'm sorry, but I think this statement is simply false. What about Martin Luther King, to name the first example to spring to mind?

A stronger form of your argument is: "Any person who honestly believes in God, and who is intelligent enough to work out the logical consequences, and who doesn't ignore parts ve doesn't like, will inevitably do evil things or waste opportunities."

This is also untrue. If God is a simple fact, but God is disinterested, the knowledge of God's existence would make very little difference to an ethical system.

You need "picture of God X" to replace "God", which is a much less sweeping, and more productive, argument.

--         Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.