Debunking Pascal’s Wager, which Christopher Hitchens aptly described as “hucksterism.”


A variant of Pascal’s Wager has been circulating (again) on social media.

You don’t believe in God? Fine. Why is it so important for many of you to mock those of us that do? If we’re wrong, what have we lost when we die? Nothing! How does our believing in Jesus bring you any harm? You think it makes me stupid? Gullible? Fine. How does that affect you? If you’re wrong your consequence is far worse. I would rather live my life believing in God and serving Him, and find out I was right, than not believe in Him and not serve Him, and find out I was wrong. Then it’s to late.

It’s a bit more complicated that than, but not much. Pascal’s Wager holds that one might as well believe in God, just in case God exists, rather than risk eternal damnation if She doesn’t.

Pascal’s Wager is an argument in apologetic philosophy devised by the seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal (1623–62). It posits that humans all bet with their lives either that God exists or that he does not. Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas they stand to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).

A few days after I saw the Fb passage, I took my mother to her dentist in Georgetown, where I grew up. The Southern Baptist church in the middle of town has an electronic message board, and it was transmitting a two-part admonition, paraphrased: Those who deny Jesus Christ are rebelling against God.

Why must I mock those of you who believe? I typically don’t, although I also don’t take kindly to being threatened, because as a rebel against God, am I not marked for some variety of physical punishment, perhaps by an angry mob of believers?

I might turn this notion of presumed mockery on its ear, and say “Why is it so important for so many believers to impose their belief system on me,” as when Governor Pence describes himself as a Christian first, conservative second and Republican third?

I can’t recall any point in my life where theism made sense, but I’ve no interest in mocking the devout so long as they stay off my porch, metaphorically.

In an interview roughly a year before his death, Christopher Hitchens briefly dispenses with Pascal’s Wager. It’s at the 22.13 mark. The entire interview is worth watching.

However, this blogger does an even more thorough job of it.

The Fatal Flaws of Pascal’s Wager, by Diplodocus G (Average Atheist)

… The point, and I think Christopher Hitchens was on to something when he called it hucksterism, is that Pascal’s Wager isn’t an honest question. It’s a trick. It’s trying to goad the non-believer into staying quiet about religion and just go along with the Christian majority. It’s saying, “Hey, you don’t believe, but wouldn’t you rather get along with all of us who do? Yes? So why not just make the professions, perform the sacraments, and come join us in church? It’s easy; just tell yourself you believe every night before you go to bed. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll wake up and it’ll be true! I mean, think about it: What if you’re wrong about Jesus?” Well, what if you’re wrong about Muhammad? Or Mahavira? Or Sheva? Or Ganesh? Or Zeus? Or Odin? Think about it.