Pascal’s Famous Wager

Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously

~ Hunter S. Thompson


I’ve been assailed lately with questions about my beliefs. And then I’ve been assailed for my beliefs. My recent essay on the topic brought more questions than understanding, and most of the questions were personal and stupid. Some readers imposed their ridiculous worldviews onto me in telling me how to act, of course.

I’ll broaden the issue in this short essay, starting with an oft-cited bit of philosophy. And, as with Gonzo, I don’t take seriously anybody else’s ideas about the path I’ve chosen.

Pascal’s Wager is an argument in philosophy presented by the seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist Blaise Pascal (1623–62). It posits that humans bet with their lives that God either exists or does not.

Pascal argued that a rational person should live as though God exists and therefore seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (such as pleasure), whereas they stand to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).

Pascal’s simplistic explanation for his wager is widely cited. It is widely accepted as accurate. It is also incorrect, based on simple logic few people are capable of grasping.

Never mind the utter absence of evidence for god(s), heaven, or hell. Never mind the obvious violation of the Laws of Thermodynamics inherent in the typical, tawdry description of hell. Never mind the societal “should” attendant to acceptance of Pascal’s dumbassery as well as the rampant dumbassery requisite to adopting rules imposed by an invisible, omniscient being. We can ignore all that meaningless palaver and focus instead on the crux of the wager.

Finite loss? Of course hedonistic behavior is implied from a patriarchal culture that views death and dying, grief and grieving, sex and bodily functions as taboo topics. Of course the thought of personal integrity never enters the the mind of a simpleton focused on public conversation. Of course paternalism overrides logic.

Finite loss? Loss of one’s integrity is virtually everything, at least to me. It’s one of few structures, functions, or characteristics that has not been monetized. Small wonder it’s so uncommon. Small wonder many readers are confused: Why would I bother focusing on a rare attribute that can’t be assigned economic value?

Perhaps my proclivity leans toward the voiceless. Perhaps I recognize the incompleteness of the monetary system. Perhaps my long-time appreciation of rarity comes into play. Perhaps I know money easily distorts one’s values rather than reflecting comprehensive value.

Infinite gains? Is that how you view the afterlife for which there is no evidence? Are you willing to forgo fully living on Earth for an illusory rumor supported only by faith? Faith, after all, is belief in something for which there is no evidence.

Infinite gains? If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not true. Infinity is a big, tough pill. Forever is a long time, especially toward the end.

This essay will not sway a single person, and not for the usual reasons concerning the inability to overcome stupidity along with the preference of the masses for ignorance. In this case, logic does not apply because faith does not depend upon evidence. Rather, faith willfully denies evidence by definition.