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Pascal's Wager

I recently came upon a poster in an email list, who recommended that we adopt Pascal's Wager. I can't quote the passage that moved me to write, due to the posting rules for the list in question, but the summary is that we must choose whether or not to believe in god. If we disbelieve and there is a god, we are held responsible for disbelieving; but if there is no god, we get no punishment or reward whatever we believed; so, the argument goes, it is better to wager that there is a god.

IMHO, Pascal's wager is a very, very poor argument. Consider: Suppose the real god is actually someone who hates the Christian/Moslem/Baha'i/you-name-it conception of god. He actually punishes with the most fearsome vengeance those who believe in that god, but doesn't care much if you don't believe in him.

If you think that is unlikely, here is a more likely version: God cares whether one assesses the evidence to the best of one's ability, and follows the path of intellectual honesty. He is highly offended by people who believe simply in the hope of getting a reward. Such a god will clearly punish those who choose belief from being convinced by Pascal's wager.

Or perhaps God rewards people for the good they do relative to the motivation they had for doing it - He rewards believers very little, because they expect payment (heaven) for doing good, but He rewards atheists a lot, because they did good without any expectation of payback.

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