Richard Carrier Responds to Pascal’s Wager

Richard Carrier attempts to respond to Pascal’s Wager by suggesting premises which lead to a completely opposite conclusion:

The following argument could be taken as tongue-in-cheek, if it didn’t seem so evidently true. At any rate, to escape the logic of it requires theists to commit to abandoning several of their cherished assumptions about God or Heaven. And no matter what, it presents a successful rebuttal to any form of Pascal’s Wager, by demonstrating that unbelief might still be the safest bet after all (since we do not know whose assumptions are correct, and we therefore cannot exclude the assumptions on which this argument is based).

If his response is taken literally, it is certainly not true in fact, and it is likely that he realizes this, and for this reason says that it could be taken as “tongue-in-cheek.” But since he adds that it seems “so evidently true,” it is not clear that he sees what is wrong with it.

His first point is that God would reward people who are concerned about doing good, and therefore people who are concerned about the truth:

It is a common belief that only the morally good should populate heaven, and this is a reasonable belief, widely defended by theists of many varieties. Suppose there is a god who is watching us and choosing which souls of the deceased to bring to heaven, and this god really does want only the morally good to populate heaven. He will probably select from only those who made a significant and responsible effort to discover the truth. For all others are untrustworthy, being cognitively or morally inferior, or both. They will also be less likely ever to discover and commit to true beliefs about right and wrong. That is, if they have a significant and trustworthy concern for doing right and avoiding wrong, it follows necessarily that they must have a significant and trustworthy concern for knowing right and wrong. Since this knowledge requires knowledge about many fundamental facts of the universe (such as whether there is a god), it follows necessarily that such people must have a significant and trustworthy concern for always seeking out, testing, and confirming that their beliefs about such things are probably correct. Therefore, only such people can be sufficiently moral and trustworthy to deserve a place in heaven–unless god wishes to fill heaven with the morally lazy, irresponsible, or untrustworthy.

But only two groups fit this description: intellectually committed but critical theists, and intellectually committed but critical nontheists (which means both atheists and agnostics, though more specifically secular humanists, in the most basic sense).

His second point is that the world is a test for this:

It is a common belief that certain mysteries, like unexplained evils in the world and god’s silence, are to be explained as a test, and this is a reasonable belief, widely defended by theists of many varieties.

His next argument is that the available evidence tends to show that either God does not exist or that he is evil:

If presented with strong evidence that a god must either be evil or not exist, a genuinely good person will not believe in such a god, or if believing, will not give assent to such a god (as by worship or other assertions of approval, since the good do not approve of evil). Most theists do not deny this, but instead deny that the evidence is strong. But it seems irrefutable that there is strong evidence that a god must either be evil or not exist.

For example, in the bible Abraham discards humanity and morality upon God’s command to kill his son Isaac, and God rewards him for placing loyalty above morality. That is probably evil–a good god would expect Abraham to forego fear and loyalty and place compassion first and refuse to commit an evil act, and would reward him for that, not for compliance. Likewise, God deliberately inflicts unconscionable wrongs upon Job and his family merely to win a debate with Satan. That is probably evil–no good god would do such harm for so petty a reason, much less prefer human suffering to the cajoling of a mere angel. And then God justifies these wrongs to Job by claiming to be able to do whatever he wants, in effect saying that he is beyond morality. That is probably evil–a good god would never claim to be beyond good and evil. And so it goes for all the genocidal slaughter and barbaric laws commanded by God in the bible. Then there are all the natural evils in the world (like diseases and earthquakes) and all the unchecked human evils (i.e. god makes no attempt to catch criminals or stop heinous crimes, etc.). Only an evil god would probably allow such things.

He concludes that only atheists go to heaven:

Of the two groups comprising the only viable candidates for heaven, only nontheists recognize or admit that this evidence strongly implies that God must be evil or not exist. Therefore, only nontheists answer the test as predicted for morally good persons. That is, a morally good person will be intellectually and critically responsible about having true beliefs, and will place this commitment to moral good above all other concerns, especially those that can corrupt or compromise moral goodness, like faith or loyalty. So those who are genuinely worthy of heaven will very probably become nontheists, since their inquiry will be responsible and therefore complete, and will place moral concerns above all others. They will then encounter the undeniable facts of all these unexplained evils (in the bible and in the world) and conclude that God must probably be evil or nonexistent.

In other words, to accept such evils without being given a justification (as is entailed by god’s silence) indicates an insufficient concern for having true beliefs. But to have the courage to maintain unbelief in the face of threats of hell or destruction, as well as numerous forms of social pressure and other hostile factors, is exactly the behavior a god would expect from the genuinely good, rather than capitulation to the will of an evil being, or naive and unjustified trust that an apparently evil being is really good–those are not behaviors of the genuinely good.

It is not completely clear what he thinks about his own argument. His original statement suggests that he realizes that it is somewhat ridiculous, taken as a whole, but it is not exactly clear if he understands why. He concludes:

Since this easily and comprehensively explains all the unexplainable problems of god (like divine hiddenness and apparent evil), while other theologies do not (or at least nowhere so well), it follows that this analysis is probably a better explanation of all the available evidence than any contrary theology. Since this conclusion contradicts the conclusion of every form of Pascal’s Wager, it follows that Pascal’s Wager cannot assure anyone of God’s existence or that belief in God will be the best bet.

This might express his failure to see the largest flaw in his argument. He probably believes that it is actually true that “this analysis is probably a better explanation of all the available evidence than any contrary theology.” But this cannot be true, even assuming that his arguments about good and evil are correct. The fact that very many people accept a Christian theology, and that no one believes Carrier’s suggested theology, is in itself part of the available evidence, and this fact alone outweighs all of his arguments, whether or not they are correct. That is, a Christian theology is more likely to be true as a whole than his proposed theology of “only atheists go to heaven”, regardless of the facts about what good people are likely to do, of the facts about what a good God is likely to do, and so on.

It is a common failure on the part of unbelievers not to notice the evidence that results from the very existence of believers. This is of course an aspect of the common failure of people in general to notice the existence of evidence against their current beliefs. In this sense, Carrier likely does in fact actually fail to notice this evidence. Consequently he has a vague sense that there is something ridiculous about his argument, but he does not quite know what it is.

Nonetheless, although his argument is mistaken as a whole, there are some aspects of it which could be reasonably used by an unbeliever in responding to Pascal’s wager in a truly reasonable way. Such a response would go something like this, “My current beliefs about God and the world are largely a result of the fact that I am trying to know the truth, and the fact that I am trying to know the truth is a part of the fact that I am trying to be a good person. Choosing to believe would be choosing to abandon significant parts of my effort to be a good person. If there is a good God, I would expect him to take these things into account.”

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6 thoughts on “Richard Carrier Responds to Pascal’s Wager

  1. what?! simply, if god is a jealous god and god is not the christian god, Pascal and others are going to hell and chances literally are in favor of the non god worshiper. that’s all tautologously absolute.

    presuming a jewish god, the christian still goes to hell, and the jew and the atheist still go to heaven.

    and so on.

    the problem is, god is incomprehensible. we don’t know as any matter of fact there is a god. we have no concept of god because the concepts we do have are comprehensible. so, truth in Christianity is not propositional, not a fregean bivalent. truths in all religions are existential, and so there’s no possible way to talk about probabilities in any literal since; for instance, the probability of Jesus raising from the dead is ZERO because 1) Jesus is claimed to be the only instance of that, and 2) probabilities rely on priors.

    there are likewise ZERO philosophers who have looked at Pascal’s wager and done anything more than laugh.

    but as it is, no one is more or less likely to win the god lotto, but under many systems, the adherent and the atheist will seek a reward where adherents to other ideologies won’t.

    on the moral aspect, any god who would reward a person for feigning belief to self servingly attain a reward is an immoral prig and that person, a fraud.

    play the wager where we’re told god resides in hell or his reward, punishment … now tell me how much you love god.

    the fact is, no one can choose to believe there is or isn’t a god. without reason to believe more than doubt, you cannot force yourself into belief. so, you either have the impression there are gods or you don’t!

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  2. You are making very little sense, just like the last time you commented on this blog.

    If Judaism is true, that is not a reason why it would be more likely for an atheist to go to heaven than for a Christian. A Christian at least recognizes the existence of the God of Judaism, the atheist does not.

    God may be incomprehensible in some sense, but that does not mean we cannot make true statements about him.

    We have discussed this issue of fact before. Either it is a fact that God exists, or it is a fact that he does not.

    Truth in Christianity is certainly propositional. God exists or he does not, Christ rose or he did not, and so on.

    The probability that Jesus rose from the dead is certainly not zero. He is not claimed to be the only instance of that (such miracle stories are common), and a reasonable prior for such a thing cannot be zero.

    Many philosophers have defended Pascal’s wager. One of them is Blaise Pascal, and no reasonable person doubts that he was a philosopher.

    Some people are more likely to go to heaven than others, just as you yourself are more likely to get there than Hitler was.

    The wager is not about “feigning religious belief.”

    You are surely capable of choosing to believe things, and in fact you are right now choosing to believe many erroneous statements.

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