Pascal’s counter-wager

[Note: I’ve disabled comments on this post due to spam. Let me know if you’d like to have commenting turned back on again, and I’ll be happy to oblige.]

The interesting thing about gambling on the supernatural is that the supernatural, by definition, has no objective, reality-based constraints. As soon as you can objectively measure and/or test something, and can determine whether or not it is likely to be true, it ceases to be properly supernatural, and becomes a question that can and should be answered through the use of the scientific method. Stick to the supernatural, and all bets are equally baseless.

For example, let’s suppose that there exists a supernatural predator who preys on the spirits of the gullible and incautious. Such a predator might groom his prey for the harvest, much as the American farmer fattens his turkey for Thanksgiving. He could manifest himself as a god, and attempt to lure believers to himself by various apparent (or genuine) miracles, and a pretense of spreading love, mercy and forgiveness. In the afterlife, anyone who sincerely believes in this god becomes god’s lunch for all eternity, or for at least as long as it takes the god to slowly gnaw away at your soul and devour it.

I’m not saying that any such god exists, but if we’re going to assume the reality of the supernatural, he’s at least as likely as the kind of god who would genuinely save you. (Hey, maybe he does save you—for a snack!) But such a callous, carnivorous, exploitative god would seem to fit the available evidence better than the loving, almighty Heavenly Father does. Plus it would explain why he seems to hate skeptics so much. They’re not only unfit for divine consumption, but they spoil others as well.

We can’t know whether God is a deceitful predator luring believers to their eternal doom. But if He is, and you trust in him, you’ve just made the worst mistake of your entire existence. Isn’t it safer not to believe in any god?



  1. I Am E.A. Blair says

    Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn! Be eaten first!

    In all seriousness, I once came across a quote attributed to Louis Farrakhan: “A man should stand to pray. If he kneels or bows down, he’s just waiting for someone to come along and kick him in the ass”. If he indeed said that, it’s the only statement of his that I’ve found that I can agree with (there may be others, but I’m not a big fan of his). With the number of distasteful things that have happened in my life that others have told me were “part of god’s plan” of “were supposed to happen for a reason”, I’d have to conclude that the biblical deity is a vicious jerk who had it in for me.

    On submitting this comment, I was told that I am an impostor for a registered user (I am, in fact, THE registered user), but I cannot find anything here that says “Log In”, so I have to respond semi-anonymously. How the hell DOES one log in?

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … a supernatural predator who preys on the spirits of the gullible and incautious. Such a predator might groom his prey for the harvest, much as the American farmer fattens his turkey for Thanksgiving.

    Any such god will have years of gluttony before finishing even his first course of False Noise fans.

  3. sqlrob says

    It might be no coincidence that the faithful are referred to as sheep.

    “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”

    Where do lamb chops come from?

    • Corvus illustris says

      “Did he smile his work to see? / Did he who made the Lamb make thee? / Tyger, tyger, burning bright, … ”

      When William Blake says he is of the devil’s party, he should be taken seriously.

  4. grumpyoldfart says

    Or it may be that god hates “yes men”.

    Christians go to hell and atheists go to heaven.

  5. Owlmirror says


    I once again point out the relevant passages here: Revelation 3:15-16.

    I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth.

    What is going on such that these people are in God’s mouth?!?!

    And what happens to those who are not spewed?

    • Corvus illustris says

      And what happens to those who are not spewed?

      Apc 1,16: … from his mouth a sword sharp on both sides came out … so it sounds as though they get cut up something fierce. (Sorry for the inelegant translation.)

  6. Randomfactor says

    If I were to design a heaven, Christians would get all the harp-playing psalm-singing they could stand. Atheists would get an eternally refreshed library–and Mark Twain is still writing for it, when he’s not attending lectures on cosmology by Einstein.

    Why have a hell at all? If some are irredeemable, well, Twain’s observation is valid. Nonexistence after death is no different from nonexistence before birth.

  7. anachronistes says

    I made a similar argument once to a theist over the phone (he called to recruit my daughter for missionary work). I basically asked him, since he believes in supernatural intervention, how he can be sure his bible isn’t the work of the devil who uses it to mislead people. After going down this rabbit hole a little further he finally yelled at me something about knowing where we’re going when we die! He was really angry.

  8. brucegee1962 says

    Actually, the one way that Pascal’s wager would make any sense is what I think of as the Gaiman variant. If you’re familiar with Gaiman’s Sandman series, it’s heavily implied that your expectations play heavily into what kind of afterlife you end up in. If you revel in doing evil and expect to be tormented throughout eternity because of it, for instance, the cosmos will be obliged to fulfill your expectations.

    The Pascal theory would suggest, then, that you dream up the nicest afterlife you can possibly imagine, then, and spend your life believing in it as hard as you possibly can.

  9. I Am E.A. Blair says

    If I were to design an afterlife, it would be one in which people whould get, instead of what they hoped they’d earned, they’d get what they fear they truly deserved.

    Meanwhile, I am still unable to log in to this blog with my regular ID. My password is rejected and WordPress will not let me reset it.

    • Cathy W says

      Your afterlife is unkind to some people with depression* and sincere Calvinists – mental illness and/or receiving wacky indoctrination as a child would be grounds for eternal torment. I’d prefer one where reward and punishment is based on what you’d actually done…

      …and the scenario in the original post is going to haunt me for the rest of the day. Thanks ever so much. 🙂

      *at a bare minimum, me; I’d like to believe I’m no worse than your average run-of-the-mill human, but sometimes I can’t kick the irrational idea that I’m the lowest of the low, a filthy worm, a waste of oxygen and organic material, I deserve whatever bad anyone felt like heaping on me, and I’ll get it as soon as someone else figures out how terrible I am.

  10. poxyhowzes says


    Get out of your current instance of FtB, and maybe even shut down your computer entirely.

    Come back to FtB and either (1) scroll all the way to the bottom left where you’ll find “FTB Access,” or (2) go to one of the blogs (like “culture wars”) that precedes the comments box with the message “You Must Be Logged In to leave a message. For either (1) or (2) log in with your username and password.

    When wordpress throws up an unrelated screen like Dashboard, use the BACK arrow, maybe repeatedly, to get back to FtB.

    I routinely have the same experience you have had, telling me I’m spoofing myself, whenever I try my initial log in from an FtB blog that precedes the comments box with “Name:* ; Email:* ; and “Website.”

    I’m no computernik, so what you have above is the sum total of what I know from trial-and-error.

    — pH

  11. Randomfactor says

    E.A. Blair:

    How the hell DOES one log in?

    Go to the blogs maintained by either PZ Myers or Ed Bryant. Pick a thread, go to the bottom. There’s the login link. Once logged in, you can navigate back to the blog you want. (You can log into the WordPress system with a different link, but it takes you to a Dashboard page instead of a comment field.)

    I’ve been writing other FTB bloggers asking them to incorporate the script that Ed and PZ use, which allows you to log in but keeps you on the thread you want to comment at. Should be no problem to make that a part of the standard layout. So far, exactly none have done so. I has a sad.

  12. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    For example, let’s suppose that there exists a supernatural predator who preys on the spirits of the gullible and incautious. Such a predator might groom his prey for the harvest, much as the American farmer fattens his turkey for Thanksgiving.

    Careful. That can be turned around…
    Russell’s Chicken:

    Domestic animals expect food when they see the person who feeds them. We know that all these rather crude expectations of uniformity are liable to be misleading. The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.

    But in spite of the misleadingness of such expectations, they nevertheless exist. The mere fact that something has happened a certain number of times causes animals and men to expect that it will happen again. Thus our instincts certainly cause us to believe the sun will rise tomorrow, but we may be in no better a position than the chicken which unexpectedly has its neck wrung.

    Article: Bertrand Russell – The Problems of Philosophy, On Induction

    • sailor1031 says

      Well I do, perhaps unreasonably, expect the sun to rise tomorrow – or actually the spot I’m on on earth will rotate in a “downward” sort of direction. But I’ve got some mathematical justification for my expectation. And short of a megadisaster such as an asteroid strike big enough to destroy earth, the sun will “rise”.

      Do the choickens have some mathematical expression that governs the behaviour of the chicken-feeder?

      • CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

        But I’ve got some mathematical justification for my expectation.

        You have mathematical models that you feel represent reality… because they’ve worked pretty well so far.

        That’s the point. Induction works because it has, so it should continue to work.
        But if you discard induction, you can’t function AT ALL.
        On the other hand, miracle claims are an exercise in denying induction.
        ( It’s wasn’t something mundane this time. )

        So there is a delicious irony in pointing out that same denial means giving up expectations of a good god.

  13. D506 says

    I made a similar argument to a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to my door one day and made a similar argument to Pascal’s wager. In summary:

    Since they believe Satan rules the world and is supposed to be the ultimate deceiver, it’s only rational to assume the bible is a ploy to trick us. I argued that a god who wished us to follow his rules would give them to us inherently, not as part of some ‘worldly’ book. Therefor, it made the most sense to listen to our conscience rather than a book which tells us frequently to violate it and that the best possible wager was to follow your conscience, since if we have a creator it must have come from her/him.

    Suffice to say, despite assurances to the contrary, they did not return.

  14. catbutler says

    That does explain all that talk about how Jesus came To Serve Mankind…….(cue ominous music)

  15. jamessweet says

    My two favorite spins on Pascal’s Wager:

    1) I believe that god is an uber-skeptic, who placed us on this Earth as a test. Anybody who is credulous enough to fall for Pascal’s Wager gets burned in hell for all eternity. Those who are skeptical enough to reject it get to enjoy paradise for as long as they wish. Now, if this is true, then rejecting Pascal’s Wager is obviously a good thing. But if this is all false, then all that happens from rejecting Pascal’s Wager is that you discard a particularly inane argument for religious belief. Either way, you win. So why NOT believe that the entire purpose of life is to reject Pascal’s Wager?

    2) God is a weirdo will send you to hell unless you PayPal me fitty bucks. Right now. Fitty bucks, to my PayPal account. If this is true, then obviously the right thing to do is to pay up. If it’s false, then you’ve only lost a little bit of money that you can always earn back. So, to cover your bets, PayPal me fitty bucks. Thanks.

  16. Howard Bannister says

    Favorite variant of Pascal’s Wager, given to me by a fairly devout Catholic:

    “If there is a good god, then he would obviously care more about whether you were a good person than whether you spent your time in useless praise and supplication. If there was a bad good, then no amount of kowtowing would make you right with him, he’d be looking for an excuse to throw you in hell. Therefore, your best bet is to simply live as good a life as you can imagine, helping those who need it and being sympathetic to those you can, because an actual good god would obviously be the one who would appreciate it.”

    Yes, his version of Pascal’s wager was to bet that god didn’t want him to go to church.

  17. Azuma Hazuki says

    Didn’t Stephen Law go over this, albeit indirectly, in The God of Eth?

    Also, Howard, your friend is a lousy Catholic =p A good human, and a good Deist, but a bad Catholic…which is to his favor!

  18. johnhodges says

    In the “Old Testament”, this YHVH character demands animal sacrifice; in Leviticus for example there is a line “And YHVH said to Moses” followed by many pages of allegedly verbatim transcript, describing the correct way to perform animal sacrifice, and all the many occasions on which animal sacrifice is required. It is said a number of times that the purpose of doing this is to “make a pleasing odor unto the Lord.” Apparently whatever local demon Moses is listening to likes the smell of burning meat. He also likes bloodshed generally; he commands the death penalty for many offenses, including violations of the first seven of the Ten Commandments, and he commands genocidal warfare against neighboring tribes and worshippers of different gods. I once suggested to a Christian that this was the purpose of Hell, to generate a never-ending supply of the odor of burning meat.