Reversal of Pascal's wager

What minimises loss, Christianity or atheism?

God does not promise paradise, but Judgement Day. By making a promise - paradise - that commits a third party over whom he has no control - God - the proponent of Pascal's Wager is using a process similar to that used by swindlers. Since the wager focuses on the reward of paradise, if, more honestly, we also take into account hell, we come to the opposite conclusion.

Since the number of religions is unlimited 1, in order to simplify the reasoned choice, let us choose two clear-cut positions, a family of religions and an absence of religion: Christianity and Atheism, and compare them.

1 See document On the likelihood that a given religion is true

2  Is the imperfection of creation a manifestation of divine solitude? Could the spectacle of life on earth be, for the Creator, only a kind of reality show intended for his entertainment? Is man only an actor forced to serve in a gigantic and cruel life-size role-playing game? It is better to think that man created God in his own image.

3  Concerns only a part of Christians, especially Catholics.

According to Christianity, our path of life 2 ends by splitting in two: : on one side purgatory 3 then eternal paradise, on the other side hell and eternal suffering. Certainly the most interesting perspective is paradise. But, according to Luke 13:23-25,

"Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’"

Matthew 22:13-14 says something similar:

"Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”"

And again [Matthew 19:24]:

"Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

Thus, the number of losers is far greater than the number of winners. Hell is eternal and represents an infinite loss. From the Christian point of view, on statistical average, there is, in death, more to lose than to gain. For a moderate Christian, death is an infinitely unfavourable event 4. I'd rather not go to Santa Claus if he's going to give out more punches than presents. Many contemporaries have applied themselves to sweetening Christianity. However, to downplay the importance of sin and hell, they are no longer Christians, but followers of a personal doctrine.

4  Fear enables the Church to strengthen its power over consciences.

The clear face of man constructs religion as a means of softening reality. At the same time, his dark side fills religion with dreadful dangers that inspire fear and dread. Salvation is reserved for a highly motivated and committed elite. The common man is the loser. Overall, religion loses its saving value and becomes negative. This is the inconsistency of the Bible.

For the atheist 5, our life ends with our definitive disappearance, our total annihilation. From the point of view of the calculation of probabilities, for death, the mathematical expectation of the net winning is nil. Atheism proposes a less unfavourable death than Christianity. Consequently, the calculus of probability recommends that we do not follow up Pascal's wager.

5  A point of view of a particular current of atheism has been adopted here. Others are closer to agnosticism. Finally, some admit forms of survival in the afterlife without any relation to deities, for example in Buddhist traditions.

6  In other words, choose according to the criterion of the lesser evil.

Let's sum up: On the one hand, if the Last Judgement does take place, the most probable final destination is hell. On the other hand, if the Last Judgement does not exist, nothing happens after death, neither reward nor punishment. In any case, there is no point in investing in faith.

While the religious tradition proposes to us to succeed in our death, contemporary man is primarily concerned with succeeding in life. Isn't one of the fundamental functions of belief to alleviate our fears? We can rightly refuse to spend our existence oppressed between the carrot and the stick.

To gain freedom, all you have to do is adopt the right perspective. Since we only have one life, we don't want to play the dice: we have to make the choice that, in the worst case, allows us to live in the perspective of the least damaging end possible 6. Since it is better to fall asleep forever than to risk suffering eternally, the atheist can envisage his existence in a relatively more serene and less anxious way than the Christian.

Mathematical model of the Wager that minimises losses

If the Last Judgement takes place, what is the probability of reaching paradise? 10 %? 1 %? To conduct the calculation, it is enough that this probability is lower than 1/2, let us say 49 %. The random variable is then

\[ \begin{equation*} \left\{ \begin{array}{ccc} −b + w & \text{with a probability of } & 0.49 \\ -b -w & \text{ with a probability of } & 0.51 \\ \end{array} \right. \end{equation*} \]
  • in (-b +w), (+w) designates an immense winning that will be stretched towards the infinite to represent paradise ; (-b) is the bet and represents the religious commitment ;
  • in (-b -w), (-w) represents an immense loss that will be made to tend towards minus infinity to represent hell.
0.49 0.51 -b+w -b-w

The mathematical expectation of the net winning in the case where there is Judgement Day is

\[ \begin{equation*} \begin{aligned} E &= (-b+w) \cdot 0.49 + (−b-w) \cdot 0.51 \\ &= -b -0.02 \cdot w \end{aligned} \end{equation*} \]

If we make the winning w tend towards infinity, the expectation of this case tends towards minus infinity :

\[ E(\text{with Judgement Day}) = -\infty \]

On the other hand, in the case where there is no Judgement Day, the winning is nil, so the expectation of the net winning is equal to the loss of the bet :

\[ E(\text{no Judgement Day}) = -b \]

You are therefore invited to a game with two outcomes, both of which are unfavourable. In such a situation, the best choice is to refuse to play. Pascal's wager is a game to be avoided.

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