Explaining Pascal’s Wager

September 27, 2013

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“I thought we should name it “Blaise-ing Hot Gamble” but oh well.”

Let’s say that you are on your death bed and you are fairly sure that either Christianity is right or atheism. Your not sure which. Which should you choose? A philosopher from the 17th century named Blaise Pascal proposed we look at this decision like a wager. Since his time, this has been known by the creative name….. Pascal’s Wager. Here is an explanation.

A good way to measure financial investment is to multiply the odds of various decisions by the potential rewards. So say you have stock A that has a 50% chance of making $100 and stock B that has a 70% chance of making $70. Which do you invest in? The answer that MBAs like me would give you is to multiply each scenario out and see which had more value. For stock A that would be $100*.5 = $50 in value. For stock B that would be $70*.7=$49 in value. So I would recommend investing in stock A.

Well, if you are really decided between two choices, Christianity and Atheism and you are somewhere in the middle on which is right (say you are 30% sure that Christianity is right and 70% sure that atheism is right). Well let’s evaluate the results in each scenario:

If it turns out atheism is right the atheist gets blackness and nothingness at death. And the Christian gets blackness and nothingness at death.

So the net investment is a wash (or if you want to throw in the fun of this life that you may get from shagging guilt free there is that but even polls of happiness in this life are a bit of a wash between atheists and Christians). Let’s assign a number for blackness and nothingness on a happiness scale ranking 1-100. I would say nothing is smack dab in the middle (neither happy nor sad). Let’s say 50.

If it turns out that Christianity is right the results are infinite happiness for the Christian and eternal weeping for the atheist. This is clearly the benefit for the Christian. So on the happiness scale the atheist gets a 1 and the Christian gets 100.

So let’s evaluate which is a better wager.

The results for the person who is 70% sure that atheism is right and 30% sure that Christianty is right go like this depending on their choice:

If they choose atheism and are right they get 50 happiness points. If they choose atheism the best result they could get is 50 happiness points. And there is a 70% chance that they could get that. The value of the atheist investment is 50 minus a 30% chance of Christianity being right (or 100 happiness points times 0.3) so the value of that investment is 50-30 = 20.

If they choose Christianity the worst case scenario is 50. But then we can add to that that the chance that Christianity is right. 30% times 100 happiness points. That makes the value of the Christian investment 80%.

So, clearly, it would make sense to choose Christianity if you were approximately 70/30 split between the two on which is right.

In fact, (when you do the math) you will find it makes no difference what percent sure you are (90/10, 95/5 etc) unless you are 100% sure it always makes more sense to be a Christian.

This only wold be truly a valid measure on the death bed (taking this life out of the factoring). But if you accept the studies that show that Christians are more happy in this life, then it makes even more sense to be Christian.

You could even throw in some factor for another religion being right (say a 5% chance that Islam is right). You could do that calculation and unless the Islam percentage surpassed Chrsitianity. it would still make sense to be a Christian. If you are more sure that Islam is right than Christianity though you should become a Muslim. Say you are 70/20/10 atheism/Christianity/Islam you should be a Christian but if it went to 70/10/20 you should be a Muslim.

I would argue (as a Christian) that a wonderful thing happens when you enter a relationship with God. You become 100% sure. When you walk with God and know God the odds melt away. I am 100% sure that Christianity is right. I have zero doubt.

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