Pascal's Loophole: Playing the Odds

Blaise Pascal offered the idea that it is prudent to believe in god because it's supposedly the best bet... But I prefer to play the odds.

Understanding the Game

Now, I'm not going to go into great detail about Pascal's wager. I'm sure most of you are familiar with the idea. It can be stated simply by saying that Pascal believed that the risk to gain ratio of belief against disbelief heavily favored belief over disbelief. Basically, he believed that you have everything to gain by believing and are out nothing if you're wrong. But according to Pascal, if you disbelieve you stand to face eternal torment if you're wrong and gain nothing if you're right. Seems simple enough right?

The problem with this is many faceted and I'll explain why. You see first off, Pascal does not account for all the various religions and so his risk to gain ratio is completely skewed to his biased position. This in turn leads to the next big problem which is that Pascal seems not to understand the game he's playing at all. You see, by Pascal's assessment it's a game of poker with one man against the dealer. But in reality the game is actually more like the most insane version of craps imaginable (I'll get back to this shortly). And lastly, but possibly most importantly, Pascal most certainly does not have enough information to actually understand the odds he's playing against.

The "Don't Pass" Line

Craps is a game of pure chance. The game is played by having a group of individuals place bets either for or against another player's single roll of a pair of dice. The player who rolls must hit within a specific range of numbers in order to win or lose. There are slightly more complex rules involved in casino versions, but this is the heart of the game. It is a bet either for or against a single roll of the dice. This is the game theists and atheists play.

Now, the atheist's play is simple and it's always the same. We play what's known as the "don't pass" line. What this means is that we are always betting against the roller. We don't roll ourselves and have no interest in doing so. We simply bet against the roller being able to hit their numbers. There's a good reason for this and it is in fact the only safe bet on the table as you'll soon see.

The theist however, is playing against steep odds. You see, unlike with traditional craps, each player who is a believer must be represented in the roll and each player is not playing a range of numbers but a single specific number that correlates to their god. This means we must have a multimillion sided die and that in order for the roller to win they have to hit the exact number for their god. The reason the odds are so steep is because every single believer believes in a different version of god. Their surety in their correctness of that belief gives them the false confidence to think that they can call their roll and hit their exact number. With a pair of six sided die this is tough, but with a multimillion sided die it borders on the impossible.

The Safe Bet

By Pascal's reasoning, theism is the safe bet. But if we examine the game, now that we actually understand the rules, we can see that the odds are heavily against theism. Even if we only count the known versions of god that mankind worships, we're still left with well over 3,000 gods who must be represented on our die. This means that the theist must roll at least a 3,000 sided die and hit an exact number to win the game.

But the atheist plays the odds. We don't bet on any number, but rather that the theist cannot hit their number. It's only a one to one pay out, so we don't gain much of anything... But we also stand almost zero chance of losing. You see, in order for us to lose someone has to hit their exact number and the odds are just in our favor there.

Pascal examined only what he would face if he disbelieved in the Christian god. But what if Islam is correct? What if Hinduism is? There are many different possible outcomes and many different consequences if any one of these religions is right. And there is also the possibility that none of them are right, but that a god no man ever dreamed up exists. Given all those variables, Pascal's position seems built on very shaky ground indeed.

Cashing Out

At the end of the day, I still have to take my hat off to the theists. Although mostly unsuccessful, they continually pressure us atheists to roll the die for them. They try to offer convoluted logic to show atheism as a religion, or claim that all atheists worship Darwin and evolution. They do all they can to try and shift the burden and get us to pick a number. But that isn't what atheism is about. We don't play for ourselves and we aren't playing to "win", all we're doing is playing the safe odds and betting against those silly enough to roll that massive die. One of those players might roll their number, even with the odds stacked clearly against them, but it's highly improbable. In all likelihood, if there is a god at all, that god is not represented on our die at all making it a complete impossibility to roll that god's number.

I've come to see that most theists simply don't understand the game they're playing or the rules involved at all. When we point out that the odds are against them, they want to say that the game is rigged and that there is a conspiracy against them. But the truth is that they invented the game themselves a long time ago, in an age when it was much simpler. The players have changed and the rules have evolved and now the theist is mad that we have been the only ones actually keeping score and studying the rule book. They're angry that they're being beaten at their own games.

Everyone is free to believe whatever they'd like, but if you want others to believe it as well... then you'll have to pick a number and roll the die. But I promise you that someone like me will always be playing the safe odds betting against you.

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