||09-16-2011 12:57 PM
For me, there are many problems for Pascal's Wager in almost every form. Note that many people talk about "Pascal's Wager" but he actually had many variations of the wager and discerning which precise version he favoured is not as easy at it sounds.
When someone talks about the weakness of Pascal's Wager, it is often framed in one of two ways:
1) Faux belief - It is claimed that someone following Pascal's Wager doesn't really believe, but is feigning belief so that they might enter heaven, a ploy that most conceptions of god would surely see through. Some people really like this criticism; I am not quite as excited by it, as Pascal himself anticipated such a complaint and addressed it in his writing.
2) Competing religions - Suppose that Pascal's Wager could compel us to believe in god. We still don't know what god to believe in. Because of the way that Pascal's Wager is often expressed, the only religions that pose a problem here are those that also offer infinite rewards of some sort. Following the logic of Pascal's argument, any religion that offered a finite reward (such as, say, Jainism) would be less rational to believe in than, say, Christianity or Islam, which offer an eternal and infinite reward.
For me, it is on the question of reward that this wager falls to pieces. When one says that they are believing in god so that they will receive such an infinite reward, they are glossing over god's criteria for giving such an award. The implication of this argument is that god chooses to mete out reward and punishment based solely on loyalty. I think that premise can be challenged in a big way! If we assume many of the other qualities ascribed to god, I am left wondering why god prefers faith over works. Could it not be the case that god will reward any person who did what they genuinely thought was good and right, whether they believe in god or not?
From the Abrahamic perspective, of course, this is obviously not the case (in fact, this is roughly the purpose of the story of Abraham: to show that god values faith in him above, say, the life of a child or your sanity). In any Abrahamic conception of god, it must be the case that faith has preference over works. However, I have to ask: do we have any real reason to believe this is true? Pascal was writing to many intellectuals who assumed and believed the truth of the broad Christian narrative, so to many of them, it was true in and of itself. My reflections, however, take me in a rather different direction, wherein none of god's supposed properties have actually been established and where, therefore, no claims about his nature should be assumed.