Pascal’s Wager and Morality

In the carrot and stick game of religion, hell is an awfully big stick.  I’ve had a few people ask me aren’t you afraid of going to hell?”

No, I’m not.

Of course, an atheist recognizes this blunder of false dichotomy as Pascal’s Wager


To tell the truth, hell was a concern for me up until my final moments of practicing Deism as a life philosophy.  And when I was a Christian, it was the avoidance of hell, as much as the entrance to heaven, that was my chief motivator.

At it’s core, Pascal’s Wager says that if you can’t get yourself to believe, try harder.  Lie a little, and everything will be alright.  You wouldn’t want eternal torture in a fiery pit, sent there by the celestial dictator to whom you refused to pay lip service, now would you?

When I worked through the underlying logic of this position, it became clear this supernatural “wager” is not remotely moral.  Remaining a Christian, or behaving in a certain way out of concern for hell is remarkably immoral.

Most of us make the implicit wager, via the social contract and empirical observation, that the bulk of the population kills and rapes approximately the number of people they want to, and luckily for the inner gambler inside all of us, the number of rapes and murders most people want to commit is 0.

Think about it this way.  Is it moral to *not* do something because you’re afraid of punishment?  Is that really the framework religion gives to provide its moral basis?  If so, then all trained dogs are very moral.

But we intuitively suspect there’s more to it than this.  Christian-types will say that it’s “written onto our hearts” or some other nonsense like that.

But how could it be that the non-Christians of the world, such as Hindus, Buddhists, and the billions of other practitioners of supernatural worship can manage to behave morally, even though they’re certain to descend into hell after their heathen life ends?  And what about atheists who behave morally?

In reality, the appeal to supernatural deities for our derived sense of right and wrong is dimwitted and lazy.  It’s perfectly clear that the inclination for morality was derived over millions of years of evolution, when our hominid and ape ancestors needed to find some amount of harmony to avoid extinction.  The natural world is hard enough without rampant intra-community murder.  Of course, there certainly was murder, but here’s the thing:  when murder rate exceeds birth rate for any amount of time, a species or community goes extinct.  The mechanism of morality would have been born out of a combination of behavioral changes, as well as community decisions that were brought on by the existential desire for our children to live on.

In this framework, do we need to appeal to the supernatural?  Of course not.  This is one of the reasons why strict religious adherents are so resistant to the notion that we evolved from an earlier species, which is subsequently why logical lunacy such as Pascal’s Wager continues to be considered a reasonable logical pensé to so many people.

Evolution made us moral enough to ensure our species’ survival, and what our collective evolutionary instincts lacked, we fulfilled with our capacity to implement enhanced discouragement techniques.

The notion that people need to be dissuaded from immoral behavior via the threat of hell is the height of ignorance and intellectual laziness.


Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

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