Atheist's Wager

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The Atheist's Wager, formulated by the philosopher Michael Martin and published in his 1990 book Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, is an atheistic response to Pascal's Wager regarding the existence of God.

One version of the Atheist's Wager suggests that since a kind and loving god would reward good deeds – and that if no gods exist, good deeds would still leave a positive legacy – one should live a good life without religion.[1][2] Another formulation suggests that a god may reward honest disbelief, a reward which would then be jeopardized by a dishonest belief in the divine.[3]

Explanation[edit]

The Wager states that if you were to analyze your options in regard to how to live your life, you would come out with the following possibilities:[1][4][5]

  • You may live a good life and believe in a god, and a benevolent god exists, in which case you go to heaven: your gain is infinite.
  • You may live a good life without believing in a god, and a benevolent god exists, in which case you go to heaven: your gain is infinite.
  • You may live a good life and believe in a god, but no benevolent god exists, in which case you leave a positive legacy to the world; your gain is finite.
  • You may live a good life without believing in a god, and no benevolent god exists, in which case you leave a positive legacy to the world; your gain is finite.
  • You may live an evil life and believe in a god, and a benevolent god exists, in which case you go to hell: your loss is infinite.
  • You may live an evil life without believing in a god, and a benevolent god exists, in which case you go to hell: your loss is infinite.
  • You may live an evil life and believe in a god, but no benevolent god exists, in which case you leave a negative legacy to the world; your loss is finite.
  • You may live an evil life without believing in a god, and no benevolent god exists, in which case you leave a negative legacy to the world; your loss is finite.

The following table shows the values assigned to each possible outcome:

A benevolent god exists
Belief in god (B) No belief in god (¬B)
Good life (L) +∞ (heaven) +∞ (heaven)
Evil life (¬L) -∞ (hell) -∞ (hell)
No benevolent god exists
Belief in god (B) No belief in god (¬B)
Good life (L) +X (positive legacy) +X (positive legacy)
Evil life (¬L) -X (negative legacy) -X (negative legacy)

Given these values, Martin argues that the option to live a good life clearly dominates the option of living an evil life, regardless of belief in a god.


An alternative version of the wager is often mis-attributed to Marcus Aurelius: “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” [6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Temple University Press. pp. 232–238. 
  2. ^ Alvin F Berry. So What If...the God of the Bible Exists...Does It Really Matter at the End ... Dog Ear Publishing. p. 10. ISBN 9781457500206. Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  3. ^ Philip A Stahl. Atheism: A Beginner's Handbook: All You Wanted to Know About Atheism and Why. ISBN 9780595427376. 
  4. ^ "The Atheists Wager". Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  5. ^ Pascal's Wager as an Argument for Not Believing in God. Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  6. ^ http://classics.mit.edu/Antoninus/meditations.html