Atheist's wager

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The Atheist's wager, coined 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 and punish a dishonest belief in the divine.[3]

Explanation[edit]

Martin's wager states that if one were to analyze their options in regard to how to live their life, they would arrive at 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 No benevolent god exists
Belief in god (B) No belief in god (¬B) Belief in god (B) No belief in god (¬B)
Good life (L) +∞ (heaven) +∞ (heaven) +X (positive legacy) +X (positive legacy)
Evil life (¬L) −∞ (hell) −∞ (hell) −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. Whether one believes in god has no effect on the outcome.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Temple University Press. pp. 232–238. ISBN 9780877226420.
  2. ^ Alvin F Berry (2011). 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 (2007). 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. ^ Martin, Michael (1983). "Pascal's Wager as an Argument for Not Believing in God". Religious Studies. 19: 57–64. doi:10.1017/S0034412500014700. S2CID 170450896. Retrieved 26 January 2013.