Pascal’s wager

I started this as a com­ment on “Be­ing half wrong about pas­cal’s wa­ger is even worse” but its re­ally long, so I’m post­ing it in dis­cus­sion in­stead.

Also I illus­trate here us­ing nega­tive ex­am­ples (hell and equiv­a­lents) for the sake of fol­lowa­bil­ity and am a lit­tle wor­ried about in­cit­ing some para­noia so am re­mind­ing you here that ev­ery nega­tive ex­am­ple has an equal and op­po­site pos­i­tive part­ner. For ex­am­ple pas­cal’s wa­ger has the op­po­site where ac­cept­ing sends you to hell, it also has the op­po­site where re­fus­ing sends you to heaven. I haven’t men­tioned any pos­i­tive equiv­a­lents or op­po­sites be­low. Also all of these pos­si­bil­ities are liter­ally effec­tively 0 so don’t be wor­ry­ing.

“For so long as I can re­mem­ber, I have re­jected Pas­cal’s Wager in all its forms on sheerly prac­ti­cal grounds: any­one who tries to plan out their life by chas­ing a 1 in 10,000 chance of a huge pay-off is al­most cer­tainly doomed in prac­tice. This kind of clever rea­son­ing never pays off in real life...”

Pas­cal’s wa­ger shouldn’t be in in the refer­ence class of real life. It is a unique situ­a­tion that would never crop up in real life as you’re us­ing it. In the world in which pas­cal’s wa­ger is cor­rect you would still see peo­ple who plan out their lives on a 1 in 10000 chance of a huge pay-off fail 9999 times out of 10000. Also, this doesn’t work for ac­tu­ally ex­clud­ing pas­cal’s wa­ger. If pas­cal’s wa­ger starts off ex­cluded from the cat­e­gory real life you’ve already made up your mind so this can­not quite be the ac­tual or­der of events.

In this case 9999 times you waste your Chris­ti­an­ity and 1/​10000 you don’t go to hell for eter­nity, which is, at a vast un­der­state­ment, much worse than 10000 times as bad as wor­ship­ping god even at the ex­pense of the san­ity it costs to force a change in be­lief, the dam­age it does to your psy­che to live as a vic­tim of self in­flicted Stock­holm syn­drome, and any other non ob­vi­ous cost: With these premises choos­ing to be­lieve in God pro­duces in­finitely bet­ter con­se­quences on av­er­age.

Luck­ily the premises are wrong. 1/​10000 is about 1/​10000 too high for the rele­vant prob­a­bil­ity. Which is:

the prob­a­bil­ity that the wa­ger or equiv­a­lent, (any­thing whose ac­cep­tance would pre­vent you go­ing to hell is equiv­a­lent) is true


the prob­a­bil­ity that its op­po­site or equiv­a­lent, (any­thing which would send you to hell for ac­cept­ing is equiv­a­lent), is true

1/​10000 is also way too high even if you’re not ac­count­ing for op­po­site pos­si­bil­ities.

Equiv­alence here refers to what be­havi­ours it pun­ishes or re­wards. I used hell be­cause it is in the most pop­u­lar wa­ger but it ap­plies to all wa­gers. To illus­trate: If its true that there is one god: ANTIPASCAL GOD, and he sends you to hell for ac­cept­ing any pas­cal’s wa­ger, then that’s equiv­a­lent to any pas­cal’s wa­ger you hear hav­ing an op­po­site (no more “or equiv­a­lent”s will be typed but they still ap­ply) which is true be­cause if you ac­cept any pas­cal’s wa­ger you go to hell. Con­versely, If PASCAL GOD is the only god and he sends you to hell un­less you ac­cept any pas­cal’s wa­ger, that’s equiv­a­lent to any pas­cal’s wa­ger you hear be­ing true.

The real trick of pas­cals wa­ger is the idea that they’re gen­er­ally no more likely than their op­po­site. For ex­am­ple, there are lots of good, fun, rea­sons to as­sign the Chris­tian pas­cal’s wa­ger a lower prob­a­bil­ity than its op­po­site even en­gag­ing on a Chris­tian level:

Hell is a me­dieval in­ven­tion/​trans­la­tion er­ror: the eter­nal tor­ture thing isn’t even in the mod­ern bibles.

The be­lief or hell rule is hella evil and gains cred­i­bil­ity from the same source (Chris­ti­ans, not the bible) who also claim that god is good as a more fun­da­men­tal be­lief, which di­rectly con­tra­dicts the hell or be­lief rule.

The bible claims that God hates peo­ple eat­ing shel­lfish, tak­ing his name in vain, and jeal­ousy. Ap­par­ently tak­ing his name in vain is the only un­for­giv­able sin. So if they’re right about the evil stuff, you’re prob­a­bly go­ing to hell any­way.

It makes no sense that god would care enough about your be­lief and wor­ship to con­sign peo­ple to eter­nal tor­ture but not enough to show up once in a while.

it makes no sense to re­ward peo­ple for dishon­esty.

The evil­ness re­ally can’t be over­stated. eter­nal tor­ture as a re­sponse to a mis­take which is at its worst due to stu­pidity (but ac­tu­ally not even that: just a stacked deck sce­nario), out­does pretty much ev­ery­one in terms of evil­ness. worse than pretty much ev­ery fucked up thing ev­ery other god is re­puted to have done put to­gether. The psy­chopath in the bible doesn’t come close to com­ing close.

The prob­lem with the gen­eral case of re­li­gious pas­cal’s wa­gers is that peo­ple make stuff up (usu­ally un­in­ten­tion­ally) and what made up stuff gains trac­tion has noth­ing to do with what is true. When both Chris­ti­an­ity and Hin­duism are taken se­ri­ously by mil­lions (as were the Ro­man/​Greek gods, and Vik­ing gods, and Aztec gods, and Greek gods, and all sorts of other gods at differ­ent times, by large per­centages of peo­ple) mass re­li­gious be­lief is 0 ev­i­dence. At most one re­li­gion set (e.g. Greek/​Ro­man, Chris­tian/​Mus­lim/​Jewish, etc) is even close to right so at least the rest are pop­u­lar in­de­pen­dently of truth.

The ex­is­tence of a re­li­gion does not ele­vate the pos­si­bil­ity that the god they de­scribe ex­ists above the pos­si­bil­ity that the op­po­site ex­ists be­cause there is no ev­i­dence that re­li­gion has any ac­cu­racy in de­ter­min­ing the fea­tures of a god, should one ex­ist.

You might in­tu­itively lean to­wards re­li­gions hav­ing bet­ter than 0 ac­cu­racy if a god ex­ists but re­mem­ber there’s a lot of fic­tional ev­i­dence out there to gen­er­al­ise from. It is a mat­ter of judge­ment here. there’s no log­i­cal proof for 0 or worse ac­cu­racy (other than it be­ing de­fault and the lack of ev­i­dence) but nega­tive ac­cu­racy is a pos­si­bil­ity and you’ve prob­a­bly played priest classes in video games or just seen how re­spected re­li­gions are and been primed to over­es­ti­mate re­li­gion’s ac­cu­racy in that hy­po­thet­i­cal. Also if there is a god it has not shown it­self pub­li­cly in a very long time, or ever. So it seems to have a prefer­ence for not be­ing re­vealed. Also hu­mans tend to be some­what evil and read into oth­ers what they see in them­selves. and I as­sume any high tier god (one that had the power to cre­ate and main­tain a hell, de­tect dis­be­lief, pre­serve im­mor­tal souls and put peo­ple in hell) would not be evil. Be­ing evil or to­tally un­scru­pled has benefits among hu­mans which a god would not get. I think with­out bad peers or par­ents there’s no rea­son to be evil. I think peo­ple are mostly evil in re­la­tion to other peo­ple. So I re­li­gions a slight pos­i­tive ac­cu­racy in the sce­nario where there is a god but it does not ex­ceed pri­ors against pas­cal’s wa­ger (an­other one is that they’re pet­tily hu­man) or per­haps even the god’s de­sire to stay hid­den.

Even if God it­self whispered pas­cal’s wa­ger in your ear there is no in­cen­tive for it to ac­tu­ally carry out the threat:

There is only one iter­a­tion.


Th­ese threats aren’t be­ing made in per­son by the de­ity. They are ei­ther sec­ond hand or in­de­pen­dently dis­cov­ered so:

The de­ity has no use for mak­ing the threat true, to claim it more be­liev­ably, as it might if it was an im­perfect liar (at a level de­tectable by hu­mans) that made the threats in per­son.

The de­ity has to­tal plau­si­ble de­ni­a­bil­ity.

Which adds up to all of the benefits of the threat hav­ing already be­ing ex­tracted by the time the pun­ish­ment is due and no pos­si­bil­ity of a rep hit (which wouldn’t mat­ter any­way.)

So, All else be­ing equal. i.e. un­less the god is the god of threats or pas­cal’s wa­gers (whose op­po­sites are equally likely):

If God is good (+ev on hu­man hap­piness -ev on hu­man sad­ness that sort of thing), ac­tu­ally car­ry­ing out the threats has nega­tive value.

If god is scar­ily-doesn’t-give-a-shit-neu­tral to hu­mans, it still has no in­cen­tive to ac­tu­ally carry out the threat and a non zero en­ergy cost.

if god gives the tiniest most in­finites­i­mal shit about hu­mans its in­cen­tive to ac­tu­ally carry out the threat is nega­tive.

If God is evil you’re fucked any­way:

The threat gains no power by be­ing true, so the only in­cen­tive a God can have for fol­low­ing through is that it val­ues hu­man suffer­ing. If it does, why would it not send you to hell if you be­lieved in it? (re­mem­ber that the god of com­mit­ments is as likely as the god of break­ing com­mit­ments)

De­spite the in­creased com­plex­ity of a hu­man mind I think the most (not say­ing its at all likely just that all oth­ers are ob­vi­ously wrong) likely mo­ti­va­tional sys­tem for a god which would make it hon­our the wa­ger is that that God thinks like a hu­man and there­fore would keep its com­mit­ment out of spite or grat­i­tude or some other hu­man rea­son. So here’s why I think that one is wrong. It’s gen­er­al­iz­ing from fic­tional ev­i­dence: hu­mans aren’t that ho­mo­ge­neous (and one with­out peers would be less so), and if a god gains like­li­hood to keep a com­mit­ment from hu­man­ness it also gains not -de­signed-to-be-evil-ness that would make it less likely to make evil wa­gers. It also has no source for spite or grat­i­tude, hav­ing no peers. Fi­nally could you ever feel spite to­wards a bug? Or grat­i­tude? We are not just ants com­pared to a god, we’re ant-ant-ant-etc-ants.

Also there’s the rea­sons that re­fus­ing can ac­tu­ally get you in trou­ble: bul­lies don’t get nicer when their de­mands are met. It’s of­ten not the suffer­ing they’re af­ter but the dom­i­nance, at which point the suffer­ing be­comes an en­joy­able illus­tra­tion of that dom­i­nance. As we are ant-ant-etc-ants this prob­a­bil­ity is lower but The fact that we aren’t all already in hell sug­gests that if god is evil it is not raw suffer­ing that it val­ues. Hostages are of­ten ex­e­cuted even when the ran­som is paid. Even if it is evil, it could be any kind of evil: its prefer­ences can­not have been ho­mogenised by memes and con­sen­sus.

There’s also the rather cool pos­si­bil­ity that if hu­man-god is send­ing peo­ple to hell, maybe its for lack of un­der­stand­ing. If it wants be­lief it can take it more effec­tively than this. If it wants to hurt you it will hurt you any­way. Per­haps peer­less, it was never prompted to think through the con­se­quences of mak­ing oth­ers suffer. Maybe god, in the ab­sence of peers just needs some­one to ex­plain that its not nice to let peo­ple burn in hell for eter­nity. I for one re­mem­ber sud­denly re­al­is­ing that those other flesh­bags hosted peo­ple. I figured it out for my­self but if I grew up alone as the mas­ter of the uni­verse maybe I would have needed some­one to ex­plain it to me.