Atheist's Wager

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The Atheist's Wager is an atheistic response to Pascal's Wager regarding the existence of God. The wager was formulated in 1990 by Michael Martin, in his book Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, and has received some traction in religious and atheist literature since.

One formulation of the Atheist's Wager suggests that one should live a good life without religion, since Martin writes that a loving and kind god would reward good deeds, and if no gods exist, a good person will leave behind a positive legacy.12 The second formulation suggests that, instead of rewarding belief as in Pascal's wager, a god may reward disbelief, in which case one would risk losing infinite happiness by believing in a god unjustly, rather than disbelieving justly.3

Explanation

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:145

  • 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.

References

  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. 







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