There are four possible outcomes to the wager: (1) You believe in God and God exists, (2) You believe in God and God doesn't exist, (3) You don't believe in God and God exists, (4) You don't believe in God and God doesn't exist. Pascal held that the best and worst outcomes are (1) and (3) in which God exists. Then, a belief in God leads to eternal salvation, while disbelief leads to eternal damnation.
Even if God doesn't exist, Pascal argued that you should believe in God because this offers consolation and peace of mind while you're living—though no benefit after death. All in all, then, the benefits of believing seem to markedly exceed the benefits of not believing.
One refutation is that even if God exists, we have no idea what God's nature is. So how is it possible to believe in an entity about which, or whom, nothing is known? The belief would have to be without content – an acceptance of raw existence without attributes.
In line with this, who can say that God wants us to believe? This is the position of Clifford Pickover, which I quoted in my earlier post. He says:
I think it's even possible that God could be unhappy with those who are not rational, who believe in all sorts of things without being logical about it…I even think that such a God might punish believers for their credulity and reward clear thinkers that don't succumb to peer pressure and so forth. Of all the creatures on Earth, humans are the only ones that God gave the most intelligence, so obviously God wants us to use our intellect and to be freethinkers. So when we die, God will reward freethinkers. He won't be happy with people who tossed their reason away in favor of ignorance.
That's an appealing hypothesis for the churchless. But it's still just conjecture. The anti-Pascal Wager, however, has a lot more foundation in clear and present reality: the life we're living now. Richard Dawkins put it this way:
Suppose we grant that there is indeed some small chance that God exists. Nevertheless, it could be said that you will lead a better, fuller life if you bet on his not existing, than if you bet on his existing and therefore squander your precious time on worshipping him, sacrificing to him, fighting and dying for him, etc.
Undeniably, there's a lot to like about religion. Believers meet nice people. They do good works. They feel part of a community. They have a way of looking at the world that gives meaning to their lives.
Question is: does any of this good stuff require a belief in God? In other words, can you get all of the benefits of religion, without the nasty side effects, from an agnostic, atheistic, or non-deistic (such as a Buddhist or Taoist) stance?
I say, "sure."
A big benefit of living life without religion is that it commits you to living in the here and now, rather than the there and then. You don't have one mental foot in an imaginary after life, which causes believers to be unbalanced in earthly reality.
Interestingly, the anti-Pascal wager ends up being in line with many deeply mystical teachings. Meister Eckhart, for example, said that it is necessary to give up "God" in order to know the Godhead.
That is, our conceptions of divinity prevent us from realizing the wordless mystery of ultimate reality. We believe we know truths that we're actually ignorant of. So sincere not-knowing turns out to be a more spiritual course of action than fraudulent believing.
Pascal's Wager is founded on a belief that we can know God's payoff. The anti-Wager is a more honest bet: nobody knows what will occur in the next life, so we need to make the most of this one.