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Few philosophers have had the strength of will and the audacity to assert, like Nietzsche, that “God is dead.” However, there are those who question His properties, and it is within their arguments that we can begin to challenge the preconceived notions about the characteristics of the Christian God. I’ll be comparing the arguments of Blaise Pascal and David Hume to assert that belief in an infinite God without any proof is irrational. First, I’ll reconstruct Pascal’s argument that it is infinitely beneficial to wager in favor of God’s existence despite a clear lack of evidence, and then I will reconstruct Hume’s argument that belief in an infinite God is irrational given the current state of the world. Finally, I will explain why Hume’s argument, grounded in concrete and visible evidence of human misery, is better than Pascal’s, which assumes we don’t need evidence of any sort to prove an infinite God’s existence.
Blaise Pascal argues in his “Wager” that belief in an infinite God without any proof is rational. He argues since you have to wager your happiness, it’s obvious that you should wager in favor of God’s existence because you’ve nothing to gain but happiness and nothing to lose at all. Pascal opens with the concept that “We are incapable … of knowing either what [God] is or if [God] is” (Pascal 1). After conceding that we have no way of truly comprehending or simply proving the existence of an infinite God, which will prove to be a problem later, Pascal constructs an argument like only a mathematician-turned-philosopher could. He sets up the undeniable first premise that it is rational to want to achieve the highest possible happiness. He then goes on to claim that betting on God’s existence will reward you infinitely, that “you win all,” as long as certain terms apply (2). The terms are mathematical – in order for this argument to be valid, there must be a chance, however small, that God exists. You cannot multiply infinity by 0 and get anything else but 0, but multiplying infinity by even .0000001 results in infinity. You can always get infinite happiness from even the smallest chance at God’s existence. The second sub-premise elaborates on this, justifying that this argument is only valid if there is an infinite amount of happiness to be gained from believing in an infinite God. If this is true, there is no point in not believing as long as there is even a slim margin to bet with. Finally, Pascal’s third justification for his second premise is that “what you stake is finite” (2). As a finite being with a limited amount of happiness to wager, it is a no-brainer to believe. Though a massive amount of happiness subtracted from zero would result in a massive loss of happiness if God did not exist, it is nothing compared to the same amount added to infinity if God does exist. The net gain is infinitely large, and so Pascal urges all of his readers to “Wager then, without hesitation, that He does exist” (2). His argument suggests that no one has anything to lose from belief in God because God’s infinite love is the highest possible net gain in the universe.
David Hume, in comparison, asserts that believing in an infinite god without any proof is irrational based on how the world currently is. Hume, like Pascal, comes from a background that is more clinical than humanistic, but his empirical demand for experiential proof and his skepticism towards the supernatural lead him to a very different conclusion. Hume presents, in “Dialogue X” and “Dialogue XI” of his Dialogues on Natural Religion, three characters who he uses to sound out different arguments for or against the infinity of God. One character in particular, Philo, acts as a mouthpiece for Hume, and it is his last argument from Dialogue X and his expansion upon this argument in Dialogue XI that I will focus on. Over the course of the Dialogue X, Philo’s argument asserts that there is evil in the world, and quite a bit – he goes so far as to call the whole world “curst and polluted” (Hume 221). The next two premises of the argument deal with God’s theoretical infinite existence: “Is he willing to prevent Evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent” (Hume 226). In basic terms, Hume (through Philo), states that God cannot be infinite – if he wants to prevent evil, but can’t, he lacks omnipotence; if he has power but doesn’t want to, he lacks omnibenevolence. Whichever one God lacks, he cannot be both because there is suffering in the world, and therefore it is illogical to think that God is infinite. Philo maintains this stance throughout the entire dialogue and proceeds to elaborate upon it in Dialogue XI. Philo creates a two-part hypothetical situation in the eleventh dialogue, speaking of a plain human of “very limited Intelligence” and God, who is “very good, wise, and powerful” (232). It is Philo’s assertion that if this finite, mortal human was informed that an infinite God had created the world and was then subsequently introduced to the world, the mortal would never expect to find “Vice and Misery and Disorder” like that which presently exists (232). The only way to maintain his belief in the infinite would be assuming that he is too small and finite to grasp God’s greater plan, that all of this misery is a means to a positive end. In this way, Hume does not outright dismiss the concept of an infinite God, but brings into question believing in an infinite God given present circumstances. Future plans and God’s ulterior motives cannot be ruled out, but what can be asserted is that given the way that the world is at this very moment, rife with crime and misery, belief in an infinite God is irrational.
This leaves me with two philosophers who seem to present compelling arguments on opposite ends of the spectrum of this issue, but given the right pressure, it becomes obvious that Pascal’s argument simply doesn’t hold up like Hume’s does. Pascal makes an assumption that weakens his entire argument to the point of irrelevancy – the idea that not only does he not have evidence for the existence of an infinite God, he doesn’t need it. Immediately before the discussion of the actual wager, Pascal states that “Reason cannot decide” whether God exists or not (Pascal 2). He defeats himself within his own writing by assuming that all will accept the chance of God existing with absolutely no evidence. Pascal does not base his argument on empirical evidence like Hume or even on natural reason like Descartes. His argument is built on some probability, yes, but moreover on conjecture and assumptions, simply stating that it is possible that God exists and therefore behooves us to believe in him. Hume’s argument is concrete and rooted in experiential evidence. He doesn’t get tied up in “what-ifs” like Pascal – he fully accepts that an infinite God may be possible under certain other circumstances, but that this belief in the current world we are experiencing is irrational. Hume’s rationale is soundly supported – while speaking through Philo, he makes sure to revise his argument several times, allowing for less and less misery in the world each time, but always ending up at the conclusion that so long as there is a small amount of misery in the current world, God cannot be truly infinite. He backs this up with observable evidence – the misery of the world surrounds us, it cannot be denied with ease. Hume responds to all possible arguments and alternatives until the one true answer is that God cannot possibly be infinite if the world exists like it does. Pascal cannot provide a single shred of evidence to back up his claim – he stands on blind faith, skipping over whether there is proof that an infinite God exists at all and moving directly to what you could receive if he does exist. Ultimately, Pascal’s argument cannot stand up to Hume’s; Hume carefully lays out his argument so that anyone could follow his steps, see the human misery around them, and understand why an infinite God could not exist in this currently imperfect world. Hume piles piece after piece of evidence against the existence of an infinite God while Pascal cannot pile up a single bit in God’s defense – his argument, when critically evaluated, actually supports Hume’s point of irrationality better than its own point of rationality.
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