Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Skeptic's Wager?

I got this on my Facebook newsfeed, and wanted to share. It's like a skeptic's Pascal's Wager, but works much better. The question came up as to whether it can be labeled with a catchy title like "Pascal's Wager"? Any ideas?

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but...will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” —Marcus Aurelius


  1. Whoa.... Love it. I read some of Marcus Aurelius' writings years ago, and I was surprised at how cogent and relevant it was.

  2. I heard one similar on Pharyngula I think, called Stewart's Wager:

    "If God is just, whats the unbeliever have to fear?
    If God is not just what does the believer hope to serve?"

  3. For me, it is more a principle of secular humanism than a wager per se. I heard that one before, didn't know it was of Marcus Aurelius.

  4. That's a great quote, although i'm not certain if Facebook is considered a reliable and scholarly source.

    I'm having some difficulty in finding the exact source of this. The best i can find is from about halfway through Book Two of his Meditations journals.

    "Since it is possible that thou mayest depart from life this very moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly. But to go away from among men, if there are gods, is not a thing to be afraid of, for the gods will not involve thee in evil; but if indeed they do not exist, or if they have no concern about human affairs, what is it to me to live in a universe devoid of gods or devoid of Providence? But in truth they do exist, and they do care for human things, and they have put all the means in man's power to enable him not to fall into real evils. And as to the rest, if there was anything evil, they would have provided for this also, that it should be altogether in a man's power not to fall into it. Now that which does not make a man worse, how can it make a man's life worse? But neither through ignorance, nor having the knowledge, but not the power to guard against or correct these things, is it possible that the nature of the universe has overlooked them; nor is it possible that it has made so great a mistake, either through want of power or want of skill, that good and evil should happen indiscriminately to the good and the bad. But death certainly, and life, honour and dishonour, pain and pleasure, all these things equally happen to good men and bad, being things which make us neither better nor worse. Therefore they are neither good nor evil."


  5. Interesting quote , I have an argument that fits with it. But its more regarding afterlife than god it self. It continues after pointing out that the multiplicity of religions invalidates Pascal's wager. "Why believe or act like there will be an afterlife ? Do you live your life spending millions every week as you are certain of winning the lottery that week ? If you don't, then why do you do it regarding an afterlife ? You don't use faith when it comes to spending money, why do it when it comes to how to spend your life ? "

  6. I think I have a new favorite response to Pascal's Wager. Following an explanation as to why Pascal was wrong with this quote seems like a great plan.

    As for a title to this, I can't really think of anything. A Skeptic's Wager is a great name. Although, because of the name credited, perhaps we should call it "Aurelius's Wager"?

  7. This has always been one of my favorite quotes.

  8. I've had this exact same thought and used it in a discussion with somebody on Ray Comfort's blog. I call it the atheist's wager.

  9. It's like an ideological game of chess.

    "I counter Pascal's Wager with Aurelius' Gambit."

  10. Except for the fact that Pascal didn't come up with it, sure!

  11. The Aurelius Investment

    (as opposed to gambling)

  12. I love this quote. But, looking for independent corroboration (as I tend to do), I notice that it's not on Wikiquote. From which of his texts does this arise?

  13. I always try to beat someone to the punch and present what I call the Atheists' Wager before they can pull out Pascal's.

    Basically, if I am talking to someone whom I think might go there, I ask them "What if you're wrong?" And when they ask what I mean, I describe the standard PW response- what if one of the other religions is right? If you bring it up first, it usually steals the PW argument from them.

    Certainly not fool proof, lol, but I prefer that to the introducing the "if God is just" line of reasoning, because, while I agree with it, they typically believe "it is just to send you to hell. He doesn't want to, but you denied him" etc etc.

  14. well... i guess you would name it after the guy whom you're quoting. Aurelius' Wager.

  15. I guess it alll comes down to what a "good life" is. If it's a perfect life, then we are all in trouble.

  16. I say we call it "Blindingly Obvious"

    with sometimes a "the" infront of it and on occasion a "...bitch" at the end for emphasis.

  17. If someone presented Pascal's wager, I might respond with some of the following replies:
    1) What if Scientology is right?
    2) What if all religions are not what god looks for?
    3) If a being would create a place for eternal torment just for me not believing, how do I know that this being is not the devil because of his vile nature for creating such a place?
    4) Have you even evaluated the other religions? You may be confident that your religion is the right one, but then there are followers of other religions who are equally confident that their religion is the right one.


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