Why on Universalism We May Be Pragmatically Justified in Exercising Unbelief in God

by Christopher Copan Scott

Apart from evidential reasons for God’s existence, there have been several thinkers who have argued on pragmatic grounds for holding to belief in God. These pragmatic arguments do not attempt to demonstrate that God does exist; rather, these pragmatic arguments attempt to show that we can be within our rational rights in belief in God, by focusing on the benefits we gain from that belief, wholly independent of having evidence for God’s existence.

Now when you enter the realm of pragmatic arguments there are two different types[1]:

Truth-dependent pragmatic arguments (TDPA): arguments that recommend holding a belief because of the great benefits to be gained from holding that belief if it should turn out to be true.

Truth-independent pragmatic arguments (TIPA): arguments that recommend holding a belief because of the great benefits to be gained from holding that belief whether or not it turns out to be true.

The most well-known TDPA is Pascal’s Wager. One interpretation of his wager, is that his argument tells us that we ought to hold to belief in God because of the great benefits to be gained from holding that belief if it turns out to be true. A payoff-matrix can be developed in order to represent Pascal’s thinking.     

                                 I. God exists.                                  II.  God does not exist.

  1. Belief       a.Infinite gain minus finite loss    b.Finite loss
  2. Unbelief  c.Finite gain minus infinite loss   d.Finite gain

So here are the four different scenarios:

1)      One believes in God and God in fact does exist, thus one has gained the infinite pleasure of heaven, at the finite loss of abstaining from sinful things that are prohibited by belief in God.

2)      One does not believe in God and God does exist, thus one has gained the finite pleasures of sin, while one has lost on the infinite gain of heaven.

3)      One does not believe in God and God does not exist, thus one has a finite loss considering the various sins of pleasure that one could have indulged in.

4)      One does not believe in God and God does not exist, thus one has the finite gain from indulging in whatever sins one desired in this life, which would have been prohibited if one believed in God.

Therefore, according to those who hold to this form of argument, after maximizing the two responses to belief in God, belief in God has greater expected utility than unbelief (a potential infinite gain for belief compared to a potential infinite loss for unbelief). Thus, if the odds concerning the existence and non-existence of God are even for a person, then for pragmatic reasons one should believe in God…

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:   On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision / Apologetics for the Twenty-first Century / I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist / More apologetics resources >>>