by Will Schreiber

Pascal’s Scam

Bertrand Russell imagined what he’d say if he found himself on the wrong side of Pascal’s Wager: “But Lord, you did not give us enough evidence!”1

Pascal’s Wager uses the weight of infinite hell to distract from the fact that the odds of God’s existence is unknowable.

“If you don’t believe in God and God isn’t real - nothing happens. If you don’t believe in God and God is real - damned to hell for all of eternity. Why risk it?”

To answer the wager of whether or not you should believe in God, you have to convert the odds of God’s existence from an unknown quantity to an assumed quantity, from “I don’t know, how can we know, what is God anyway?” to “okay I’ll give it one-in-a-billion odds that God exists.”

Pascal was a mathematician. He knew odds even as low as one-in-a-billion were no match for hell. Why risk it?

The bait-and-switch is the forced implicit conversion of the unknowable into assumed “low-probability” numbers. It’s like trying to divide by zero. It’s invalid.

That’s Pascal’s Scam.2

At least the original wager is infinite and feels unknowable. But there are many finite, seemingly knowable, hard-to-reason Pascal’s Scams out there exploiting the same false logic.

“Put 2-3% of your net worth into Bitcoin, in case the hodlr’s are right and USD collapse is imminent.”3

“Stock a nuclear bunker with 30 years of food, in case the doomsdayers aren’t crazy.”

“We must shut off all of Earth’s radio signals, in case we’re vulnerably giving away our existence to more sophisticated aliens.”

Finite Pascal Wagers give the illusion that risks can be quantified and that outcomes can be measured. Be careful. When it’s impossible to tell if an event has a one-in-a-thousand or a one-in-a-trillion chance of occurring, it means the projections and models are unfalsifiable. Even small tests or evidence should bound the range of outcomes to within a few orders of magnitude.4

Buy BTC, but for a reason other than Pascal’s Scam.

  1. My brother has joked, “Vintage Second Breakfast, this post has a Hitchens reference.” Guilty as charged, again. Hitchens impersonates Russell’s answer to Pascal’s Wager in several speeches and in his book, god is not great. I haven’t been able to independently verify that Russell indeed said this, but “it’s all true or it ought to be!”
  2. I came across the term “Pascal’s Scam” in Nick Szabo’s post from 2012:
  3. I am a hodlr, but think this is a bad reason to buy Bitcoin.
  4. This is a distillation of Michael Crichton’s Aliens Cause Global Warming in a lot of ways. “Don’t trust models or things that can’t be falsified.” I think his logic is correct but that global warming can in fact be quantified and the risks are real enough to act.