Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth century French philosopher, mathematician and physicist. He is given credit for developing the argument that believing in God was the most rational decision a human could make. All of life is a gamble with multiple risks built into the human
condition. Pascal argued that God either did or did not exist. Based on that binary presupposition (and assuming the God considered is the Christian God), the following positions and consequences are options:
1. God does exist and you believe in God.
2. God does not exist and you believe in God
3. God does exist and you do not believe in God
4. God does not exist and you do not believe in God.
If you choose option one, believing in a God who exists, you will enjoy the benefits of that belief for all eternity.
If you choose option two, believing in a non-existent God, when you die you simply cease existing yourself. There is no eternal reward or punishment.
If you choose option three, not believing in a God who actually exists, you will experience eternal torment.
If you choose option four, not believing in a non-existent God, you have the same outcome as option two—you simply cease existing at the end of your life on earth.
Based on those options, Pascal argued the most rational decision a human being could make during their lifetime is to believe in God. If you don’t believe and you’re wrong you lose everything. If you believe and you’re wrong you lose nothing. If you don’t believe and you’re right, you gain nothing. But if you believe AND you’re right, you gain everything.
Without quibbling over the philosophical challenges this wager holds, I would propose the same wager about climate change. Consider the options regarding the scientific claim that climate change is real and it is a result of human behavior:
If the scientists are right about climate change and we do nothing, disaster awaits us (and relatively soon).
If the scientists are right about climate change and we alter our global behavior, we can effect a more sustainable planet.
If the scientists are wrong about climate change and we do nothing, we continue on as we are now (no claim is made here about whether this is a good or bad scenario).
If the scientists are wrong about climate change and we do something, the earth will likely be greener, less polluted and less exploited.
Therefore, the most rational decision human beings can make today is to alter our behavior as advised by the world's scientists. Altering our behavior gives us the opportunity to pass along a more sustainable planet for our grandchildren and future generations. At worst, it will lead to a cleaner and more enjoyable environment for everyone. Ignoring the scientists can lead to the environmental strain we currently are experiencing (at best) or environmental catastrophe (at worst). We have much to gain by altering our behavior and policies, and little to lose. Based on reason alone, it makes the most sense to wager that the scientists are right and altering our behaviors to reduce greenhouse gases will produce the highest quality of life for all the generations following us.