My reply was that I had heard of the concept. I then went on to say that, “It is a finding of modern science that cognition is a function of the brain. When the brain dies cognition ends. There is no afterlife.”
This is my summary judgment of the scientific evidence to date. It does not logically prove anything beyond any possible doubt but the evidence does give me reason to say that the absence of an afterlife is scientifically proven. Perhaps we need a blog post on the nature of proof to expand on this distinction. For some reason those who wish to believe in the supernatural get away with asserting that logical certainty is the proof criterion to be used when analyzing the supernatural. For every other item of concern in our lives the proof criterion that we use is the balance of empirical evidence.
For those who have not heard of the term, Pascal's wager, let me give a thumbnail overview of what it means. The mathematician Blaise Pascal presumed that it was not possible to use reason to determine whether God existed or not. In the absence of such knowledge the presumption of the probabilities are assumed to be a fifty-fifty coin flip. He further assumed that belief in God had zero cost and that if God existed then a belief in him would result in an infinite life in Heaven and that the value of that afterlife would be infinite. The penalty for an erroneous disbelief in God is an eternity of misery in Hell, an infinite negative value. Obviously with such presumptions any rational person would bet on the existence of God by believing in him since there is no cost with a losing bet and an infinite reward with a winning bet. This is not a perfect recounting of what Pascal said but it does serve to frame the issues.
My exchange with this person brought a number of other thoughts to my mind. The first was what would God think, if he existed, about someone who had such a belief? He might think, “This person only believes in me because he looks a life as a series of gambles. He doesn't believe in me because my revelations produce anything that is good. His belief in me does not include any commitment to positive principles. The belief is solely made with expectation that eternal life will come from it.” My guess is that a jealous God would not be very impressed with this belief.
In actuallity belief in God entails an enormous cost. People spend time praying and going to church. They typically commit a fraction of their income to “God's work” and that amount can exceed the ten percent tithing mandated by the Bible. The surrender of critical thinking to assume something on “faith” is a cost that is for many of us simply beyond consideration.
Theodore M. Drange in an essay on Infidels.org lists other costs defined in the Bible for salvation. “One also needs to believe in God's son (Mark 16:16; John 3:18,36, 8:21-25, 14:6; Acts 4:10-12; I John 5:12), repent (Luke 13:3,5), be born again (John 3:3), be born of the water and of the Spirit (John 3:5), believe everything in the gospel (Mark 16:16), eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood (John 6:53), be like a child (Mark 10:15), and do good deeds, esp. for needy people (Matt. 25:41-46; Rom. 2:5-10; John 5:28-29; James 2:14-26).”
Even with the vanishing low probability of a supernatural personal God, there is also the possibility that such a God would look more favorably on critical thinking and use of reason to find beliefs and moral principles which make the world better for ourselves and others. Thus even if God were to exist the rewards and punishments might be reversed from those imagined by Blaise Pascal.