When the stakes are infinite, carrots work better than sticks. This new paper estimates that, across a number of countries, a belief in heaven is two to three times as strong in getting people into church or praying regularly as is a belief in hell. Infinite gains are better incentives than infinite losses. Pascal’s wager was incomplete.
This seems illogical. Even if people who believe in hell have enormous time discount rates, the teeny prospect of avoiding infinite torment (see after line 4569 here) has infinite present value. That should motivate people to pray just as much as the prospect of infinite bliss.
Indeed, more so. The prospect theory advanced (pdf) by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky says people prefer avoiding losses to making gains. So hell should be a better motivator than heaven.
So why isn‘t it? One possibility might be that people who say they believe in hell don’t really do so; professed religious beliefs needn’t be sincere.
Another possibility is that discount rates aren’t just high, but infinite - some people don’t value future losses at all. Which raises the question; if divine punishment has only weak effects upon behaviour, why should smaller human punishments be effective in deterring crime?