Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pascal's wager

According to Pascal's wager, (or at least the unvarnished version of Pascal's Wager), if yoi don't believe in God, you should get yourself brainwashed so that you can become a believer. The idea is this. There is either belief in God or the lack of belief in God, and God either exists or doesn't exists.

1. If you believe in God and God exists, then you get infinte joy forever in heaven.
2. If you believe but you got it wrong, then you become worm food.
3. But if you don't believe and got get it right, resisting all the evangelistic efforts of all those believers, you ...... become worm food.
4. If you don't believe in God and God does exist, then you spend eternity in hell.

Given the fact that they payoffs are the way they are, the smart person will surely bet of believing in God regardless of the evidence. Even if you there is a tiny chance that there is a God, you should nevertheless make a believer out of yourself so that you can have a shot at the brass ring, eternal life, or at least avoid eternal punishment. I mean, what do you give up by believing in God? Premarital sex? Pornography? 10% of your income? Whatever it is, it has to be a flea bite compared to the eternal salvation or eternal punishment. Right???

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Isn't the most common response:

Well if believing in one god could equal a reward, I should believe in all gods for a much greater reward. So the wager is either absurd as it promotes believing in contradictory things or promotes universalism/pantheism.

Anonymous said...

But Christianity is not a matter of intellectual ascent to some doctrine or idea, but rather giving one's very existence to God. It requires everything from you.

As Jesus said:
"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
Matt. 10:37-39

As as Paul said:
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."
Gal. 2:20

Anonymous said...

As was noted long ago by Voltaire, Pacal's Wager is a classic example of a false dichotomy. It assumes that the God in question is the Christian God, that this God rewards belief with eternal life, punishes unbelief with eternal damnation etc. etc.

So a more honest formulation of the Wager would be:
1. If you believe in the Christian God and CG exists, then you get infinite joy forever in heaven.
2. If you believe in CG but you get it wrong, then all sorts of things might happen:
(i) you become worm food (if no gods exist)
(ii) you spend eternity in hell (if a non-Christian God exists who has a particular hatred for worshippers of false gods, or for people who believe in gods purely for pragmatic reasons)
(iii) you get reincarnated as a worm (if Buddhism is true, and karma is particularly unkind to Christians)
etc. etc.
3. But if you don't believe in CG and do get it right, resisting all the evangelistic efforts of all those Christian believers, you
...... become worm food (if no gods exist)
...... get infinite joy forever in heaven (if a non-Christian God exists who rewards everybody but Christians, or who simply rewards people who are true to their own beliefs)
etc. etc.
4. If you don't believe in CG and CG does exist, then you spend eternity in hell.

Unfortunately, no one has yet been able to construct an accurate probability measure on deity space...

slaveofone said...

I find Pascal's Wager without any redeeming qualities whatsoever. It would be a greater good to risk hell than to be a believer because of Pascal's Wager.

es said...

I can't make myself believe in the Christian god any more than you can make yourself believe in the Mormon version of reality.

It has to do with an understanding of the history of the mythology.

Victor Reppert said...

The Wager, as I have presented it, is vulnerable to an objection based on Islamic Exclusivism. If Islamic exclusivism, if you become a Southern Baptist, refrain from premarital sex, smoking and drinking, tithe your income, vote Republican in every election (scratch that), you still go to Hell, because you did not confess that your God is Allah and his Prophet is Muhammad. I don't know of any group that teaches that theism is necessary and sufficient for salvation.

jeff g said...

I see Pascal as endorsing a kind of evidentialism in his wager. While belief in God cannot be justified by epistemic beliefs, he attempts to justify such a belief in terms of pragmatic beliefs. Nevertheless, inasmuch as Pascal is endorsing some kind of evidentialism, the question is what justifies the belief that God will reward/punish all those kinds of people? A pragmatic justification can only be a strong as the epistemic justifications which support it. In this case, there simply aren't any.

Victor Reppert said...

I've generally thought that Pascal's wager can work as a kind of evidential "tiebreaker," if you are can't decide based on evidence to believer or not believe, if your options are down to Catholicism and atheism, let's say, then because you have to act like an atheist or act like a believer, the wager gives you a reason to act like a believer.

Anonymous said...

In that case, you're an actor, not a believer, so where does that get you if the xian god demands belief?

Don't you suppose he knows what's in your heart?

Victor Reppert said...

The idea is that you must act in your life as if you thought God existed, or not. If you honestly follow the evidence, can't figure out whether or not God exists, decide that you have to either live as if God exists or not live as if God exists, why would it be wicked and punishment-worthy to live as if God exists. I don't see that that is deceitful toward God or anyone else.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, What would you include under the rubric of "living as though God exists?" What would that entail specifically? Please list all necessary instances, especially highlighting the ways of living that only believers in God's existence practice (as opposed to non-believers).

By "God" I am assuming you are referring to "God" as you believe Him to be, i.e., the "God of the Bible," based on how you interpret the Bible.

~~~~~~~~

Such a way of living would also include the following, no?

As Jesus said:
"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
Matt. 10:37-39

As as Paul said:
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."
Gal. 2:20

Such ways of living and/or thinking seem extreme, psychologically speaking, even involving some loathing of family, friends and self it would appear (another version of the saying says one must "hate" one's parents "for my sake" and of course, follow Jesus, and "let the dead bury the dead" when it comes to dead relatives). Admitting the hyperbolic use of the term "hate," such a mentality of loving something beyond your family and friends (and "crucified" self) is still the kind of mentality that cults thrive on, making a person view themselves and their family and friends as less, training them to cut themselves off mentally from the closeness of family and friends, so as to isolate and indoctrinate, and then graft the new adherent into the group of "true believers."

Have you read Eric Hoffer's _The True Believer_ and noted the psychological similarities between people who gravitate toward mass movements, including Christianity, Fascism and Communism, and grow utterly convinced of the truths taught by their particular church or political party, such that everything else is less worthy of love or respect, including family friends, their own selves? Only "Christ" is worthy, or only the truth of Aryanism or dialectical materialism.

Pascal himself was such a true believer that he was sure God was the source of the painful physical illnesses that plagued him. He believed God was punishing Him, and died fretting over that thought.

Pascal was also a member of a Catholic community in France that was a bit different from other forms of Catholic belief. In the end the semi-Pelagist Jesuits and their theological and apologetics became ascendant. The heirarchy of Catholicism never officially recognized Pascal's "betting" idea, but instead chose to argue that God's existence could be proven via the arguments of Aquinas for example.

Jason said...

Let the lack of context flow freely...!

(As if Jesus _didn't_ before and after this go around teaching that people had better love their parents, do right by their spouses and children, etc.)

The tougher contra-saying, the one in GosLuke, occurs in direct connection with very common-sense parables about counting the cost before signing on to do something important and even dangerous--otherwise, don't sign up.

This recommendation was given to the "vast multitudes" who were going along with Jesus at that time. Considering that Rome, and especially Pilate, had an established habit of squnching vast multitudes following Messianic claimants, Jesus was probably saving their lives by encouraging them _to go away!_--or else they had better be prepared to suffer what _they_ would consider to be a major defeat and loss. He wasn't going out to kick Roman butt--which is what the Palestinians were hoping for and expecting from the Jewish Messiah. He was intending to be crucified; and He was giving them fair (and maybe somewhat exasperated) warning about that.


Now, it may be kind of annoying to have to pay attention to story contexts, especially when they tend to make harsh sayings more sensible sounding. It's much more fun and striking to pull things out of context and plop them on a table in order to draw convenient misguided parallels.

But it's also cheating.


Jason Pratt