Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Long Overdue, Obligatory Pascal's Wager Post

Pascal’s Wager, for the one or two people that unaware of the formal name, is the theistic apologetic argument that it is better to believe and be wrong, than to not believe and be wrong. In other words, if you believe in god and there is no god, you lose nothing. If you believe in god and there is a god then you gain eternal life. If you do not believe in god and there is a god then you lose everything since you spend eternity being punished for rejecting god’s unconditional love.

So why is the wager a poor argument for belief? Even though it may seem the wager allows for the possibility that god does not exist, the conclusion “begs the question” that “he” does exist since it makes the assumption that it is better to believe in the type of god that punishes and rewards strictly based on a human’s belief in “Him.” Clearly, this is the god of Abraham who is assumed to exist. Any dismissal of the multitude of other gods is special pleading. How can one be sure, using this premise, that they have the “correct” faith? One cannot have this knowledge, so the problem now becomes one of a “double faith wager.” You not only have to have faith that a god exists, but you also have to have faith that it is the correct god that would reward belief, regardless of morality, and punish non-belief regardless of goodness.

Superficially, Pascal’s Wager works. If the argument is only cursorily examined it makes perfect sense to someone who is already prone to believe or someone who already believes. It acts as a confirmation bias: “Of course I should believe in God. It would be foolish of me not to.” Conversely, as most non-believers have realized, it is a pathetically poor argument. Actually it makes no sense. Can someone believe in god purely for self-interest? Is that belief? Is that cynical logic compatible with morality? Would a god obsessed with human’s living their lives according to His standards of morality, faith, and worship accept such selfish stance? If it did then he would be a shallow, egocentric, tyrant that deserves no such praise.

Good thing there is no valid reason to believe in such nonsense.


Erica said...

I had no idea this actually had a name! Can't wait to use "Pascal's Wager" the next time this comes up.

Troythulu said...

This post points out well some problems with this argument I've noticed, especially its mercenary logic, and that you must already be inclined to believe to accept it.

I may have to refer to this in arguments with my theist friends, who seem either unaware of any problems with it, or who simply dismiss those pointed out.

Excellent, Steve.

@blamer said...

There's a further problem.

Pascal is too black-and-white for liberals. They'll insist on heaven but fictionalise hell (so too the devil). The usual metaphor being a light versus dark. There is no "a dark" they'll say.

So, a more charitable argument...

1) assume by reading and thinking about the Singularity everyday it effects whether or not you believe in the Singularity

2) assume that sufficient belief in the Singularity is transformative to the extent it gives you a better understanding of goodness

3) assume that a better understanding of goodness leads to superior ethical behaviour in the here-and-now

4) and assume that better behavior causes one to feel better after death

5) but assume that anybody ignorant of the Singularity (or died with mistaken beliefs about it) feels comfortable after death, although not amazing

Now playing make-believe makes the world a better place PLUS wins you pascal's selfish wager.

The flaw in this line of reasoning however, is there's no fair test for "goodness" so we cannot tell who's truly been so "transformed". We can only spot those who exhibit inferior empathy and fairness to ourselves. eg, abraham. yahweh. even jesus.