Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Pascal's gambling debts

In 'Pascal's Wager' he famously speculated on the benefits of believing in God or not.

There are various ways to phrase the wager but here is a non-mathematical approach.  Pascal was specifically Catholic, but this version is generically christian:
  • It is possible that the Christian God exists or that the Christian God does not exist.
  • If you believe in the Christian God and he exists then you receive an infinitely great reward and if he does not exist then you lose little or nothing.
  • If you do not believe in the Christian God and he does exist then you receive an infinitely great punishment and if he does not exist then you gain little or nothing.
So:
  • It is better to either receive an infinitely great reward or lose little or nothing than it is to either receive an infinitely great punishment or gain little or nothing.
  • Therefore it is more rational to believe in the Christian God than it is not to believe in the Christian God.

There can be few young people who are not convinced by this argument while in the safety of their knowledge that their god is the 'real' god and that other gods are just different ways of worshiping 'their' god.  They know this because their parents, their family, their teachers and even their government might have led them to believe it. 

I was convinced by it, but now I realise that there are a few flaws in this way of thinking.  Strangely it was Richard Dawkins who made me realise that I had been duped - or indoctrinated! 

For one thing, it is difficult to believe in something just because it seems to be the least dangerous thing to do. If the only evidence for god is a book that says that you must ignore the fact that there is no evidence, then you could be forgiven for starting to doubt.  (Apparently god will not forgive this.) Some people can manage it, but those are not the people who question things and try to understand more of the world. We have to accept that this is not an altogether convincing argument.

There is another flaw - and Pascal was well aware of this, but I'll come back to Pascal in a minute.  Diderot phrased the problem rather succinctly: 

"An imam could reason the same way."

In other words - you have to factor into the equation that there is not just one god, recognised by all of humanity.  In all probability the majority of people will back the wrong god - and after all there have been at least 3000 of them to choose from.

Pascal dismissed the question of other possible gods with

"That would be sufficient for a question in philosophy; but not here, where everything is at stake."

He couldn't believe that the god of the heathens was worthy of the same respect as his god.  Can you?

8 comments:

Hilary said...

1) This is a most peculiar wager I agree, as no true convert would ever be converted by such a line of reasoning... it is the Holy Spirit who convicts people of sin, and righteousness and of judgment (John 16:8).

2)how come we moved in the same circles at uni but I never once heard this as any kind of attempt at persuasion to atheists to convert?

3) you continue to state there is no evidence...there is a deluge of evidence which the vast majority of scholars including many atheistic scholars interpret as overwhelming evidence that Jesus existed, was crucified, and that the disciples believed Him to be risen from the dead... you choose to interpret as no evidence...you're stating your opinion here not fact...it cannot be proved or disproved, same with evolution...we all begin from different assumptions...I choose to begin with God... :)

Plasma Engineer said...

Evolution's evidence keeps being topped up. Just today this one came up.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14824435

Evidence for Jesus seems to be going in the opposite direction - mainly because people dare to ask more questions these days.

As you know, part of my evidence is the concept that the Jesus story has been used over and over again throughout antiquity for other 'gods', and that there are no contemporaneous documents about Jesus. Apart from that I agree that I have no evidence. But that alone is much more convincing to me than any criticism of 'the fact of evolution' which you can read in many great text books.

Hilary said...

Actually the evidence for Jesus is increading as more archeological artefacts are substantiating early christian groups and their understanding of Jesus and who He was/is.

Also I don't understand what you mean by contemporous docs as all of the Gospels are contemporous, including John's letters which talk plainly about eye witness accounts.

We have all been indoctrinated with so called facts of evolution.. no missing links have ever been found, except hoaxes, and scientists putting together bits of fossils from different strata and then declaring them to belong to one animal, quickly to be shown to be false.

The Genesis flood provides far better explanation scientifically for the geological column and all fossils.

The mythology you refer to is clearly nothing like the figure of Jesus and this has all been studied before years ago in theological circlesand easily refuted - this is a very old and totally without substance challenge to the figure of Jesus.

Hilary said...

"increasing" :)

Hilary said...

...oh btw...here's an interesting article re the link... I obviously still don't agree with all the long ages etc, but at least it/he sees through the spin the BBC puts on it...

http://www.slate.com/id/2250212

The BBC puts so much spin on every science article doesn't it...should play for England's Cricket team...:)

forbsy said...

...in fact the more this man spoke about this http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14824435 the more clear it becomes that this creature was in fact an ape/chimpanzee etc and as he even says himself "not human at all" which kinda clinches it really... just another variation within a species...to call this 'evidence' is really not science but pure speculation. Soz...:)

Plasma Engineer said...

We don't find missing links for a good reason. Apes did not evolve into humans any more than humans evolved into apes. Common ancestors are in fact quite common and none of your reasoning clinches anything really. But I do agree about the BBC propaganda machine.

In the article you refer to above I noticed different things that were much more remarkable than your implied claim that Zimmer compared this fossil with chimps - which he didn't!

"A. sediba is evidence that these are exciting times to study human evolution" 'kinda clinches' that he thinks this was a hominid.

and

"But the study of cavemen can get very confusing if we cling to bogus terms such as "missing links." It's high time we ditched those canards so we can really get to know our history better." See the word 'men'?

(I'm not coming back to evidence for Jesus - I have covered it elsewhere in sufficient depth. e.g. See the link at the top of the screen to 'The Grandfather Challenge'.)

bradys bearss said...

Common ancestors are in actuality absolutely accepted and none of your acumen clinches annihilation really. But I do accede about the BBC advertising machine.

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