Sunday, November 23, 2008

Some Ramifications of Pascal's Wager

Photo of two dice with the sum of 7
Statue of Blaise Pascal thinking and reading

Pascal's Wager seems intriguing and convincing, doesn't it? And it comes from somebody who really knows what he is talking about, being a master of probability theory himself. It's a very simple but essential and relevant supposition.


Let's assume there is a God and an afterlife. Then if we are right, we won't be disappointed. We will have backed the "right horse," so-to-speak, and are in heavenly bliss, eating fruits from the trees and being surrounded by voluptuous goddesses. 

What if we are wrong though? What would happen if we erred and there is no God or paradise, and it was all just fabricated lies and fiction? Well, so what? We will be dead and won't feel a thing. So who cares if there's nothing after death. Nothing will happen to us. We will be sleeping safe, sound and dreamless in our tombs.

Yet if we assume there is no God, and it turns out that there actually is; that would be the worst case scenario. We would have to burn in hell for eternity! It's not just a few hours, days or years! This is serious business: It's going to be for all time! So you see Pascal has a point there.

However, there are a few problems with this theory. First of all, if people believe in God only for the sake of convenience and to try to save their own hinds (which probably a lot of people do anyhow), then God would see through it and the faith of these people would lack both substance and weight. 

A second point could be the fact that Christians just got it wrong, and maybe we will be coming face to face with Allah or Krishna instead. There is no absolute guarantee that the Christian religion is indeed the true one, no matter what the Bible or local priest may say on this matter.

The third, and perhaps most important, point is the fact that we would choose to lead a life of ignorance, not one based on our own active discoveries and truths. We would not make our own inquiries, while taking half-examined given truths as granted. It would undermine philosophy, which is there to ask serious and hard questions about our existence, our role in life and our purpose in the universe. These things cannot be taken lightly.

But what I like most about Pascal is his emphasis on feeling and intuition over reason and logic. I believe, along with various existentialist philosophers, that we all need to have faith in something and that human life cannot be explained with science only. We are more complex than that and our capacity to feel, have compassion, create art and philosophy is what our humanity is really based on.

9 comments:

The Prince of Centraxis said...

A far more logical point to make is that 'god' and and 'afterlife' are not the same thing. It's possible to have one without the other - as Pascal (who was blinded by the inherent dogmas of his day) could scarcely appreciate.
Pascal's wager is a bet based on false premises.
See http://newilluminati.blog-city.com

Shea said...

If you are wrong in any other religion besides Christianity, then you get some kind of second chance, something like that is how it goes, Augastine I think argued that,

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Vahid Yamartino said...

Interesting take on the matter. Have you ever heard of the Baha'i Faith which teaches about 'progressive revelation', linking all religions with a common purpose, and therefore all truth as one? Also, I think you may enjoy reading my blog. Thanks.

http://notevenphilosophy.blogspot.com/

Arashmania said...

@Adam, thank you very much for your comments!

Your comments are very valid and I agree with you, especially when it comes to human complexity and choices. As to atheism vs religion, my personal stance is not always clear, and it is done so deliberately. Some of my posts advocate atheism, others do quite the opposite. I am playing Socrates if you will.

As to science, I have great respect for it, especially as a tool for knowledge. Yet I would agree with Kant, that some things elude the grasp of science and that it should not become a religion.

I am working on some future posts on existentialism, which is indeed quite a varied and complex movement, including atheists, agnostics, and several who do believe in God.

Btw I really like your blog.

Jade said...

"First of all, if people believe in God only for the sake of convenience and to try to save their own hinds (which probably a lot of people do anyhow), then God would see through it and the faith of these people would lack both substance and weight."

What do you think God would do since he knows that these people's belief is actually shallow? (Keep in mind The following passage from the NIV Bible 1 Corinthians 3:10-15= "10By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. 14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.")
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As for "what if Christianity is incorrect?" it is probably the best and truest choice. In Islam, for example, when a good Muslim dies he may not necessarily go to heaven but instead hell. It all depends on Allah's mood.

With Christianity on the other hand true faith and belief in Christ is guaranteed salvation (as can be seen in John 3:16- "6"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[a] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.")

And if Christians just got it wrong, why would God not reveal the truth?
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"There is no absolute guarantee that the Christian religion is indeed the true one, no matter what the Bible or local priest may say on this matter."

Is this a valid point to be using against Christianity? There is no absolute guarantee in any religion- all are based on faith (i.e.there is no way to physically prove the existence of God or nature being god etc.)
As a matter of fact- in philosophical terms- there is not guarantee of anything. How do I know that this computer I am typing on is real? How do I know my senses are real? How do we know the earth is real and just some massive illusion as New Agers claim it to be? How do we know what is true and what is not?
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"The third and perhaps most important point is the fact that we would choose to lead a life of ignorance, not one based on our own active discoveries and truths. We would not make our own inquiries while taking half-examined given truths as granted."

If I recall correctly, one of the key questions in philosophy is "what is real?"
Are we not stuck leading a life in ignorance no matter what we do? Christianity or not? According to your post, there is no way to know the eternal truths until we die.

Arashmania said...

Thank you for your detailed comments and your vast Biblical knowledge!

"Pascal's Wager" is actually directed towards non-Christians by trying to provide mathematical proof for the existence of an afterlife, though the "Prince of Centraxis" above correctly points out, it "should" not necessarily include proof for the existence of God.

Now all I am doing here is to refute the argument, or at least to offer possible criticism to his premise. It is very good and seems plausible, but it is inherently flawed.

As to some Christians saving their "hinds", I think we can agree that
some simply believe or "act good" for convenience sake. I do not in any way claim that it includes all Christians, and yes, God would obviously see through them.

I do not say that Christianity is "incorrect" though I think that due to the fact that there are other religions and beliefs out there, that possibility should at least be given some thought.

I think everyone should think for themselves and not blindly follow priests. I have tremendous respect for faith, but I think it needs to be throughly examined and not just adopted.

New Agers are just following what is an age-old tradition. Scepticism in the Western tradition dates back to Locke and Hume and even further back to Eastern philosophy. What is real? Who knows?

Is there an afterlife? I guess it is true that we'll see when we get there because all we can offer is speculation and our own beliefs.
Do I believe if there's an afterlife? Hell, yes!

Tomas said...

Heavy questions and worthy pondering deeper. Thank you for the help to awake - to shift away from temporal misunderstandings to what matters indeed.
In short, I agree with emphasis on feeling and intuition over reason and logic. The heart is too week to explain what is what, but it enables us to enjoy not our understanding of what is what but the light we see, and thus to discover the keys in hands when we fly on the wings of the gratitude high above all our prejudices.
Thank you once again for the uplifting article.

Alara said...

I've long been amused by the concept of Pascal's wager, but reading this does bring something to mind. If you take the gamble, you’d pretty much have to believe it in order to convince an omniscient being, but then, would it truly be the wager, or would you be a Christian/Muslim/Hindu/etc.?