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Thread: Pascal's Wager

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    Pascal's Wager

    A simple question here: without any other proof, is Pascal's Wager a viable reason to believe in god?

    As Pascal was writing on Christianity when he developed this I will frame my answer regarding that relgion only; others can frame it within their own religion, but if you do please specify which you are talking about.

    I don't believe the wager is enough for your belief to grant you the eternal happiness that god promises in heave. Christianity requires that you accept Christ as your savior and that he died for your sins. This wager offers nothing of that; it only specifies that you believe because you stand more to gain than from non-belief.

    To add a corollary question to Christians: if you are of the mind that following the wager is not enough to be a true believer then what do you say to someone that shows up to your church merely because they accepted the bet? Lord knows that most people seek to avoid punishment so I'd personally wager there are a fair amount of individuals at church only to expiate what they do on the other 6 days of the week in hopes of winning this bet.
    For that is what philosophy has promised me: she will make me god's equal. -Seneca

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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Pascal's Wager presents a false dilemma: believe in the Christian God or believe in no god. What about all the other gods that people believe in?
    “When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don’t care if they are shot themselves."

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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Quote Originally Posted by invictus33 View Post
    Lord knows that most people seek to avoid punishment so I'd personally wager there are a fair amount of individuals at church only to expiate what they do on the other 6 days of the week in hopes of winning this bet.
    Pascal's wager has validity when viewed from the fact he lived in a society dominated by Roman Catholicism.

    In Orthodoxy, Pascal's wager has some different dimensions.

    For example: in Orthodoxy we do not assume one must be a Christian to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That is entirely up to God. However we make some logical assumptions based on scripture that one should live a good life. Th eparable of the Good Samaritin is a good example.

    Samaritins were member's of the wrong faith in Jesus' time. Yet here was Christ telling his Apostles to go out and be like the Samaritin in His parable. This tells us that to good religion is less important than what is in one's heart.

    Also if one strives to incorporate classic Christian values into their lives: Humility, Charity, Love for one's fellow man -- how can this be bad for the individual or society?

    In that sense Pascal's wager has merit. Not so much in that "going through the motions" Praying the right prayers, attending Church, etc. is important -- but what is more important is the spirit with which one lives one's life. This is also a very Orthodox viewpoint -- that rituals are important, but more important is the Spirit behind them, and it is our spirits which God will ultimately judge.
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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Quote Originally Posted by Autolykos View Post
    Pascal's Wager presents a false dilemma: believe in the Christian God or believe in no god. What about all the other gods that people believe in?
    Pascal's wager was the best thing that could be proposed in the society in which it occurred. Even during the Enlightenment, people weren't really familiar with things like Hinduism, so it's not like there was a plethora of gods just sitting there waiting to be worshiped.

    The RCC was still an *extremely* powerful force in Europe during Pascal's time, and pushing the limits too far could have gotten him into trouble. Considering the constraints of both social pressure and ignorance that he labored under, I figure his proposition is about the best one he could have come up with to illustrate his point. If it was a "false dilemma," I argue that this was not by design but was instead a function of multi-cultural "illiteracy" and social pressure.

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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    I'm in the false dilemma camp. The real choices is not binary but among a wide range of possible beliefs and if all are equally plausible then your unlikely to select the correct one by any kind of chance. It makes the most scene to choose the one you think most likely, not the one with the least negative consequences of being wrong.

    Oh and good point above Talthas!

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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Quote Originally Posted by Talthas View Post
    Pascal's wager was the best thing that could be proposed in the society in which it occurred. Even during the Enlightenment, people weren't really familiar with things like Hinduism, so it's not like there was a plethora of gods just sitting there waiting to be worshiped.
    It seems that people were familiar with Muslims and "pagans" (i.e. various polytheists), so I think it still stands as a false dilemma.

    The RCC was still an *extremely* powerful force in Europe during Pascal's time, and pushing the limits too far could have gotten him into trouble. Considering the constraints of both social pressure and ignorance that he labored under, I figure his proposition is about the best one he could have come up with to illustrate his point. If it was a "false dilemma," I argue that this was not by design but was instead a function of multi-cultural "illiteracy" and social pressure.
    This seems like an appeal to consequences. A false dilemma does not magically become valid (i.e. not a false dilemma) due to the power of the Roman Catholic Church, social pressure, ignorance, etc. Furthermore, the OP did not say that we must analyze the validity of Pascal's Wager only within the historical context in which it arose.
    “When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don’t care if they are shot themselves."

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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Quote Originally Posted by Autolykos View Post
    It seems that people were familiar with Muslims and "pagans" (i.e. various polytheists), so I think it still stands as a false dilemma.



    This seems like an appeal to consequences. A false dilemma does not magically become valid (i.e. not a false dilemma) due to the power of the Roman Catholic Church, social pressure, ignorance, etc. Furthermore, the OP did not say that we must analyze the validity of Pascal's Wager only within the historical context in which it arose.
    Fair points. I guess my question is really whether or not we should accept the given stipulations of Pascal's wager in context and overlook that there is a "false dilemma." If not, should we then alter the terms of Pascal's wager so as to eliminate the problem? If so, how can we do this and still keep the spirit of the wager intact?

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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Quote Originally Posted by Sigfried View Post
    I'm in the false dilemma camp. The real choices is not binary but among a wide range of possible beliefs and if all are equally plausible then your unlikely to select the correct one by any kind of chance. It makes the most scene to choose the one you think most likely, not the one with the least negative consequences of being wrong.

    Oh and good point above Talthas!
    Most people never have their homes catch fire -- but does that mean it is smart to not have homeowners' insurance?

    After all, what are the odds?

    ---------- Post added at 08:22 PM ---------- Previous post was at 08:17 PM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by Talthas View Post
    Fair points. I guess my question is really whether or not we should accept the given stipulations of Pascal's wager in context and overlook that there is a "false dilemma." If not, should we then alter the terms of Pascal's wager so as to eliminate the problem? If so, how can we do this and still keep the spirit of the wager intact?

    Pascal's wager in the 21st century:

    "I don't know if God exists. But just to be safe, I will conduct myself in a manner so that if He does, I will not be judged as a bad person."

    Not unlike the character of the agnostic cantina owner in the film "Lillies of the Field" who paid his "insurance" by helping to build a chapel -- "Just in case I am wrong."
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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Pascal's Wager is a false dilemma because it posits that if it happens that there is no god, you lose nothing. One could make a very good case for belief in god (well, religion and religious tenets and dogma... but that's another debate) as being unnecessarily restrictive to your own desires and quite possibly your own happiness. Therefore, holding a (religious) belief in god, if no god existed (religiously), could actually cost you something.

    It's less of a win-win than those of a religious inclination, and I assume Pascal himself, make it out to be. It's more like a 50-50.
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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Quote Originally Posted by Autolykos View Post
    Pascal's Wager presents a false dilemma: believe in the Christian God or believe in no god. What about all the other gods that people believe in?

    Agreed, but I was setting the context up for specifically Christianity, so assume that there is either ONLY a Christian god or no god (or insert whichever religion you'd like).

    That should alleviate the issues around this being a false dilemma. With the assumption added, is this a viable reason to believe in god?
    For that is what philosophy has promised me: she will make me god's equal. -Seneca

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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Quote Originally Posted by invictus33 View Post
    Agreed, but I was setting the context up for specifically Christianity, so assume that there is either ONLY a Christian god or no god (or insert whichever religion you'd like).

    That should alleviate the issues around this being a false dilemma. With the assumption added, is this a viable reason to believe in god?
    No, for the reasons Dr. Gonzo outlined.
    “When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don’t care if they are shot themselves."

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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr Gonzo View Post
    Pascal's Wager is a false dilemma because it posits that if it happens that there is no god, you lose nothing. One could make a very good case for belief in god (well, religion and religious tenets and dogma... but that's another debate) as being unnecessarily restrictive to your own desires and quite possibly your own happiness. Therefore, holding a (religious) belief in god, if no god existed (religiously), could actually cost you something.

    It's less of a win-win than those of a religious inclination, and I assume Pascal himself, make it out to be. It's more like a 50-50.

    Actually the Wager is about eternal happiness after you die, so it posits nothing regarding your life before that. Even if you read it that way then I submit that your 80 years of existence is much less time than eternity afterward, so calling it 50/50 is not even in the ballpark of accurate. I'd grant you 99/1 though!
    For that is what philosophy has promised me: she will make me god's equal. -Seneca

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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Quote Originally Posted by invictus33 View Post
    Actually the Wager is about eternal happiness after you die, so it posits nothing regarding your life before that. Even if you read it that way then I submit that your 80 years of existence is much less time than eternity afterward, so calling it 50/50 is not even in the ballpark of accurate. I'd grant you 99/1 though!
    It's 50-50 in relation to the amount of total possibilities in comparison to the total number of good outcomes vs bad outcomes.

    Believe in God, and God exists = Heaven (good)
    Believe in God, and God doesn't exist = whatever ( - )
    No belief in God, and God does exist = Hell (bad)
    No belief in God, and God doesn't exist = whatever ( - )

    So, you see, a belief in god has one good outcome, and one indifferent outcome. Lack of belief in god has one BAD outcome, and one indifferent outcome. According to that (faulty) logic, it's a no-brainer: believe in god, if for nothing else, just to hedge your bets.

    Why I call it a false dilemma is because those indifferent results up above are NOT indifferent. If we put the real logical outcomes in there, it looks a little different:

    Believe in God, and God exists = Heaven (sweet)
    Believe in God, and God doesn't exist = no premarital sex, no cursing, get up early to go to church on Sundays, no drugs, no drinking, no masturbation, suppression of your desires and instincts, guilt, unrequited love, etc etc etc (BAD)
    No belief in God, and God does exist = Hell (lame)
    No belief in God, and God doesn't exist = At least you didn't waste your life. (Good? Well, better than bad at least.)
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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Gonzo, it appears that you think that each scenario has an equal likelihood of occurring. You do not seem to be factoring probability that god actually exists into the equation. More clearly stated, you seem to be assuming that the probability that god exists = the probability that god doesn't exist. This assumption does not seem realistic. It is like saying that the probability of unicorns existing = the probability of unicorns not existing. Moreover, if god exists, then which god is it?

    When you factor these into the argument, Pascal's wager becomes a poor gamble.
    Last edited by monesy; September 18th, 2009 at 06:18 PM. Reason: grammar
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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Quote Originally Posted by monesy View Post
    Gonzo, it appears that you think that each scenario has an equal likelihood of occurring. You do not seem to be factoring probability that god actually exists into the equation. More clearly stated, you seem to be assuming that the probability that god exists = the probability that god doesn't exist. This assumption does not seem realistic. It is like saying that the probability of unicorns existing = the probability of unicorns not existing. Moreover, if god exists, then which god is it?

    When you factor these into the argument, Pascal's wager becomes a poor gamble.
    I'm taking Pascal's Wager at face value - it's assumptions and outcomes are based on the likelyhood of God's existence and non-existence being equal. In that scenario, it's falsely posits that belief in God either results in Heaven or an indifferent conclusion where nothing good or bad happens, while disbelief in God either results in Hell or or an indifferent conclusion where nothing good or bad happens.

    Where it specifically fails the logic test is the fact that if you believe in God and God doesn't exist, then you've effectively wasted your life in pursuit of an eternal one after you die. Hardly an indifferent outcome where nothing good nor bad happens, no? The same with non-belief - if you don't believe in God, and he does exist, that means Hell, while non-belief and God doesn't exist would mean that you lived how you wanted to live, free from guilt over masturbation or whatever.

    That's why I call it more like 50/50 than the hedge bet Pascal originally tried to make it out to be. Heaven = GOOD, placing hope in a fictional afterlife = BAD, Hell = BAD, living free of religious fetters = GOOD.

    (I am not claiming Heaven is false, nor that God does not exist.... nor am I claiming that they do exist. I am merely using the examples of how a non-theistic person may portray the "inconsequential" consequences that Pascal never made mention of, and why the whole Wager is a false dilemma - it automatically assumes that misplaced belief in a non-existent God would cost the believer nothing, which can most definitely be argued as false.... That would technically be a Smuggled Premise, would it not?)
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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr Gonzo View Post
    I'm taking Pascal's Wager at face value - it's assumptions and outcomes are based on the likelyhood of God's existence and non-existence being equal. In that scenario, it's falsely posits that belief in God either results in Heaven or an indifferent conclusion where nothing good or bad happens, while disbelief in God either results in Hell or or an indifferent conclusion where nothing good or bad happens.
    Whether or not the original Wager assumed God's existence and non-existence as equal, the concept doesn't require such an assumption. The gravity of the consequence (ETERNAL hell) simply outweighs the improbability. What IF the biblical God does exist? No matter how small the odds, the price I'll pay for being wrong is huge.


    Where it specifically fails the logic test is the fact that if you believe in God and God doesn't exist, then you've effectively wasted your life in pursuit of an eternal one after you die. Hardly an indifferent outcome where nothing good nor bad happens, no? The same with non-belief - if you don't believe in God, and he does exist, that means Hell, while non-belief and God doesn't exist would mean that you lived how you wanted to live, free from guilt over masturbation or whatever.
    If you only have one life, it makes little difference what you pursue. In the end you die and you are no more. In addition, many Christians are perfectly content with their lives. The fact that you believe in God and that you follow the moral code attached to that belief doesn't preclude you from enjoying your life just as much as an atheist would.


    That's why I call it more like 50/50 than the hedge bet Pascal originally tried to make it out to be. Heaven = GOOD, placing hope in a fictional afterlife = BAD, Hell = BAD, living free of religious fetters = GOOD.
    Again the numbers don't matter because hell is INFINITY.



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    "I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world" - Richard Dawkins

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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Quote Originally Posted by Allocutus View Post
    Again the numbers don't matter because hell is INFINITY.
    [/I]
    Again, Hell is only ONE possible outcome out of four possible. In the original interpretation, it's the only bad thing that can possibly happen. I don't believe that to be the case.

    If your one life is all you get, then I suppose a truly atheist perspective could go either way - since you return to nothingness, then what you did before that doesn't really matter, OR since you only get one go, you should make the best of it. The problem with Pascal's Wager is that it fails to recognize the possibility of an atheist perspective. If you devoted your life to a religious cause, and didn't do all the other things that you wanted to, or perhaps had some emotional baggage attached through your given religion, then the number of BAD outcomes doubles.

    You make a good point about how a Christian (or Muslim/Jewish/Hindu/etc) lifestyle may in itself be a good thing (thereby making a belief in a God that doesn't exist an indifferent outcome), but calling it "good" is highly subjective, based on the experiences of the observer in contrast with an unknown list of total possibilities.

    Is self-actualization possible without religion? Is it only possible through religion? Is it even a worthy goal on it's own? Does "Human Potential" even matter a lick in the grand scheme of things? I don't have the answer to any of these questions, and neither does any theist or atheist for that matter.
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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    But keep in mind that hell is eternity. Even if you don't end up doing absolutely everything you wished in your life, it's unlikely that you would consider it a complete waste.

    What you end up with is this:

    A. Having missed out on a few things in life and never getting a chance to regret it (you are dead)

    Or

    B. Going to hell for eternity and spending it regretting the fact that you chose some extra things in your life.
    "I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world" - Richard Dawkins

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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    Quote Originally Posted by Allocutus View Post
    But keep in mind that hell is eternity.
    Assuming, of course, that Hell exists. Since we're betting on possible outcomes, "Hell" as a concept seems like a pretty convenient reason to force "belief," no? Are we to consider motive in this scenario?

    Even if you don't end up doing absolutely everything you wished in your life, it's unlikely that you would consider it a complete waste.
    One may argue that anything less than realizing 100% of one's given potential sets up a binary waste system - it was either a complete success, or a complete failure.

    A. Having missed out on a few things in life and never getting a chance to regret it (you are dead)
    If it's the case that there is absolutely nothing after death, as in, life is devoid of meaning to the dead, then what is the atheistic view of the point of life? Is there a reason to live in the first place, or at all?

    I implore you to "place yourself in an atheist's shoes" to answer that question. (I was silently chuckling to myself while writing that.)

    B. Going to hell for eternity and spending it regretting the fact that you chose some extra things in your life.
    For this to be an option, one would have to assume that an eternity in Hell is as bad or worse than the possibility of missing out on some of those extra things. One would also have to assume that there is regret in Hell, and none in the case of "poofing" out of existence as we know it. Also, one has to assume the likelyhood of Hell existing and not existing is equal.

    That's a lot of assumptions.

    By the way, you are really hard to argue with.
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    Re: Pascal's Wager

    The Turtle (the god of all gods) just spoke to me. She said that she doesn't care much what I believe, and will grant me eternal bliss in heaven after I die, with only two caveats:

    1) That I don't believe in Yaweh.

    2) That I don't eat turtles.

    If I do not adhere to her conditions, she said that I would be cast into hell for an eternity of eating animals that creepeth upon their unclean cloven hooves. I told her that I like bacon, and that I am going to convert to Christianity. She rolled her eyes and disappeared with a puff of dandelions and butterflies.

    Talk about hedging my bets. That calls for some turtle soup.
    "*" --Kurt Vonnegut

 

 
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