Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pascal's Wager

I see that the link I put on the sidebar is now defunct and I'll fix that. Later. For now I'll just offer this short version of Pascal's Wager and my take on it. Blaise Pascal (1600's) said that since you can't prove the existence of God you might as well believe in him. If your wrong and God truly doesn't exist you lose nothing but if he does exist you win all with eternal life.

There are many logical refutations on this line of reasoning so I won't go through the whole thing. Personally though I have a couple of ideas.

To accept Pascal's wager to me would seem to be a cowardly way of life. There is something very scary out there that we can't show you but it's really scary so you really should behave in this special way to cover yourself. I think I need a little more than that to truly commit to a particular philosophy. Is it so wrong to ask for a few particulars? You know, people ask way more incisive questions when it comes to buying a car than they do about buying into an entire world view.

My other thought is, ok, I accept the wager. There. I believe in God. Am I covered? Can I go on now with my life as it was before? Do I have to say it out loud? Can I just say it to myself? How many times do I have to say it? Do I have to mean it? How could anyone tell if I mean it or not? If I say but I don't really mean it have I sinned? What if I can say but I just can't make myself mean it? Am I then doomed? That seems mean.

Of course when people say they believe in God they usually mean that they believe AND they partake in the rituals, the giving, and the community of their church. So, is all of that required too or can one just believe?

If there were an all seeing, fire and brimstone type of God I don't think he would be impressed with Pascal's CYA version of belief so you'd be going to hell anyway. Since you're going to go to hell anyway, you might as well NOT believe. So, there's Pascal's Wager stood on its head!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently wrote the following to a theist friend, after he encouraged me to take Pascal's Wager (he had also used the "but your atheist stance is a faith stance, too" line, so I commented on that also:

"I want to respond to your comment that my atheist stance is simply another faith stance.

First, to say I BELIEVE there is no god is incorrect. Rather, in the absence of any proof and any personal experience that there is a god, I HAVE NO BELIEF in god. I’m guessing you will say that is purely semantics, but there really is a critical difference. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. The person who believes in a supernatural god bears the burden of proof, not a person who makes no such claim.

I don't believe in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy but I can't prove that they do not exist. Would you say, then, that I'm a person of “faith” in their nonexistence? You see, I don’t see it as a question of semantics.

But if you insist on sticking with your statement that I have “faith” in my atheism, and I go with that for the sake of dialogue, then I would have to say this. There would seem to be a difference between my “believing” in something that has behind it empirical evidence (or, actually, the absence of empirical evidence) and your believing in something just because you want to. (Some believers would say they believe because “they talk to God everyday” or, to quote the hymn, “He lives within my heart”, or other things like that, but I don’t put you in that camp). Put another way, what you say is my BELIEF, I would call my CONCLUSION that there is no god—KNOWLEDGE based on evidence from the real world.

And I want to say again that, as an educated non-believer, can you see how I simply cannot “decide” to believe, a la Pascal’s Wager argument (which you have posited before)? That is simply not applicable. It’s not a logical, or even an honest choice for me. It’s like a kid who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, but says he does so he’ll get more presents!"

Rich P