Sunday, 26 August 2007

Pascal's Damn Wager: Sidestepping Reason and Rational Thinking

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

One of the really daffy explanations used by theists to validate the assistance of God may be the philosophical and mathematical philosophy of the Pascal's Wager.

Written by Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher, Pascal sought to reconcile the belief in God with mathematical probability as well as a somewhat cheesy, one-sided view of belief: That a belief in something is better than a belief in nothing, since a belief is considered "infinite" in comparison to non-belief.

In Pascal's unfinished treatise, the Pensees, Pascal postulates that reason cannot be used as a determinant for the choice of belief:

"If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is....

..."God is, or He is not." But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions."

Pascal thus assumes two basic suppositions:

i. We have no evidence to make of with regards to the existence of our souls, much less the existence of a supposed heaven or hell. In order for Pascal's Wager to run its course, one has to assume that a real, non-material soul exists, a case of "heads of tails", or the flip of a coin, so to speak.

ii. Since reason can neither make a preposition nor a decision for us, we must then choose between belief or non-belief; because we have no foreknowledge with regards to the existence of God, it would be a more sensible option to pick on the safer side, even if we must choose on the side of error:

"......Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. 'That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much.' Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite."


Here, Pascal speaks of staking a person's current life on this planet as a hedge bet for his eternal soul: Given that a person has no inkling of his prospects after death, he faces an eternity either as an unfortunate victim of hell, or an eternal existence in heavenly bliss.

To summarize, Pascal wager states two major suppositions:

1. If you believe in God:

i. If God exists, you go to heaven: your gain is infinite

ii. If God does not exist, you gain nothing & lose nothing.

2. If You do not believe in God:

i. If God exists, you go to hell, your loss is infinite.

ii. If God does not exist, you gain nothing & lose nothing.

The mathematical calculations are as follows:


God exists (G) God does not exist (~G)
Living as if God exists (B) +∞ (heaven) −N (none)
Living as if God does not exist (~B) −∞ (hell) +N (none)




Mathematically speaking, using the parameters as set by Pascal, Pascal's Wager (based on playing on the safe side of belief) is a bet based pretty much on common sense and a great dose of pragmatism: Regardless whether God exists or not, you do not stand to lose everything.

The Real Wager


The real wager, however, does not constraint belief within the confines of just one singular religion (In the case of Pascal, it was Christianity he was alluding to. Buddhism also has a similar argument).

The equation changes, however, if we add a few other parameters to the list.

i. A belief in a non-existent God isn't a negligible result (N), as assumed by Pascal: Because belief requires both expending energy, resources and time, if the God you do believe in does not really exist, then it will really be a rip-off for the believer, or the congregation of believers who, through blind faith and Pascal's wager, have pinned their eternal hopes on the deity in question.

ii. That there are a myriad of other religions, and that each religion will make similar assertions with regards to the existence and exclusivity of their deities. In this case, we will have to add a myriad of, perhaps upwards of a few thousand other possibilities: Each religion and deity represents a real case for the rivalry of belief, and since Pascal's wager does not account for any sort of proof and evidence, a believer has to resort to blind faith and dumb luck in choosing his right religion.

iii. Suppose a real deity exists, and he or she is amongst the contingents of Gods and Goddesses worshiped by reverent, pious people throughout the passage of time: Choose the right deity to prostrate yourself unto, and off you go to heaven's realm upon your death. Choose the wrong God, and eternal suffering awaits.

Pascal's Wager: Not A Reasonable Concept

Because Pascal's Wager is based on the choice between one religion and non-belief, it is not exactly a true collation of reason and belief.

That a pantheon of past Gods and Goddesses have accompanied past civilizations and walked straight into the annals of history books, is a good indication of the frivolity and incompatibility of religion with any concept of truth.

If Pascal's Wager has any ounce of truth in it, it is that Pascal has rightly elucidated the fact that reason has nothing to do with choosing a religion, and that if anything else, religion is a terrible bet to hedge all your time and energies onto.


-"Suppose we've chosen the wrong god. Every time we go to church we're just making him madder and madder." - Jolly Good Homer

17 comments:

L>T said...

Where are all those smart Christians that like to come over here & argue for their God?

If & when the question of the Christian God comes up in our life, we do make a wager on whether he exists or not just because of the fact God(any God) cannot be proven empirically. Pascals wager is more a wager to believe in Christianity then it is about the existence of God. It seems to be really more propaganda for going to church by a Christian for Christians.

BEAST said...

Well, I>T

So much shit has been thrown,and a portion of it was about the damn wager, so I thought, why not post it?

Alas, the Christian brigade has failed to arrive. What a pity.

Beast

L>T said...

When I was a Christian I remember some smart preacher explaining the logic of Pascals wager in my church. It did sound good at the time...But like most things Christian, their Philosophers suck.

Writer, Splinters of Silver.com said...

"Regardless whether God exists or not, you do not stand to lose everything."

How so?

BEAST said...

Tim:

Based on Pascal's assumptions and parameters, such a claim would have been merit, and Pascal's mathematical model would be true.

Beast

Writer, Splinters of Silver.com said...

But what of the point: if God exist, yet you do not believe He does, and therefore go to hell - as in your "mathematical calculations"?

"2. If You do not believe in God: i. If God exists, you go to hell, your loss is infinite."

BEAST said...

Tim:

Beast(knocks Tim's head): Anybody home???

First of all, its not my calculation: Pascal came up with the wager, not me!!!

What this means is simple:

As Pascal's wager is a comparison between 1 religion (and its adjacent deity) and non-belief, one who doesn't belief in God faces the prospect of eternal damnation if God does indeed exist.

Got it? Or do you need me to use more infantile language????

Writer, Splinters of Silver.com said...

Apparently I need a little help as to how:

"If God exists, you go to hell, your loss is infinite"

equals

"Regardless whether God exists or not, you do not stand to lose everything."

L>T said...

"Regardless whether God exists or not, you do not stand to lose everything."
Tim i think beast means if there is a God he doesn't have to be the Christian God that sends unbelievers to hell.

Personally I think it is a very good argument that God (if he/she/it did exist) would not be the God of the Christians.

Writer, Splinters of Silver.com said...

l>t,

That can't be what he means, because that is not what he is talking about when right above it, he writes, "If God exists, you go to hell, your loss is infinite".

And either way, the point still remains, "If [Christian] God exists, you go to hell, your loss is infinite". So, it still would not equal, "Regardless whether God exists or not, you do not stand to lose everything.", for the "loss is infinite".

L>T said...

well, maybe the problem is who is being quoted, Pascal or Beast?

The argument of Pascal's wager is, "If God exists, you go to hell, your loss is infinite".
But Pascal is only talking about God in the Christian sense.

Beast's counter argument is, "Regardless whether God exists or not, you do not stand to lose everything."
This is a counter argument to Pascal's wager because as pointed out, not ALL human concepts of God are in the Christian sense. Also, since "believing" in God does not depend on reason & rational thinking, the reason & rationality has to be contained in the wager, but the wager is as beast points out, one-sided because the only God in the equation is the Christian one. The only way it works is if you are a Christian already.

If you still don't get it, I would suggest you look up Pascal's wager on wikipedia or somewhere else, & see what conclusion you come too. What ever you do don't ask some Preacher to explain it to you.(If you do, come back & tell us what he/she said, anyway.)

BEAST said...

Tim (aka Mr Amoeba):

Regardless whether God exists or not, you do not stand to lose everything."

In this statement, I mean to elucidate the purpose of the Pascal's wager, which is that either way, you do not lose everything regardless whether god exists or not.

"If You do not believe in God: i. If God exists, you go to hell, your loss is infinite."

This is under the assumption that if I do not believe in God, and God exists, then I will go to hell, and my loss is infinite under the parameters of Pascal's wager.

Beast

BEAST said...

Tim:

For your better elucidation, I have added a caption that should help enlighten you.

In any case, I have written in a early paragraph that Pascal's wager assumes a bet on the safe side of belief. I was alluding to that, but apparently, it wasn't clear enough for you.

The amended quote is as thus:

"Pascal's Wager (based on playing on the safe side of belief) is a bet based pretty much on common sense and a great dose of pragmatism: Regardless whether God exists or not, you do not stand to lose everything.

Writer, Splinters of Silver.com said...

But, based on Pascal's Wager, in fact, as you present it, you do have the "chance" that "your loss is infinite".
----------

1. If you believe in God:

i. If God exists, you go to heaven: your gain is infinite

ii. If God does not exist, you gain nothing & lose nothing.

You don't believe in (1), so you don't get (i) and (ii) wouldn't matter. You are betting on (ii), hoping (i) isn't true. 1/1 50% wager, whereas a Christian is 100% either getting heaven or getting nothing.
----------

2. If You do not believe in God:

i. If God exists, you go to hell, your loss is infinite.

ii. If God does not exist, you gain nothing & lose nothing.

You do believe in (2), you definitely do not want (i), and (ii) wouldn't matter. You are betting on (ii), hoping (i) isn't true. 1/1 50% wager, whereas as a Christians gets 100% escaping hell or getting nothing.
----------

Basically you are wagering an eternity of hell ("your loss is infinite") on whether God exist or not, when you say, "You do not believe in God". So, in fact, "you [do] stand to lose everything".

BEAST said...

Tim:

I agree with you. Based on Pascal's parameters, there is a chance you will burn in hell, and that a choice of belief definitely is better than non belief.

But the reality of life is never based on Pascal's wagers. Believing in a wrong god isn't a "negligible" mathematical entity. And there are more religions and gods than christianity and Jesus. Pascal's assumptions are based on the choice between belief in one god and nonbelief, which is basically flawed.

Even so, I do acknowledge that Pascal was at least sincere enough to admit that reason is not one of the factors one should consider when using the Pascal's wager.

In case you do not know, Buddhism has long have their own version of Pascal's wager, although that deals with reincarnation and the vicious cycle of suffering.

Beast

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drdave said...

For a thorough (and humorous) debunking of Pascal's Wager, see Richard Carrier's Only Non-theists go to heaven.

The jist of the post is that God seeks genuinely good people for heaven. Since non-theists admit they have no reasonable method for choosing among the many gods, religions, or lack thereof, they are the only honest and genuinely good people.

qed.