Sunday, February 20, 2011

If You Want to Bring Up Logic...

I've never liked the Pascal's Wager argument, and Greta Christina nicely explains its logical flaws.

I like this point:

When you're lining up at the gates to the afterlife and God is looking deep into your soul -- and when he sees that your belief consisted of, "Hey, why not believe, it's not like I've got anything to lose, and I've got a whole afterlife of good times to gain, so sure, I 'believe' in God, wink wink" -- do you really think God's going to be impressed? Do you really think he's going to say, "Oo, that's sly, that's some ingenious dodging of the question you got there, we just love a slippery weasel here in Heaven, come on in"?

Ha. Heaven loves a slippery weasel.

The Wager is a very rules-lawyer kind of thing. If you can find a loophole, exploit it!--and all will be well.



John T F Burgess said...

Ah, I can understand that view of the wager, but historically there's more to it than that. The wager was never meant to be a proof of God's existence. It was a demonstration to a world gripped by a revival of Greek skepticism that we are in a forced choice situation. We must wager, whether we would choose to, or not, on how we should live our lives. If we must wager, then the clever wagerer considers probabilities (Pascal was one of the forerunner's of using probability in recreational wagering)before committing to a course of action. Pascal's major contribution to theology was popularizing fideism, the idea that reason could never prove the existence of God; that lies in the domain of pure faith. With that philosophy in mind, no analysis of probability will ever get you to the point where you can commit to the wager with confidence. One can never think, ones way into Heaven, as it were. The wager also demonstrates that even when the desired outcome is clear (in his estimation)we still have great difficulty committing to the belief in God, so self-interest is also not the path to salvation. Pascal would have us surrender to mystery, and give ourselves to the faint hope that the creator will make us long for the good sufficiently in order to get us to where we need to be. Pascal was a tragic figure, who tried to reconcile the conflicting pulls of reason and faith. The wager was no more than a thought experiment he used to help him clarify for himself the place that reason occupied in a life of faith. We are very lucky to be living in an age of intellectual history, driven by material naturalism, when these questions have for the most part been answered, and we don't have to do this kind of psychic calisthenics just to make sense of the world. I have great sympathy for what he must have gone through, if fideism was the most comforting philosophy his great mind could come to.

A'Llyn said...

Fascinating! I do have limited philosophical background knowledge, so these details flesh things out a bit.