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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pascal's Wager

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was an extremely influential French mathematician who contributed to many areas of mathematics and who laid the foundations for the theory of probability. Following a mystical experience in late 1654, he abandoned his scientific work and devoted himself to philosophy and theology.

His eponymous Wager might be described as an “insurance against hell”, expressed something like this: "If you believe, and God exists, you gain everything. If you disbelieve, and God exists, you lose everything."

We can analyse this in a little more detail by recognising the following two possibilities:

God either exists or he doesn’t; and you believe in him or you don’t.

Logically, this generates four possible situations:

Situation 1: God exists and you believe in Him

Situation 2: God does not exists and you believe in Him

Situation 3: God exists and you do not believe in Him

Situation 4: God does not exist and you do not believe in Him

We can consider the consequences upon death for each of these situations.

Situation 1: God exists and you believe in Him
Consequence: you may surely expect to go to heaven

Situation 2: God does not exist, and you believe in Him
Consequence: nothing, but you are deluded and you waste time and effort on Earth

Situation 3: God exists and you do not believe in Him
Consequence: you burn in hell for eternity!

Situation 4: God does not exist and you do not believe in Him
Consequence: nothing.

In summary, the worst that could happen to a believer is nothing; the worst that could happen to an atheist is eternal damnation.

There are many well-known flaws in the logic of Pascal’s Wager that are listed at this website.

For me there are two that are particularly obvious. Firstly, any omniscient (“all-knowing”) God would surely know if anybody was simply “going through the motions and believing out of convenience” in order to earn a place in heaven and did not truly believe He would condemn them to hell anyway for being hypocritical.

But secondly, and more importantly, it raises the question of “which God?”.

There are plenty of different Gods in which to believe, and all of them threaten
eternal damnation to those that that do not subscribe to their particular cult. For example, Jesus Christ said "I am the way, the truth and the light. None shall come to the Father except through me."

Gods are vengeful, wrathful authorities, it says so in most of the “holy books”.

The problem is that conviction (the strength of your faith) is absolutely no guide at all to which God you should worship. There is no point in saying: “I know that my God exists and that he will save me”. Members of all religions say that and, as we know only too well, there are plenty of people queuing up to die for their particular God, especially if they can take a few members of alternative religions along with them.

Which God you end up worshiping is invariably decided by the family, location and culture that you were born into. That is, an accident of birth.

Now, would someone please tell me which almighty, everlasting heavenly father, who knows everything, would decide to pre-ordain those who will be born into an environment that leads to eternal salvation; and those who will not, and so will burn in hell for ever? What selection process is used? Why are millions (maybe the majority) of innocent babies apparently condemned to eternal damnation, simply on the grounds of where (or to whom) they were born? This does not sound like a "heavenly father" to me!

I think that if I were a god-fearing person, I would not pray to any single God for salvation. I would be quaking with fear that I was backing the right horse. Eternity is at stake!

Personally, I choose to adopt the alternative version of Pascal’s Wager that has been called The Atheists’ Wager, which goes something like this:

"It is better to live your life as if there are no Gods, and try to make the world a better place for your being in it. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by those you left behind. If there is a benevolent God, He will judge you on your merits and not just on whether or not you believed in Him."


Blogger Tortoiseshell said...

"It is better to live your life as if there are no Gods, and try to make the world a better place for your being in it."

Nice words - now get on with it!!!

10:31 am  
Blogger TCA said...

Are you worried about your hit rate/number of comments?

You're tending to sound like a 'cult of atheism' nut case yourself.

Haven't you got some ringing to do..?


11:19 am  
Blogger Penless Thoughts said...

I'm glad you like my clowns. I wonder which one we will be?

On know which one I am and I know which one you are. No surprises there.

"It is better to live your life as if there are no Gods, and try to make the world a better place for your being in it. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by those you left behind. If there is a benevolent God, He will judge you on your merits and not just on whether or not you believed in Him."

This is my version, if I may:
"It is better to live your life as if there is one true God, and try to make the world a better place for your being in it. If there is noy one true God, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by those you left behind. If there is one true God, you will not be judge on your works but on your faith and belief in Him."

A couple of things we can, I think, agree on: 1) we are both living our lives making it a better place and 2) we have both outlived Pascals 39 years!!!

12:04 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

The fact is people want to believe, they seek a spiritual connection.

Some harsh words from your son. I'm now off to Wicken Fen, I read today that bitterns have been found nesting in the Fens for the first time since the second world war, I bet I won't be able to spot any.

12:30 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

> It is better to live your life as if there is one true God

Ah, but which "true" God? There are many claims to consider...
Axiomatically, everyone thinks that they worship the "one true God" and would die for him/her. At most, only one can be right...

12:33 pm  
Blogger Ju's little sister said...

Yarrr Maalie, the clip be havin this wench in stitches arrrrr!

It reminded me a lot of the series of radio and waveguide lectures we suffered through on our Avionics courses. All were old-shool video lectures. Except they were English - much funnier!!!

12:54 pm  
Anonymous Plumpy said...

I'm not sure I understand what this debate is all about. Who needs dieties when you could have a cat?

The Ancient Egyptians had it right. I recommend any reader of Maalie's blog to research ancient egyptian attitude towards felines.

The modern world is shamefully lacking.

1:01 pm  
Anonymous God said...

Can you all stop arguing the toss about this stuff. Because of My omnienscence, I can hear every thought and all that jazz. I know that many of you only mean well, you know, using some that free thought and expression 'program' I shoved into your circuitry.
Quite frankly, it's putting Me off My lunch.
And why does everybody keep refering to Me as 'He', there are alternatives you know.

1:55 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

God, you seem to have overlooked my comment (the fourth above this one) in which I referred to "him/her". Not so omniscient after all!

But it's nice of you to drop in, especially as it's the Autumn Equinox, my rituals in Lapland last week have evidently impressed you!

2:03 pm  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Suppose for a moment that God really exists, and that he is holy, and that he revealed the truth about himself in a book and sent his son to redeem many because of his great love. And then he raised his son from the grave.

If that were true, can't you see how wrong it would be to deny him, distort his message, or treat his son's sacrifice as insignificant or insufficient?

His existence is not based on our individual beliefs. Rather, our individual beliefs should be based on his existence.

2:15 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Craver VII, thank you for your comment, but:

> Suppose for a moment that God really exists, and that he is holy, and that he revealed the truth about himself in a book

you haven't dealt with the question of "which God". Even if one of the several available Gods who desire our worship happens to exist, we would be damned for not choosing the correct one.

As for "truth", well, you know what it says - a bat is a bird (and countless other misrepresentations), how can we separate the true from the false?

2:26 pm  
Blogger Tina said...

A Christian's faith stands on the resurrection of Jesus Christ alone. If He was not risen, then our faith is futile and we are the most pitiable of fools.

The other religions don't offer a risen saviour. That is why we believe our God is the right One. The resurrection of Christ would prove God's power over death and sin.

2:54 pm  
Blogger Magdalene said...

I'm always having to have words with God about his spelling. There's a particularly bad one today which is now playing havoc with my faith in any 'all seeing' deity. Unless of course he's just dyslexic? And none of your thunderbolt tantrums here you old dinosaur. You've still got some cleaning up to do after the last one. My neighbours are most displeased about their shed.

3:03 pm  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Sorry for not making that clear. Which God? The one who we did not create, but who created us. The one who raised Jesus from the dead. The one who parted the Red Sea. The one who regenerates the unbelieving sinner and causes him to be born again. The one who saves by grace through faith, apart from works, so that no one can boast. The one who fulfills prophecy.

If there is a God who truly exists... that one. If he were not true, it wouldn't matter.

3:15 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Craver vii, Tina, I don't think you are giving credence to the other possible gods. To Muslims, their Koran, Prophet Mohammed and Islamic faith means everything to them, they would gladly (and frequently do) lay down their lives for it and, to them, you are the infidels who will perish. And so on with the other possible faiths.

May I ask on which grounds you chose Christianity? Accident of birth? Culture? Market research? Best buy? C'mon, surely not just because you parent or friends did?

3:56 pm  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

I wasn't born Christian. Nobody is, really. God draws people to himself. Before being born again at the age of 20, I had offended God by giving credence to other things. But what is this charge? Of obeying the first commandment, not to have any other gods before him? Then I would gladly plead guilty.

I "chose" Christ because he chose me first. Who knows, but that it may one day be the same for you or some of your readership.

4:23 pm  
Blogger Tina said...

Maalie, it doesn't appear you read my comment or you ignored what it said. Our faith stands on the resurrection of Christ and that alone. If Christ was not raised, then our faith is dead. That is why those other religions don't really matter. The other religions are based on works or being a good person to earn favor with or appease God. Anyone who knows themself as they really are (a sinner) will see how impossible that truly is.

I heard the Gospel, saw myself as a sinner who could never be right with God based on my own merit, and believed on Christ who paid the penalty for those sins.

Of course this is all impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit who alone brings conviction of sin and opens our eyes to our need for Christ.

4:29 pm  
Blogger Tortoiseshell said...

MAALIE said: "To Muslims, their Koran, Prophet Mohammed and Islamic faith means everything to them, they would gladly (and frequently do) lay down their lives for it and, to them, you are the infidels who will perish."

Sorry but I have to take issue with you there. It's exactly the same sort of misrepresentation that the Irish had to put up with during the 1970s and 1980s.

Otherwise, I agree wholeheartedly with your point about religion being an accident of birth/location (or, I might add, geopolitics).

It's one of the main reasons why I have jettisoned orthodox Christianity for a Unitarian/Universalist outlook which acknowledges the validity of all faiths, and the contribution of science and new understandings.

It is influenced strongly by the humanist perspective that you espouse.

4:36 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Tina, but I know all that already, I was a Christian myself once when I was deluded. You appear to believe it because somebody told you to. There is no evidence that it is actually more "right" than any other religion.

Would somebody please try to answer my question which starts: Now, would someone please tell me which almighty, everlasting heavenly father....

and I might start to listen!

4:40 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Tortoiseshell, sorry, your comment came in while I was posting mine. So the Muslims don't have as great a conviction in their faith as do, say, Christians? Not quite with you here.

4:42 pm  
Blogger Tina said...

Well, there is evidence for the resurrection of Christ. Perhaps it is not sufficient to convince you, but eyewitness testimony counts as evidence.

I didn't believe it because someone told me to. I saw the beauty of Christ presented in the Gospel and I believed. (again, the Holy Spirit did the work in my heart) Ye who are burdened and heavy laden, come to Me and I will give you rest. I came and He has given me rest.

And now you want an answer to your question. That is a hard one, I will admit. One that nobody will ever be able to give you an answer that will completely satisfy. We are not God, nor can we fully know all there is to know about Him.
Here is the conclusion I have come to. If the God of the Bible is real, He is under no obligation to save anyone. The fact that He died for anybody is incredible enough. He died for all who will come. We have all rebelled and turned our back on Him, sinned against Him. He would have been perfectly just to annihilate (did I spell that right?) all of us. Over and over again what you see in the Bible is God showing mercy to ANYONE that wants Him and will come to Him in repentance. That was true then, it is true now. God has given us enough general revelation about Himself so that everyone is without excuse. He has stamped that knowledge on our hearts.

I am of the belief that babies/children who have no ability to choose or reject Christ, go right to heaven.

5:07 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Craver vii:
> I "chose" Christ because he chose me first

May I respectfully suggest that your choice was influenced by your particular cultural background (your environment and other things that Tortoiseshell suggests) and not because you had done a thorough market research on the available options, as you would for a car or a house? After all, eternity is at stake, it would be foolish to grab the first on offer, wouldn't it?

5:07 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

> The fact that He died for anybody is incredible enough

Incredible? Absolutely! Your words, not mine!

5:10 pm  
Blogger Tina said...

I trust by that last comment you meant, it is not credible?

The fact that He was crucified on a cross is not really in dispute these days. It's pretty much a reliable historical fact.

C.S. Lewis wrote, "Jesus was either a lunatic, a liar, or He was the Lord." I agree with that assessment and you already know which one I believe.

5:18 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Tina, you miss my point. Wherever the babies are born is a matter of chance ("accident of birth"). The babies grow into children who are indoctrinated by their elders into what they consider to be the "right" faith. If it turns out to be the "wrong" faith, they all go to hell when they eventually die. Since God is omniscient, he knows this in advance. How does he choose, in advance, who is to be born in order to be indoctrinated into the "right" faith? And how does he decide, even before they are born, will eventually go to hell for having the "wrong" faith?

5:24 pm  
Blogger Tina said...

Well, to believe in the God of the Bible is to believe that nothing is by chance, but ordained by God. So it is no accident of birth.

Now we are then left with 2 choices. Either God decides who to save based on His foreknowledge (whether that person would believe or not) or He preordains (unconditional election) those that will be saved in His sovereignty.

That is a matter of great controversy even in the church. There are multiple passages that would support the latter. Something I am still wrestling with.

5:30 pm  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Maalie, I believe this the first series of exchanges that you consistently spelled my pseudonym correctly. That has not gone unnoticed; I appreciate the effort and attention to detail.

I wasn't shopping. The day before I "got saved" I had a lengthy discussion with a man whom I was trying to convince of my former agnostic beliefs. For some time, I had rejected the tradition that my parents brought me up with, and when I finally turned to a position of faith, it was offensive to my family.

Then there is my Japanese friend, Ai. Her father recently became a born again Christian. If my own experience was not environmentally driven, his story is all the more surprising. Japan's Christians are a very tiny minority. Plus, he is from an area that is deeply steeped in Shintoism.

But these are personal stories, and genuine Christianity doesn't hinge on me or Ai's father. It is more about the Shepherd than the sheep.

5:54 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Craver vii: thank you for your considered response. I'm moving on now, to where I was really leading...

6:02 pm  
Blogger Magdalene said...

Good grief. I too am an ex Christian and I'm so glad to have changed my uptight, dogmatic little mind and regained a sense of humour. Really, poor old J.C. must groan with boredom sometimes listening to all this. If he was alive now he'd probably be down the pub having a game of darts with the locals.

9:35 pm  
Anonymous J.C. said...

Just got back from the boozer with my mate Mohammed. (He doesn't drink, but he tells a great nun joke) Guess what! We won the darts match. Result!!
I like the boys and girls in the arrows team, but whenever they're out of cash, they always look at me all expectantly, hand me a glass and say "Go on, do that miracle thingy, I'll get you one in next week."

10:41 pm  
Blogger simon said...

I agree mate- I think I am agnostic

9:01 am  
Blogger simon said...

PS.. sadly, as a kid, I was surrounded by Baptists, went to a church of england school, as a young man... spent time in the pentacostal movement....was in voled in the inner circle of "hillsong" ( google it)

I even led the worship team and even had people fall to the ground as I "led the congregation" by the power of the "holy spirit." i have even "witnessed" the toronto blessing blah blah blah

so, I am qualified to say this..

Its crap... 100% crap.. a beautiful marketing exercise, that makes churches rich, and evangalists richer....

It allows world leaders to control the weak minded.

"just imagine for one minute.." thats exactly where the arguement falls short."

the only thing i imagine - is if ALL religeons were thrown out ( especially middle east based eg Jew/Chrisitian/Muslim). Although others are not better....

that we all learn to love as if our lives were limited to THIS exisitence and not some crap in the sky ....

9:10 am  
Blogger Magdalene said...

Hey Simon, re your 'born again' experiences...all too similar to my own. You are so right, what an embarrassing load of garbage.

Sorry Maalie, your site has now turned into an internet cafe for ex religious waifs and strays.

12:01 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

That's OK Magdalene. I feel far more at peace with myself and the world since I converted to sun-worshipping. He is so much more reliable, don't you think?

3:11 pm  
Blogger simon said...

Magdalene:- I could not agree more! It took courage to admit it.

Maalie I am with you mate.. its sunny and blue here!

12:17 am  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Hillsong.... you were really into the high end stuff simon!!!!

Me, myself, I just keep myself in a state of perpetual confusion as a 'lapsed Catholic'.

8:50 pm  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

What a good posting, sorry I missed all the fun and games.

Your perpetual question reminds me of Dave Allen who always finished his programme with

"and may your God go with you".

Cheers to that.

4:29 pm  
Anonymous Robert said...

Worst case scenario: There is no afterlife, no creator who cares for us. We just have these three score years and ten, and either side, billions of years of non-existence, an ocean of nothingness.

Not existing isn't too bad, in my experience. I coped just fine during the billion or so years that I did not exist... though there weren't many interesting conversations and the scenery is uninspiring. I'll be going back there fairly soon (relatively speaking), so I will make the most of my time here, if that's OK. I shall delight in my own existence, the beauty of nature, and the wit of others, and be grateful that some Force - be it God or Fate - brought me here.

Working out which Force it was is not, I believe, the most pertinent issue.

8:30 pm  

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