Sunday, August 2, 2009

Arguments for god....kind of (Part 1) - Pascal's Wager

One of the first things that happens when someone realizes you are an atheist is they usually try to argue about the existence of god. That is, of course, if you are living in a country where the result is not shunning, torture, or death. But in most modern first world countries the first reaction is an argument, most commonly Pascal's wager.

The simplest form of Pascal's, and by far the most often used, is the simple phrase 'what if you are wrong?', which is fair enough I suppose. It is after all a real true concern. If atheism is wrong, and Christianity is correct then the result is infinitely bad. the problem is that this argument can be assigned to Christianity as well, what if you are wrong and Judaism is right? or Hinduism? or Islam? or any other number of religions? What if Christianity is right, but you have the wrong sect? After all there are more then thirty two thousand different sects of Christianity alone, and most of them say every other kind is going to hell!

The reason this all sounds so bad is because of the conditions of the argument. When we measure the danger of something we consider two parts, the risk, and the hazard. Now the risk is the chance of something happening. The hazard is how dire the results are. The way Pascal's wager works is to first assume there is but one form of religion that is valid (though one would assume that would actually be the conclusion we where trying to reach, oh well), next we set the hazard to infinity. Once the hazard of something is infinite the risk can be infinitely small but as long as it's not zero then we should always err on the side of caution. Brilliant!

But of course one must first show that the hazard is infinite, as well as that the risk is not zero, and that the correct religion is selected. but the point of course was to show that god exists (or at least that it's smart to believe in him) in which case the hazard would be infinite and that....well you see the circle there.

and this is but the simplest form of the argument! the full form of the argument presented by pascal is:
  1. It is possible that the Christian God exists and it is possible that the Christian God does not exist.
  2. If one believes in the Christian God then if he exists then one receives an infinitely great reward and if he does not exist then one loses little or nothing.
  3. If one does not believe in the Christian God then if he exists then one receives an infinitely great punishment and if he does not exist then one gains little or nothing.
  4. It is better to either receive an infinitely great reward or lose little or nothing than it is to either receive an infinitely great punishment or gain little or nothing.
  1. It is better to believe in the Christian God than it is not to believe in the Christian God.
  2. If one course of action is better than another then it is rational to follow that course of action and irrational to follow the other.
  1. It is rational to believe in the Christian God and irrational not to believe in the Christian God.

This argument rests on some pretty strange grounds.

First, let us assume that an omnipotent, omniscient god exists just for the sake of argument. Do you think this god would like that you believe in him simply because you where playing the odds? Can you even believe simply because it is in your best interests? I can't believe I'm going to win the lottery just because I think it's in my best interests to win. But then maybe I'm lacking in imagination, or mental fortitude or something.

The next point that needs to be raised is that while there is really only two options, the Christian god exists, or the Christian god does not exists. this does not mean both options are equally likely! It would be just as silly to argue that there is only two ways to die, by train wreck or not by train wreck, so you should not take the train.
The point of Pascal's wager was to show that it is rational to believe in the Christian god simply because it is likely the results would be bad for you if you do not, but the premise of the argument requires you to give equal likely hood to god existing, which is what the conclusion needs to show!

Now I don't believe in strong atheism, that is to say, I don't believe that god doesn't exist, I think it's possible that god exists, I just think it's so insanely unlikely that we might as well be arguing that pink unicorns exist. they are possible also. It's just they are not probable. That is my view with god as well. it's just so unlikely that it's nearly laughable.

Given that I think that the risk here is insanely low but not zero, that part of the risk assessment is satisfied for me. I believe it is possible god could exist. which means that all that needs to be satisfied to hold Pascal's wager to be solid (for me) is that there is the one true faith and it's some form of Christianity, that the punishment for not believing is hell, and that hell is infinitely bad and lasts infinitely long. Now when someone provides evidence for hell and for a particular form of Christianity I will start to believe...but then again, I would start to believe if you had provided some form of evidence to show there is a one true faith of Christianity because god is a component of Christianity.

why then, did they need Pascal's wager again?

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