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Re: [humanism-174] Pascal's Wager

From: Mikkel F.
Sent on: Thursday, September 24, 2009 1:15 PM
I think the argument is logically sound and this shows why I think that emphasis on "logic" and "rationality" without the accompanying emphasis on empiricism is misguided. Assuming all the axioms that the wager assumes, it does make sense, and I don't see any fallacies. However, as you point out, the assumptions about what God wants (or even exists) is empirically impossible to determine, so even though the logical argument is sound, that doesn't mean jack.

I've been getting more and more intolerant of the punditocracy that drives formal political discourse in this country because they are obsessed with logical manipulations rather than looking at reality. Pick a topic -- any topic really -- of controversy, and you'll find that the vast majority of debate is not about the actual facts, but about what we must do. Even though relativism came up through post modernism, it really defines most positions of conservatives in the US, where they argue that nothing can really be known and all axioms are based on ideology, and then create a multitude of positions using their ideology. This has completely captured the media, and Time recently had an article about the rally a few weeks ago that said "if you pay attention to liberal news sources there were only 60,000 people there, but if you paid attention to conservative ones there were 1.5-2 million" and made NO note of the fact that it was easily demonstrable that at most 60,000 people were there (I've heard the more realistic estimate was 40k).

Anyway, back to the wager, Bertrand Russell suggested that maybe God doesn't reward on belief, but rewards on critical thinking. After all that is a better expression of free will than hedging your bets. If that were true then he'd go to heaven even though he didn't believe in God (although he called himself agnostic philosophically, not atheist) and all the believers would go to hell. That is an equally valid argument as Pascal's wager. 

And of course the obsession with mere "belief" is one that is rather peculiar in both scope and time. In most religions and most of time, belief wasn't enough and the emphasis was on active behavior and sacrifice. Ascetics point to passages from the Bible that have Jesus saying you have to give up all worldly things to truly join him. Maybe that is true, and then Pascal's Wager isn't really about whether you believe or not, but whether you are willing to base your entire life on the premise and give up everything, living in poverty and isolation, or being an atheist and not doing that. In that case, believing has a definite cost that few people would be committed enough to do.

From: Cynthia <[address removed]>
To: [address removed]
Sent: Thursday, September 24,[masked]:41:28 PM
Subject: [humanism-174] Pascal's Wager

Recently, I ended up in a heated debate with an agnostic individual about Pascal's "The Wager" which argues that it is better to gamble on believing in (especially the Christian, for Pascal) god than it is to wager on the lack of a god - claiming that the "reward" of the "infinite" dolled out by god is better than being right OR wrong as an atheist.
Having taken logic courses, I pointed out the many ways in which "The Wager" is fallacious, but this individual would not relent - he kept demanding that Pascal is using sound logic. I tried to explain that since the argument utilizes an assumption in one of its premises which cannot be empirically proven, specifically the nature and disposition of god - aside from the fact that a favorable outcome (god's "infinite reward") - is reliant on an empirically unsound premise. I also argued that by betting on the lack of god, I'm wagering for MY favorable outcome. The agnostic maintained, with Pascal, that the atheist outcome is always going to be losing, via "hell" or the finality of death. This argument can be applied to any system of beliefs, including atheism - but he wouldn't believe me on this.
I tried the argument that in betting for Atheism, I'm placing my chips on a possible outcome which is favorable to me.The argument looks good to theists and agnostics, because it's essentially an argument for belief in god OR covering one's ass "just in case." The problem is that it's unsound logic,
I looked around, to the notable atheists in regards to this infuriating "logic," and found absolutely nothing that satisfied my need to clearly break down Pascal's Wager for this individual. Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris failed me in this. I'm furious because I know that this "argument" is completley rotten logic, but that it looks shiny enough on the surface to give theists the appearance of posessing a rational argument.
After all of that...
Have any of you come across a source which expertly deals with Pascal's Wager? Is there any philosophy geeks or professionals that can offer some advice?
Thank you,
Cynthia (not that one, the other one)

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