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Author Topic: Pascal's Wager - betting on God  (Read 651 times) Average Rating: 0
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Jetavan
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« on: November 15, 2011, 08:07:30 PM »

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This week on The Philosopher's Zone we're wagering on God. Well, why not? What have we got to lose? If God doesn't exist, we lose nothing; if he does, we gain everything. This is the famous argument known as 'Pascal's wager' after the great seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal. This week, we examine the wager and try to work what our odds are.
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Alan Saunders: Is it right, though, to consider that there are only two possibilities to take into account in your wager?

James Franklin: That is the main objection, actually, to Pascal's wager that has been raised. That Pascal has not got straight the range of possibilities. Certainly Pascal does speak as if there are only two options, namely atheism and Catholicism of his variety. Now, that is quite right, that is a problem for his argument, but you have to remember two things. First is that Pascal is addressing a certain man of the world of 1660, for whom those are the two options.

Now, what about our situation? What about somebody else's situation? Well, we have a different range of options, but nevertheless the thinking of Pascal's wager still applies. Perhaps we have a much wider range of options, and we think that there could be lots of different religions with different probabilities of their being true, and perhaps we have a different opinion about the atheist option as well, and its probability. Well, it doesn't matter. The thinking of Pascal's wager is still right. The idea behind the wager is that you lay out the options that are live for you, and your subjective probabilities, what you think initially they're worth, and act accordingly. Which means probably for us we put research effort into finding which is serious.

So let's suppose we're in the situation of somebody brought up in an atheist or agnostic household that's never thought about religion. They get to their teens and start reading about these things and they realise there are religions out there, and they think, 'Well maybe I should think about these things.' I don't know, maybe... Why do people think these things? Probably somebody like that should think in Pascal's terms and say, 'Well, there's some non-zero probability that some world religion is right, but I don't know which. I should take out a book on world religions for dummies and start researching.' Yeah, that's the right way to think. It's not for me to say what the results of those researches may be, but that's what the wager says, I think, to the typical person of today; do some research.

Alan Saunders: So, the wager works even if I'm wagering not on God but on gods, on Vishnu and Kali and Ganesh for example?

James Franklin: Yes, if they're offering you payoffs, which they mostly seem to be doing, then you should do that. Perhaps you shouldn't bet on merely possible religions. I mean, some objectors to Pascal's religion have said that any guru could set up a religion with a suite of rewards and punishments and demand money from you, and actually as people think, perhaps scientologists and the like have done exactly that. But that is not a live option for you. Pascal's wager applies to the live options for the enquirer. And live option means you have some initial and substantial reason for thinking there might be something in that. So yeah, Vishnu counts, Mohammed counts, all of them count. The only person for whom Pascal's wager doesn't apply is the person who is absolutely convinced of atheism, and thinks that there's a zero probability for the sum of all options involving God. There are some people like that around, but that's not most people.
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« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2011, 08:12:58 PM »

Poor Pascal . . . His entire Pensees reduced to this silliness. So much effort in attempting to show the limit of reason in faith and this gets picked out of context.

Even wiki does a better job:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager#Context

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager#Explanation

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« Last Edit: November 15, 2011, 08:13:51 PM by orthonorm » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2011, 08:44:03 PM »

^ I was thinking the same thing. 
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« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2011, 05:32:35 PM »

Before making a dismissive evaluation of Mr Franklin, please check out this article http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/pascal.pdf
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« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2011, 05:37:37 PM »

Before making a dismissive evaluation of Mr Franklin, please check out this article http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/pascal.pdf

My evaluation was of what was spoken / written above. Not him.

I'll read the article later, but from a once over, it looks to offer not much in filling out any understanding of Pascal much less "his wager".

Thanks for the link.
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« Reply #5 on: November 25, 2011, 05:12:48 PM »

No offense but Pascal was an idiot. Even if everything he said in the Wager was entirely sound, which, it is not, it still begs the question. Does God really want us to worship Him out of fear just because we do not want to go to Hell? I think the Wager is a bit of an offense to God because it makes Him out to be a praise-hungry Divine dictator who is stupid and does not know if you are earnestly worshipping Him or just worshipping Him to escape Hellfire.
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« Reply #6 on: November 25, 2011, 06:07:35 PM »

No offense but Pascal was an idiot. Even if everything he said in the Wager was entirely sound, which, it is not, it still begs the question. Does God really want us to worship Him out of fear just because we do not want to go to Hell? I think the Wager is a bit of an offense to God because it makes Him out to be a praise-hungry Divine dictator who is stupid and does not know if you are earnestly worshipping Him or just worshipping Him to escape Hellfire.

Have you read the Pensees?

I'm gonna wager: no. I'll even give long odds.

And be careful calling people idiots when your own grasp of critical thinking or at least your understanding of the language surrounding it is flawed.

« Last Edit: November 25, 2011, 06:09:43 PM by orthonorm » Logged

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