Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Wagering for God

There seem to have been a number of references recently to Blaise Pascal's argument for belief in God often referred to as Pascal's wager.
Like most of the arguments for the existence of God it seems to be useful for believers but not for unbelievers, therefore rather pointless from a polemical point of view, though not from the point of view of building up the faithful.
Basically the argument states (and it seems pretty easy to follow): Adopting a neutral or impartial stance, if you were to wager on God's existence on the balance of probablility then you are better to bet that God exists rather than the fact that God does not exist....because the expected value of believing will always exceed the expected value of not believing.
This might be briefly stated like this .
Two possibilities exist-God exists or God doesn't exist
and Two choices exist - You believe or You don't believe
  • You believe in God.-
    • If God exists, your gain is infinite because the expected value (salvation) is so
    • If God does not exist, your loss (the investment in your mistaken belief) is finite and therefore negligible.(ie.when you're dead you're dead) or
  • You do not believe in God.
    • If God exists, your loss is infinite because you lose the benefit of salvation.
    • If God does not exist, your gain is finite and therefore negligible.

In both cases you get better value from believing rather than not believing.

This is a curiously self-interested way of viewing belief in God and is not terribly satisfying. In the end it begs the question about the true nature of belief. I would want to encourage people to have a more relational approach to God, and I would trust God to honour that commitment. (Pascal suggests this too)

To be fair to Pascal he only seems to offer this as a way of supporting belief in God and encouraging those who waver to take the plunge. This is, I suggest, the only thing that philosophical arguments for the existence of God have going for them. It's a puzzle to me, too, while there has been suddenly an incxrease in discussion of Pascal's wager.

Now, Pascall's lollies...that's a different thing all together.

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