Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Failings of Pascal's Wager: Fooling God

Continuing on with more hurdles this ridiculous argument can't swing its dangling fallacy over, today's counter-apologetic depends strongly upon how you answer the "What religion should I pick?" question: Can you fool God?

Pascal's Wager states that it's better to believe (in whatever god you're arguing it for) so that that particular God will bestow his/her/their/its particular blessings/rewards upon you in the afterlife and avoid the punishments. But those rewards and punishments depend greatly upon which religion and deity the argument is advocating.

God Is Not Mocked
Blaise Pascal used the argument as a proponent for Catholicism, and here in the Bible Belt we small-towners will most likely hear it used to sway us toward Christianity. So now we have a deity to plug into the argument and weigh the outcome of believing or not. But before we can do that, we must first determine some characteristics of this God.

It's been said that there are as many versions of God as there are believers, and this is apparent to anyone who has had a discussion with a theist. Christians are no exception. Therefore -- depending upon the convictions of the one using the Wager, of course -- if we consider the majority of fundamentalist Christians who think that their Creator is all-knowing, is it really possible to "just believe" in a God who possesses such a superpower? Such Christians will probably tell you that "God knows what's in your heart", and surly a "true believer" doesn't believe just because they're afraid of hellfire. So how then -- even if you could force yourself to believe -- can you expect to make it to the Judeo-Islamo-Christian God's heaven? Would He really accept that kind of faith?

Won't Get Fooled Again
Of course, I'm not going to do your theologising for you...I don't believe in any version of any of this in the first place. Forcing others to act as if they believe is a form of social control, and any being who uses it isn't worth my time. I'm just using the hypothetical to point out yet another hole in Pascal's argument; an argument that so many Christians are still fond of using to this day.

Keep mind mind that the counter-arguments for the Wager aren't necessarily "atheist" arguments; any religion can use these. It all depends on which religion the argument is proposing you subscribe to. I'll cover more in the next installment.


Friday, August 22, 2008

The Failings of Pascal's Wager: Nothing to Lose

We're continuing to enumerate the holes in the infamous Pascal's Wager argument for the belief in a god or gods. We've already looked at how Pascal's Wager assumes you can just make yourself believe in order to be right, and we've talked about how it overlooks the fact that it can count as an argument for any religion or claim that one could make. Remember, the Wager basically is: If God does not exist, then you neither gain nor lose anything from belief or disbelief (in the end you just die and that's that). However, if you choose to believe in my God/religion and you are right, then the reward is eternal Heaven. But if you choose not to believe and are wrong, your payoff is eternal suffering in Hell.

The bottom line essentially is that you've got nothing to lose! You're better off taking the bet that my God is real. But are you, really?

Won't Cost You A Thing!
In the case where God does not exist, there really is a clear advantage to not believing. In other words, the payoff is not zero as Pascal would have you think. After you say, "okay now I believe," what would it really cost you to believe or join a religion?
  • a lifetime spent obeying the rituals and practices
  • money and time given to furthering the dogmatic doctrines thereof
  • having to deal with the trials, persecutions, and lifestyles associated with being a member (this means separation or altering connections with family members present and future)
  • the corruption or otherwise altering of your mind, and hindering your education to "fit in line" with the practices and beliefs of your religion
...the list goes on and on. In any case, it most certainly does not "cost nothing" to "just believe".

I base all my beliefs on evidence and reason. I tend to believe in as little as possible, only accepting things based on sound evidence. If there's no reason to believe then I'm not going to just "accept" it, and I'm not going to let other people decided what I believe.

Still more Wager fallacies to come.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Failings of Pascal's Wager: Which Belief?

There are many counter-arguments that show the fallacies of Pascal's Wager, and we continue on with one of the most glaring holes in the argument: which religion should I pick?

So Many Choices
If you accept the Wager for the existence of God, the question is then becomes what "God" should you accept? Remember, Blaise Pascal used the argument to justify his Catholic religion (and argue that others should be Catholics too). Does that mean that only the Catholic religion is the "right" one? If the premise is "why not believe", then why not believe in Zeus, or the religion of Islam? If its better to believe so that you won't suffer the ill effects of not believing, consider this:

What if right now there's a squadron of fire-breathing dragons flying at warp-speed straight toward us, bent on destroying the earth. They'll spare the earth only if enough people believe that they can recite the alphabet backwards while humming "Clementine". Is it not better then, to believe in the dragons (and their talents) in order to be spared the destruction of the earth? We have everything to lose if we don't believe!

If You Choose Not To Decide...
This argument is often phrased as: "What if you're wrong?" Since many Fundamentalists Christians believe that Catholics are going to go to Hell, Pascal's not much better off than an unbeliever. We don't know which religion -- if any -- is "correct", so it seems that the best wager would be to choose the religion with the worst punishment for non-belief and the best reward for belief.

I choose "none".

More problems with the Wager coming soon!


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Failings of Pascal's Wager: Just Believe

I recently watched the debate between Dinesh D'Souza and Dan Dennett. Dinesh played just about every theist card in the deck. He even used Pascal's Wager, a tactic that has so many flaws, I've decided to write a series about it.

Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century philosopher and mathematician, made contributions to the construction of mechanical calculators, the study of fluids, helped create the studies of projective geometry and probability theory, and strongly influenced the development of modern economics and social science. His namesake is also shared by a programming language.

Then he had a "mystical experience" and he abandoned his scientific work and devoted himself to philosophy and theology. It was during this time that he formulated "the Wager". Based on a probabilistic argument, it goes something like this:

God might or might not exist. It is a gamble whether you believe in him or not. If God does not exist, then you neither gain nor lose anything from belief or disbelief. In either case, you just die and that's the end. However, if you choose to believe in God, and you are right, then the reward is infinite — eternal bliss in heaven. On the other hand, if you choose not to believe in God, and you're right, you gain nothing. But if you are wrong, your payoff is negative infinity — eternal suffering in hell.

A lot of Pascal's contemporaries were happy with this wager -- which Pascal himself used to defend his Catholicism. However, there are numerous flaws with the argument, the first of which I will address here and now.

Read the wager again and pay attention to this predication: "if you choose to believe..."

Can you choose to believe something? I don't think so. The way I see it, we believe something whenever we are convinced of it. I for one can't "just start believing" in Santa Claus. Can you? Can you honestly believe in such a thing, truly and completely? Of course not! You can't make yourself believe anything that you haven't been convinced of - belief isn't subject to the will. Therefore simply "choosing to believe in God" is an impossibility, and the wager can't work.

I know this seems a simple counter-argument, but you'll see in this series that a lot of the flaws in Pascal's Wager are simple to point out.