Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Never Quite Grasping God - Part III : You Want to Bet?

Pascal’s Wager

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pascal's Wager (or Pascal's Gambit) is a suggestion posed by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should "wager" as though God exists, because so living has potentially everything to gain, and certainly nothing to lose. It was set out in note 233 of his Pensées, a posthumously published collection of notes made by Pascal in his last years as he worked on a treatise on Christian apologetics.

I don’t believe I had run across Pascal’s wager until I took a course in comparative religion in college. By then I had dropped any pretense of belief in God so the “wager” intrigued me. Maybe I should reconsider my position. Almost immediately I saw 3 or more interrelated problems. The first was that I couldn’t just make myself believe on the basis of “it’s the safe thing to do”. I couldn’t just willfully change my mind without some sort of convincing evidence. How about if I just said I believed and went through all of the ritualistic motions? Something seems wrong with that. What kind of god would accept that? Certainly not the omniscient Christian God who supposedly knows our every thought and emotion. And if he (she, it, they) would accept that, what other variations or limitations in belief would be accepted? Semi-belief? Conditional belief? Hedge your bet belief? So the second problem was that it didn’t seem that any god worth his salt would accept the “wager”. The third problem was that Pascal seemed to specifically be referring to the God of the Bible. But, if his wager were correct, I would need to believe in every proposed god on the chance that one and not the other was the real god that really cared if I got it right. Many of the religions are exclusionary and/or contradict each other so that route was out. As I noted elsewhere, my chance of picking the right one was slim-to-none. I don’t know how Pascal managed to overlook those points but they really throw a monkey wrench into the “do it because it’s a good bet” approach. So Pascal’s argument that I should believe, pretty much convinced me that it was useless to try even if there were some unknown god running the show.

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