Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pascal Wagers; I raise

I find Pascal's Wager to be one of the most likely reasons people become religious followers. How can something most of the faithful have never heard of influence their decision?

Blaise Pascal was a mathematician and Christian apologist. He articulated in clear, mathematical terms why it was statistically preferable to believe in God. His theory can be expressed in this chart:

The chart represents a scenario all people are faced with: to believe, or not to believe. There are also two outcomes possible. The chart illustrates the four results of both belief and disbelief in either a world with God or a world without.

According to the chart, the believer is rewarded if there is a god, while the disbeliever is punished. If there is no god, both the believer and non-believer have a net gain/loss of zero from their choice. The outcome is that only belief can bring a positive gain, and that nothing can come of disbelief. To the believer, this idea is self-evident. However, there's some serious logical fallacies going on with the scenario.

The first thing I notice is that the chart assumes belief is the defining factor for salvation. Many have argued that one's actions, not beliefs, are the yardstick by which the soul is judged.

Another dilemma is the false dichotomoy of only two possible outcomes. In reality, there are far more options. Which gods are we talking about? The basic assumption is belief in YHWH, the Abrahamic monodeity (AKA: God). However, entire pantheons of gods are ignored on a daily basis. Should a follower of YHWH be saved if the decision is up to the Greek Zeus, Norse Odin, Egyptian Osiris, or Aztec Quetzalcoatl? "God" and "No God" are inadequate, and a new column would need to be added to include each deity who judges the dead from every religion that ever existed.

But wait, what if the gods have no interest in our dronings? Let's assume YHWH is the one true God for a minute, which also assumes man was made in God's image. From that, I can extrapolate that God has human tendencies, which is evident in the Bible's emotional and rash portrayal of the supreme being.

What if the chantings of the faithful followers annoy Him? What if He's ticked off by the countless prayers to help pay bills, conceive children, find a job, etc.? Not to mention sports related prayers... I bet he's really pissed during the playoffs. In this case, some forms of belief may actually have drawbacks. What makes us think God likes church services? This doesn't seem out of character for the Heavenly Father; what dad likes going to those gay performances their kids put on? The answer is none of the straight ones, and we know YHWH is all man, baby!

Then there's the "Jealous God" pitfall. Sure you can worship lots of gods, but what if that angers the more powerful ones? What if sacrificing a ram to Poseidon will piss off Thor? We already know YHWH's hang-ups with other gods. I can't imagine they appreciate His claim to being the only one. By taking a side, one risks offending the divine, especially if you're wrong.

There is also the small matter of the inaccuracy of the "No God" results. The wager assumes that nothing is given up for faith, but any follower will tell you that to truly be religious takes self-sacrifice. It requires changes in life style, habits, manners, and even monetary investments, and that's even apart from charitable donations to the church. I have yet to hear of a religion that has never asked for a dime (even American Atheists will take donations).

In the end, the wager is logical only to the uncreative believer. Still many believe, "just in case."

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