CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

My approach to apologetics starts with the idea that if given a fair hearing, Christianity is the most reasonable worldview both in its explanatory power and the satisfactory nature of its answers. As such, I have never found Blaise Pascal's Wager particularly useful in my own approach to apologetics. After all, Pascal's Wager (the "Wager") essentially attempts to argue that if a person were to bet wisely on whether or not Christian God exists and to live his life accordingly, the wise man would choose to bet that God exists. Since it begins with the implicit assumption that one cannot come to conclude that God exists in any absolute sense, it generally doesn't jive with my own apologetics approach. Still, I think that it has been unfairly labeled a failure.

Pascal's Wager Stated

The "Pascal's Wager" essay on the Philosophy of Religion site summarizes the wager as follows:

Premise 1: It is possible that the Christian God exists and it is possible that the Christian God does not exist.

Premise 2: If one believes in the Christian God then if he exists then one receives an infinitely great reward and if he does not exist then one loses little or nothing.

Premise 3: If one does not believe in the Christian God then if he exists then one receives an infinitely great punishment and if he does not exist then one gains little or nothing.

Premise 4: It is better to either receive an infinitely great reward or lose little or nothing than it is to either receive an infinitely great punishment or gain little or nothing.

Conclusion 1: Therefore, it is better to believe in the Christian God than it is not to believe in the Christian God.

Premise 5: If one course of action is better than another then it is rational to follow that course of action and irrational to follow the other.

Conclusion 2: Therefore, it is rational to believe in the Christian God and irrational not to believe in the Christian God.

Properly speaking, the Wager isn’t an argument for the existence of God. Instead, it begins with the premise that God may or may not exist (Premise 1). Thus, it assumes as one of its core assumptions that it is not possible to determine absolutely that there is or is not a god. Starting from this point, the Wager then argues that the person with wisdom should choose to believe in God because it is the only means by which one cannot lose.

A Quick Thought on "Losing" in the Original Wager

Many skeptics argue that the believer does lose something if he believes in a God that doesn’t exist: he loses the fun of sinning. (Sinning is fun, that’s why we have to fight against it.) Theists counter that the fun lost is not the type of fun that leads to true happiness. Thus, even though Christians lose some fun they are ultimately happier for following a more moral road.

Also, skeptics argue that there is something lost from believing in a God that doesn’t exist – truth. But the Wager begins with the proposition that it isn’t possible to prove that God exists or doesn’t exist, so there is no way to rationally arrive at absolute proof one way or the other. So, there is no way to know that the Christian is not the one following truth -- at least until we die. But even when we die, if the skeptic is correct and there is no afterlife we still won't know it because we will not be consciously aware of not being alive.

The Wager Does Not Argue for a General Theism

Many have raised a "false choice" objection to the Wager. This objection basically contends that the Wager offers only two choices -- to choose between the God of the Bible or no god at all. Thus, it is argued, that the wager fails to account for a myriad of other possible gods might exist. This argument is made, for example, by About.com's irrepressible Austin Cline where he argues:

The first problem lies in the implicit yet unstated assumption that we already know which god we should believe in. That assumption, however, is not necessary to the argument, and thus the argument itself does not explain which religion a person should follow. This can be described as the "avoiding the wrong hell" dilemma. If you happen to follow the right religion, you may indeed "go to heaven and avoid hell." However, if you choose the wrong religion, you’ll still go to hell.

The thing missed by so many who use this argument is that you cannot "bet" on the general concept of "theism." You have to pick specific doctrines.

Surprisingly, I agree with Austin Cline on something. The argument does assume that we know which god we should believe in. The Philosophy of Religion syllogism makes that clear. After all, Blaise Pascal was a Christian writer whose entire arguments were clothed in Christian language. His concept of God was that of the God of the Bible. Thus, for someone to assert that Pascal's argument does not itself identify which religion a person should follow shows either a woeful ignorance of the context in which Pascal wrote or a total and complete disregard of that context to the point of being deceptive.

If Christians are using the argument to argue for a generic theism as Mr. Cline seems to suggest is happening, I find myself once again surprisingly in agreement with Mr. Cline. The argument does not hold up if a general concept of theism is the goal. After all, a general concept of theism does not necessarily require a view that "a god" would have a system of divine rewards or punishment as exist in the Wager. The clockmaker god of Deism, for example, if followed to its logical conclusions, shouldn't care in the slightest what type of people we are because He has done nothing to reveal any such concern to us. Therefore, the general concept of theism isn't that to which the wager is addressed or intended to be addressed.

The Horse-Race Scenario

But what about other religions? If we are dealing only with possibilities, it is also possible that another god or gods exist, isn't it? Skeptics point out that this wasn’t a bad decision when there were only two choices: Christianity versus non-Christianity. But today’s world is much more cosmopolitan with a wide variety of choices in the religious deli. We can choose to be Hindus or Mormons or Pagans or Zoroastrians or Jews etc., etc. Thus, rather than being like a flip of the coin, it is more like a horse race. The skeptic argues that if you choose the wrong God in the deity horse-race, you are just as likely to lose as the skeptic so there is no benefit from belief. In truth, that is a flaw in Pascal's statement of the Wager, but Mr. Cline (as most atheists) simply points out the flaw but doesn't follow through on the effect of the flaw.

No Logical Flaw in Focusing on the Christian God

Pascal's version of the Wager starts with the statement that "it is possible" that the Christian God exists and it is also possible that He doesn't exist. If the Christian God exists then certain consequences follow. If the Christian God does not exist than other consequences follow. There is nothing unsound in starting with this point. This is not flawed logic any more than saying, "It is possible that Hawaii exists and it is possible that Hawaii does not exist." If it does exist, then we have a really nice place to vacation. If it doesn't exist, then we may have to go the the Bahamas for our island vacation. But there is no logical flaw in starting from the question of whether a particular island exists and asking what the consequences are which follow from that point. Likewise, there is no logical flaw in starting with examining the consequences that follow from whether a particular conception of God is true or not.

The Problem of the Possibility of Other Gods

But, Mr. Cline objects, the Wager fails to take the possible existence of other gods into account. These other gods make the wager useless. He says,

If you are going to really believe in a god, you have to believe in something — which means picking something. If you pick nothing, then your “belief” is literally empty and you remain an atheist. So, a person who picks risks picking the wrong god and avoiding the wrong hell.

A second problem is that it isn’t actually true that the person who bets loses nothing. If a person bets on the wrong god, then the True God (tm) just might punish them for their foolish behavior. What’s more, the True God (tm) might not mind that people don’t bother believing in it when they use rational reasons — thus, not picking at all might be the safest bet. You just cannot know.

This is a most common argument against the Wager. And, as I said before, Mr. Cline's objection has some, minimal merit. After all, if the Christian God does not exist then other gods who actually may exist could send the well-meaning follower of Christ to their religion's version of hell for not believing in that god. Thus, for the person who chooses to follow the Christian God, it would be untrue that "if he does not exist then one loses little or nothing" as Pascal's wager asserts.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it really is raised as an objection without really considering what it means (especially to the atheists) in light of the Wager. Basically, all this objection does is add more variables to the argument. But what exactly is the effect of this additional variable?

Adding the Additional Category

When the possibility of another god or gods is added to the equation, it creates three categories of possibilities that need to be considered: (1) The Christian God exists, (2) another god or other gods exist while the Christian God does not, and (3) no God or gods exist. The person to whom the wager is proposed now has three possible choices: (1) they can believe in the Christian God, (2) they can believe in another god or other gods, or (3) they can believe in no God or gods. How do these relate?

A. Believers in the Christian God

If one believes in the Christian God then if he exists then one receives an infinitely great reward. In this case, the people who believes in another god, other gods or no God or gods loses. If one believes in the Christian God and no God or gods exist, then the original wager holds: the believer who follows the Christian morality loses little or nothing.

The stickier question arises when one believes in Christianity but another god/gods exist. If one believes in the Christian God and He doesn't exist but another god or other gods exist, then the Christian might lose, but there is no certainty. Consider the possibilities: (A) The other god or gods may not have a heaven or hell. One may simply be returned to another cycle of reincarnation. One may simply be annihilated. (B) The god or gods may reward good behaviour and be a works oriented religion in which case, a truly devoted Christian who truly follows the teaching of Jesus to loves one's neighbor may even possibly win. (C) The god or gods may reward the person who honestly seeks him, her or them even if they choose wrongly. Most Christians follow God because they honestly believe they are following the one true God. Such a god or gods would probably reward the Christian. (D) As Mr. Cline suggests, "the True God (tm) might not mind that people don’t bother believing in it when they use rational reasons." If that is the case, again many Christians would win. (E) The other god/gods may insist upon following him/her/them or following a set of rituals to get into his/her/their heaven. If this is the case, the Christian will lose.

So which is it? There is no way to answer generally. There are simply too many variables to say that the Christian will either lose or win in this eventuality. However it is clear that even in this eventuality the only way the Christian clearly loses is if the other god/gods may insist upon following him/her/them or following a set of rituals to get into his/her/their heaven. In all other cases, the Christian could win (or at least lose little or nothing).

B. Believers in Another God or Other Gods

What about the person who believes in another god or gods in this modified Wager? Well, if the Christian God exists then that believer loses. If the other god or gods do exist, then there is no way to know whether the believer wins. Certainly, he doesn't lose if he has chosen the correct alternate deity, but this believer may not have lived his life in a way that is pleasing to a works-based god. There may be no reward for believers. Finally, if no god or gods exist, then the believer could still lose if the religion does not call on its adherents to be moral people because then he may not have lived a good life anyway.

C. Believers in No God or Gods

The poor atheist, however, finds himself in the worst possible situation. If the Christian God exists the atheist loses. If the Christian god doesn't exist but another god or gods exist, then the atheist is in the same boat as the Christian -- there are simply too many variables to say that the atheist will either lose in this eventuality. However, the situation is very much like the problem as originally stated by Pascal for when no god exists, the atheist gains gains little or nothing.(Two possible exceptions exist to this rule: (1) the atheist who lives by a good moral code without rational justification for doing so and the god/gods' rewards are good behavior, and (2) the god/gods exist(s) who doesn't mind those who "don’t bother believing in it when they use rational reasons" even when those reasons are obviously flawed because the rejected god/gods exist. These are the only two places the atheist might win.)

Summing Up the Results

So, looking at the Wager with this new middle ground added, the only way that the Christian really loses is if another god or gods exist who punishes people who don't believe in him. In all other situations the Christians either wins or loses little or nothing. The believer in another god or other gods may win if he has bet on the right god or gods, but in most cases is very much like the Christian in that most alternatives will leave him or her losing little or nothing. The skeptic, however, either loses or gains little or nothing most of the time.

It seems that if the possibility of another god or gods are added into the equation, Pascal's Wager, while not affording no chance of losing to the Christian, still provides the best odds of winning or losing nothing to the Christian. Atheism, however, remains the worst choice because there is almost no chance of winning. In most cases, the atheist is in no better position than the Christian, and in many cases he is worst off in virtually every scenario. Going back to the horse race analogy: Skeptics are the only group who, no matter which horse wins, still gain little or nothing regardless of the outcome and risk losing everything. Every other religious group has at least the chance of winning and regardless of whether they are wrong, the moral obligations that accompany the belief give them a benefit. Skeptics cannot win no matter what.

46 comments:

Premise 1: It is possible that vampires exist and it is possible that vampires do not exist.

Premise 2: If one believes in vampires and takes the precaution of carrying garlic, holy water, crosses and a pointy wooden stick when going out at night and vampires exist one is well protected and if vampires do not exist one has lost little.

Premise 3: If one does not believe in vampires (and therefore takes no precaution) and they exist then one will be defenseless if they attack and if they don't exist then one gains little or nothing.

Premise 4: It is better to either be protected against a terrible evil or lose little or nothing than it is to be defenseless or gain little or nothing.

Conclusion 1: Therefore, it is better to believe in vampires than it is not to believe in vampires.

Premise 5: If one course of action is better than another then it is rational to follow that course of action and irrational to follow the other.

Conclusion 2: Therefore, it is rational to believe in vampires and irrational not to believe in vampires.

Question:

Why is Dave's Wager invalid but Pascal's Wager valid?

Also note that, unlike with the christian God, I am not forced to only believe in one monster and be defenseless against the rest----I can also carry my pistol with silver bullets in case werewolves exist.

And, of course, any old stout stick of wood will do for bashing zombies with.

Also note that, unlike with the christian God, I am not forced to only believe in one monster and be defenseless against the rest----I can also carry my pistol with silver bullets in case werewolves exist.

And, of course, any old stout stick of wood will do for bashing zombies with.

but you have no defense against someone attacking you with a blow cherries or a fit full of blue berries. Unless your stick is a pointed stick.

(only fans of Monthy Python will understand why I say this to Dave Ellis)

What it comes down to:

what sort of insane epistemic principle is it to adopt the beliefs of people, in the absence of good evidence, threaten you with dire consequences if you fail to believe as they do?

Sorry, I form my beliefs based on evidence and sound reasons for thinking a belief likely to be true---not on fear tactics.


but you have no defense against someone attacking you with a blow cherries or a fit full of blue berries. Unless your stick is a pointed stick.


The silver bullets will get the job done.

The problem with the way atheists relate to Pascals wager is that they never never consider what's its suppossed to be and why he did it.

It's not an argument for the existence of God, it's not even argument that you should be a Christian.

It's a tie breaker. He came up with it to illustrate his new invention, mathematical probability. That doesn't mean he has to give a mathematical quantification as to the probability of hell, but he is illustrating the concept of risk taking analysis.

As a tie breaker it's the icing of the cake that he would have baked (or written) based upon the Pances.


Atheism, however, remains the worst choice because there is almost no chance of winning.


You're assuming that no God could exist who values skepticism and critical thinking above faith.

I find that a dubious assumption.

It is just as reasonable to say God exists but he is testing our rationality rather than our faith by not giving clear evidence of his existence and that only the skeptics are welcomed into heaven.

Can you present good grounds for believing such a deity less likely to exist than the christian God?


The biggest problem with pascal's wager, however, is the fact that punishing a person who requires good evidence before belief is punishing someone for being sensible and reasonable. That would be obviously unjust. Since God is generally defined as just I see little reason for atheists to worry---and if God exists but is UNJUST, well, you chrsitians have no reason to trust him anyway, he might just decide on a whim to toss everybody into hell, believer and nonbeliever alike. or flip a coin or any other arbitrary thing. It would be no less arbitrary than punishing people for not believing things they had insufficient evidence for.


It's a tie breaker.


Few of us atheists would agree that its a tie. Most of us find the christian God implausible to much the same extreme we find, well, just about any implausible thing you care to think of.

David,

Actually, your analogy is not bad IMHO. That is one of the reasons I am not a big fan of Pascal's Wager. However, your analogy fails because you are coming at it from the typical atheist "God is irrational" point of view. We all agree that vampires don't exist and so you cannot make the same claim about vampires as you do about God. The argument begins with the implicit assumption that it is not possible to conclude either that God exists or that God does not exist. (And no, I am not going to enter into some pointless debate where you, or anyone else, tries to make the case that vampires exist.)

If you start with the assumption that God is on a different level than vampires in terms of evidence (and he is -- if you deny it then you are only revealing an incredibly poor lack of discernment), then the Wager is reasonable (even if I don't care to argue it in my own discussions).

You say that most atheists find "the christian God implausible to much the same extreme we find, well, just about any implausible thing you care to think of." And so I am sure you can understand when I say that most theist find your point of view to be an example of incredibly poor reasoning.

what sort of insane epistemic principle is it to adopt the beliefs of people, in the absence of good evidence, threaten you with dire consequences if you fail to believe as they do?

Sorry, I form my beliefs based on evidence and sound reasons for thinking a belief likely to be true---not on fear tactics.


like i say, he didn't think it proved soemthing. he wasn'[t useing to prove. he didn't expect you to look and go "O now I see this is true." try to get the evidence thing out of your head. not everyone thinks in these highschool debate terms. 'where's the evidence?" In the hand book, have your affirmative ready?

he took his beliefs seriously so for him it was a serious risk.

The silver bullets will get the job done.

not as good as a pointed stick

Few of us atheists would agree that its a tie. Most of us find the christian God implausible to much the same extreme we find, well, just about any implausible thing you care to think of.

you haven't read teh Pances have you? That' the context in which we thought it was a tie. you have to take the contexts in which these guys worked seriously.

I agree it's not a tie. in our discussion of my experinces argumetns my arguments are winning hands down.

Of course I spend weeks talking about how I don't think in terms of "winning" so this is a facetious comment.

Most of us find the christian God implausible to much the same extreme we find, well, just about any implausible thing you care to think of.

I know. that's why I have 350 studies on the RE thing, atheists don't have a single study but they continually talk like there's no evidence at all for my side, even though they are buried under a huge weight of evidence and they have nothing to all to fight back with.

and that's why atheists are so riled about the wager when they have never even read Pascal and they are willing to condemn as an idiot one of the greatest mathematicians who invented probability.

that's why atheists don't know anything about the body of work around the issue of mystical experince and after years of me telling them they still refuse to look up a single study.

Who is this "they'?


If you start with the assumption that God is on a different level than vampires in terms of evidence (and he is -- if you deny it then you are only revealing an incredibly poor lack of discernment),


My reason for not believing in vampires is that I have no credible evidence for them in particular nor the supernatural in general.

I have the same reason for not believing in God with the additional factor of the problem of evil---an issue that the vampire question does not face.

So I would argue the case for christian theism is WORSE than the case for vampires.


And so I am sure you can understand when I say that most theist find your point of view to be an example of incredibly poor reasoning.


Don't just say it. Make a case for it.

I've presented a reason why its even less rational to believe in the typical conception of God than in vampires.

Refute it if you can.


I agree it's not a tie. in our discussion of my experinces argumetns my arguments are winning hands down.


LOL

I'm sure you think so. My assessment, as you might guess, is different.


that's why I have 350 studies on the RE thing


350 studies finding a correlation between religion and psychological/medical well-being.

None which support the conclusion you draw from it concerning the cause of this correlation.

Never mind the fact that you conveniently ignore the data that's unfavorable to your preferred conclusion. Like the fact that in most measures of well-being studies consistently find that the nations with high atheism rates do better than those with high religiosity rates.

"...The poor atheist, however, finds himself in the worst possible situation. If the Christian God exists the atheist loses. If the Christian god doesn't exist but another god or gods exist, then the atheist is in the same boat as the Christian -- there are simply too many variables to say that the atheist will either lose in this eventuality..."

This doesn't take into account the possibility of a God who rewards critical thinking and rewards honest atheists while punishing people who base their faith on a wager...

Actually this is my biggest objection to Pascal's Wager (or as I like to call it "the sucker's bet..."). It seems to me to be an argument for hypocrisy; I don't believe in God (or gods), and I can't just flip a switch and decide to believe. The suggestion here is that I should act as if I believe in God, even if I really don't, just in case He exists. Hard to imagine any God who would reward that kind faith...

David,

Having elected to argue that there the evidence for God is less than the evidence for vampires, you have elected to follow the pat that reveals an incredible lack of discernment. If you see the evidence for God to be less than that for vampires then you are simply being close-minded. No point in continuing.


If you see the evidence for God to be less than that for vampires then you are simply being close-minded. No point in continuing.


I didn't just claim that the case for the existence of God is worse than that for vampires. I presented my reason for thinking so.

Refute my argument if you can. If you can't then I suppose calling me close-minded is the best you can muster.

Good day to you.

May the vampires never catch out at night without your crucifix.

:)

Dave you should attribute your quotes. some of those BK said and some I said.

now what study do you point to that proves that naturalistic forces account for all five of my tie breakers?

And your reasoning demonstrates an incredible lack of discernment. I don't know how anyone ... and I do mean anyone .. who isn't a close-minded zealot for a positon can argue that the argument about God's existence is so lopsided. Consequently, I do simply ignore your close-minded responses because if you cannot even acknowledge that the other side of the argument is more plausible than vampires than you simply cannot engage in rational converation.

Good day to you, too.

Pascal's wager fails, as it has not been proven that at most one god exists.

Hey Goliath, nice to see you weigh in without apparently reading the article because, as I point out at the very beginning, the Wager begins with the assumption that it cannot be proven that God exists or doesn't exist.

Actually, the vampire wager does work; the difference is all in the stakes (pun not intended). If you believed there was a high probability of vampires existing, it would indeed make sense to carry an anti-vampire kit around with you. (It might not be rational of you to believe vampires are so likely in the first place, but given that you did, it certainly would be rational to be prepared!) However, most of us rate that likelihood as very low, proportionally lower than the expected payoff (=living longer because you don't get killed by a vampire). Admittedly, getting killed by a vampire would suck (OK, that pun was kinda intended!), but you're gonna die anyway: the loss is significant, but clearly finite, so finitely small odds of vampires existing is enough to rationally justify our ignoring the possibility.

This doesn't work in the case of God because the stakes -- an eternity in heaven or hell -- are infinite, and thus it would be rational to act as though God didn't exist only if God's odds were infinitesimally small, i.e. zero, i.e. you could actually prove God didn't exist. Now it is clear that Pascal does not consider his wager a valid philosophical argument (BK pointed out that it's set firmly in the context of not being able to "prove God"); it is rather a practical argument, of the sort we use every day. It can be rational not to carry around a vampire stake, and to carry around an umbrella, even though we don't have certainty as to whether vampires exist or whether it will rain today. But we can weigh the likelihood against the expected benefit, and so behave rationally or irrationally accordingly.

This is why the wager isn't hypocritical: to act like an atheist without proof is in itself as hypocritical as acting like a Christian without proof; but ordinary practical probability makes one side more rational than the other, and thus more pleasing to a God who values critical thinking. If that still seems somewhat lacking to you, then you're right where Pascal wants you: ultimately, he would be the first to acknowledge that Christianity is not about pragmatic calculations, but is about a relationship. You don't make friends through proofs any more than you learn to ride a bicycle on paper -- you have to jump in and actually do it. The wager is just a pragmatic reason to get you started.


now what study do you point to that proves that naturalistic forces account for all five of my tie breakers?


I have no idea what 5 tie-breakers you're talking about. Nor do I think referring to a study is the only way a bad argument can be refuted. Before I can say whether studies would even be pertinent you'll have to give me some clue as to what you're talking about.


And your reasoning demonstrates an incredible lack of discernment.


Then it should be easy for you to refute.


I don't know how anyone ... and I do mean anyone .. who isn't a close-minded zealot for a positon can argue that the argument about God's existence is so lopsided.


Being a convinced believer in God I'm not surprised you think that.

But do you have any good arguments for God's existence?

Even one?

Care to present it?

My honest opinion is that every single theistic argument I've encountered is abysmally bad.

So I put it into the same category as alien abduction stories, homeopathy, fairies, pyramid power, psychic abilities and all the rest of the stuff I don't think there's an ounce of rational basis for belief in.

Sorry if you'd rather I pretend I think you're position is more intellectually respectable than I actually do.

But you are welcome to show me dead wrong. Just present a clearly good argument for theism.


If you believed there was a high probability of vampires existing, it would indeed make sense to carry an anti-vampire kit around with you.


When one thinks there's a high probability one way or the other there's no need for a wager argument. Its only in its absence that the wager argument comes up.


ultimately, he would be the first to acknowledge that Christianity is not about pragmatic calculations, but is about a relationship.....The wager is just a pragmatic reason to get you started.


What sort of relationship can one have with someone who says "love me or I'll torture ya forever"?

The same sort one has when humoring a psychopath so he doesn't kill you.

And that's what Pascal's argument amounts to:

Aren't you going to humor the invisible psychopath?

No? But what if he's real?

My honest opinion is that every single theistic argument I've encountered is abysmally bad.

So I put it into the same category as alien abduction stories, homeopathy, fairies, pyramid power, psychic abilities and all the rest of the stuff I don't think there's an ounce of rational basis for belief in.


Yup, just keep going down that road and you keep proving my point. Thanks.

"When one thinks there's a high probability one way or the other there's no need for a wager argument. Its only in its absence that the wager argument comes up".

It's the same argument in all cases. Perhaps it just seems more intuitively obvious when the probability is high.

"What sort of relationship can one have with someone who says "love me or I'll torture ya forever"?"

I dunno, I've never met anyone like that. Of course, if you mean to imply that the Judeo-Christian God is like that, then you might want to investigate the matter for yourself — I'm afraid someone's sorely misled you.

DL,

Thanks for pointing out some more of the utter bankruptcy of intelletual honesty being exhibited by a certain reader.

"I dunno, I've never met anyone like that. Of course, if you mean to imply that the Judeo-Christian God is like that, then you might want to investigate the matter for yourself — I'm afraid someone's sorely misled you."

Have you ever read a bible? When you turn six or seven years old, you'll learn all about threats of hell in Sunday school.

"Hey Goliath, nice to see you weigh in without apparently reading the article because, as I point out at the very beginning, the Wager begins with the assumption that it cannot be proven that God exists or doesn't exist."

Ah, so you admit that you've failed from the start? Excellent!

And just because I feel like it, I'll press my gigantic "I Win!" button again: I would rather burn in hell FOR ALL ETERNITY than worship the monster that is your god! As long as I am alive, your grand commission WILL fail.


Yup, just keep going down that road and you keep proving my point. Thanks.


Keep calling me closeminded for not considering your beliefs at all intellectually warranted rather than actually showing them to be intellectually warranted and you keep proving mine.

Thanks. And that's the last thing I'm going to say to you until you decide to actually address the issue we disagree on---whether theism is an intellectually warranted position.

I'm willing to argue my side of that question (and even change it if the other shows me to be wrong). You seem only willing to call people who disagree with you closed minded.


I dunno, I've never met anyone like that. Of course, if you mean to imply that the Judeo-Christian God is like that, then you might want to investigate the matter for yourself — I'm afraid someone's sorely misled you.


I'm well aware that not all christians believe in a hell of eternal torment.

But in most instances where I've encountered it that's what was being argued.

If you're not, then great.

What is your opinion on the fate of the unbeliever in the afterlife?

Anyway, a problem (and hardly the only one) with Pascal's Wager that has not yet been dealt with by the theists here is that it assumes an unjust God. One who rewards irrationality (believing something you had no reasonable basis for being convinced of) and punishing rationality (refraining from a belief until its rationally warranted).

Since Christians define God as perfectly just I can legitimately dismiss Pascal's Wager as involving an internal contradiction:

believe in a God who is perfectly just despite the lack of evidence or he will unjustly punish you.

Of course, you are free to drop the idea that God is just to avoid the contradiction.

But I don't see any christians doing that.

Or you can argue that punishing someone for not believing something they had no rational grounds for being convinced of (which Pascal's Wager assumes) is just.

David,

The point is this: the argument about theism and atheism is one that engages a lot of people. There are arguments being made on both sides. I am willing to concede that the atheists make decent arguments. I think that the problem from evil is a very difficult one for the Christian to handle. I think that ultimately the Christian wins that argument, and I would be more than happy to engage you about any of these issues.

However, you are not coming at it from the same situation. You are saying that Christians are irrational. You are comparing the arguments for God with the arguments for vampires -- in fact, you say that vampires are more likely to exist. That is close-minded. It is (as I said in a comment to another post) like being a Steelers fan watching last year's Superbowl believing, contrary to what happened on the field, that you side shut out the Cardinals. Your position is a discconect from reality. It is close-minded to the highest degree.

You really want to engage in a rational discussion? Fine. Start by acknoweledging that you are merely engaging in rhetoric in your position about how strong your case is. If you can't do that, then there is no point. I have no desire to discuss something with someone who only looks at things from one side.

P.S. You say,

One who rewards irrationality (believing something you had no reasonable basis for being convinced of) and punishing rationality (refraining from a belief until its rationally warranted).

Naw, if that were the case you'd be a shoe-in for heaven. You obviously have no concept with how Christianity works.


However, you are not coming at it from the same situation.


Are we both required to believe the other has decent arguments?

The simple truth is that I've examined arguments for theism with great care and find none of them, not even one of them, to be "decent arguments".

I'm sorry if you're bothered by this fact but its my honest, carefully considered opinion.

Perhaps it would be less contentious to discuss matters we both don't believe in.

Lets take reincarnation (believed in by millions of members of several religions) and vampires (believed in, today, by very few so far as I'm aware of).

Is belief in reincarnation rational?

If it is, what is it about this belief that makes it more reasonable than belief in vampires?

If its not reasonable, are you being a "close-minded zealot" for not acknowledging their beliefs are reasonable? If not, why not?

It seems to me that belief in reincarnation is just as irrational as belief in vampires. The popularity of a belief has no bearing, in my opinion, on its rationality. Some irrational beliefs are just more popular than others.

Another example to illustrate this point:

vampires vs homeopathy

Belief in the latter is orders of magnitude more common than belief in vampires.

But I would argue that belief in vampires is actually less irrational.

Why?

Because the claims made for the effectiveness of homepathy are demonstrably false.

It, however, cannot be demonstrated that vampires do not exist.

So the latter, while very little believed is actually more reasonable than the former.

I see no reason other than the beliefs popularity for putting religious claims on a different footing than supernatural beliefs no longer popularly believed.

But perhaps I'm missing something.

If so, I invite you to present a case for what that might be.

David: I'm well aware that not all christians believe in a hell of eternal torment. But in most instances where I've encountered it that's what was being argued.

I think you've shifted the topic, I don't see how that follows. But in any case, Hell is not a trivial subject; unfortunately, most of our typical conceptions are of the cartoon-demons-with-pitchforks variety. Not that picturesque metaphors don't have their place, but we have to be careful about oversimplifying things (but I'm getting a bit off-topic here....)

What is your opinion on the fate of the unbeliever in the afterlife?

A perfectly just one.

[Pascal's wager] assumes an unjust God. One who rewards irrationality (believing something you had no reasonable basis for being convinced of) and punishing rationality (refraining from a belief until its rationally warranted).

I don't see that assumption anywhere. As already indicated, the wager itself provides the reason — not an a priori deduction, but a practical reason. I wonder if you are taking the term "rational" to exclude that somehow? Perhaps we can come at it from the other side: your description there could only be true if it is impossible to know God by experience. If however it is possible — as Christianity insists is so, and indeed this is Pascal's entire focus, as I mentioned before — then it is rational to explore this approach to knowing God; but by definition you cannot experience something before you experience it, and so it cannot be irrational to try something before knowing what the result will be.

Note that the wager does not claim to be a reason that God exists; it's a reason to test whether God exists, to try a particular "experiment" that in turn could provide a different sort of reason for believing in God. If there was a course of action that could lead you to God and you ignored it, then that would be irrational; just as if you did pursue it and ended up finding God, it would be just to "reward" you for it. [Of course the whole "reward" thing is a loaded term and highly oversimplified for real Christianity, but since that's not our main focus, we might get away with it here!]

David: Are we both required to believe the other has decent arguments?

Well, it's not a law, but if you don't believe your opponent has at least some decent arguments, then why would you bother debating him in the first place?

The simple truth is that I've examined arguments for theism with great care and find none of them, not even one of them, to be "decent arguments".

I'm curious as to whose arguments these are you're referring to. And do you consider the arguments (whose?) for atheism less abysmal, or do you consider yourself a strict agnostic?

The popularity of a belief has no bearing, in my opinion, on its rationality.

Yes and no. Again from the standpoint of purely philosophical deduction, popularity has no guaranteed correlation to truth. But people still believe things for a reason. Sometimes strong reasons, sometimes weak, sometimes informed, sometimes foolish, but it's human nature to have some kind of reason. It was (is?) a common belief that to keep a body moving requires constant force, but we've known since Newton that really a body in motion will stay in motion, so everybody was wrong, even including smart people like Aristotle. Except Newton's inertia only works in a vacuum; here on earth, anything we move is moving through air (or water or some other medium). So it actually is correct to say that force is required to keep an object moving! It's not that people's ordinary notions were flat-out wrong, just that they turned out to be a little confused once we investigated the scientific details.

The point is, if a lot of people (including very smart people) believe a certain idea, there must be something behind it. Half the world didn't just wake up one day and say, "Hm, guess today I'll be a Christian!" They had reasons. Good reasons, bad reasons — but from a practical point of view, it calls for some kind of explanation. This is BK's point: it doesn't prove that the popular belief is true, but to ignore it altogether is tantamount to saying "some stuff just happens for no reason at all". And if stuff can "just happen for no reason", then you've effectively abandoned reasoning as a useful tool, so what more is there to say.


What is your opinion on the fate of the unbeliever in the afterlife?

---A perfectly just one.


A rather evasive answer.


Well, it's not a law, but if you don't believe your opponent has at least some decent arguments, then why would you bother debating him in the first place?


Because I don't assume you're stupid. And I'm interested in showing that your reasons are bad ones for the sake of others who may see the discussion---not just yourself.


I'm curious as to whose arguments these are you're referring to.


I doubt that there's an argument you could present that would be new to me. Name one and I'll let you know.


And do you consider the arguments (whose?) for atheism less abysmal, or do you consider yourself a strict agnostic?




I'm both an atheist (am without any belief in God) and an agnostic (don't rule out the bare possibility of a deity of some sort).

Very few of us atheists claim absolute certain knowledge that there's no God.

I simply don't include things in my view of the world until I see reason to be convinced they're real.

Thats the exact sense I'm a nonbeliever in vampires, a nonbeliever in psychics, a nonbeliever in angels, a nonbeliever in reincarnation, and a nonbeliever in your God.

I see no reason at all to consider God any more plausible an idea than any of these others mentioned.



The point is, if a lot of people (including very smart people) believe a certain idea, there must be something behind it.


Even very smart people are capable of believing things for very bad reasons.


Half the world didn't just wake up one day and say, "Hm, guess today I'll be a Christian!" They had reasons. Good reasons, bad reasons — but from a practical point of view, it calls for some kind of explanation.....


I don't claim christians have no reason for believing in christianity. I just think they have bad ones (in the sense that they're reasons that don't constitute valid basis for thinking the beliefs likely to be true).


This is BK's point: it doesn't prove that the popular belief is true, but to ignore it altogether is tantamount to saying "some stuff just happens for no reason at all".


No one's saying it happens for no reason at all. But lets be honest. Most people just believe the religion they were raised to believe. Its part of their sense of personal identity from early childhood.

That's all the reason one needs to "account for" most religious belief. And it hardly constitutes a very good one.

Hopefully you have better reasons for your beliefs. If you'd actually present them then we could have a substantive discussion. Otherwise I think we're just spinning our wheels.


Note that the wager does not claim to be a reason that God exists; it's a reason to test whether God exists, to try a particular "experiment" that in turn could provide a different sort of reason for believing in God.


That's not what the wager proposes. You're free to invent a new variation of the argument that proposes that. But Pascal's Wager is an argument for the rationality of belief---not an argument for the rationality of trying religion out to see if you can find good reason to believe from within the religious life. That would be a different argument altogether.

But feel free to state a new version of Pascal's Wager to that effect. There's no rule that says the first version of an argument should be the only one and cannot be improved on.

David:A rather evasive answer.
Well, I'm hoping to evade misunderstanding, if that's what you mean.

Because I don't assume you're stupid. And I'm interested in showing that your reasons are bad ones for the sake of others who may see the discussion---not just yourself.
OK, so I take it you're drawing a distinction between "stupid" and "irrational", meaning more like "mistaken". But I'm interested in why you'd want to reveal bad reasons — a theist has some obvious motives to promote (what he sees as) rational and correct, because it will help other people, it's something glorious he wants to share, even because God, the highest Truth, deserves to be known. But if you don't believe in an "Ultimate Truth", why would it matter whether others hold your ideas or not? (If you'd just said for yourself, there wouldn't necessarily have to be a particular reason; perhaps you're simply constituted to enjoy that sort of thing as a hobby, just as some people like trainspotting or gardening. But "for the sake of others" implies some kind of higher purpose.)

I doubt that there's an argument you could present that would be new to me. Name one and I'll let you know.
Are you familiar with Duns Scotus's Tractatus de primo principio?

I simply don't include things in my view of the world until I see reason to be convinced they're real.
Most people don't; of course "reason" is far broader than "mathematical proof". A developed theology like Christianity encompasses a very wide explanatory power, which to many people provides a more convincing (or deeper or more sophisticated) description of reality as a whole. Note that that doesn't mean that any single piece taken out of context will necessary be more convincing than an alternative (it might or might not).

Thats the exact sense I'm a nonbeliever in vampires, a nonbeliever in psychics, a nonbeliever in angels, a nonbeliever in reincarnation, and a nonbeliever in your God.
I don't know much about how vampires are supposed to work, but interestingly, all the rest revolve around the concept of immaterial minds. The reason why that concept is so widespread and enduring is that it explains things that say, a purely materialist account cannot.

Most people just believe the religion they were raised to believe. Its part of their sense of personal identity from early childhood.
Sure, just like most atheists believe what they were raised to believe. But that's hardly the only reason — if you ask people why they think God exists, very few would say, "because my parents said so". They'd offer some religious experience, or a philosophical argument (perhaps a crude one, but obviously most people aren't professional theologians). Most people also believe in science because that's how they were raised, but it's still true. (And despite the average person's inability to explain science in a sophisticated way, too!)

But feel free to state a new version of Pascal's Wager to that effect. There's no rule that says the first version of an argument should be the only one and cannot be improved on.
Of course. But Pascal does in fact spend time discussing the ineffability of God (S’il y a un Dieu, il est infiniment incompréhensible, puisque, n’ayant ni parties ni bornes, il n’a nul rapport à nous. Nous sommes donc incapables de connaître ni ce qu’il est, ni s’il est. Cela étant, qui osera entreprendre de résoudre cette question? Ce n’est pas nous, qui n’avons aucun rapport à lui.) and the expected effect of taking him up on his wager (Travaillez donc, non pas à vous convaincre par l’augmentation des preuves de Dieu, mais par la diminution de vos passions. Vous voulez aller à la foi, et vous n’en savez pas le chemin; vous voulez vous guérir de l’infidélité, et vous en demandez le remède: apprenez de ceux qui ont été liés comme vous, et qui parient maintenant tout leur bien; ce sont gens qui savent ce chemin que vous voudriez suivre, et guéris d’un mal dont vous voulez guérir. Suivez la manière par où ils ont commencé: c’est en faisant tout comme s’ils croyaient, en prenant de l’eau bénite, en faisant dire des messes, etc. Naturellement même cela vous fera croire et vous abêtira. «Mais c’est ce que je crains.» Et pourquoi? qu’avez vous à perdre?).


Well, I'm hoping to evade misunderstanding, if that's what you mean.


And I was hoping you'd actually say what you believe happens to nonbelievers in christianity in the afterlife. If you state your view with clarity there is no reason to expect it to be misunderstood.


But if you don't believe in an "Ultimate Truth", why would it matter whether others hold your ideas or not?


I value truth. So much so that I feel no need to capitalize it or call it "ultimate" to make it sound important. Its already important as it is.

I'm less interested in converting people to atheism than converting them to valuing rationality and skeptical/critical thinking.

Nonbelief in religion simply happens to be one of the results.

I do tend to focus more on religion than on, say, astrology because I think religion has, among all the irrational things I'm aware of, the most influential and, in many cases, the most pernicious effects.

This, of course, varies with the religion. Conservative fundamentalist religion is almost always the worst (be it chrisian, muslim, hindu or whatever).

At the other end of the spectrum I have no problem at all with religion in the form espoused by Don Cupitt and others with a "nonrealist" view of the religious life. As well as with a great many Unitarian Universalists (lots of them are atheists). Religion in this form is something I have no objection to at all.

Unfortunately that form of religion is also very rare.


Are you familiar with Duns Scotus's Tractatus de primo principio?


I haven't read it. What argument does it present? From the title it sounds like an argument for the necessity of God's existence. There are a great many forms of such arguments. If you would like to state his version I'd be glad to discuss it.


of course "reason" is far broader than "mathematical proof".


I'm not asking for proof (mathematical or otherwise). I'd settle for arguments good enough to show it to be more likely than not to be true. I have yet to see anything that even approaches that, quite low, standard of evidence.


A developed theology like Christianity encompasses a very wide explanatory power, which to many people provides a more convincing (or deeper or more sophisticated) description of reality as a whole.


Christianity isn't a "developed thelogy". It encompasses a wide range of mutually incompatible developed, intricate theologies. Which one do you have in mind?


The reason why that concept is so widespread and enduring is that it explains things that say, a purely materialist account cannot.


I'm not a materialist.


Sure, just like most atheists believe what they were raised to believe.


That may be true of many atheists raised by atheists. Being raised in the Bible Belt I've met very few of them so I can't say. And am not one myself.


But that's hardly the only reason — if you ask people why they think God exists, very few would say, "because my parents said so".


True, they typically say "because I have faith" or "how else would the world (or life) have gotten here". Those two cover about 90% of the responses I've encountered by theists who aren't especially versed in apologetics (and thats almost all of them).


Most people also believe in science because that's how they were raised, but it's still true.


The point I'm making is less that some people believe reasonable ideas for bad reasons.

It wouldn't be a problem that so many christians are bad at articulating good reasons to believe if there were actually any good reasons to be had.

I contend that there aren't.


But Pascal does in fact spend time discussing the ineffability of God (S’il y a un Dieu, il est infiniment incompréhensible, puisque....


I'm very impressed by your ability to speak multiple languages (or your ability to cut and paste other languages, whichever it is). Less impressed by the fact that you don't provide the english version since very few reading this (including me) can read Pascal in the original---as you doubtless know.

But Pascal's Wager is an argument for the rationality of belief---not an argument for the rationality of trying religion out to see if you can find good reason to believe from within the religious life. That would be a different argument altogether.

In fact, Pascal's Wager as found in Pascal is explicitly both, because Pascal develops it in stages. In the Wager passages of the Pensees, Pascal is fairly clearly arguing against an agnostic who is claiming that Christians are irrational for not suspending judgment, because they have no reason to believe what they do. And the Wager basically argues that even if you have no speculative reasons to believe, as the agnostic says, you can have practical reasons to believe, based on what is to be gained, what is risked, &c. And if that's accepted, then it is the agnostic who has no good reason for his own position that belief should be suspended; in which case he should try things out in order to see if there might, in fact, be more than practical reason to believe: attend church regularly, take holy water, whatever. And there is some reason that Pascal's primary goal in the argument is the latter; as he says at one point, he is arguing that "you ought to put yourself to the trouble of searching for the truth"; he thinks the suspension-of-judgment advice of the agnostic is just a hypocritical way of not putting oneself through the trouble of seeking.

If you state your view with clarity there is no reason to expect it to be misunderstood.
Oh, come on — a few replies back you were calling God a psychopath. It's quite plausible to think that any attempt to reduce a complex doctrine into a few lines will simply be caricatured.

I value truth. So much so that I feel no need to capitalize it or call it "ultimate" to make it sound important. Its already important as it is.
Lots of people value tennis (also uncapitalized). I notice you didn't give any reason; it's apparently just a personal preference. That's fine, but not exactly compelling to someone else.

I'm less interested in converting people to atheism than converting them to valuing rationality and skeptical/critical thinking.
That doesn't follow. Even if religion were false, that doesn't mean believers don't value rationality. Right or wrong, they believe it because they think it is rational.

From the title it sounds like an argument for the necessity of God's existence. There are a great many forms of such arguments. If you would like to state his version I'd be glad to discuss it.
It's a careful treatment of the nature of God as first principle. I don't suppose we could discuss it if you haven't read it first; again, it's not something that can be summed up in a couple of sentences.

I'm not a materialist.
Cool. Do you hold a dualist theory of mind, or something else?

It wouldn't be a problem that so many christians are bad at articulating good reasons to believe if there were actually any good reasons to be had. I contend that there aren't.
I haven't seen any indication that you've done a thorough study of Christianity.

Less impressed by the fact that you don't provide the english version since very few reading this (including me) can read Pascal in the original---as you doubtless know.
All I know is that someone posting web comments has access to Google and the 20s or so it would take to find it. If one were genuinely interested.

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