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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

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The thing to do with Global warming is not to argue agaisnt it. Use it. Atheists are almost bound to believe in it (I believe in it--not the point). Rather than argue against it as an example of bad lock, it's more useful as an example of good logic. This is so because the logic of Global warming is the same logic used in Pascals wager.

I have two observations to make before getting into this. The first one is about the wage itself. The second about the paradigm used for "risk taker analysis."

(1) Atheists mock and ridicule the wage extremely much, over doing it, becuase they don't understand it's function. Most Christian apologists don't understand it either, so no slight to our Atheist friends. Mine you the wage is an argument I never use. Most people take it as attempt at proving God exists. It is not an attempt to prove that God exists. It's meant as a tiebreaker. It's used after the massive collection of arguments Pascal wrote known as the Pensées Or "thoughts." Those aren't even meant to prove the existence of God but to clue one in on how to realize the reality of God. Although this is my phrase, you wont catch Pascal saying anything that awkward.

(2) The wager is a decision making paradigm not an argument to prove something. The paradigm is based upon Pascal's own invention, mathematical probability. That's right all the arguments atheists use about simplicity and all of that inductive reasoning the likelihood of this or that it all goes back to Pascal. He was not a dunce. HE was a mystic, however, and he was not interpreted in proving things logically. His tie breaker, the wager, demonstrates the probability of God being true.

The reason Is say the global warming and the wager use the same logic is because they are examples of what we in college debate used to call "risk taker analysis."An example: let's say I guy a hat. It blows off my head and over a freeway. I have to cross a busy freeway to get the hat back. I must ask myself "is having this hat worth risking my life for?" It could be only if having is worth so much that I am willing risk losing everything for it. A hat, not so much as they say. Now if the hate is a bearer bond worth a million dollars, maybe it is worth risking it all for that. Another aspect of this the risk can be minimized. So part of the equation includes the levels of reward vs risk. For example even a million dollars may not worth risking death for if death virtually certain. So wait until 2:00 am when there are almost no cars on the free way. That has to be balanced agaisnt the risk that the bond will blow away in the mean time. so risk taker analysis means doing a sort of calculus.

It will cost several billion dollars for the medical diagnostic industry to re tool and change from X-ray machines to second generation Doppler ultrasound.This is why they will probably never do it of their own accord. If they did they might save 24,000 lives a year (I am assuming that form of ultra sound can do everything X-Rays do, which it probably can't but in debate years ago we had journal evidence saying it could). Are 24,000 lives worth making an industry spend billions of dollars? What about the government subsidizing? This is just an example of the kinds of questions that one can ask using risk taking analysis. Of course it gets much more complex than that.

The wagers says "there is everything to gain and nothing to lose by following Christ and placing belief in God. But there is everything to lose and nothing to gain by not following Christ." So if that is true the risk taking analysis shows that the much greater risk is in not being a Christian, or whatever. That's breaks the tie between the realization of reality and the doubt fostered by nothing overwhelming direct proof. We can't totally prove it either way, but the greater risk is in not believing. The only thing to be gained by not believing is momentary sinful pleasure which in the long run always runs out and works against the experiencer.

Global warming risk taking analysis. Like the God question we don't have total proof either way. We can be sure that man made source so green house gas are the real cause or even the major catalyst, although there's a good probability that they are. So what is the loss vs gain ratio? does it justify the risk? The risk in believing in global warming is that we will spend a lot of money trying to switch over to non green house producing sources. That will cost profits and might result in economic problems. The worst outcome would be loss of jobs. What is the risk in not assuming it? Doing nothing:

(1) If the theory is right and we do nothing all life on earth might be destroyed at worst, at best, the earth will much hotter, storms more violent, major flooding in many parts of the wold., millions could die.

(2) vs if the theory is wrong and we do a lot to change it anyway, we could have an economic slump in the U.S.

So the risk of loss is much greater if we do nothing than the risk of loss form trying to solve it necessarily.

Of cousre there's the additional factor that we could try to solve but since the problem is not man made (assuming that answer) it would continue despite our efforts. Then we get the worst of both worlds. We die in a super heated world while having an ecnomic slump. Yet thta element is more remote becuase the odds are our life style is at least a contributor to the problem if we change it, even if the cause is not primary our life style it might compensated enough to help minimize the effects. The chances that we would get the worst of both worlds are very small.

We can see from this that both the wager and global warming are forms of risk taker analysis. They both have the same formation: everything to gain by doing X and noting or little to lose. They both have the element that the gain from rejecting action is temporary and self defeating. In terms of the wager one has pleasure form sin but it goes away as you get older, and it's bad for you so you lose your looks sooner and die younger. That's just a short term gain. The gain from rejecting the global warming hypothesis is short term to. As with sin the pleasures of keeping your extravagant life style going a little longer, are short term and offset by the evils of that lifestyle. It's pollution, it's fosters bad nutrition (people have lots of money to spend and they carve new things) it's the whole consumer culture that needs to be overhauled and all our habits changed. So in both cases the life style and the sinful pleasure are short term while the risks of loss is much greater and long term: in religion we risk eternal damnation and in global warming we risk destruction of the life bearing ability of the planet.

It's important to make atheists see that they have such a risk to take becuase the more analogies that stack up for their paradigm the sooner their paradigm (naturalism) will shift. It's very important to point out every inconsistency we can in atheist thinking. for them to know that acceptance of a view point they consider absolutely essential to their acceptance of science as the only way, requires that they also accept the logic of Pascal's wager.


18 comments:

The funny thing is that I don't like Pascal's Wager because it asks people to commit to Christianity not because they believe but as an insurance policy.

But if you like Pascal's Wager, here's the flip side:

There is either global warming or there isn't global warming. If the global warming proponents are correct we will need to stop virtually all use of fossil fuels immediately as well as substantially change other aspects of our lifestyle. At the moment, there is no alternative to fossil fuels that can generate the power that the world uses. So, here's the wager:

If the theory is right and we do nothing all life on earth might be destroyed at worst, at best, the earth will much hotter, storms more violent, major flooding in many parts of the wold., millions could die.

If the theory is wrong, we will destroy our economy, leave behind most of our electricity, increase hunger, leave behind the ability to travel feely in cars, increase poverty all for an uncertain science.

I don't think that it is as one-sided as you make it out to be.

But the really scary part of this is that you have mentioned to me that you don't think it is appropriate to discuss politics on the blog even to promote an argument. If global warming is really science then why are you calling it politics. You can claim that it is those who doubt global warming who are trying to make it political, but I would argue it is those on the global warming side who have the political agenda.

Stalemate.

That's why I really don't want to argue the truth of global warming, rather I want to argue about the argumentation method if it can be related to religion. You have done so here, but I don't think you have actually made as clear of a point as Pascal's Wager because it isn't as simple as (1) God either exists or (2) God does not exist.

It's not really the thinking of an insurance policy. It's more like this tie breaker. Pascal himself was a mystic who bleieve in personal relationship with God. I'm sure he wouldn't like knowing that's what his thing suggests, just an insurance policy.

I am also thinking someone might say "O Meta you don't believe in eternal conscious torment."

That's true but I think the same analysis holds becuase the prospect of living and dying and ceasing to exist and never knowing God is just as bad.

I think the comparison here is deeply mistaken. If you look at the decision table on which the wager is based, one notices that the key outcomes being valued reflect particular theologies, not the existence of God. If one is admitting infinite utilities, then competing theologies negate any preference between wise strategies.

It's actually worse: if you allow infinite payoffs for the Christianity column and finite payoffs for the atheism column, then any mixed strategy is equally good. Even if I accept the oversimplified decision matrix, I might as well attempt to arrive at sincere belief by having a beer, instead of taking any of Pascal's recommendations.

To keep the argument valid, you have to recast it with finite utilities, but then you get into other problems, namely the possibility that strategies influence outcomes. If for example you decide to arrive at sincere belief based on a risk-assessment, it might be possible that God frustrates your attempts for that reason, as he knows your motives are cynical. One must account for such effects as well.

These considerations all apply to secular examples. Nuclear disarmament is the textbook equivalent of global warming here.

I have no problem with risk-based argumentation in general, but I see many problems with particular applications of decision theory. That's not an `inconsistency'.

(For reasons of fair credit: my comment is a precis of articles by Alan Hájek. He wrote the relevant SEP entry, for the interested. For a more general discussion of decision theory - including a rejection of infinite utilities - see Jeffrey's The Logic of Decision.)

Jesse Parrish, your are trying to side step the actual argument and pretend like it's about something else.

The philosophy uses the following logic (excerpts from Pensées, part III, note 233):

1. "God is, or He is not"
2. A Game is being played... where heads or tails will turn up.
3. According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
4. You must wager. It is not optional.
5. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
6. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (...) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.


It's specifically understood he's talking about the Christian God. It might work with any concept of God, I really have no interest in in worrying about that.

Read again, slowly and carefully.

If it helps, let's look at the premises as you have presented them:

The first three premises are actually unimportant. All that matters are the differing possibilities in the afterlife, and the assumption that certain actions affect the likelihood that one realizes one possibility. This being sufficiently broad, (4) becomes redundant.

The problems, of course, begin at (5). There are two key categories of problems, those of soundness and those of validity.

The validity problems apply even if we restrict the possible outcomes to a 2x2 table, the alternatives being atheism and Christian theology. Now, the intended conclusion is that one who wagers wisely will adopt the strategy that maximizes the probability of becoming a Christian, hence receiving the reward. Now, compare the following expected utilities:

1. One takes Pascal's recommendations.
2. One flips a coin. If heads, he takes Pascal's recommendations. If tails, he has a beer and moves on.
3. One simply has a beer and forgets about it.

Now, even if we agree that the probabilities of arriving at Christianity are decreasing from (1)-(3), the expected utilities of each of these strategies are equal. One is maximizing expected payoff no matter what he does, so long as the probability of going to Heaven/not going to Hell remains non-zero.

This is a trivial consequence of infinite utilities and is well known. In order to preserve validity, one must stick with ascribing finite utilities to Heaven and Hell. The problem, of course, is that these themselves may be swamped by other real values, so one must stipulate that these are `maximal' in some sense. But a universal `maximal utility' is a very difficult proposition.

But suppose you are successful in your reformulated argument. You still have the soundness objections (known as the `many gods objection') all ahead of you. Further, you have to deal with the possibilities of strategic dependence, where the adoption of the strategy affects the probabilities of the outcomes in the decision table themselves. (For an example of the fallacies that result when one fails to do this, see the nuclear disarmament example.) In this case, an eventuality is that Wagering actually prevents Salvation.

Pascal's Wager is interesting for the sheer variety of its failures.

Does that sound like problem avoidance to you?

To absorb the magnitude of the problem, you should look to the math, which is elementary enough.

But in the meantime, ask yourself: of the above strategies, is (1) about twice as good as (2)? Mathematically, they have the same utility, even though intuitively, this is how people think of it.

Look at one of my examples, slightly modified, from the thread over at dangerous idea. Suppose I promise you a billion dollars if you brutally kick a cat. Do you kick the cat?

I suppose you would not want to do such a thing for its own sake. Indeed, you might value animal welfare quite highly. But, if you really value animal welfare, you should do it if there is any significant chance of your realizing a million dollars, since that million dollars could be used to ensure far more animal welfare.

Supposing you value animal welfare and you do not feel any motivation to kick a cat right now, you are by implication (a) unaware of what you can do for animal welfare with a million dollars or (b) convinced that the risk you take - up to kicking your cat - is wholly unworth the (very small probability of) realizing a million dollars.

Now suppose I offered you Paradise - or something with infinite utility - for kicking your cat. Should you do it regardless of how small the (non-zero) probability you have of realizing Paradise by doing so is?

Following your logic, you should be constantly kicking cats upon realizing the non-zero probability of Paradise in exchange. Or, forgetting Paradise, unlimited animal welfare. Whatever you like.

So you've stopped reading and started kicking cats at this point, or you've realized that the paradoxes of infinite utility make some sense, once you think about it. Indeed, you might begin to expect that the magnitude of probabilities concerning outcomes matters.

Jesse,

You did say to come here and have a look at your examples - but I'm still finding myself having a problem with the reasoning.

You give the examples of 1-3, and point out how the expected utilities of all three strategies are equal - and you say, check the math. I'll grant that the math you're using does yield this result. But as I said over at dangerousidea, that to me indicates that something has gone wrong - the math says the strategies are equal. Reason and/or very strong intuition says that they aren't.

Back to the deathbed example. You only have time for one choice - one that grants a .99 chance, and one that grants a .0001 chance. Decision theory as you communicate it to me says both of these choices are equally rational as strategies for attaining the reward in question, even though you only get to act once. But that to me says your decision theory has gone wrong - the .99 choice should be considered the most rational one.

I'm willing to grant that there's a lot more to do with Pascal's Wager than clear this up. I'm even willing to grant that the Wager will never be persuasive for many, even most irreligious. But it's still a point I think needs to be cleared up.

Crude,

The post I am working on addresses the intuitions - up to this case - more directly. But in the meantime, the point of the cat-kicking example is to illustrate why the paradoxes of infinity as they emerge in Pascal's Wager do make some intuitive sense. The consequences of having one's probabilities become irrelevant in a given action does - and I think should - lead to absurd-feeling results.

Jesse,

Well, I look forward to the post.

As for the cat example, I think I mentioned some but not all of this at Reppert's (you replied, but I think it was brief):

First, you say that if you value animal welfare, you should kick the cat if there's any sig chance of receiving the million. Right there I think some people are going to object.

Second, you make reference to the probability of actually receiving the money. But what if the probability is unknown?

Third, you make the assumption the person opposes cat-kicking. What if they aren't opposed? What if they're in favor of it? I recall you saying 'Well, if they're in favor of it they'll do it anyway and the strategy is irrelevant.' Is that basically correct as far as summing up your reply?

Finally, it seems like your final remark conflicts with your claim about the validity and soundness of the wager. On the validity front, if we accept your criticisms and the DT theory with it, then not kicking the cat is as rational as kicking the cat. If we accept the validity but reject the soundness, then (as I understand your claim) kicking the cat is one among a wide variety of options for the infinite payoff, some mutually exclusive - and I still don't have to kick the cat.

Crude,

First, you say that if you value animal welfare, you should kick the cat if there's any sig chance of receiving the million. Right there I think some people are going to object.

If one takes a deontological approach to animal welfare, an objection might be sound. But if one takes anything remotely resembling a utilitarian stance regarding animal welfare, objections will prove unsound, since (following Aristotle) one may realize that money is valued for what it can get, not for itself. And one of the things it can get is animal welfare, and lots of many can secure a lot of animal welfare.

Second, you make reference to the probability of actually receiving the money. But what if the probability is unknown?

One objection to the original Wager is that probabilities of theism/the afterlife are undefined. But if you like, you can obviate this objection by phrasing the problem as a conditional, e.g. "if your probability of my actually fulfilling the terms of my promise is above 0.000001, then given your utility of animal welfare you should..."

Third, you make the assumption the person opposes cat-kicking. What if they aren't opposed? What if they're in favor of it?

Then, as we've discussed, my offer will not make any difference up to kicking cats. But the point of using `cat-kicking' is illustrate that you could substitute any action you do not like for this. Do you dislike any actions?

Finally, it seems like your final remark conflicts with your claim about the validity and soundness of the wager. On the validity front, if we accept your criticisms and the DT theory with it, then not kicking the cat is as rational as kicking the cat...

The point is to undergird the intuition of that very conclusion, up to the case of promises of `infinitely valuable' rewards.

...If we accept the validity but reject the soundness, then (as I understand your claim) kicking the cat is one among a wide variety of options for the infinite payoff, some mutually exclusive - and I still don't have to kick the cat.

Correct: it might be that you think it just as probable to receive the promised reward only if you do not kick the cat.

See how this intuition works?

Jesse,

But if one takes anything remotely resembling a utilitarian stance regarding animal welfare

Alright. That should be noted I suppose.

One objection to the original Wager is that probabilities of theism/the afterlife are undefined. But if you like, you can obviate this objection by phrasing the problem as a conditional, e.g. "if your probability of my actually fulfilling the terms of my promise is above 0.000001, then given your utility of animal welfare you should..."

That's another thing. I was glancing over a summary of Pascal's wager, and the impression I got - it could be wrong - was that the probabilities are left undefined. But not only that, this was in Pascal's view a feature rather than a bug. If that's correct, then 'obviating the objection' doesn't seem to reflect the original wager.

Also, why phrase it as a conditional anyway? That's not supposed to matter, if I understand you.

Do you dislike any actions?

Sure, but there are also plenty of actions I like on the whole but I don't bother to especially prioritize at the moment, but conceivably could.

This seems relevant, at least due to not every irreligious necessarily disliking what would be involved with becoming a Christian.

The point is to undergird the intuition of that very conclusion, up to the case of promises of `infinitely valuable' rewards.

Fair enough.

See how this intuition works?

Not really, since my intuition tells me this whole line of questioning is being too clever for its own good. I'm also starting to wonder if Pascal offered up this wager bolstered by decision theory, or if DT is an analysis of the wager.

Still reading and looking forward to your further replies on this of course.

Correction: I see how the math works, I believe. Intuition is giving me a different result than you, it seems.

Crude,

That's another thing. I was glancing over a summary of Pascal's wager, and the impression I got - it could be wrong - was that the probabilities are left undefined. But not only that, this was in Pascal's view a feature rather than a bug. If that's correct, then 'obviating the objection' doesn't seem to reflect the original wager.

I'm mostly interested in the formal implications. My reading of the Wager is that the probabilities are defined or at least exist (else expected utility/payoffs are irrelevant), and this is the usual reading (as done by recognized experts e.g. Hájek.) If we allow the probabilities to be undefined, then atheists need not be worried for that reason. This eventuality is also discussed in the SEP article.

Sure, but there are also plenty of actions I like on the whole but I don't bother to especially prioritize at the moment, but conceivably could.

Sure, but prioritizing itself is expressible in terms of utility. (Prioritizing is part of one's strategy.)

This seems relevant, at least due to not every irreligious necessarily disliking what would be involved with becoming a Christian.

If an atheist has no problem with becoming a Christian and is "made so that [they can] believe", there's no need for a Wager.

Still reading and looking forward to your further replies on this of course.

Thanks. I'm still soldiering on! I am enjoying your questions, challenges, and responses. Please do keep them coming! I expect that my post, which is technical, will require a lot of explaining. And I do not want to write something that cannot be explained, so I hope for your critique.

If we allow the probabilities to be undefined, then atheists need not be worried for that reason. This eventuality is also discussed in the SEP article.

The SEP entry seems unclear there, at least with regards to Pascal's own intention. It does say in part 5 that if no probability can be assigned, 'the Wager would not even get off the ground'. But that doesn't seem right, and they don't go any further. That seems to suggest 'If you have no idea of the probability, the prospect of the payoff can't factor into your decision of whether or not to commit.' That seems disputable.

Sure, but prioritizing itself is expressible in terms of utility. (Prioritizing is part of one's strategy.)

Sure, but I'm skeptical about the calculations that go into these things - in fact, I'm curious about what ground level axioms and assumptions DT works with. That's something for me to read up on.

If an atheist has no problem with becoming a Christian and is "made so that [they can] believe", there's no need for a Wager.

That doesn't seem right. Let's say a given irreligious person is on the fence between being a Christian and not being a Christian. They'd have no reluctance to any of the requirements of being a Christian, or not being a Christian. It seems they can just as easily be one or not be one. The wager itself could, at least it seems, offer a tiebreaker.

That's just one example.

Thanks. I'm still soldiering on! I am enjoying your questions, challenges, and responses. Please do keep them coming!

No prob, and no rush either.

I found this essay interesting, so I decided to respond to it on my own blog: http://www.greatplay.net/essays/global-warming-and-pascals-wager

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