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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pascal's Wager

You're probably familiar with this. Pascal, mathematician and philosopher, believed that it is best to behave as if there is a God, since if you do not believe, you stand to lose everything should you not believe in God, and you gain everything if you believe. The favorable odds, for Pascal, was to believe.

Richard Dawkins, in "The God Delusion" makes interesting arguments against Pascal's conclusions.

1.Can you decide to believe something as a matter of policy? Hey, it "makes sense"?
If you happen to be Ayn Rand, or Ex-Android, it makes perfect sense not to believe in God. Any behavior on Ms Rand's part, therefore, could not be based on actual belief, but on a statistical probability that it is best in the long run to believe there is a God and behave accordingly.

2.If God is all knowing(omniscient), he's going to know whether or not you truly believe, or whether you're "covering your ass". He might not be happy if you truly do not believe.

3. What if you believe in the wrong God? After all, if we DO make a decision to believe in God, we're assuming that the God we choose is THE God, the one that counts, but what if we're wrong? Then we stand to lose everything by believing.

If we follow Pascal's reasoning, therefore, we must conclude that we are choosing the correct God to believe in, and that God is not concerned with the reasons for our believing, and that we can arrive at correct conclusions as to how we should organize socially in obedience to God.

Think about it. Every choice we make must be based on assumptions that we cannot prove, and since the whole process is based on a statistical probability, we would tend to conclude that "God" is represented by the largest number of people who organize according to a certain process.

Basically, by following Pascal's wager, we have based our entire faith on what is essentially a house of mirrors. "All these people can't be wrong".

But what if they are wrong? By believing, we still cover our bets. So what if there's over 38,000 versions of Christianity? The important thing is to BELIEVE!

See what Eric Hoffer says about this in "The True Believer":

"He who, like Pascal, finds precise reasons for the effectiveness of Christian doctrine has also found the reasons for the effectiveness of Communist, Nazi, and nationalist doctrine. However different the holy causes people die for, they perhaps die basically for the same thing".

In other words, if belief is the only requirement and truth has no value, then it becomes possible to act in any fashion toward our neighbors, as long as we find justification in the rules that make us "special".

And what makes us "special"? Those who believe as we do. What we have done is to multiply ignorance based on statistical probability.

Hoffer refers to this as "estrangement from the self" or renouncing the self. We find our truth in the number of those who behave and believe as we do, and we find our truth from our ability to "convert" others. As Hoffer writes:

"When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom--freedom to hate, bully lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse....The hatred and cruelty which have their source in selfishness are ineffectual things compared with the venom and ruthlessness born of selflessness.
"When we see the bloodshed, terror, and destruction born of such generous enthusiasms as the love of God, love of Christ, love of a nation, compassion for the oppressed and so on, we usually blame this shameful perversion on a cynical, power-hungry leadership. Actually, it is the unification set in motion by these enthusiasms, rather than the manipulations of a scheming leadership, that transmutes noble impulses into a reality of hatred and violence. The deindividualization which is a prerequisite for thorough integration and selfless dedication is also, to a considerable extent, a process of dehumanization. The torture chamber is a corporate institution".

Pascal's wager, by reducing everything to "covering your bets", places emphasis on group survival and even the necessity to sacrifice oneself for the "greater good", and with no proof that our sacrifice served any purpose other than a majority assumption based on ignorance.

The natural human tendency, when we believe in anything greater than ourselves, is to assume that that "greater" something must somehow be know by a process of organization, a process of thought that transcends us as individuals. If we believe our "salvation" lies in collective belief in Christianity, we will see it as our duty to either covert, condemn, or destroy those who believe otherwise. The same would follow for Naziism, Communism, or any form of nationalism.

The belief in truth actually demands what seems to be a contradiction to the normal process of reason. The belief in truth CANNOT be equivalent to "estrangement from self", but actually the acceptance of the self, as an individual, as a moral agent, as a person with the right to challenge the majority.

I pointed out earlier that if you can perfectly define "God", then that very definition can ultimately be programmed into a computer, so that there is no humanly definable difference between "God" and the computer we have programmed.

You might instantly object, "Of course there is a difference between God and a computer". Here's the problem: once you can define that difference, the difference itself can be programmed into the computer! But it is impossible to ever define all the differences between "God" and a computer, therefore, no computer can ever be the same as "God".

If that is true, then we must conclude the same thing for any religion, government, or any concept of humankind that attempts to represent God! The more you attempt to define God within any human concept, the more differences you will discover among your own selves!

You will logically end up with over 38,000 versions of Christianity, and the number increases every day!

Here is the point: whether you believe in God or don;t believe in God, you are merely choosing a concept in which to believe, and whatever concept you believe, however sharp or accurate, will STILL end up in an even greater number of ideas.

Even Ayn Rand was not invulnerable. her philosophy has branched into similar but disagreeing philosophies, with the Murray Rothbard branch, the "beltway libertarian" branch, the anarchist branch, the Christian libertarian branch, etc..

We are left, therefore, with the same conclusions as in Romans 8:7, Matthew 10:34-38, and 2 Peter 2:19, and of course Matthew 24:23.

In the search for truth, or for God, assuming God is truth(and why would you choose a God who is not truth?), there is one, AND ONLY ONE, correct choice you can ever make: be free from men. Follow no man, choose to accept all others as equal to you, and yourself as equal to all others.

Whether you believe in "God" or not, you have that one correct choice. All others are false.


Byker Bob said...

In a personal relationship with
God, you invite Him into your life, and then watch the transformation take place in your heart. This provides a personalized evidentiary trail, and sidesteps Pascal.

One such evidentiary trail which others might enjoy or wish to investigate is that of Christian and actor Stephen Baldwin, who shared his experiences via the book: "An Unusual Suspect". I read it about a year after I began seeking God in my life, and Stephen's experiences are very similar to my own. The Baldwin family was never part of WCG, so I think this could be a good, untainted, resource.


Ralph said...

Without treying to provoke, what transformation takes place that woud not be evident simply by the application of logic and reason?

Corky said...

Well, if you seek God, invite God, etc. Guess what happens?

Voilà - you find God!

If you invite a spirit into your life - voilà, there it is.

It's works just like magic because, first of all, you have to already believe in God to seek God. You have to already know there is a God to invite God into your life.

That's why it works so well.

I've tried doing the same as Bob is asking people to do but it doesn't work for me because I'm not starting from a premise that God actually exists.

Pascal's Wager:
If someone says that there is a bridge from San Diego to Honolulu, should I act as if it is true, just in case it really does exist? I don't think so!

And a God is much more improbable than a bridge from California to Hawaii.

Ex-Android said...

1. Pascal's Wager has been logically quashed online.

2. Corky is right--seek a god and you will find the god you seek. The god-seekers are always after confirmation, no matter how weak the evidence may be.

Ralph said...

I hope you guys do the guest editing thing.

Byker Bob said...

Ralph, I'll try to answer your question regarding transformation by sharing some personal experiences.

My ex-brother in law from my second marriage has been a lifelong friend. He's also a recovering alcoholic. Early into his program, he shared that there was such a thing as a "dry drunk".
This is a person who no longer drinks, but still thinks as a drunk does. He's not tuned into the higher power suggested by the Big Book, and is not taking steps to repair his life. In fact, now that I remember, Stevie Ray Vaughan also had such a friend that I read about a number of years ago. And, Stevie related the same basic experience. Stevie himself had taken the program very seriously, and obtained deep healing. Eventually, his friend Doyle, Sr. did as well.

The problem with being a dry drunk is that recovery is never as complete as it can be with the renewed thinking processes that benefit the person who works a program, one that involves that higher power. It is fragile, instead, and susceptible to derailment.

We speak a lot about healing and recovery on these WCG related sites, only it is healing from spiritual rape rather than addiction. Of course, that spiritual rape has lead a percentage of ex-WCG members to addictive activities, and even suicide, but that's another topic.

I did not just sit on my thumbs during my agnostic years. My philosophical studies continued. I underwent hypnotherapy at one point, and avidly read many self-help and self-improvement books. But, through them, I never obtained the deep down soul-level healing which I was seeking. I'm not an addictive personality myself, but the pleasures of wine, women, and song never brought me the happiness that I felt fulfilled members of the human species should enjoy. Though I had excellent raw materials with which to work, my marriages were not what they could have been, nor was my relationship with my children, employers, friends, or family.

Over the past ten years on forums and blogs, I've watched as some do finally obtain healing, and others just never seem to make any progress. Some are as angry and bitter today as they were when I first read their sharings ten years ago. That's both tragic, and heartbreaking!

I also observed others who have become about as happy as Franz Kafka, or some of the existentialist characters about whom we read. And, that, imo, is where logic and reason alone can take one. That may be good enough for some with a Mr. Spock type personality, but not for a passionate Celtic type such as me.

I don't know why the things which happened to me happened over the past several years. I've kind of been blindsided by it all. But, I do know that much of the ego, rage, violence, desire to administer paybacks, jealousy, suspicion, and other assorted piss and vinegar have been drained from me in ways that logic and reason were unable to accomplish over a period of thirty years.

These days, I'm much more concerned about forming, repairing, and preserving relationships. Other changes include a very real desire to communicate with God, and to read His word. As an atheist/agnostic of course I used to be instantly repelled by the very thought of such things. In addition to that, my mind began playing the tapes from virtually every era of my life, and believe me, I've got an incredible memory. You talk about a watershed moment or process! I began to realize in a very real way precisely what I'd done wrong, how I'd perpetuated some very bad cycles, and basically to see and understand what Jesus would have done had He been faced with similar situations. It gave a whole new meaning to the term repentence.

I would be inclined to agree that logic and reason are excellent tools. Certainly a person who has these skills is better off from the person who does not. But, they just don't take one deep enough, and sooner or later they begin to run noticeably thin.

BTW, you're doing just fine with the guest editing.


Ralph said...

Thanks, BB. You mention the Spock personality. My father was of strong german descent, trained as an engineer, and very Spock-like. My mother was of Scotch-irish descent. I have that detached quality like my father, but once my mind is made up, I'll argue with a No U-Turn sign like my mother.

We can reason and use logic, but in ythe end, we are also social animals. We need fellowship, we need love, empathy, compassion.

There must be a balance, but not by sacrificing our whole selves to the need for love and sharing.

Finding the balance is real work.

I found that involvement in local community theater served to fulfill my community and social needs. I would resommend that to others who dont want to go the "christian" route, and have trouble finding community activities. Local theater allows for individual creativity and communal belonging.

Byker Bob said...

Interesting. I've often considered theatre, myself. I get my secular social jollies through bowling every Wednesday night, and vintage vehicle get togethers.


Ralph said...

BB we got a "hot nights and cool rides" evening here locally, with classic and vintage cars and bikes.

We even have a car museum that a retired dentist got started. It's really nice, but I have to say I've only seen the pictures, not the actual museum.