Sunday, June 14, 2009

Another Defense Of The Wager

Well said:

Most atheists love to point out that Pascal's wager is flawed.

But, I think they are overlooking something, or worse, being intellectually dishonest in their approach to looking at the wager. Also, when I debunk the fact that it is flawed, then the normal cop-out is to move the goal posts by saying something to the effect of: "Gee, do you really think God would want people to believe in him out of fear of going to hell?" or "Do you think God wants us to gamble on the best religion?" Which is a whole other issue. The point with the wager is that sometimes you have to overcome intellectual barriers that keep people from looking farther into the idea that God exists.

Certainly no one should believe in God so as to obtain a form of fire insurance. But like I alluded to above, the wager opens the mind to accept the fact that belief in God is just as logical, if not more logical than non-belief, or even disbelief.

The reason most atheists point to, in order to dismiss the wager, is they claim there are more than just two choices. (a.k.a. False dilemma). But what they are doing is sort of sneaky and subtle, but it is there none-the-less. They are pretending to view the wager as if they are a theist. But they are not. They are borrowing our theistic paradigm, in order to dismiss the analogy.

Because if you are an atheist, then it is silly to say "how do I know if God is the right one, what if zeus is right, or what if the pink fairy god is the right one.." because you lack belief in all of them, why would you suddenly pretend to believe in the plausability of many just because someone mentions one of them?

I guess if we were trying to get you to play the lottery. And you said "I don't believe any number combo will win, I think it's fixed." and we said, hey, pick these 6 numbers. And you were like, 'why these six numbers?' why not this other set of numbers or this other set?

But earlier you said you didn't think any set would win, so why are you lobbying for some other set? If you think the game is rigged, then simply say "nope, I don't believe your set of numbers will win, nor any other." My set of 6 numbers should rest on their own merit. They should not be compared to another set of numbers that you've already pre-determined cannot win.

If it still doesn't make sense, then follow this schematic:

1. YOU: "I don't think any set of 6 numbers will result in me winning this lottery."

2. ME: Here, try this set. I believe it will work for you. This is the winning set of numbers for you.

3. YOU: "But how do I know that this other set right here won't win for me? Or this one?"

4. ME: Because in #1, you said you don't believe any set of 6 numbers will win for you. Are you back pedaling so soon?

So if #3 is correct, and you think that some other set may win for you, then #1 was dishonest, or you have since changed your mind and are no longer a strong atheist concerning this lottery.

But if #1 is correct, then #3 is dishonest and misleading.
a.k.a. Red Herring

Some have said that the reason for the momentary 'false' paradigm shift is to make use of the reductio ad absurdum argument, where a hypothesis is assumed for the sake of argument only, and refuted afterwards by showing that it would have absurd consequences.

But even if that were true, the odds are still better to wager on the God of the Bible.

If you make no wager what-so-ever, then you automatically lose. However, if you at least wager on one god then you have a chance. And you can increase those odds by going with the God of the Bible since He is recognized by the big 3 religions in the world. Billions of people. This is one case where you can appeal to the masses. If you have ever participated in paramutual wagering, you will usually see which horse or which dog has the best chance of winning just based on the fact that 70% of the people are picking that horse/dog. Maybe they know something, maybe they are just being lemmings. But you certainly don't want to wager on the mutt with a gimp leg. That's what all these other 'gods' are. Mutts compared to God.

And still others say, well what if there were a conceivable god who would reward the unbeliever and punish the heretic?

Number one, this is borderline solipsism. Descartes said "How do we know we are not dreaming?" This has been viewed by most intellegent thinkers as an absurd way to think.

What if worms had machine guns. Analysis paralysis. Do nothingism.

If your wager is to not wager, in the hopes/belief that there is a god that will reward your unbelief in any gods, then are you still an atheist? You are allowing a deity to determine your beliefs, and you cannot do that unless you believe he actually exists. If you are abstaining because he MIGHT exist, then you are making a wager on a dog with a gimp leg. There are better choices to 'maybe' with. Jehovah is the best one.

The way I picture the scene is you and I standing in a coliseum, and we have heard rumors that the Emporer wants us to battle the lions, but we have not heard from him directly. There are several items laying on the ground in front of us, and the doors to the lions cages have not opened yet. On the ground there are two 3 foot long sticks, and two very small knives with 3" blades, and rumor has it that if you run over to the far side of the stadium and stand next to the bannister by the lion's cage, someone will slip you a weapon from the stands, but it is unknown if this is true, or even what kind of weapon you'd get. So now I survey the weapons and look at the crowd and determine that it is probably true that there is going to be a lion fight today, but I don't know for a fact. Regardless, I choose the best weapon that I think will give me the best shot, the small knife. If I start getting mauled I plan on using it to try to stab his eye or try to get at his brain somehow, or jab it's throat.

You on the other hand survey the scene and believe that there is no reason to believe the rumor. And, you add that even if there was, how do we know the stick will help us win? or the knife? and you go about pointing out the inadequacies of each item. You decide "Well, even if there is a lion match, I believe that the emporer will save me, even if I do not choose to fight, or select a weapon. Then I say, well why don't you grab this other knife just in case? And you say "how do we know the weapon I might get over at the bannister won't be better?" And I say "ok fine, go see." And you say "Why? I don't believe there is going to be a match." and then you add "Besides, how do we know that this isn't a test, and he will reward the one that doesn't fight? How do you know that some spring loaded walls won't shoot up all around us at the very last second, protecting us, and the fellow holding a weapon loses? Maybe he will reward my bravery?"

This is why I said it is solipsism, it's the same as asking how we know we are not part of someone else's dream. I mean I suppose anything's possible. But do you live the other aspects of your daily life thinking like a solipsist?



Sleeping Beastly said...

Really, the best argument against Pascal's Wager is that it isn't an argument. It is, as the author of the piece states, a good reason for looking at actual theistic arguments. But it is not such an argument in and of itself.

Matteo said...

I agree. But most of the atheists I've seen who talk about it treat it as if it were an argument. In this they are wrong. It's really an exhortation to not be a total dick about the whole question. But they don't see this. When they say "Pascal's Wager has been refuted!" I just have to laugh. It is not something subject to refutation, and indeed, their attitude of thinking that it *is* serves as an illustration of the very attitude the Wager tries to protect against.

Given that, I'd disagree with you a bit and say that the best argument FOR Pascal's Wager is that it isn't an argument.