Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pascal's Wager: A Pseudo Bet (On Integrity)

One of the most annoying features of net religious debates (such as I've encountered on the AARP message boards) is religious believers who think they're being clever by tossing out the "Pascal's wager" gambit. As I dismiss each and every such entreaty made, those who embrace the traditional form of “Pascal’s Wager,” assume I am merely being an obstinate idiot.

What have you got to lose?” they ask. “If you believe you lose nothing in this wager. If you’re wrong and there is no God after all, so what? All you forfeit is your pride. But if you don’t believe, you stand to lose everything!”

But let's examine that assumption more closely.

The fact is that Pascal’s wager is a false proposition. A false dichotomy. What Christians who invoke it are demonstrating is their own desperation and paucity of logical or rational arguments. They're making the proposition that it is more important to choose “safety” via an afterlife insurance policy, than personal integrity. In other words, the integrity of non-belief – sincerely held – amounts to nothing compared to a belief held in bad-faith, only to save my presumed heinie of a “soul”. (which no Christian I've ever debated has yet explicated or shown to even have a proper operational definition).

Apart from this, what does that say about the presumed Christian deity? That it would accept a craven human’s false belief (to save his or her eternal ass) over a courageous atheist’s integrity? If indeed it does so (as the Christian debaters imply) it is nothing but a mere cosmic joke, a petty tyrant too insecure in its being to tolerate unbelief. Yet it would accept a “yes man” in a nano-second!

Pascal's wager is bunk because Pascal rigged the medieval dice and weighted them -or loaded them- in his favor to make the 'wager' come out the way he wanted. This has been pointed out by many authors (e.g. George Smith, Michael Martin). The most direct way to rout the wager is to attack its basis. In the normative wager the scalawag, turn tail coward who cops a belief to save his hide is okay. (After all, neither Pascal nor his defenders take care to parse the motives of the bettor. They could be the most loathsome or selfish- to merely make a quick bet to save his hide, not that he loves the God he professes a belief in to save him)

A true reckoning of the Wager, as Michael Martin has shown (Atheism : A Philosophical Justification'), would take into account the sincerity of the bettor. If then this deity is honestly and truly GOOD- it will reckon the sincerity of one's UNBELIEF as a higher standard of ethics than professed belief to save a soul -hide (or win a bet, as it were). If the deity being appealed to (and whose eternal largesse is bet on) is instead unphased by sincerity of the unbeliever- it is possible to argue that it is no deity that any sincere intellect would wish to spend a nanosecond with - far less an eternity. In addition, it would be even more noxious since it obviously favors a cabal of "yes men" to sincere intellectual unbelievers.

But the abominable Hell mental psychosis (which I will deal with in a future blog) has so infected and polluted the minds of the "faithful" that they can't see beyond the falsity of the Wager's proposition.

This brings up several interesting questions pertaining to winning the wager:

i) What are the necessary conditions for winning Pascal's wager?

ii) What are the sufficient conditions for winning Pascal's wager?

iii) If they are different - then why? If they are not different- then why?

Why are these important? Well, if one refuses to explicate them then better, superior thinkers than Pascal may come up with their own! After all, NO intellectual adjudication standards have been implemented.

For example, Philosopher Michael Martin actually turns the originally proferred Pascalian choice on its head in arriving at an alternative view of the Wager, based on a negative deity he calls the “Perverse Master” which (he imagines) acts in consistent contradiction to the “just God” of orthodox Christians[1]. For example, rather than rewarding belief or faith in itself, especially if such belief is predicated on fear of torment, this entity punishes it for any supernatural being (including itself) while rewarding disbelief with eternal bliss. (Clearly this “PM” prefers not to have millions of “yes men” surrounding it, who’ve only espoused belief to save their sorry hides!)

In presenting a three-option truth table (based on probabilities, e.g. p1, p2 and p3) for the Wager, Martin is correct in observing that the problem with Pascal’s original version is there are other variants that he didn’t consider. None of those variants is ruled out a priori by Martin since, in the absence of irrefutable evidence for any one (or at least the necessary and sufficient conditions) , all others have at least a finite probability. So it is with the “Perverse Master.”

Martin’s truth table ends up as a 3 x 3 matrix that carries within each ‘cell’ a choice resulting from the product of the individual probability and the consequence. The choices include: belief in the Perverse Master, belief in the traditional Judaeo-Christian God and belief in neither. Personally, however, I find even this a bit too simplified. I also dislike the term “Perverse Master” as well as its logical foundation. Surely, any entity for which insincere belief amounted to a slight would also punish sincere unbelief. I therefore think a better term is “Demiurge,” or a demi-god that actually recognizes human sin and won’t hesitate to inflict its version of justice for sin[2]. Toward the task of constructing a more faithful Pascal-type truth table, let’s refer to it as DG for Demiurgic god(which is also semi-demonic, as I noted in a past blog).

Next there is the Socinian deity, which is limited by never knowing more than the most advanced consciousness existing in the universe at one time. If limited in consciousness, the Socinian deity will also make errors. Physicist Freeman Dyson describes this entity almost like a child[3]:

The main tenet of the Socinian heresy is that God is neither omniscient or omnipotent. He learns and grows as the universe unfolds”.

Dyson adds that the beauty of adopting this construct is that it “leaves room at the top for diversity(ibid.) As this entity “grows to fill the universe” it becomes as much a “diversifier” as a unifying force. Let’s refer to this entity as SG. (It should not be confused with DG)

Next, we have the pantheistic and impersonal (but infinite- via- the –vacuum) entity proposed by David Bohm and others: the Holomovement, or perhaps “Universal Mind.” This entity neither judges nor is separate from its creation, since it must be imbued within its very fabric So call this HG.Finally, there’s the possibility of no deity existing at all, so NG. We can set up the table as shown in Fig. 1.

Here, DG is closest to Pascal’s classical Christian version of God, though the options of SG (Socinus’ God) or HG (Holomovement) could mark novel entries. The reason for introducing the latter is that infinite power, omniscience etc. simply doesn’t square with what’s actually observed in the domain of Terra Firma. Each small “p” represents a low, finite probability. Each capital “P” represents a high finite probability. The designation “P/2” denotes somewhere in between, perhaps the ‘median’ of probabilities between p and P.

Now, if we regard the table globally, we see at a glance that the infinite utility and disutility (for DG) cancels out. In the same manner, the high and low probabilities (for SG and HG, respectively) cancel out, or essentially so. The (±) expectations for NG (“No God”) reflect that a negative disutility with negative finite probability (- P/2) attaches to having a belief in no God. Meanwhile, (+ P/2) with positive utility and positive, finite probability is attached to disbelief or withholding belief in a deity. (For reasons that have already been discussed in earlier blogs, e.g. that the theist is the one making a claim that effectively adds to reality, the atheist merely passively responds by withholding investment of his intellectual resources.)

When all is said and done, four positive expected values (including one infinity= oo) cancel four negative ones (including one negative infinity = -00), leaving only null expectation values or zeros. This not only refutes Pascal’s traditional wager, but also the basis for a Wager belief in any other halfway credible deities!

From these expectation results we conclude the atheist is on very firm logical grounds for his disbelief, and making the traditional Pascal Wager is knuckle-headed and a waste of time. It merely discloses that the Christian’s “mark” hasn’t done his or her full set of homework!

[1] Martin, Michael: 1990: “The Wager Refuted,” in: Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, Temple University Press, p. 232.

[2] See, for example, Elaine Pagels’ explanation in her book, The Gnostic Gospels, p. 37, wherein demiurgos is a lesser divine being who gives the law and metes out judgments to those who violate it. Obviously, demiurgos is a primitiv concept for a preliterate people or culture.

[3] Freeman Dyson: Infinite in All Directions, Harper & Row, p. 119.

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