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Episode #031 ... Pascal's Wager

2014-08-11 | 🔗

On this episode of the podcast, we begin our discussion of Blaise Pascal by examining Pascal's Wager. We begin by hearkening back to last week's episode and imagine Pascal as Descartes' wingman in a door-to-door campaign to convince us to believe in God. Whereas Descartes tries to prove that God exists, Pascal simply argues that believing in God is the most logical choice (assuming you want to avoid eternal damnation). We then examine various arguments for and against Pascal's wager, including some submitted by our Twitter followers. All this and more on the latest episode of Philosophize This!

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
For more information about this or any episode of the podcast check out the website at philosophize, this org, we have additional content further reading transcripts of every show. All pre, of course, but if you value the shows an educational resource and you want to help keep it going, you can find not more about how to do that. At patriarch, dot com, slash philosophize this or alternatively you're buying something from Listen this week anyway. Consider clicking our banner it's at the bottom centre of the landing page philosophize, this dot, org small percentage- back to the show. It may just be a click for you, but every little bit adds up. Thank you, for Wanting to know more today than you did yesterday, and I hope you love the show so last week we visualize what it would be like if Renee CART came to your door kind of like he was a Jaho
Witness- and he tried to talk you into believing the way he does when it comes to the nature of existence. We talked about these types of conversations in general, where these people come to your door and they try to convert you, and these conversations typically go down two paths. They either try to prove the legitimacy of their ethical doctrine or they try to make you believe in God, based on where you are before the conversation starts. Now we visualize day. Cart sitting on your couch drinking your lemonade and trying to prove to you that God exists now, I thought this visual was ridiculous at the time. That's because it was, I think about it. Nobody really comes to your door in today's world and ask you what you believe you say I am not sure whether God, and then they sit you down and they start trying to rationally prove the existence of God with charts and graphs and arguments. Nobody does that today.
people born into the modern world, thrust out of our mothers into twenty fourteen? We are very familiar with this way. I think really have any I took saint ants homes, ontological argument and tried to tell somebody about it, needed You guys, learn that on the episode and then tell one of your friends and see how they respond. I'd be very surprised at their face. Wasn't utter confusion, the same sponsor give you if you told your quitting your job and you can go try out for America's got talent, and it's understandable I mean this way of proving the existence of God. It's just not used anymore. On an interpersonal level door to door, but the guy we're going to talk about today took a slightly different approach. One that's going to be much less foreign to us.
And the one that we probably all experienced, a variant of and its one that we can all way and on at some level his name was Blaise. Pascal contemporary of Renee CART. He was a french Polly, math genius, who I mean he would probably define himself as most notably two things a mathematician and a Christian and we're gonna be talking a bit about Pascal, but I want to start with what he's most commonly known for its called Pascal wager. Maybe you ve heard of it before now. It should be noted directly from the top, like we talked about last time that Descartes was setting out to prove the existence of merely this infinite. Perfect being a sort of metaphysical book and from which he could derive the rest of his rationalist philosophy, but Pascal, on the other hand, although his wager could be applied to most fates, at least of the modern monotheistic variety Pascal was trying to show that to not believe in the Christian. God was just irrational.
So very important distinction to make. Instead of trying to prove to you that on exists beyond a shadow of a doubt, Pascal recognised that we could never be one hundred percent certain of whether gods and his argument was with around around the idea that it really didn't matter the Christian God. As the most likely one that exists to Pascal during his time and setting, and he set out not to prove the existence of God. But the show that to not believe in God was just a dumb decision. Alright, to give us some perspective, and because this week it's going to be a little bit more believable, let's pretend that blaze. Pascal was another guy that came to the door with Renee De Cart. That day and after day, cart was done, trying to prove to you that God existed with all of his arguments and you weren't satisfied with him. Let's hear what blaze Pascal has to say about it and look in reality. This really isn't that far from what actually happens, Pascal's wager is one of the most common tactics at these
people used to try to convert you this door to door salesman some warmed over variant of Blaise Pascal. But look a lot has changed in who this argument is talking to since the times of Blaise Pascal right, if Blaise Pascal went door to door back in his time, he would be talking to a very different person than when he be talking to today, because of these central he's of advancements in science that people like Day Carton Pascal work facilitating during their time most people that are agnostic in today's world. Think of truth and belief in terms of evidence right We see it all the time in today's world of some random guy just came out of the work and and came up with some some brained idea idea. They had no backing for, let's say, like he said: sales was right. You guys everything in the universe is made of water. Everything. I was right all along most people. Listen to this would be like ok body want to get out of here
the world is made of water. Won't you go and do some experiments. What do you do some studies and come talk to me? when this is something other than wild speculation, come talk to me when you have some evidence to back up your claims. Well, this way of thinking naturally starts to creep its way into thoughts about God, religion and the rest of it. Belize, Pascal would be talking to an agnostic person that believes something quite different than the people back in his time and the reason why is because they would employ critical thinking, one hundred and one when somebody presents something to them, they would ask themselves well if this is true, what else must be true as a result of it there's a growing group of these modern agnostics in today's world, and this is the person that blaze Pascal, would be targeting with his argument. This is the person who was communicating with now. If you were one of these people, you would probably say to a devout Christian like Pascal, whose God claims to offer
personal salvation that if the Christian God existed, while he must be pretty smart, all knowing, if you will, God must recognise that, as someone born in modern times that there our dozens of choices to focus your spiritual efforts on, and none of them have any more credibility than the next. It really is a problem I mean there is nothing objective about them. There is nothing undeniable separating Catholicism from Islam, from Judaism from Mormonism, etc. All the adherence to these various different religions are forced to have faith that there Does the one that's actually real, while the members of all the other ones are condemned to hell now typical thing- one of these modern agnostics would say is why does it makes sense that it would be this way? They would say that if this earth that we're living on is truly just an ethical obstacle course
we're all gonna be met with temptations and struggles and relationships and base, on how we act during this very short eighty year period of our lives, if we're lucky that will deter. And where we go for olive eternity. If that is true, why does it all HE d be shrouded in mystery. Having guy Is all powerful people ask we don't know. Need to be born with zero conception of what the earth or existence is we ve. It's an purposes we could be given life in a spiritual for open. The clouds were God playing some sort of up some sort a bizarre game show where he lays everything out for you, you. Somebody our version of wheel of fortune were God, is the host, and he says you a First of all, I exist very first and foremost Jesus was my son. You're gonna be a lot of speculation down there, but no that that's the case, by the way he died for your sins. He should appreciate that. But look let's not talk about that. Now, it's all laid out in the book
in Gaza, the librarian read it. That we've gotten all that out of the way. Let's spin this giant wheel, let's find out what body are going to be programmed into you know Will it be inner city youth? Will it be a stockbroker? Maybe it's a ferris wheel, repair man that sounds fun. Let's see what you get when you spin the wheel you get sucked down into the earth and get me into a foetus and you're born with that knowledge of what this existence truly is. Now. These modern people would say why can't that be the case? Will the fact of the matter? Is it's not the case? These people use critical thinking again and they asked well. If God could choose, who's not to make the most important thing ever a mystery. In your eternal fate. Hangs in the balance, and God chooses to make it a guessing game. He certainly doesn't need to do that by any means. So why does he important only they would ask. Why is someone blindly conceit?
into a religion, more valuable to God, then someone whose presented by God with a decision and chooses to up I'd, buy the moral code laid out in the Bible. These modern agnostics would ask why does. It mean more to God when someone's born into a home, where their parents believin what might be one of the dead of religions. It could instantly send them to hell and given the fact that at any point here, remove all the mystery. Why does blind acceptance to a religion mean more to him, then reasoned acceptance if Blaise Pascal came to the door of one of these modern agnostics? This is the question that he would be faced with, Look generally speaking, this is where most of these people set, because they say well. If Christianity is true, none of the stuff makes sense to me, but I'll tell you what does makes to me humans, doing dishonest stuff humans level Jim Control over other people and me
generalizing anyone who doesn't agree with them so that they can maintain power. This is seen all throughout human history, and this is another form of it. It totally makes sense that someone that understood the benefits of having an ethical life, was just a little bit smarter than the people around him and makes sense it. He would write a book laying out on one hand a good way to act that benefit society and, on the other hand, a story about an infinitely powerful being that will punish you if you don't abide by his rules. This is a very plausible scenario even the Blaise Pascal, because in his view, that's what The other religions are false, prophets that lied to harness control over people. So blaze, Pascal, is presented with a problem. With this line of argument. He can't prove the existence of God within.
And there does seem to be a bunch of needless mystery on one end and a rational explanation on the other. But this is how brilliant Pascal was. He manages to find an argument that does an effective job of showing that, even if there is mystery, even if it shrouded in mystery, the best choice for the lay person might be to just believe now. Blaise Pascal was a mathematician. Let's start there, and because of that he often times about life in existence. In mathematical terms, he talks about how humans are. Not god. That's that's pretty evident. I we, as humans, walking around
go on about our daily lives? We don't have complete control over what happens to us. We have control over how we react to it. In fact, Pascal says at best we may calculated risks were the calculations are based on all of our prior experience in that given field, for example, what say that you wanted to start a small beer as your family's primary means of income. Now there is a very real uncertainty as to whether money is gonna becoming an enough for you to pay your bills. So, in the interests of security, you choose to not start your small business and you get a job at a big company in the city. He got up if case now, that's the kind of security you can count on it you know that paychecks come in at the end of the week right. Well, no, not exactly at any point that company could could downsize or cut costs or the Economy could tank and they would drop you in an instant make no mistake, but it certainly
It does assume less risk than starting your own business right in this way, your hedging, your bets me One of the two options are absolutely certain, but the outcome of one decision put you in a much more favourable position more times out of a hundred than the other one. So you choose it. Let's talk about another example of this you want to go on vacation to Hawaii and the only way you're gonna get to Hawaii is on a plane. The odds Are you getting to Hawaii in one piece flying on a plane are enormously favourable for you. I think it something like a like a one in ten million chance for you to die in a plane crash. Even so, I think that's a world wide statistics. So if you broke down to just the U S and Canada, which probably way better than that, but even still do you have absolute certainty that you're gonna make it there. You dont bottom line. You are hedging your bets. This decision is also a calculated risk. You
are assuming a one in ten million chance risk in order to be the type person that actually goes on vacation to Hawaii, as opposed to the type of person that, just so surrounded, Google's Maui on on a weekly basis, because you think it's beautiful like yours. Truly, I don't know if you guys could tell I related to that. But look my defense, I'm not going to? Why not, because I'm scared of flying its because it's like it's like ten thousand dollars, just the land we have these hawaiian people sleep at night. How did they sleep? tell you how they sleep in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on their little speck of Paradise, we'll go more did this on another day, but Pascal talks about how these calculated risks that we take Encompass virtual, every decision that we make on this planet every decision
that that you make every belief that you hold is a calculated risk in Pascal's view your thoughts about God, your eternal fate and the nature of existence should be no different. Now keep in mind when Pascal talks about this he's appealing to an agnostic they're a lot of these types of people in France during his lifetime. In light of all the scientific progress was being made as accrued example. If, on one end, you Christians and, on the other end you had atheists. There were several pockets in the middle of that spectrum. And one incredibly large pocket during the time of Pascal, was someone who just wasn't completely satisfied by either explanation. So, instead of trying to prove the existence of God, please Pascal asked these people to hedge their bets, like they do it
every other belief that they hold. He presents some with what is known as Pascal wager- and it goes like this. If you don't believe in God and he doesn't exist, then you die and nothing happens. You know you rotten side of a pine box until the sun explodes and a couple billion years and then you'll be down a vapor. On the other hand, if you don't believe in God and he does exist, then you just made a huge Mistake right! That's a mistake! That's gonna cost you infinitely! You are now banished to a lake of fire push Boulders up a hill, doing Satan's landscaping enough for all eternity by the way, all of eternity just fathom the idea of eternity. The bottom line is things aren't looking too good for you either way, if you don't believe in God now the other option is to believe in God Pascal says
if you believe in god- and he doesn't exist, then it's the exact same as the first one. You die and nothing happens, but if you believe in god- and he does exist, then you have an infinite amount to gain. I mean you never have to die. You get to spend all of eternity talking to people in Heaven about how right you guys were right. It's gonna be fantastic, the most common way that summarizes If you believe in god- and he doesn't exist, then you ve lost nothing, but if you believe in god- and he exists- you ve gained everything there. Or it is downright irrational, cannot believe. In God, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Not just for the record. Pascal would have never said that you have nothing to lose a suggest. The common summary the peace
today. You obviously have a lot to lose about every Sunday morning for the rest of your life. How about ten percent of your income? How about being an autonomous adult with the ability to choose an ethical system that yields the life you want for yourself and your family and the list goes on right. Pascal, would have never said that you have nothing to lose. He would say that what you have to lose is finite you have to lose is all those things I just said and more, but when it comes down to it losing something finite and standing to gain something infinite, and we can see his logic here. But the slight changing of the wording. It becomes a very compelling argument. Actually we probably all heard this argument in some form or another. In my experience, most common variant of it in today's world. Is somebody asking you what, if you're wrong about
you believe. You know if you're an agnostic person or you're an atheist, a believer in God might ask what, if you're wrong, then what let's talk about some of the most famous rebuttals to Pascal's wager. I asked on Twitter this week for people to give me their favorites and a lot of them aligned with some of the most popular ones. Chris Bush at Sea Bush on Twitter said that quote either. I believe Or I don't it's not a matter of choice. Belief has a certain irresistibly about. This has to be one of those common ones. In its very true we let's say that everything Pascal said is true and I'm an agnostic, even if he shows me how impractical it is to not believe in God, Can you really make a conscious choice to believe in something what Pascal said that you should believe in Santa Claus, because you have a stocking full of presence to gain and nothing to lose,
could you just all of a sudden, decide to believe in Santa. You can pretend to believe in something you can t yourself, something over and over again trying to brainwash yourself into believing something, but when you truly believe something it's beyond choice, you just believe it Pascal wager doesn't address any of the things that caused the doubt in the agnostics mind in the first place to another one Jonathan De Angela at future, underscore Jonathan on Twitter said that quote how about the biggest flaw that it proves supposes a selection of the correct. God quote: I'm not sure that this is shining light on a flaw in the argument itself, but it does underscore the fact that Pascal's wager could just as easily be used to justify belief in the existence of some other God Allah Zeus, I mean it could be any Guy Tom Cruise Tom Cruise
we got. The significance of this is that many of these religions are incompatible at the most fundamental level. I mean, if you believe, in war, And another one ends up being correct: you burn in hell for all of eternity, so the thinking is Pascal paints. This picture, as though a belief based on this criteria alone might yield. Infinite gain when it might also yield infinite loss. This doesn't destroy Pascal wager, but it's something interesting to think about throughout the week. Let's talk about the other side and what advocates of Pascal wager would say. Now the typical places conversation goes is that they start talking about exactly what is it that you stand to lose by believing in God and living your life is a non believer. You know they're talking about that one part of Pascal Wager that presents a downside to believing in God he says that, if you believe in god- and he doesn't exist, then you ve lost nothing.
Or you ve lost a finite amount. Will there are a lot of people who would say that losing their finite amount. Actually, losing a lot and the other side's as really really really are you losing a lot? They say: what's the alternative to living a christian life, you live a heat and MR life were pleasure, is the highest good being a Christian requires sacrifice, no doubt about that, but by not sacrificing by just eating whatever you want all the time having sex with whoever you want living a godless life. Hell bent on attaining pleasure is that lifestyle really better me? Usually those types of people end up with terrible relationships and they have health problems and they have a lot the priorities and they dont have a sense of purpose and are scare all the time. If that is the finite thing that you stand to lose, is it really worth clinging onto I'd really losing that much is what they're saying.
I've heard this argument from probably fifty different people in my lifetime and spits absolutely fascinating that these people parrot this line of thinking mean they must have success with it or they wouldn't have said it to me right. Maybe I was the first person that came to. I wonder what type of person see the obvious fallacy in it. What's the alternative to living a christian life leading a hedonistic life right no way, why is that necessarily the case? What they did is create a false dichotomy. Why is the only alternative to a belief? In the christian God, a life of hedonism were pleasure, is the highest good look. Hedonism is an ethical doctrine, just like the one laid out in the Bible to these. People really think that there are two ethical doctrines that exist in the history of man, hedonism and christian ethics. Now there were hundreds, if not thousands of mean really each person
can be said to have their own ethical doctrine. And let's talk for a second about what one of these modern agnostics would say about ethics and general, nothing is intrinsically good or bad, a system of what's right and wrong, or good or bad. What everybody calls a system of ethics is only possible if there is an end goal attached to it. Now the end goal for Christianity and hedonism is very easy to see and if you look at any other ethical doctrine, it's easy to see too. There is an ideal life that we want for ourselves and then a system of behaviors to follow that will yield that outcome Let's say you assign the ultimate goal of your life has to have the most meaningful, deep, trusting relationships possible kind of an odd end goal, but for the sake of commerce,
what sort of behaviors yield that outcome for you. You certainly need to be honest. To have that you certainly need to be Temperat. You need to exercise self control, etc. What one of these modern agnostic people would say is that the is two things. This is what these people believe on one hand, the Bible is a beautiful ethical doctrine. It is an ethical doctrine that Usher in an age of egalitarian, green ism in the world. It's an ethical doctrine that they largely follow whether willingly or not, because it does yield a life desired by many people in this world. On the other hand, they would say the by Who is a story that is used to get people to follow that ethical doctrine, the positive benefits afforded by car strains that someone making this argument would contrast with the life of hedonism are a by product of following solid system of behaviors, not a belief in God. That's the argument that the other side would make. They would argue that every
A human being on planet earth could follow these system of behaviors laid out in the Bible and they would see only positive effects in their life. The difference would be A believer would look at these positive effects, manifesting themselves and their life, and they would see them as a supernatural God reaching his hand down, and he got them that job that they just apply for. That's God rewarding me and the a person, would see it as the natural byproduct of being a virtuous person. People want to give honest, patient, temperance, courageous people, jobs, that's the reason I got the job and look really. The only alternative to Christianity is hedonism, a way of thinking that widely denounced by almost every philosopher, that's ever created a system of ethics. Forget about that. Hedonism is a straw man, in this case too, go easy target to attack. When in reality there are hundreds of systems to choose from so what's it say,
for somebody arguing the other side while autonomy, the ability to choose the end goal of their life and, while inevitably much of their purse, No ethical doctrine may overlap with the one laid out and Christianity. The belief in God to these people really has nothing to do with it. Real quick, some other arguments against Pascal Wager one is that he pigeon holes the possibilities that can come after death. This is a very popular one. For example, couldn't you be an atheist and still haven't after life? some spiritual form. Why are we relegating what all of the potential possibilities could be for an afterlife down to just these two options? Why is that fair? One other argument against it is at the basis for the argument is that you're taking the best calculated risk, Possum
But because of the fact that there have been so many gods already proposed my man in various civilizations throughout history, thousands of them all of those gods make it kind of unlikely, a minuscule chance that this single Christian God is the one that actually exists but it should be said that the other side would argue that probability is equal. Is minuscule as all the other ones. It's not like any other religion. Has it more correct by any means? One of their common criticism is that it's God is an infinitely perfect and therefore infinitely just being. Why would he condemn a person to hell if they follow his system of ethics, but just can't bring themselves to believe in him? You know why is believing so important to God. Doesn't that make him an unjust god
Now this is a good question in itself, one that we might just talk about in future episodes, but really doesn't do anything to Pascal argument and its easily explained by most holy books. It's a common thing that people ask look when it comes down to it. Pascal wager has been look. It's been run through the ringer. It's been heavily commented on over centuries by great thinkers, there's a lot of fire power that can go up against it living in two thousand fourteen, but make no mistake. Trust me on this Blaise Pascal is one of the most astoundingly brilliant figures in the history of philosophy and next week we're gonna talk about the famous paradoxically laid out, but I guarantee that everybody listening or relate to immensely. Thank you for listening I'll talk to you, so you can follow me on Twitter. At I am Stephen West. You can join it The discussion on Facebook. We find me
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Transcript generated on 2020-09-30.