Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pascal's Wager: Easy To See Through, Hard To Resist

Pretty much everyone openly admits that Pascal's wager is a lame and cynical path to religious faith. It's cynical in that it assumes God would be impressed by such a hollow kind of endorsement, and it's lame because it's so fearful, and requires no real thought to commit to. For a thorough dismantling of this cop-out, check out my friend Bridget McKinney's piece over at Greater Than Lapsed.

Even though it's pretty much dismissed publicly by anyone with even the smallest shred of sophistication, I submit that privately, it's adhered to quite often, and quite fiercely.

Hell is a scary prospect, and so is the thought of transitioning from a religious orientation to a reason-based orientation (this is particularly true for folks who are making their living in the religion business). Because we all realize that pascal's wager is bullshit, we need to trick ourselves into believing we're not subscribing to it when--in reality--we are. This turns out to be something that humans are particularly good at.

If privately we take Pascal's gambit and publicly declare that our faith is genuine, we still need to take measures to ensure that our case for belief appears feasible, or, if not feasible, then at least impenetrable. This is achieved through religious obscurantism, which is a well documented tool of the faithful.

When you hear really smart people saying very opaque things in defense of their faith, it is by design, conscious or subconscious. It allows them to keep their (conscious or subconscious) investment in pascal's wager.

So since we're all a bunch of gamblers when it gets down to it, I'd like to offer an alternative to all of the folks who publicly (and privately) take Pascal's wager. It's called 'Troxell's Wager', and it goes something like this:

If there's a god, and if that god is good, he/she is not going to send you to hell for unbelief. If there is no god and you don't believe, then you spare yourself the misery of trying to make heads and tails out of a bunch of religious bullshit during your life, and you still won't go to hell. So don't believe in god, and save yourself a lot of trouble.

I think this is as good a proposal as Pascal's, maybe even better, because it frees you up on Sundays.


the elegant ape said...

The humanist's prayer.

Every night I pray that those with large scientific grants will get open minds and those with open minds will get scientific grants...

Willie Y said...

As I have read. "We cannot choose our beliefs. We form our beliefs on the basis of evidence, not on the basis of desire."