left biblioblography: Pascal’s Ignorant Wager–All Bets Are Off!

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Pascal’s Ignorant Wager–All Bets Are Off!

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

Pascals_wagerSince a choice has to be made, let us see which is of least moment to you. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to wager, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and unhappiness. Your reason suffers no more violence in choosing one rather than another, since you must of necessity make a choice. That is one point cleared up. But what about your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss involved in wagering that God exists. Let us estimate these two probabilities; it you win, you win all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then, without hesitation, that He does exist.

Certainly, this old trope has been sufficiently dealt with on the Interwebs over the last few years, to the degree that it’s probably added to the list of PRATTs we’ve all grown to know and hate. But it helps to brush off the dust on these apologetics, if nothing else to have a quick debilitating retort to have it come crashing down.

Let’s tackle the ‘nothing’ part:

Let us estimate these two probabilities; it you win, you win all; if you lose, you lose nothing.

Well, according to Edward Gibbon (in his famous work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

… the Roman Empire succumbed to barbarian invasions in large part due to the gradual loss of civic virtue among its citizens. They had become weak, outsourcing their duty to defend their empire to barbarian mercenaries, who then became so numerous and ingrained that they were able to take over the Empire. Romans, he believed, had become effeminate, unwilling to live a tougher, "manly" military lifestyle. In addition, Gibbon argued that Christianity created a belief that a better life existed after death, which fostered an indifference to the present among Roman citizens, thus sapping their desire to sacrifice for a larger purpose. He also believed that Christianity's comparative pacifism tended to hamper the traditional Roman martial spirit. Finally, like other Enlightenment thinkers and British citizens of the age steeped in institutional anti-Catholicism, Gibbon held in contempt the Middle Ages as a priest-ridden, superstitious Dark Age. It was not until his own era, the "Age of Reason," with its emphasis on rational thought, it was believed, that human history could resume its progress.

Well, I’d say contributing to the fall of the Roman Empire is hardly ‘nothing’. And 10% of a person’s income for an entire lifetime? Some asshole in the Vatican is living high on the hog.

Next up:

Your reason suffers no more violence in choosing one rather than another.

Reason? Was he serious? Apparently he got the Cliff’s Notes version of the Crusades. Or the Inquisition for that matter.

And as for this:

You have two things to lose, the true and the good

This is subliminal presuppositionalism at its worst. It presupposes that there is actually something of worth to lose, while most of the nonsense claims there is actually no loss either way.

Now, Blaise Pascal may very well have been a premier physicist and mathematician, but (just like Isaac Newton, or Descartes), he was a result of his age. If you think there’s too much religion embedded in our culture now, imagine how bad it was in the 17th century. The big problem is that somehow religion tends to blind even brilliant people due to confirmation bias. Or as a friend of mine once eloquently stated, ‘just because you’re smart, doesn’t mean you’re not stupid’. And as history has amply demonstrated, being an expert in one field doesn’t make one an expert in others.

Now (as we are all aware), the short version of this is: “Doesn’t hurt anyone, why care?” followed by casual hand-waving.

It’s superstitious drivel, that costs more than it’s worth, helps steal money from people, and distances the mind from reality. And that’s just for starters. Usually I start with that, and wait for the reaction before going any further. Pick your battles, and all that.

Till the next post, then.

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