||Philosophy 102: Introduction to
Abstract: Since Pascal does not think a sound argument can be given for God's existence, he proposes a persuasive consideration.
1. On what basis does Pascal argue that we can't know God's
God is so completely different from us that there is no way for us to comprehend him.
We can know that He is, but
Ordinary human descriptions are futile and paradoxical when applied beyond the bounds of everyday application when we say God is all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing. These predicates are beyond our experience.
Pascal does not think that the atheist or the believer would be convinced by his argument. Instead, he directs the Wager to the curious and unconvinced.
I have a choice: either first I believe God exists or second I do not believe God exists.
First, if I believe God exists, and God in fact does exist, then I will gain infinite happiness. However, if I believe God exists, and God in fact does not exist, then I will have no payoff.
Second, if I do not believe God exists, and God in fact does exist, then I will gain infinite pain. However, if I believe God does not exist, and God in fact does not exist, then I will have no payoff.
Thus, I have everything to gain and nothing to lose by believing in God, and I have everything to lose and nothing to gain by not believing in God. On these grounds, one would be foolish not to believe.
Two main objections are often raised to Pascal's Wager.
(1) To believe in God simply for the payoff is the wrong motive for belief. Such self-seeking individuals would not properly serve the Deity.
(2) In order to be sure of a payoff, an individual would not know which God or gods to believe in to cover the conditions of the wager. Would the Wager also hold for Zeus, Odin, or Mithra? One would have to believe in all gods to be sure, but if there were only one God in fact, then this strategy would defeat itself.
We come to have faith in God by "acting as if you believed." We, in effect, change our attitude, not our reason.
Like Tolstoy would write much later, we learn from those who believe and become like them. As a result of the Wager, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain
By rational decision theory, one can calculate the expected return of a payoff. Suppose I wonder whether I should enter the Family Publisher's Sweepstakes with a payoff of 20 million dollars. I look in the fine print and see that the chance of winning the payoff is 1 in 450 million. I can calculate my "expected" return by doing a thought-experiment. Suppose I enter the contest an indefinite number of times; I will win on the average the amount calculated by the following formula:
so I do the math ...
Obviously, if I return by mail my entry I will lose money because of the cost of the stamp, my time spent, and the shoe leather used on the way to the post office.
With God's promise of an afterlife, however, the payoff is so large that the expected return makes it almost irrational not to believe, even if the probability were low. Even so, there is no certainty there would be a payoff.
The everyday beliefs we act on are the things we believe the strongest. We never bother to prove these beliefs. We do not try to prove the existence of the external world, that the sun will rise tomorrow, that the floor will remain under our feet, or that we are awake.
It is little matter that we can, or cannot, prove these beliefs, so likewise, it is little matter that we prove God's existence. We simply assume life will go on, without proof; otherwise, it would be disastrous to our everyday existence if we were occupied with proving these ordinary things.
Human beings live not by reason alone. Without heart, feeling, emotion, life would lose its value. Our uniqueness as a species might be the ability to think, but let not that blind ourselves to the fact that our whole value individually or as a group is not in reason alone.
Howard Raiffa, Decisional Analysis: Introductory Lectures on Choices under Uncertainty, Addison-Wesley, 1970.
J. D. Williams, The Compleat Strategyst being a primer on the theory of games of strategy, McGraw-Hill, 1954.