Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pascal's Wager

Blaise Pascal was a really, really smart mathematician and Christian philosopher.  One of the things he came up with was this "wager" regarding putting your faith in the God of the bible.

The wager goes like this.  Let's say you don't know whether the God of the bible exists or not.  But you do know that belief in him results in eternal reward, although it would also require you to sacrifice as well.  So you give up some things, like pursuit of pleasure, wealth, power, etc., in order to have an infinite payoff.  In this way of thinking about it, Pascal's Wager is just that: a wager.  What are you putting into your bet?  What do you stand to win if you hit the jackpot?  If someone asked you to take a bet like that, would you do it?

This is more like a cost-benefit analysis than an actual reason to believe in God.  I could say that you will inherit eternal reward if you believe in the "flying spaghetti monster," but you would have to sacrifice $100 dollars to the church of the flying spaghetti monster in an indulgence.  You give up little, and gain an infinite reward.  But that says nothing about my truth claim that this monster is real.

So it seems that this "wager" doesn't mean much all by itself.  So does it have any utility at all?  I think so, if you use it in conjunction with other arguments.  But first, we'll dig deeper into putting such a wager into a more every-day context.