Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pascal's Wager Part 3

Last time, I discussed the odds on Pascal's wager from a Vegas standpoint.  Because you stand to gain so much while risking so little, even if the odds on the bible being true are only moderately good, then that's a good bet to take!

However, the problem with this line of reasoning is that you are assuming people would take a bet that essentially requires them to alter their life.  In general, I think the economist would say this is not true.  Of course, I am not an economist, so I might be going out on a limb, but this makes sense to me.

With Pascal's wager, no matter how good the cost/benefit/odds/payoff analysis might be, you only get one shot. By the time the wager is over, you can't just dip back into your pool of money and ante up again.  This prospect sounds so unattractive, that most people won't be swayed by the cold reason that goes into this argument. 

Let me try to explain it in a different way.  Even though I originally said the risk was little, we're still talking about someone's life here. To the atheist, even the little risk of bending one's knee to God is too high, no matter what the payoff will be in the end. Most people can't or won't put a price on this. 

To make things worse, the atheist probably considers the prospect of spending eternity with God to be repugnant.  "Can't you just leave me alone, God, and let me live my life?" they say.  So the wager is asking the atheist to give up everything in order to potentially gain something they'd hate, and furthermore, on odds they think are remote.  Why in the world would the atheist take that bet?

So, the question then remains, can Pascal's Wager be redeemed? I think it can, but only in conjunction with other approaches.  First, we have to nail down what exactly is the probability that the bible is true?  As I described last time, even if this probability is as low as one in a million, from a strict cost/benefit analysis, that's a good bet; however, I argue that the probability the bible is true is actually very, very close to one.

Second, we have to convince the atheist that God is palatable, or at least the godly-lived life is palatable.  The atheist, who hates the idea of God, would never take that bet because of the reasons described above.  But what if you could convince the atheist that God is not a "cosmic bully" (as Dawkins I believe said), or that a godly-lived life is something worthy and satisfying?