Class Warfare Blog

February 23, 2018

Pascal’s Wager 2.0

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:26 am
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If you haven’t heard of Blaise Pascal’s (1623–1662) famous wager (published posthumously in his book Pensées), here it is in short:

Mr. Pascal

l. God is, or God is not. Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives.
2. A Game is being played … where heads or tails will turn up.
3. You must wager (it is not optional).
4. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
5. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
6. But some cannot believe. They should then “at least learn your inability to believe …” and “Endeavour then to convince” themselves.

Many holes can be shot into this argument and if you are interested in the flaws of this argument, a simple Google search will provide you with many examples. Pascal was polite enough to not point out that if you wager wrongly (that his god is not): there is nothing to gain and you face an infinite period of excruciating torture. Also if you choose that “God is not” you will face persecution and torture from those who bet otherwise. Small details but the erudite reader could fill in these between the lines.

What Pascal did not include in his famous wager is a justification for “you must wager,” since he was embedded in a very Christian culture, this was assumed to be a premise that would be recognized to be “true.” Also not justified, for the same reasons, was that there was but one god. We now know different.

So, let us update Pascal’s Wager a little.

Pascal’s Wager 2.0

l. God is, or God is not. The same can be said for all of the other gods. Reason cannot decide between the many alternatives.
2. A Game is being played … where dozens of dice are tossed and a combination of their results will turn up for you.
3. You might want to wager (it is optional).
4. Let us weigh the gains and the losses in wagering that any one of these many gods is. Let us estimate all these chances. If you wager correctly, you gain all; if you lose, you lose everything. The number of choices is large, so the odds you will choose correctly are small.
5. Do not wager, then, that your choice is correct as the odds of losing everything are much too great. There is an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain if one is very, very lucky, but only one chance of gain against a large number of chances of loss and so our proposition is of simple force, when there is a game where there are small risks of gain and large ones of loss, and infinite pain when losing.

Pascal’s Wager, the original one, only makes some sense when it has been proven that there is but one god (there is not, even the Bible says this) and that you must choose. Pascal made this argument being aware of the Crusades and the Inquisition and the Protestant Reformation and various religious wars. There could be no fence sitters in his world.

In other words, Pascal’s Wager only makes sense when the game is rigged (and it is).






September 18, 2016

Pascal’s Wager and Climate Change

Filed under: Politics,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:38 am
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A common tool of religious apologists is Pascal’s Wager, which is basically the claim that believing in God is the safest approach to reality because if you are wrong, there is no penalty and if you are right, then the rewards are tremendous. None of this applies, of course, if you “bet” that God does not exist.

This, obviously, has nothing to do with God and everything to do with human beings and risk management. I have commented before that the “risk” has been created by said god and hence Pascal’s Wager is merely part of the scam. It is not an argument in favor of god, it is an argument in favor of belief in a god whether He exists or not.

Having said all of that, Pascal was using his reasoning faculty when he proposed the idea of the “wager,” and, if this applies to something as profound as to whether to believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful supernatural being, should it also not apply to belief in, say, climate change? It is an obvious correlation that “strong religious faith” and disbelief in climate change are linked in this country. Did not the Christian/Jewish god provide the Earth for us to dominate? Would God allow His Creation (man) the power to destroy His Creation (the biosphere) that supports human and other life? Doubt about their religion is unacceptable but doubt about science, which often challenges their religion, well, that is actively cultivated from the pulpits of U.S. churches. So, if the religious are going to doubt anything, it is science.

So, let us apply Pascal’s Wager to the idea of climate change. If we believe in climate change as being man-made and, hence, capable of being rectified by the actions of men, and we are right, then we may survive to live on. If we are wrong, and there is no such thing as climate change, then we have lost little. If on the other hand, we disbelieve in climate change and we are wrong, we doom the future of humanity. If we are right, then there is nothing lost. Clearly the wager favors belief.

There is another dimension of this argument, if we believe climate change is man-made and we act upon it, but none of the man-made “causes” we suspected seem to have any effect when we rectify them, then there is a consequence, we have wasted time and effort on a non-solution. But this is not a net negative. By doing that experiment, we may discover what the real causes are and then have a leg up in solving them. If we do not even attempt the experiment, then we not only won’t find out if we are right, but we will not find the underlying causes of the effect. Basically, if climate change is real and not a “hoax” as so many claim, we are better off pretending that it is real and acting upon it.

The reason this is so important is we cannot afford the experiment we are now running, the experiment of changing our climate from one that supports human life to something else, something which is likely, very likely, to be less beneficial. It is not as if it is the case that if our experiment in climate change challenges our ability to survive, there isn’t a back-up Earth we can retreat to lick our wounds and learn from our mistakes. If we are wrong about climate change being “unreal” we may pay a penalty that is beyond our worst nightmares.

To solve this problem, just requires a little belief, but time is running out as the experiment is running and has been running for decades.


April 8, 2014

Pascal’s Wager Applied to Climate Change

Filed under: Philosophy,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:52 am
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It is clear that the discussion over climate change is wrongly focused. Most people think it is about ignorance: if the people opposing climate change were only to see more evidence, they would be convinced. This is clearly wrong. More likely this is simple confirmation bias: we ignore information that contradicts what we believe and conservative myth-mongers got to the plate first with the “Climate Change is a liberal hoax” meme. Once they got their supporters to commit to this falsehood, then evidence no longer matters. Things that bolster one’s belief are latched upon; things that oppose that belief are ignored. It is a done deal.

“ It doesn’t matter whether you think it is real or not, the odds are way better if you believe. ”

Allow me to offer another approach, one based upon Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal, a seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist, offered the following apologetic for belief in God (paraphrased for modern eyes):

Either God is or is not.
If you believe he is not, and are right, you gain nothing, but if you are wrong, you lose everything (you burn in Hell forever).
If you believe he is, and are right, you gain everything (it’s Heaven, baby), but if you are wrong, you lose nothing.

Consequently believing in God is the only prudent path, it is heaven or nothing. Unbelievers face either nothing or Hell. What kind of idiot would choose that path?

Now, let’s apply this to Climate Change. This is a bit more difficult because the differences between eternity in Heaven and eternity Hell are rather stark while the repercussion of Climate Change are much less so, but nothing ventured, noting gained:

Either Climate Change is real or it is not.
If you believe it is not real, and you are right, you have gained nothing, but if you are wrong … the repercussions will be dramatic: submerged coastlines (where most major cities are), unpredictable weather patterns that make agriculture quite problematic, violent storms that wreak havoc, etc.
If you believe it is real, and you are right, all of the preparations you have made will offset some of the negative effects of climate change (how beneficial this will be depends upon how effective the measures taken are, so this is hard to estimate), but if you are wrong you will have spent money developing new sources of energy that might not be needed now but you also will have preserved in the ground vast resources of carbon fuels that will be available longer into the future (many of which are more valuable being converted into other chemicals that as fuels). And since the history of mankind is rife with the development of new sources of energy, this can hardly be considered a negative, especially since carbon-based fuels are finite, limited resources.

Consequently, believing Climate Change is real is the more prudent course.

It doesn’t matter whether you think it is real or not, the odds are way better if you believe.

September 25, 2013

Pascal’s Wager, The Flip Side

Filed under: History,Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:17 pm
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If you are unaware of Pascal’s Wager, it is quite famous in apologetic circles. Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth-century French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher who applied mathematics to faith in a Christian God (he had no other god options if he wanted to live). It went something like this: we are all betting our lives either that God does or does not exist. If God actually does exist and assuming the gain (eternal life in Heaven) or loss (eternal life in Hell) are real, rational people should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, a few luxuries, whatever). Note this was before probability theory in mathematics had been developed, hence the novelty of the argument then and its mundaneness now.

The flip side is this: if you live your life in expectation of a reward in the next, you are not living your own life, you are living a life at somebody else’s direction. And, if there is no reward, you would have wasted the one and only life you will have. This is not the loss of a few pleasures, or a few luxuries, this is the loss of the self.

If it turns out that there is a god and he has created a hell, then you might want to ask him why outside of a miniscule speck of land in the Middle East, not a single scholar, mystic, seer, shaman, professor, judge, priest, or wise man heard or wrote his name, yet they wrote of thousands of other beings? If he was the source of all justice, what justice is there in not telling untold millions of people what the real rules are? And why were so many of the people who supposedly “got the message” such venal and evil people (Inquisitors, Crusaders, Bishops, Cardinals, Popes, etc.)? How was one supposed to see that god amongst the filth and squalor that was the life of the vast majority in Christian lands? Why was it not enough to live a simple life doing as little harm and as much good as one could?

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