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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pascal's Wager Revisited

I think Blaise Pascal, like so many Christian believers, was a wuss, a weakling, a chicken, a namby-pamby without integrity.  He separates heart from mind and uses game theory to argue to the reason for belief (and to rationalize his continuing participation in a corrupt institution).

That may be too harsh.  Here is another take on his wager that I find courageous.

Distinguish faith from belief.  Distinguish, don't separate.  Faith is the thrust of the human spirit that drives us to wholeness, to the unity of truth and value, to the good and to justice.  Indeed, faith is what gives the human organism the dimension of spirit.  Belief can be the expression of that faith. But often it is the expression of someone else's (or some institution's) who is trying to control your behavior.

There is as much evidence for the meaning of life as there is for its absurdity.  The evidence for meaning is our experienced desire to inquire and to know, pushing past what we have been told, challenging authority, and reaching to infinity. (What a wonder is our evolved ability to imagine and to know!)  But there is also evidence that the universe cannot be known and that our effort to achieve the good will end in vain.  Nihilism is always a choice and the response to nihilism is either suicide or narcotics including the narcotic of easy (or someone else's) belief.

When we simply accept the beliefs that have been given to us without question, when we take the tales of gods as reality, when we take metaphor as literal and doctrine as absolute, we abandon the journey of being. Such believing (I do not call it "faith"), in which those who seek outside the boundaries of culture are heretics and those who question priestly dogmas are damned, is the denial of human existence. In the name of God, we are choosing Nothingness.

So now the wager.  If we choose to go for it, despite the evidence against it, we will create the meaning for our existence.  If we, despite the obstacles, try to solve the problems we encounter, we will have a good chance of solving them (including violence, war, cancer, earth change, slavery, poverty).  If we give up, if we say we can't and need to wait for some outside intervention from the gods, then we won't.

I say WE.  This has to be a collective decision.  If enough people choose NOT to have faith, but to rely on beliefs, some divine or alien intervention from beyond, then all bets are off!

This is a different kind of game theory than I think Pascal was proposing.  The question is: do we choose to play the game of existence at all.  No certainties; but if you don't buy a ticket you cannot win the lottery.  And actually I think we have a lot better odds than the state lottery.  Or dei ex machina.

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