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Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Wager

One of Vern's friends commenting on my heretical blog said that he would rather "die and be wrong about believing in the existence of God and eternal reward than die and be wrong about not-believing in the existence of God and eternal reward."

That's a rendition of mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal's wager. And it sure makes sense according to game theory as you learn it in business school when you consider the payoffs.  It's much less risk being wrong in believing than being wrong in un-believing considering the consequences of eternal reward and maybe even eternal punishment.  

I find that a pretty sad position, but one probably shared by most of the "faithful."  Their position is compatible with our "market society," as Michael Sandels calls it, in which everything is for sale, including, I guess, eternal salvation.  The motivation in belief is hope for gain and fear of loss.  God (or Saint Peter) keeps the books--a pretty unflattering image of a god.

I find it sad also because it is a loss of eternity in the here and now.  I think it is an abdication of true faith for true belief.  It is a different kind of gaining the world and losing your soul.

It fits with Pascal's dualism of heart and mind.  Now he can have it all without taking a risk.  He can put the superstitious dogmas of culture religion apart from a search for truth represented by science.  It is definitely not a position of courage.

When I compare Spinoza and Pascal, I see the former a man of integrity and courage, the latter a man of weakness without integrity. The institutional guardians of current culture preach Pascal in order to maintain the order that keeps them in place.  It is the responsibility of those desiring integrity to oppose them.

But I do have an interpretation of Pascal's wager that is much more acceptable (at least to me).  I'll get to that next time.

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