Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Religious belief: what a bargain! (Ten Years Ago Yesterday)

By unknown, a copy of a painting
of Blaise Pascal (of the famous wager)
by François II Quesnel, which was made
for Gérard Edelinck in 1691
By Moristotle

[Originally published on August 1, 2007, not a word different, but the image added.]

Many have been impressed by Pascal’s wager* and convinced by it to go ahead and believe, what the heck! The odds are unbelievable: nothing whatsoever ventured (if you don’t value your personal integrity), and you might be a huge, huge winner! From Christopher Hitchens’s book God Is Not Great:
[The theology of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)] is not far short of sordid. His celebrated “wager” puts it in hucksterish form: what have you got to lose? If you believe in god and there is a god, you win. If you believe in him and you are wrong—so what? I once wrote a response to this cunning piece of bet-covering, which took two forms. The first was a version of Bertrand Russell’s hypothetical reply to the hypothetical question: what will you say if you die and are confronted with your Maker? His response? “I should say, Oh God, you did not give us enough evidence.” My own reply:
Imponderable Sir, I presume from some if not all of your many reputations that you might prefer honest and convinced unbelief to the hypocritical and self-interested affectation of faith or the smoking tributes of bloody altars.
But I would not count on it.
    Pascal reminds me of the hypocrites and frauds who abound in Talmudic Jewish rationalization. Don’t do any work on the Sabbath yourself, but pay someone else to do it. You obeyed the letter of the law: who’s counting? The Dalai Lama tells us that you can visit a prostitute as long as someone else pays her. Shia Muslims offer “temporary marriage,” selling men the permission to take a wife for an hour or two with the usual vows and then divorce her when they are done. Half of the splendid buildings in Rome would never have been raised if the sale of indulgences had not been so profitable: St. Peter’s itself was financed by a special one-time offer of that kind. The newest pope, the former Joseph Ratzinger, recently attracted Catholic youths to a festival by offering a certain “remission of sin” to those who attended. [pp. 211-212]
* From Wikipedia[’s article on Blaise Pascal], the free encyclopedia:

Pascal’s Wager (or Pascal’s Gambit) is the application by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal of decision theory to the belief in God. It was set out in the Pensées, a posthumous collection of notes made by Pascal towards his unfinished treatise on Christian apologetics.
    The Wager posits that it is a better “bet” to believe that God exists than not to believe, because the expected value of believing (which Pascal assessed as infinite) is always greater than the expected value of not believing. In Pascal’s assessment, it is inexcusable not to investigate this issue:

Before entering into the proofs of the Christian religion, I find it necessary to point out the sinfulness of those men who live in indifference to the search for truth in a matter which is so important to them, and which touches them so nearly.
    Variations of this argument may be found in other religious philosophies, such as Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism....
Copyright © 2017 by Moristotle

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