Sam Harris’s Empty Attack on Pascal’s Wager

Several years ago, Sam Harris set out to refute Pascal’s Wager in the pages of the Washington Post. Harris began as follows:

The coverage of my recent debate in the pages of Newsweek began and ended with Jon Meacham and Rick Warren each making respectful reference to Pascal’s wager. As many readers will remember, Pascal suggested that religious believers are simply taking the wiser of two bets: if a believer is wrong about God, there is not much harm to him or to anyone else, and if he is right, he wins eternal happiness; if an atheist is wrong, however, he is destined for hell. Put this way, atheism seems the very picture of reckless stupidity.

But there are many questionable assumptions built into this famous wager.

When looking through the “many questionable assumptions,” it quickly became apparent to me that Harris doesn’t understand how the Wager works.  So first, let me spell it out and then we can return to Harris critique.

I was not raised as a Christian.  I became a Christian, and remain a Christian, because of reason and evidence.  However, I also recognize the limitations of the human intellect. Since my Christian faith is not rooted in intellectual certainty, I fully concede that I could be wrong.  I could be deluded.  That naturally leads to the following question – “What if I am wrong?”  It’s precisely at this point that the Wager comes into play.  For if I am wrong, if when I die I simply cease to exist, the answer becomes “So what?”  It’s not as if I will ever know or notice it.

Let’s now turn to Harris’s critique:

But there are many questionable assumptions built into this famous wager. One is the notion that people do not pay a terrible price for religious faith. It seems worth remembering in this context just what sort of costs, great and small, we are incurring on account of religion. With destructive technology now spreading throughout the world with 21st century efficiency, what is the social cost of millions of Muslims believing in the metaphysics of martyrdom? Who would like to put a price on the heartfelt religious differences that the Sunni and the Shia are now expressing in Iraq (with car bombs and power tools)? What is the net effect of so many Jewish settlers believing that the Creator of the universe promised them a patch of desert on the Mediterranean? What have been the psychological costs imposed by Christianity’s anxiety about sex these last seventy generations? The current costs of religion are incalculable. And they are excruciating.

Harris is simply trying to shoehorn his standard “Religion Is Eeevil” talking point that is sustained by intensive cherry picking and confirmation bias.  Yet for the purpose of this argument, we need not even challenge his meme.  All I have to do is notice the simple fact that Christianity has incurred no incalculable, excruciating cost to my life.  On the contrary, I am confident that if I could replay the tape of my life to go back and reject Christianity, this new, non-Christian life I would be experiencing would entail far more costs and stress.  Note, I am not saying that would be true for all.  I just know it to be true for myself.

At this point, Harris might claim that I should not be so self-focused and instead consider the costs of religion to society.  But again, even if I accepted his dark views on religion, I would simply note that having me abandon Christianity to become an atheist would not change a thing. I am not significant.   If I became an atheist tomorrow, Sam Harris would still be going on and on (and on) with the exact same complaints about the eevils of religion.

It’s not quite clear how this first argument was supposed to be a challenge to the Wager, as it looks more like some tangent forced upon us as a consequence of Harris trying to squeeze his standard talking point into his essay, but nevertheless, we can see how this first argument fails: 1) I do not suffer some incalculable, excruciating cost to my life for being a Christian and 2) even if Harris is correct about the Great Costs of Religion to Society, me becoming an atheist changes nothing.

Let’s move on to the more direct attack on the Wager:

While Pascal deserves his reputation as a brilliant mathematician, his wager was never more than a cute (and false) analogy. Like many cute ideas in philosophy, it is easily remembered and often repeated, and this has lent it an undeserved air of profundity. If the wager were valid, it could be used to justify any belief system (no matter how ludicrous) as a “good bet.” Muslims could use it to support the claim that Jesus was not divine (the Koran states that anyone who believes in the divinity of Jesus will wind up in hell); Buddhists could use it to support the doctrine of karma and rebirth; and the editors of TIME could use it to persuade the world that anyone who reads Newsweek is destined for a fiery damnation.

First of all, is there anyone other than Harris who thinks Pascal’s Wager is some Argument from Analogy?  Here is how the Argument from Analogy works:

Argument from analogy is a special type of inductive argument, whereby perceived similarities are used as a basis to infer some further similarity that has yet to be observed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_analogy

The Wager does not use perceived similarities as a basis to infer some further similarity that has yet to be observed.  It’s simply a crude cost/benefit analysis.

Secondly, given the Wager is a wager, it’s not an issue of it being “valid.”  It’s whether or not it is wise.  Whether it is smart.  And the answer to that question will depend on a) the actual wager being made and b) the person who makes the wager.

Yes, I think when it is an issue of choosing between atheism and Christianity, the Wager is wise.  As I mentioned above, if I am wrong, and the atheist is right, I’m left with the unanswerable question – So what?  When I die, I simply cease to exist.  I have incurred no cost.

So let’s look at Sam’s other examples.

Christianity vs. Islam?  In that case, the Wager seems rather useless, as costs incurred for being wrong cancel each other out.

Christianity vs. karma and rebirth?  If I am wrong, it simply means I’ll get another chance.  And another.  And another.  It is always wise to bet against karma/rebirth because the cost is so minimal.

Time vs. Newsweek.  This is simply a silly, ad hoc choice that does not truly exist. You don’t get to game the system by making up and inserting a fate of fiery damnation for the sole purpose of hijacking the wager.  Remember, the Wager applies only after all the beliefs are laid out and the strength of each belief is assessed.  A smart bettor is not conned by someone else gaming the system.

Finally, we get to this:

But the greatest problem with the wager—and it is a problem that infects religious thinking generally—is its suggestion that a rational person can knowingly will himself to believe a proposition for which he has no evidence. A person can profess any creed he likes, of course, but to really believe something, he must also believe that the belief under consideration is true. To believe that there is a God, for instance, is to believe that you are not just fooling yourself; it is to believe that you stand in some relation to God’s existence such that, if He didn’t exist, you wouldn’t believe in him. How does Pascal’s wager fit into this scheme? It doesn’t.

The “greatest problem with the wager” is easily defeated.  Christians accept and embrace their Christianity because they think it is true because of their use of reason and evidence.  As I explained, the Wager comes into play after the evidence is considered.  The Wager exists due to the fact that none of us can purchase intellectual certainty.  The human brain is too limited and too fallible.  The Wager is the response to the question, “I don’t think I am wrong, but what if I am wrong?”

Harris’s objections to Pascal’s Wager are rooted in confusion and ignorance.  His objections fail.

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180 Responses to Sam Harris’s Empty Attack on Pascal’s Wager

  1. Dhay says:

    > and the editors of TIME could use [Pascal’s Wager] to persuade the world that anyone who reads Newsweek is destined for a fiery damnation.

    Is this some deep Buddhist spiritual wisdom (a koan?); or is it the utter bollocks it looks like.

    Fans of Sam Harris might claim this as an example of Harris’ dry sense of humour; but it’s no gem as would spring readily from the lips and pen of an Oscar Wilde; since when has wit been witless.

    And if this sentence is mindless, moronic siliness, what of the preceding sentences — all of them; and what of the succeeding sentences; I judge it’s all of a piece.

  2. Andy says:

    “The “greatest problem with the wager” is easily defeated. Christians accept and embrace their Christianity because they think it is true because of their use of reason and evidence. As I explained, the Wager comes into play after the evidence is considered. The Wager exists due to the fact that none of us can purchase intellectual certainty. ”
    – Then the wager seems to be utterly pointless for everyone, Christian or Atheist.
    The Christian thinks that Christianity is true anyway and he cannot be intellectually certain with or without the wager, so it doesn´t serve any purpose for him.
    The Atheist thinks that Christianity is false and cannot just will himself to genuinely believe the opposite of what he actually considers to be true, and the wager does nothing to change that, so it is also completely useless for him.
    So why talk about the wager at all if it doesn´t serve any purpose?

    “That naturally leads to the following question – “What if I am wrong?” It’s precisely at this point that the Wager comes into play. For if I am wrong, if when I die I simply cease to exist, the answer becomes “So what?” It’s not as if I will ever know or notice it.”
    – You´ve only considered dichotomies like “Atheism or Christianity” or “Christianity or Islam”. If you consider the full range of options, then there are many different possible answers to the “what if I am wrong?” question – it would all depend on what is actually true. If you die as a Christian and Wahhabi Islam is true, then you´ll go to hell. And if there is a God who considers doubt to be virtue and faith to be a vice, then an Atheist is much more likely to go to heaven then you are.

  3. FZM says:

    What have been the psychological costs imposed by Christianity’s anxiety about sex these last seventy generations?

    This looks like a massive claim. It would be great to see the evidence of the psychological costs that Christianity’s anxiety about sex was imposing on people in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century compared to those who weren’t burdened with Christianity and its influence. Then there would be the ‘evidence’ that translating whatever Harris’s views about what people aught to believe about sex (provided it’s more than platitudes) back into the 18th or 19th century would have improved

    One is the notion that people do not pay a terrible price for religious faith.

    People in the 20th century paid a terrible price for belief in ‘scientific morality’, ‘scientific’ politics and social organisation and stridently atheistic/irreligious world views as well; you would probably need to factor this into the assessment of the wager and this kind of argument against it.

    Who would like to put a price on the heartfelt religious differences that the Sunni and the Shia are now expressing in Iraq (with car bombs and power tools)?

    Is this an assertion that the settling of theological differences is the main motivation behind the violence currently going on in Iraq?

    I’ve never really read any Sam Harris before but is what’s been quoted typical?

  4. Michael says:

    – Then the wager seems to be utterly pointless for everyone, Christian or Atheist.
    The Christian thinks that Christianity is true anyway and he cannot be intellectually certain with or without the wager, so it doesn´t serve any purpose for him.

    The Wager is not meant to deliver intellectual certainty. It simply shows that in the context of our intellectual uncertainity, Christianity is the wise choice.

    – You´ve only considered dichotomies like “Atheism or Christianity” or “Christianity or Islam”. If you consider the full range of options, then there are many different possible answers to the “what if I am wrong?” question – it would all depend on what is actually true. If you die as a Christian and Wahhabi Islam is true, then you´ll go to hell. And if there is a God who considers doubt to be virtue and faith to be a vice, then an Atheist is much more likely to go to heaven then you are.

    The Wager comes into play AFTER one considers the evidence/arguments for any option. In essence, the evidence/reason filter out many of the options before we reach the level of invoking the Wager.

    Look at it this way. Atheists love to say to Christians – “We’re both atheists, I just believe in one less god.” I would reply, “You’re right, if I were to abandon Christianity, I would become an atheist, not some other type of theist. So we are down to two choices – atheism or Christianity?” After the evidence/reason are applied, the Wager comes into play.

  5. Kevin says:

    I put little stock in the wager so far as it goes, but it does segue nicely into pointing out that there is literally nothing to be gained in any scenario from being an atheist, in this life or the possible next, so it’s curious why they want to spread their futility and moral confusion to others.

    FZM, that is indeed classic Harris. He perhaps stands out among the prominent atheist bigots in that he is the most “well-spoken”, which heightens the amusement factor considering everything he says is crap.

  6. Dhay says:

    > Buddhists could use it to support the doctrine of karma and rebirth

    Note 18 of ‘NOTES TO PAGES 41 – 45′ in Sam Harris’ The End of Faith includes:

    There may even be some credible evidence for reincarnation. See I. Stevenson, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1974), Unlearned Language: New Studies in Xenoglossy (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1984), and Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997).

    To allow that there might be or is “credible evidence for reincarnation”, to do so in a book which is otherwise severely critical of supernatural claims, and to support that “credible evidence” by directing the reader to three books presenting that “credible evidence” — Harris might as well have shouted from the rooftops, “I believe in reincarnation!”

    Harris has evidently felt he has no need to resort to Pascal’s Wager to support the Buddhist doctrine of karma and rebirth.

    *

    While looking up the footnote, I came across the following at the end of Chapter 6:

    Life under the Taliban is, to a first approximation, what millions of Muslims around the world want to impose on the rest of us. They long to establish a society in which—when times are good—women will remain vanquished and invisible, and anyone given to spiritual, intellectual, or sexual freedom will be slaughtered before crowds of sullen, uneducated men. This, needless to say, is a vision of life worth resisting. We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because our enemies know no such qualms. Theirs is a kill-the-children-first approach to war, and we ignore the fundamental difference between their violence and our own at our peril.

    According to Harris, the Taliban — or is it “millions of Muslims around the world” — have a “kill-the-children-first approach to war”.

    That’s astonishing: nobody else that I can remember has ever made or defended that claim or similar; nor does Harris himself make, defend or evidence that very, very strange claim elsewhere in his own book.

    And whatever this is, it is not an example of Harris’ dry sense of humour.

    Why should anyone give credence to anything Sam Harris says or writes, when it’s interleaved with fantasy nonsense like: “the editors of TIME could use [Pascal’s Wager] to persuade the world that anyone who reads Newsweek is destined for a fiery damnation”; or, the Taliban — or is it “millions of Muslims around the world” — have a “kill-the-children-first approach to war”.

  7. GeoffSmith says:

    Harris, who loves to use rhetoric instead of argument, dismissed something that is meant to be rational on rhetorical grounds because it didn’t make an argument for something being true.

    The guy is a hoot.

  8. Dhay says:

    > One is the notion that people do not pay a terrible price for religious faith. It seems worth remembering in this context just what sort of costs, great and small, we are incurring on account of religion.

    Harris is actually rather vague when he continues on to remember what the costs are: a vague reference to unspecified destructive technology now spreading to Muslim martyrs; ah, no, he specifies that (some) Sunni and Shia use such destructive technology as car bombs and power tools; Harris condemns Jews for claiming a homeland in Israel; anxiety about sex. The costs are allegedly incalculable and excruciating, though I am not sure at this point whether Harris is referencing power tools or sexual anxiety.

    But I find, reading onwards in The End of Faith, into Chapter 7, that Harris had already written about the cost of faith:

    … the spiritual differences between the East and the West are every bit as shocking as the material differences between the North and the South. Jared Diamond’s fascinating thesis, to sum it up in a line, is that advanced civilization did not arise in sub-Saharan Africa, because one can’t saddle a rhinoceros and ride it into battle. If there is an equally arresting image that accounts for why nondualistic, empirical mysticism seems to have arisen only in Asia, I have yet to find it. But I suspect that the culprit has been the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim emphasis on faith itself. Faith is rather like a rhinoceros, in fact: it won’t do much in the way of real work for you, and yet at close quarters it will make spectacular claims upon your attention.

    Spectacular writing, but what it comes down to is that for Harris, a major problem with faith — arguably for Harris it is the major problem with faith — is that it keeps people away from the “nondualistic, empirical mysticism” of Asia, which in the context of Harris saying this should be understood primarily as being Buddhism.

    This is not a view which Harris once had, then dropped: Chapter 1 of his Waking Up includes this very recent lament:

    Buddhism offers a truly sophisticated, empirical approach to understanding the human mind, whereas Christianity presents an almost perfect impediment to such understanding.

    Or put another way, Bodhisattva Sam Harris laments Christians, Moslems and Jews being resistant to conversion to Harris’ beloved Buddhism.

    My heart bleeds for the poor man.

  9. Dhay says:

    > Buddhists could use [Pascal’s Wager] to support the doctrine of karma and rebirth

    The Buddhist doctrine of karma and rebirth is pretty much an essential comfort and enticement if any meditator is to persist in meditating; Buddhist meditators need a firm faith in karma and rebirth. Why? Because Sam Harris tells us that:

    The practice of mindfulness is extraordinarily simple to describe, but it is in no sense easy. Here, as elsewhere in life, the “10,000 Hour Rule” often applies. And true mastery probably requires special talent and a lifetime of practice.

    (Note that “and”: true mastery probably needs both, says Harris.)

    Karma is necessary to explain why so very few have the special talent to attain Nirvana in one lifetime; reincarnation and the promise that your karma might be good enough, next time round, for you to then have the special talent to eventually attain Nirvana in that next or a subsequent lifetime — without that promise of eventually reaching Nirvana why should any ordinary, average non-specially talented meditator continue to meditate?

    Buddhists have to accept a version of Pascal’s Wager, betting on karma and reincarnation (rebirth), or it just ain’t worthwhile bothering to meditate.

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/new-atheisms-guru/#comment-9258

  10. Doug says:

    But the greatest problem with the wager—and it is a problem that infects religious thinking generally—is its suggestion that a rational person can knowingly will himself to believe a proposition for which he has no evidence.

    This is amusing for another reason — it means that Harris has never taken the time to read Pascal. Because, in the Pens’ees, Pascal actually addresses the “I am so made that I cannot believe” complaint quite explicitly. Harris doesn’t seem to be aware of this.

  11. Doug says:

    That Sam “media-construct” Harris should have the self-confidence to call the Blaise “father-of-probability-theory” Pascal’s wager “cute” is also grounds for a good chuckle.

  12. SteveK says:

    It seems obvious to me that a WISE person would never choose atheism. You have nothing to lose by choosing anything else. So even if you thought atheism was true, a wise person would hedge their bet and choose something else with the hope that it would “pay off”.

  13. Ilíon says:

    I put little stock in the wager so far as it goes …

    Then again, very few people seem really to understand what Pascal was up to.

    Pascal’s Wager isn’t *just* about a cost-benefit analysis of Christianity vs anti-Christianity.

    An important — and these days, mostly overlooked — part of the Wager is the idea-as-wager that if one lives and behaves as though Christianity were true, even if one isn’t yet wholly convinced, that one will discover one day that one really is convinced, after all.

    Remember that Pascal was a Catholic, and he really did believe that the Sacrements had power in themselves, and thus that to receive Communion, even if one did not (yet) believe in Christ’s Atonement, would nevertheless effect a change in one and in one’s outlook.

  14. Gary Good says:

    The problem with the Wager is that most people misunderstand Pascal’s message. Although he was a Catholic, Pascal was part of the Jansenism movement. This movement believed in original sin, human depravity, the necessity of grace, and predestination, similar to the soeteriology of Calvinism. Therefore, he would never have thought that belief in God could be achieved by simply weighing the pros and cons of believing versus not believing.

    Most likely, Pascal was using his wager to express the way sin has made man so utterly depraved that even though, logically, believing in God is so obviously in our best interest, without God’s grace, we will choose not to believe. As it turns out, Sam Harris proves the point that Pascal was making.

  15. FZM says:

    If there is an equally arresting image that accounts for why nondualistic, empirical mysticism seems to have arisen only in Asia, I have yet to find it. But I suspect that the culprit has been the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim emphasis on faith itself.

    It would be interesting to see how Harris might have identified ‘faith’ (as opposed to ‘reason’ or an ’empirical approach’?) in the period before the advent of modern science. Then how he might have shown that during this time Christianity, Judaism and Islam placed a strong emphasis on ‘faith’ in a way that other religious traditions didn’t.

    Also, what’s most commonly recognised nowadays as dualism arose with Descartes in the 17th C., so it couldn’t have influenced Christianity, Judaism and Islam before then. There isn’t much (any?) dualism in the Bible either. Maybe he’s thinking of Platonic kinds of dualism? Plato and the malign influence on Western culture of his ‘faith’ based philosophy. Tsk.

    Maybe on the other hand there isn’t a lot fo thinking behind the comments and the idea doesn’t have much value.

    This, needless to say, is a vision of life worth resisting. We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because our enemies know no such qualms. Theirs is a kill-the-children-first approach to war, and we ignore the fundamental difference between their violence and our own at our peril.

    Back in the late 70s and 1980s the cycle of conflict that eventually gave rise to the Taliban was provoked when Afghans commited to thorough modernisation and secularisation of Afghan society started to massacre those who disagreed/resisted. This led to the long Soviet involvement (I guess their violence and collateral damage being motivated by a secular atheist world view was legitimate in Harris’ eyes compared to that of their Islamic enemies) and the Western commitment to supporting the Mujihadeen.

    As I said earlier I’ve hardly come across much Sam Harris and have never read one of his books, unlike some of the other New Atheists who are relatively well known in the UK. From what I’m seeing he strikes me as a bit more cranky and wierd than Dawkins, Dennett etc.

  16. Peter says:

    So what? When I die, I simply cease to exist. I have incurred no cost.

    I think this is a rather limited analysis of “cost”. No religion is cost-free, and Christians don’t usually claim that for Christianity either. There might not be any “cost” in terms of eternal wellbeing if you die and it turns out atheism was true after all. But you have still paid whatever costs Christianity – the pearl of great price – required of you during your lifetime.

    Maybe a member of a rival monotheistic sect held a knife to your throat and demanded you convert, and you were a faithful witness where an atheist could have saved his skin by sacrificing his public commitment to atheism?

    Maybe you could have been happy escaping a boring marriage, or having an adulterous relationship with your secretary? If you had been an atheist, there would have been rationalizations open to you that would allow you to explore these paths and still be faithful to your belief system.

    Maybe you asked what you had to do to obtain eternal life, and you were told you had to sell everything you have, and you did so?

    Maybe you simply liked sleeping in on Sunday mornings, or you could have had breakfast at a local cafe instead of putting the money in the offering basket?

    It seems to me these are factors that need to be taken into account when considering Pascal’s Wager.

  17. TFBW says:

    Peter, the trouble with your analysis is that it’s only thinking about short-term costs, not long-term costs. If you do a long-term cost analysis of atheism, the calculus is quite simple. On atheism, everyone is ultimately equally dead and gone, and it makes not the slightest bit of difference whether you had a happy marriage or not, whether you managed to prolong your fleeting life by some decades or not, whether you slept in on Sundays or not, or, indeed, whether you lived a long, full, and happy life, or a short, miserable, and empty one. Once you’re dead, you’re exactly as dead as everyone else who ever lived and died, and no amount of doing this thing or that thing in the present is going to change that outcome in the slightest.

    So, returning to the wager, if atheism is true, what long-term cost does one incur by acting as though Christianity were true instead? The answer, as we have seen, is nothing at all, because the long term holds complete and utter annihilation no matter what you do in the here and now. The long term is eternal, and the short term is on the order of a hundred years or less, so it seems entirely fatuous to focus on short-term costs.

  18. Michael says:

    I think this is a rather limited analysis of “cost”. No religion is cost-free, and Christians don’t usually claim that for Christianity either. There might not be any “cost” in terms of eternal wellbeing if you die and it turns out atheism was true after all. But you have still paid whatever costs Christianity – the pearl of great price – required of you during your lifetime.

    See: https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/the-costs-of-trying-to-defeat-pascals-wager/

  19. Andy says:

    Michael,

    The Wager is not meant to deliver intellectual certainty. It simply shows that in the context of our intellectual uncertainity, Christianity is the wise choice.

    The Wager comes into play AFTER one considers the evidence/arguments for any option. In essence, the evidence/reason filter out many of the options before we reach the level of invoking the Wager.

    Look at it this way. Atheists love to say to Christians – “We’re both atheists, I just believe in one less god.” I would reply, “You’re right, if I were to abandon Christianity, I would become an atheist, not some other type of theist. So we are down to two choices – atheism or Christianity?” After the evidence/reason are applied, the Wager comes into play.

    Do you mean to say that the “target audience” of the wager are people that:
    1. Already believe that Christianity is true (one of the versions of Christianity that involves eternal damnation for unbelievers and that doesn´t allow for something like post mortem conversions).
    2. Are convinced that Christianity and Atheism are the only two options. Every other hypothetical option can be ruled out with so much confidence that one doesn´t have to seriously entertain the possibility of them being true.
    ?
    And that the wager is essentially just a thought experiment that reassures the Christian that he is better off with his belief in Christianity than he would be with Atheism?

    If this is not what you had in mind, could you clarify?

    If it is what you had in mind, then I´d agree that Harris´ objections against it fail. However, I am positively certain that your conception of what the wager is about, is idiosyncratic and not at all what Pascal had in mind. I´ll just quote the man himself:
    “But understand at least that your ability to believe is the result of your passions; for, although reason inclines you to believe, you cannot do so. Try therefore to convince yourself, not by piling up proofs of God, butbysubduing your passions. You desire to attain faith, but do not know the way. You would like to cure yourself of unbelief, and you ask for remedies. Learn of
    those who were bound and gagged like you, and who now stake all they possess.
    Theyare men who know the road you desire to follow, and who have been cured
    of a sickness of which you desire to be cured. Follow the way by which they set
    out, acting as if theyalreadybelieved, taking holywater, having masses said,
    etc. Even this will naturally cause you to believe and bunt your cleverness.”
    ( see: http://www.stat.ucla.edu/history/pascal_wager.pdf )
    Pascal clearly saw his wager as an apologetics tool, one that could be used to convince people who do NOT already believe Christianity to be true and who also don´t necessarily believe that Christianity and Atheism are the only possible options. And understood like this, the wager is logically flawed and Harris criticism is not misguided.

  20. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    On atheism, everyone is ultimately equally dead and gone, and it makes not the slightest bit of difference whether you had a happy marriage or not, whether you managed to prolong your fleeting life by some decades or not, whether you slept in on Sundays or not, or, indeed, whether you lived a long, full, and happy life, or a short, miserable, and empty one. Once you’re dead, you’re exactly as dead as everyone else who ever lived and died, and no amount of doing this thing or that thing in the present is going to change that outcome in the slightest.

    The long term is eternal, and the short term is on the order of a hundred years or less, so it seems entirely fatuous to focus on short-term costs.

    Imagine you had the opportunity to see an extremely rare and extremely beautiful flower bloom, one that blooms only once in 80-100 years (there actually are such plants). Would you say that *unless* you had an infinite number of years to see such an event an infinite number of times, remember it an infinite number of times, talk about it an infinite number of times and get eventually bored of it an infinite number of times – you might as well not want to see it at all?
    I wouldn´t. And I find the very idea quite alien. Something being ephemeral (as our lives are in some sense, if Atheism is true) doesn´t make it meaningless, I think that it is precisely the prospect that things will eventually come to an end that gives things meaning. After all, if you have eternity, why do something, anything, right now, knowing that you have eternity to do it later? (an infinite number of times if you want to).
    To pick up one of your examples, I would care very much if I manage to have, say, a happy marriage, if this life is all the time I have. If I have eternity however, then the calculus for how much I would care about having a happy marriage in this life or not is roughly 50 (the number of years I could reasonably expect to be married) divided by infinity (the number of years I would actually exist).

  21. Doug says:

    @Andy,
    It is an interesting way to think about things, but not a “given”… for most Christians, the expectation (and clear teaching of the New Testament) is that the events/choices/actions in time have impact in eternity. Since (to extend the example), a happy marriage must involve faithfulness, forgiveness, patience, love, kindness, etc., the exercise of those things will be profoundly reflected in one’s eternal experience (see, for example, Matthew 7:16-20, Galatians 5:22-24, Colossians 1:9,10). But speaking of marriage… I’m finding that I’m loving my wife more ever month! 🙂 — love is by no means a static thing (nor in any way analogous to “observing a rare bloom”), but something that has a great deal of room to grow, and the longer it lasts, the better!

  22. TFBW says:

    Andy said:

    Would you say that *unless* you had an infinite number of years to see such an event an infinite number of times, remember it an infinite number of times, talk about it an infinite number of times and get eventually bored of it an infinite number of times – you might as well not want to see it at all?

    No, and if you derived that idea from what I said, then we have a very bad failure to communicate.

    Would you say that the event only maintains value to the extent that you can actually remember it? Do you agree that after you die, you won’t remember anything or be conscious of anything? Can you see that the net effect of these two things is that, on atheism, after you die, nothing that you ever did in your entire life will be of any consequence to you, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant it was at the time?

    After all, if you have eternity, why do something, anything, right now, knowing that you have eternity to do it later?

    Because, presumably, you’re interested in doing something rather than nothing at the given moment. Was that even a serious question?

    To pick up one of your examples, I would care very much if I manage to have, say, a happy marriage, if this life is all the time I have.

    You can care all you want, but if this life is all the time you have, it’s not going to make the tiniest scrap of difference to you a hundred years from now, is it?

    On atheism, your long-term prospects are perfect oblivion no matter what you do. That’s why Pascal’s wager wins: atheism has absolutely nothing to offer even if it’s true; optimising for some possibly-true life-after-death scenario is the only approach which might actually pay off, and thus the only rational investment. If atheism (or “death is the end” more generally) turns out to be true, you lose nothing in the long run for betting against it, because it was always going to pay a big fat zero for everyone anyhow, no matter what.

  23. FZM says:

    Something being ephemeral (as our lives are in some sense, if Atheism is true) doesn´t make it meaningless, I think that it is precisely the prospect that things will eventually come to an end that gives things meaning

    Usually it seems that we recognise things to be ephemeral because we can know/experience their presence and then know/experience what it is like for them to be absent. If there is no life after death of any kind this isn’t something that would be applicable to our own lives. So even though they are finite, we can never not have them or experience/know their absence. Along similar lines, it seems that unless there is life after death of some kind it isn’t clear that we can experience that our lives do come to an end because ‘we’ end with them. I remember reading somewhere that Wittgenstein said something like ‘death is not a life event’ which I thought was relevant in this kind of context.

    This line of thinking has made me wonder how a sense of the meaning/value of life can be derived from the idea that there is no life after death of any kind.

  24. Andy says:

    FZM.

    Along similar lines, it seems that unless there is life after death of some kind it isn’t clear that we can experience that our lives do come to an end because ‘we’ end with them. I remember reading somewhere that Wittgenstein said something like ‘death is not a life event’ which I thought was relevant in this kind of context.

    Sure, you cannot experience what it is like to be dead just like you cannot experience what it was like before you were born, for the same reason – there wasn´t yet / is no longer a subject that could experience this.

    This line of thinking has made me wonder how a sense of the meaning/value of life can be derived from the idea that there is no life after death of any kind.

    If subject x experiences y as “meaningful”, then y has meaning for x, it´s as simple as that. The idea that things can only be meaningful in some kind of “ultimate” sense – if they exist forever – and that y thus cannot possibly have meaning if it is finite and will eventually come to an end, is something that most religions teach (at least implicitly), but also something that isn´t in any way obvious or undeniably true. Even if it would be true, it´s certainly quite counterintuitive. If you have young children for example, they would experience things to be meaningful even if they don´t yet have a grasp of what abstract concepts like “eternity” even mean.

  25. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    Would you say that the event only maintains value to the extent that you can actually remember it?[1] Do you agree that after you die, you won’t remember anything or be conscious of anything?[2] Can you see that the net effect of these two things is that, on atheism, after you die, nothing that you ever did in your entire life will be of any consequence to you, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant it was at the time?[3]

    1. Yup.
    2. Absolutely.
    3. Strictly, this is neither true nor false, it´s a meaningless claim because it relies on a logically incoherent premise. It presupposes that there is a “you” for which there could be “consequences”, but since you are talking about a hypothetical scenario here where our existence will eventually come to an end – so saying something like “whatever you did, it won´t have consequences for you”, is meaningless. If you´d rephrase it to “whatever you do, you´ll eventually cease to exist”, then I´d totally agree.

    You can care all you want, but if this life is all the time you have, it’s not going to make the tiniest scrap of difference to you a hundred years from now, is it?

    Same problem as above. There wouldn´t be a “me” for which there could be a “difference”.
    My question would be, “so what?”
    Why should I stop considering the things that I do consider to be meaningful to be indeed meaningful because they won´t exist forever? And if I shouldn´t, what´s your point supposed to be?

    That’s why Pascal’s wager wins

    It depends on what you mean by “wins”. If you presuppose:
    1. That you either already believe Christianity to be true (or could somehow will yourself into believing it to be true although you consider it to be false right now).
    2. That there is a true dichotomy with Christianity and Atheism being the only two options.
    – then yes, Pascal´s wager “wins”.

    atheism has absolutely nothing to offer even if it’s true

    I agree, at least mostly. But note that you are implicitly assuming here that truth has no value (at least not if the truth is inconvenient to you).

    optimising for some possibly-true life-after-death scenario is the only approach which might actually pay off, and thus the only rational investment.

    Remember that you are talking about beliefs here. Imagine that you return from your vacation and on your ride home, you remember that you´ve left the stove on. You are not *absolutely* certain that you did leave it on, but you are quite sure. And there is nothing you can do about it until you arrive at home. So the rational choice is obviously to will yourself into believing that you did turn it off – because worrying about it accomplishes nothing positive but would make your ride home quite uncomfortable. Do you think you could will yourself into believing the opposite of what you actually consider to be true, just because believing the opposite would be convenient?
    Also, regarding life-after-death scenarios – if you are not convinced that Christianity and Atheism are the only two options, a hypothetical “optimization” here might be much more complex and might not end with Christianity being the best choice (if you´d be quite certain that Christianity is false (as certain as, say, you are right now about Islam being false), then Christianity might not even be one of the options but rather be excluded from the get go, before you start “optimizing”).

  26. TFBW says:

    Andy said:

    If you´d rephrase it to “whatever you do, you´ll eventually cease to exist”, then I´d totally agree.

    If you want to split hairs, sure. It’s not like it has any material impact on my argument.

    Why should I stop considering the things that I do consider to be meaningful to be indeed meaningful because they won´t exist forever?

    I’m only asking you to recognise that their long-term value is precisely zero, even if they are “meaningful” to you (whatever that means, on atheism — some sort of warm fuzzy feeling, I suppose) here and now.

    1. That you either already believe Christianity to be true (or could somehow will yourself into believing it to be true although you consider it to be false right now).

    No, you just have to allow the possibility that you could be wrong about death being the end of existence. Christianity is just a special case of that. If you are perfectly certain about death being the end of existence, then yes, the wager is irrelevant. Are you that certain?

    2. That there is a true dichotomy with Christianity and Atheism being the only two options.

    Again, no, the real dichotomy is between death being the end and death not being the end, which I’m sure you’d agree is a real dichotomy. Atheism and Christianity are just examples of that, and are often the most prominent examples in each category, so they act as a synecdoche for the real dichotomy.

    But note that you are implicitly assuming here that truth has no value (at least not if the truth is inconvenient to you).

    Assuming that “truth” is a thing at all, on atheism, what possible intrinsic value can it have? Can an abstract concept even have objective value? I don’t see how. I mean to say, you might have some sort of warm fuzzy disposition towards the abstract notion of “truth”, which you might conceivably describe as “value”, but that would be just another of those short-term pleasurable things like seeing a pretty flower. As such, I don’t see how it makes a difference to the argument. Do you think that atheism is true, and that “truth” has some sort of transcendent value (exceeding mere aesthetic pleasure)? I was under the impression that atheism denied all transcendent things.

    Do you think you could will yourself into believing the opposite of what you actually consider to be true, just because believing the opposite would be convenient?

    It’s a rubbish analogy. I can just shrug and recognise the fact that there’s nothing at all I can do about it right at the moment, and try to put the matter out of mind. The point of Pascal’s Wager is that there is something to be done in the here and now: recognise that it is in your rational self-interest to assume your current belief is wrong. That should only be difficult if, in your experience, your beliefs are never wrong.

    … hypothetical “optimization” here might be much more complex and might not end with Christianity being the best choice …

    I concede that, as should already be clear. Perhaps you would care to concede that atheism has absolutely nothing to offer, and is essentially the worst of all possible choices in this regard. You’ve mostly agreed with this point already, but you’re still hedging a little, and posturing as though you can stick with atheism because Christianity is not guaranteed to be the winning bet. I’d like to point out that clinging to a guaranteed loser is not justified by that kind of observation.

  27. Kevin says:

    I agree, at least mostly. But note that you are implicitly assuming here that truth has no value (at least not if the truth is inconvenient to you).

    If atheism is true, then truth literally has zero value. But let’s set that aside for the moment, and talk about temporary value of the sort that most of us, atheist or theist, hold to be true. The sort of truth such as, if you drink a bottle of bleach, you will die, and that death will negatively impact others, which is bad. We can all therefore get behind the inherent value of not drinking bleach based on the negative consequences that will inevitably occur. There is value in knowing such truth, even if, under atheism, such value in truth is ultimately worthless.

    So, if we as humans value truths that maximize happiness in humans, atheism does not fall into this category of truth. This isn’t to say that an atheist cannot find happiness, of course he can. But he finds it IN SPITE OF atheism. Atheism has no hope. It has no worth. It has no benefit. It has no value. How can “knowing the truth” of atheism possibly compare to the hope of eternal life offered by, say, Christianity? How does being an atheist even remotely improve one’s existence over being a Christian, unless you’re one of the Christians unfortunate enough to live in a communist or Muslim state?

    And even if “knowing the truth” had value under atheism, a Christian who became an atheist would go from believing he knew the truth to…believing he knew the truth. No benefit at all from a truth / value standpoint.

  28. Andy says:

    I’m only asking you to recognise that their long-term value is precisely zero,

    I´m telling you that I don´t believe in such a “long-term” and thus literally couldn´t care less about your speculations about a “long-term” that I don´t believe in in the first place.

    even if they are “meaningful” to you (whatever that means, on atheism — some sort of warm fuzzy feeling, I suppose) here and now.

    Please define the word “meaning” and explain how the definition stops making sense if you assume that atheism is true. Somehow, I suspect that you need to smuggle something into the definition like “if invisible magic sky-daddy disapproves, all of this is invalid for some reason”.

    No, you just have to allow the possibility that you could be wrong about death being the end of existence. Christianity is just a special case of that. If you are perfectly certain about death being the end of existence, then yes, the wager is irrelevant. Are you that certain?

    The wager is actually irrelevant if either a) there are many life-after-death options between which you cannot rationally decide and / or b) you cannot choose to genuinely believe in things that you consider to be false anyway. If either a or b applies, it is completely irrelevant whether there is a life after death or not, the wager is nonsensical in either case.

    Again, no, the real dichotomy is between death being the end and death not being the end, which I’m sure you’d agree is a real dichotomy. Atheism and Christianity are just examples of that, and are often the most prominent examples in each category, so they act as a synecdoche for the real dichotomy.

    Alright. then I´ll just point out that there could be a God who considers skepticism to be the most noble virtue and faith to be the gravest vice (if you disagree, prove that this cannot possibly be true). So if I´m wrong and there is a God and an afterlife, I´m much more likely to go to heaven then you.
    The mere fact that there *could* be a life after death is thoroughly uninteresting *unless* you KNOW something about it, if you don´t, then you cannot “plan” or “optimize” anything what-so-ever for this hypothetical afterlife.

    It’s a rubbish analogy. I can just shrug and recognise the fact that there’s nothing at all I can do about it right at the moment, and try to put the matter out of mind. The point of Pascal’s Wager is that there is something to be done in the here and now: recognise that it is in your rational self-interest to assume your current belief is wrong. That should only be difficult if, in your experience, your beliefs are never wrong.

    So first you agree that you cannot just will yourself into believing things to be true that you currently consider to be false (or vice versa) and that at the very best I could try not thinking about something at all (“put the matter out of mind”), and literally right afterwards you tell me that it is “in my rational self-interest to assume that your current belief is wrong”. Maybe you should organize your thoughts a little and try again.
    .

    Perhaps you would care to concede that atheism has absolutely nothing to offer, and is essentially the worst of all possible choices in this regard.

    I´m not conceding that you are “choosing” what you believe. Try to will yourself into genuinely believing that the moon is made out of green cheese and you´ll see what you mean.

    You’ve mostly agreed with this point already, but you’re still hedging a little, and posturing as though you can stick with atheism because Christianity is not guaranteed to be the winning bet. I’d like to point out that clinging to a guaranteed loser is not justified by that kind of observation.

    Atheism is not the guaranteed loser at all. See above.

  29. TFBW says:

    Andy said:

    … I don´t believe in such a “long-term” …

    This is getting tedious. You’re phrasing it as though we have a disagreement here, but if there is no long term then it must necessarily have no value, right? So if I emphasise that I’m not asking you to commit to an ongoing existence of any sort, just a lack of long-term value, do you actually disagree with me in any concrete way?

    Please define the word “meaning” …

    Why should I commit to a definition of a word that you introduced into the conversation? If you object to my characterisation of your “meaningful” as a warm fuzzy feeling, then feel free to elaborate what you mean by it.

    So first you agree that you cannot just will yourself into believing things to be true that you currently consider to be false (or vice versa) and that at the very best I could try not thinking about something at all (“put the matter out of mind”), and literally right afterwards you tell me that it is “in my rational self-interest to assume that your current belief is wrong”. Maybe you should organize your thoughts a little and try again.

    Okay, I’ve wasted enough time on this. I’m not going to try sorting out that mess of misrepresentation, other than to say “putting the matter out of mind” was my response to your rubbish analogy, where neither particular beliefs nor particular actions were going to address the actual problem. I have nothing further to add, because I’d spend the next ten paragraphs explaining why you misinterpreted the last ten paragraphs, and that’s not progress. It’s a shame, because I thought this conversation might actually go somewhere. Sadly, though, it seems that you’re not only incapable of changing your mind, but also incapable of doubting your own infallibility. There’s not much chance of making any headway against that.

  30. Dhay says:

    Above, I quoted this, from The End of Faith, page 215, and commented it was an example of spectacular writing:

    … the spiritual differences between the East and the West are every bit as shocking as the material differences between the North and the South. Jared Diamond’s fascinating thesis, to sum it up in a line, is that advanced civilization did not arise in sub-Saharan Africa, because one can’t saddle a rhinoceros and ride it into battle. If there is an equally arresting image that accounts for why nondualistic, empirical mysticism seems to have arisen only in Asia, I have yet to find it. But I suspect that the culprit has been the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim emphasis on faith itself. Faith is rather like a rhinoceros, in fact: it won’t do much in the way of real work for you, and yet at close quarters it will make spectacular claims upon your attention.

    The last sentence in particular strikes me as vacuous train-of-thought wild gibberish, especially in view of his claim on page 62 that Christian faith — “faith in its ordinary, scriptural sense” — justifies any wild flight of fancy, with Harris’ examplar of such faith being justifying stalking Nicole Kidman.

    But this is not isolated nonsense, this over-the-top nonsense runs through the book — and also runs through all of Harris’ writings and talks.

    So let’s re-word that last sentence to make it applicable to Harris himself:

    Sam Harris’ writings (etc) are rather like a rhinoceros, in fact: they won’t do much in the way of real work for you, and yet at close quarters they will make spectacular claims upon your attention.

    Sam Harris’ writings make spectacular claims upon your attention, but do nothing.

  31. FZM says:

    Andy,
    If subject x experiences y as “meaningful”, then y has meaning for x, it´s as simple as that.

    I agree that this can be subjective. It’s true that conceivably an individual could consider almost anything to be meaningful and for almost anything to be what makes life meaningful. Though when I was writing my comment I specifically had in mind about what you wrote in response to TFBW here because I’ve seen people say things like this before:

    Something being ephemeral (as our lives are in some sense, if Atheism is true) doesn´t make it meaningless, I think that it is precisely the prospect that things will eventually come to an end that gives things meaning.

    Given that conceivably anything could be considered meaningful, I realise that I’ve never come across people saying ‘I think it is square circles/fish/chalk/baldness etc. that give things meaning’ so maybe there are limits as to what can usually be recognised to be meaningful in particular contexts.

    In my comment I was thinking of ‘something’ and ‘things’ in the line quoted above as refering to ‘our lives’. As I said I don’t think that we can know that our lives are ephemeral or know that they come to an end, except perhaps intellectually, as something that can never be experienced by anyone (unless there is some kind of life after death).

    I can imagine if some kind of hedonic adaption is working an argument could be made that anything we can currently experience or know as good would become boring/meaningless if experienced for an infinity of time.

    The idea that things can only be meaningful in some kind of “ultimate” sense – if they exist forever – and that y thus cannot possibly have meaning if it is finite and will eventually come to an end, is something that most religions teach (at least implicitly), but also something that isn´t in any way obvious or undeniably true.

    I’m not familiar enough with enough religions to know if this is what most of them teach. But from what I know, it doesn’t seem to reflect what many forms of Christianity teach. The idea that things can’t have meaning unless they are infinite and never come to an end sounds to me a bit like some kind of extreme dualist ‘matter/the material is inherently evil’ teaching. On the other hand, most kinds of Christianity do appear to teach the existence of infinite things, which have ultimate meaning, alongside the meaningful finite things. I don’t think it’s just confined to religions either, you can find some related ideas in Greek philosophy predating Christianity.

  32. Andy says:

    TFBW,
    yeah, this is getting tedious. A few final remarks:

    1. You claimed that the real dichotomy is whether there is an afterlife or not, and that if there is one, Atheism is a “guaranteed loser”. This is completely 100% false. It is trivial to come up with hypothetical afterlives scenarios (which you cannot prove to be impossible) where Atheism and Christianity would lead to the same fate or where Atheism would lead to a *better* fate than Christianity would.
    I already mentioned one hypothetical scenario above – one where God is real but considers skepticism to be most virtuous and faith to be abhorrent. Another example would be a God that appreciates it if people value truth in itself and embrace it even if the truth is inconvenient or distasteful, such a God would not exactly be pleased by someone trying to will himself into embracing a comfortable delusion instead of accepting what reason tells him is most plausible, even if this is inconvenient. Or lets say that some version of Islam is true where Allah could forgive sincere unbelief, but cannot forgive “blasphemies” like the Christian doctrines of the trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ. I could easily come up with plenty of examples here, and you won´t be able to prove any of them to be impossible. So your claim that Atheism is a “guaranteed loser” if there is an afterlife is flat out false and without it, your defense of Pascal´s wager collapses.

    2. My “rubbish analogy” was actually not intended to be an analogy at all. It was merely a hypothetical scenario to illustrate that you cannot just will yourself into believing ¬X to be true if you actually believe X to be true, just because believing ¬X would be more convenient for you (or vice versa). And at least for this hypothetical scenario, you agreed that you indeed would not have this ability. If you think that when it comes to believing in other things (like whether there is an afterlife or not or whether theism is true or false etc.pp.), you do have the ability to genuinely(!) believe what you consider to be *convenient* instead of what your cognitive faculties tell you is most likely *true*, then say so and try to defend that claim.
    And the relevance of this is, that your attempt at defending Pascal´s wager is doomed to fail from the get go if people do not have the ability to will themselves into genuinely believing what they consider to be convenient, even if this is opposite of what reason tells them is most likely true.

    3. Your accusation that I am “incapable of changing [my] mind, but also incapable of doubting [my] own infallibility” is completely baseless and quite obnoxious. I actually consider myself to be very fallible and have changed my mind on many issues. What I don´t do however is accepting the mere assertions of some guy on the internet as gospel truth, especially not if said guy is either completely unwilling or unable to rationally defend his claims against fair criticism (like my point #1, which I already made in my previous comment, which completely destroys your attempt at defending Pascal´s wager, and which you didn´t try to rebut or even acknowledge in any way).

  33. Andy says:

    Kevin,

    So, if we as humans value truths that maximize happiness in humans, atheism does not fall into this category of truth.

    Yeah, maybe. I´m very much undecided on that. I think it´s similar to knowing whether you will get Parkinson´s disease or not – if you get yourself genotyped, you can get a definite answer to this (in the sense that you will certainly get the disease unless you die young). Some people don´t want to know the answer because they think that the knowledge could potentially ruin the healthy years they have ahead of them because they´d be always anxious about the disease breaking out, others want to know the answer because they think that knowing the truth – even if it would be bad news for them – can only help them in making the most out of the time they have.

    How can “knowing the truth” of atheism possibly compare to the hope of eternal life offered by, say, Christianity?

    You are conflating two different categories here – what you “know” (or believe in) and what you hope for. People often hope for things that they consider to be false or extremely unlikely – I hope that there will soon be peace in Syria, even though I consider that to be extremely unlikely.

    How does being an atheist even remotely improve one’s existence over being a Christian, unless you’re one of the Christians unfortunate enough to live in a communist or Muslim state?

    Well, I´ve always been an atheist, so I can´t speak from personal experience here. From what I have seen, it largely depends on how satisfied those ex-Christians were with their religion. I´ve seen people who were much happier as Christians and wished that they could somehow start believing in it again. I´ve seen people for whom essentially nothing changed through leaving Christianity (those that were religiously apathetic while they were Christians). And I´ve also seen people that lived greatly improved lives after becoming Atheists, one of my friends for example was constantly terrified of hell – not of herself ending up in hell but rather her “unsaved” friends. When her Wiccan aunt died, she was a real mess and could think of nothing else than her aunt being tortured in hell. As far as I can tell, she lives a much, *much* happier life as an atheist.

  34. TFBW says:

    Andy said:

    You claimed that the real dichotomy is whether there is an afterlife or not, and that if there is one, Atheism is a “guaranteed loser”. This is completely 100% false.

    On atheism, there is no afterlife, so if atheism is true, the long-term payoff is guaranteed to be zilch. In fact, the long-term relevance of what you believed and how you lived and everything you ever do is zilch. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever to be gained, long-term, by being an atheist and being right. That’s what I meant by it being a guaranteed loser. Even granted that atheism has a good chance of being right, you still may as well bet on something other than atheism, because you gain absolutely nothing whatsoever in the long term by being right about it.

    It is trivial to come up with hypothetical afterlives scenarios (which you cannot prove to be impossible) where Atheism and Christianity would lead to the same fate or where Atheism would lead to a *better* fate than Christianity would.

    On atheism, atheists and Christians do share the same fate (trivially, because there is only one possible fate). Every other outcome entails atheism being wrong, so you’re just counting on getting lucky despite being dead wrong. It’s a possibility, but sheer dumb luck is not a thing over which we have control, so it’s an irrelevant possibility as far as rational argument goes.

    You seem to think that we can use reason productively here. If you want to repudiate that position, then fine — the discussion is over immediately due to lack of common ground. If we’re talking about reasoned behaviour, however, then possibilities which involve a good outcome despite your lack of ability to foresee or plan for them are irrelevant, and you’re just muddying the waters by introducing them (as you do for more than half of point #1).

    Let us grant that we can both be wrong, and then all bets are off — we’re both idiots, and it’s down to luck. That’s not what we’re here to discuss, so no more bringing up the infinite set of possibilities that neither of us believe, okay? We are here because we assert that our beliefs are justified, and rational to hold on the assumption that they are true (i.e. not self-defeating). Pascal’s Wager is primarily about that second part: atheism is not worth pursuing even on the assumption that it’s true.

    2. My “rubbish analogy” was actually not intended to be an analogy at all. It was merely a hypothetical scenario to illustrate that you cannot just will yourself into believing ¬X to be true if you actually believe X to be true, just because believing ¬X would be more convenient for you (or vice versa).

    Okay, let’s assume for the moment that this is absolutely true. Let us assume that you are a super-rational computer which is compelled to believe things only by the evidence, and are immune to the usual human temptations to adopt beliefs for non-rational reasons. You can still make a separate decision about whether it is in your rational self-interest to act in accordance with your beliefs, or whether some other course of action makes more sense.

    I an not sincerely able to profess belief that the moon is made of cheese (although I could easily lie about it), but I can sincerely act in accordance with the belief that the moon is made of cheese, mostly because it makes no material difference to me whether the moon is cheese or not. Indeed, if someone were silly enough to pay me a million dollars to join the Moon Cheese Society (assume it exists for the sake of argument), I’d be only too happy to do so, so long as they didn’t expect me to lie about my lack of agreement with their core tenets (I value my honestly a little too highly, perhaps). I’d even agree to attend a number of meetings, because I’ve been paid less to sit in on meetings which are likely more boring than theirs. I don’t believe for a moment that the moon is made of cheese, but I’m capable of acting like a moon-cheeser for reasons of rational self-interest. In fact, if anyone from the Moon Cheese Society wants to pay me a sizeable fee, I can present a keynote talk on how to use common, everyday objects as logically-consistent evidence for the proposition that the moon is made of cheese (shamelessly plagiarised from Hempel’s Raven Paradox).

    So unless you want to double down on your pure, incorruptible rationality by also professing that your actions are entirely compelled by your beliefs, and you would in no way be tempted to join the Moon Cheese Society for a non-propositional reason like being paid a lot of money, then my response to point #2 is, “it doesn’t matter: your actions are more important than your beliefs.” Changing actions is probably a necessary precursor to changing beliefs anyhow, so don’t think I’m asking you to commit to a lifetime of hypocrisy. We can negotiate beliefs later.

    3. Your accusation that I am “incapable of changing [my] mind, but also incapable of doubting [my] own infallibility” is completely baseless and quite obnoxious.

    My basis for it is your continued harping that you are unable to change your beliefs — that you can’t believe that which you disbelieve. If you sincerely doubted your own fallibility with regards to your atheist beliefs, then surely this whole “I can’t change my beliefs” thing (see point #2) woulnd’t be such a mountainous impasse. Your intransigence on the subject is practically indistinguishable from perfect certainty, based on my exposure to it so far. You can appeal to the rest of your life as some kind of counter-example, but that evidence isn’t available to me, is it? All I have is what I see here, and what I see is all about citing reasons to not change.

    … like my point #1, which I already made in my previous comment, which completely destroys your attempt at defending Pascal´s wager …

    Your point #1, as I have already said, is a smokescreen which serves only to hide the fact that atheism has nothing to offer anyone as a belief (in the long run), if it’s true, by inventing arbitrary, self-serving, contrived alternatives which require atheism to be false. Withdraw your declaration of victory: you’re kidding yourself.

  35. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    On atheism, there is no afterlife, so if atheism is true, the long-term payoff is guaranteed to be zilch. In fact, the long-term relevance of what you believed and how you lived and everything you ever do is zilch. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever to be gained, long-term, by being an atheist and being right.

    But there is potential “long-term gain” by *believing* atheism to be true and being wrong about this – I´ve already given three examples and could easily give many more. So, even if there is a “long-term” / an afterlife, your claim that believing in atheism being true would guarantee that you lose out on something, is 100% false, and with it, your defense of Pascal´s wager collapses.

    That’s what I meant by it being a guaranteed loser. Even granted that atheism has a good chance of being right, you still may as well bet on something other than atheism, because you gain absolutely nothing whatsoever in the long term by being right about it.

    If you are an atheist and right about atheism being true, then you don´t lose out on anything in the long-term because there is no long-term. And if you are an atheist and wrong about atheism being true, whether you have a long-term gain or not completely depends on what the afterlife is like and it is trivial to come up with hypothetical scenarios where the convinced atheist has a long-term gain but the convinced Christian does NOT.

    Every other outcome entails atheism being wrong, so you’re just counting on getting lucky despite being dead wrong. It’s a possibility, but sheer dumb luck is not a thing over which we have control, so it’s an irrelevant possibility as far as rational argument goes.

    *sigh*. Lets try an analogy:
    Imagine that tomorrow, you will be taken to a room. You know this for certain. However, you don´t know *ANY* specifics at all – you don´t know how you will get to the room. You don´t know what´s in the room. You don´t know why you will end up in the room. You don´t know if someone else is in the room. You don´t know for how long you will stay in the room – maybe just a picosecond, maybe eternity. You don´t know ANYTHING what-so-ever about it beyond the fact that you will be in a room. If I´ll now ask you to optimize your chances of having a pleasant time in the room, what would you do? Is there any *rational* decision you could make here that is better than relying on dumb luck if you don´t know ANYTHING about the room and can´t even make some educated guesses about it? If you say no, then just substitute “afterlive” for “room” and think for a while.

    If we’re talking about reasoned behaviour, however, then possibilities which involve a good outcome despite your lack of ability to foresee or plan for them are irrelevant,

    *headdesk* YES! Seriously, how is it possible that you understand this but don´t understand why Pascal´s wager is completely illogical? If someone cannot foresee that Pascal´s religion is the ONLY possibly true one or at the very least much MUCH more likely to be true than my hypothetical scenarios (and all of the dozens more similar ones I could make up), then there is nothing to plan for because you DO NOT KNOW what to plan for.

    Okay, let’s assume for the moment that this is absolutely true. Let us assume that you are a super-rational computer which is compelled to believe things only by the evidence, and are immune to the usual human temptations to adopt beliefs for non-rational reasons.

    This is not what I said. It´s not even similar to what I said. What I said was that you “cannot just will yourself into believing ¬X to be true if you actually believe X to be true, just because believing ¬X would be more convenient for you (or vice versa)”. Per se, this has nothing to do with how many rational and irrational factors were responsible for your belief that X is true – it just means that you cannot take the belief and say “hey, it would actually be good for me to believe the opposite of that, I´ll just will myself into believing the opposite of what I currently consider to be true.”

    So unless you want to double down on your pure, incorruptible rationality…

    Seriously?

    by also professing that your actions are entirely compelled by your beliefs, and you would in no way be tempted to join the Moon Cheese Society for a non-propositional reason like being paid a lot of money, then my response to point #2 is, “it doesn’t matter: your actions are more important than your beliefs.” Changing actions is probably a necessary precursor to changing beliefs anyhow, so don’t think I’m asking you to commit to a lifetime of hypocrisy.

    I´ll just stay in your analogy and expand it a little.
    The Moon Cheese society tells me that they know some rich philanthropist who will give me a million dollars if I spend time in their club, however, I must not join some other club like the Square Circles club or the Invisible Pink Unicorn club, and I will eventually be punished if I do not join them. The Square Circles club and the Invisible Pink Unicorn club tell me pretty much the same stories about their respective clubs. And I wonder “maybe this philanthropist doesn´t actually exist, or maybe he does and he hates all those clubs and likes people who don´t fall for their schtick”. So, how should I make up my mind whether to join one of those clubs or not join one at all?

    My basis for it is your continued harping that you are unable to change your beliefs — that you can’t believe that which you disbelieve.

    This is a gross misrepresentation of what I actually said. I said that you “cannot just will yourself into believing ¬X to be true if you actually believe X to be true, JUST BECAUSE BELIEVING ¬X WOULD BE MORE CONVENIENT for you (or vice versa)”

    Your point #1, as I have already said, is a smokescreen which serves only to hide the fact that atheism has nothing to offer anyone as a belief (in the long run), if it’s true, by inventing arbitrary, self-serving, contrived alternatives which require atheism to be false.

    That those alternatives require atheism to be false is completely irrelevant wrt Pascal´s wager, the point is that the wager makes no sense if you cannot confidently rule them out. And you can call them “arbitrary, self-serving, contrived” as much as you want, prove them to be false or so unlikely that they don´t require serious consideration in the calculus that Pascal´s wager engages in – else they actually do destroy your defense of the wager.

  36. TFBW says:

    But there is potential “long-term gain” by *believing* atheism to be true and being wrong about this …

    Not in any way that distinguishes it from anything else, there isn’t. This part of your argument rests on the assumption that anything is possible, and draws attention to the alternatives which favour your case, as though that had any significance. You may as well divide by zero while you’re at it.

    Lets try an analogy …

    If that’s an analogy, then how can you possibly justify believing that death is the end of existence? By that analogy, we should all profess radical scepticism in relation to the hereafter. You are not doing that, thus not behaving in a manner consistent with your analogy, so why should I accept it as even remotely analogous to anything? What nonsense.

    If someone cannot foresee that Pascal´s religion is the ONLY possibly true one or at the very least much MUCH more likely to be true than my hypothetical scenarios (and all of the dozens more similar ones I could make up), then there is nothing to plan for because you DO NOT KNOW what to plan for.

    Ah, I think I understand your position now. You think that atheism is true, but if it’s false, then there are so many other equally-likely and mutually incompatible possibilities that there is no rational course of action you can take in relation to them. So it’s a choice between one simple, highly likely outcome — an end to existence for us all — and one unlikely outcome — a complete cacophony of equally-likely Gods (most of which nobody has even though of) with contradicting demands such that it is impossible to choose a course of action that is in one’s rational self interest. So on one alternative, it makes no difference what you do, and on the other, you have no idea what to do.

    Yes, it’s the perfect defence against Pascal’s Wager. “Give me atheism, or give me radical scepticism, for I deny that anything at all can be known about God.”

    Indeed, that’s a fairly evidence-proof fortress you’ve holed up in there. I can’t think of anything which could budge you from it. Seriously, even if the Christian God were real and came down and performed a thousand miracles for you, personally, he might be a trickster God giving you a false lead for all you know, right?

    … you cannot take the belief and say “hey, it would actually be good for me to believe the opposite of that, I´ll just will myself into believing the opposite of what I currently consider to be true.”

    Yes, but if you are going to admit that there are non-rational causes for belief (as you have), then you can influence your beliefs by manipulating those non-rational causes. That’s a lot of what Pascal says. Mostly our non-rational motivations are insidious: the true desires in our hearts tip the scales of our reason in their favour. But you can take command of those influences, and do things which will tip the scales in the other direction. Some call it life-hacking.

    It seems that every time I mention something like it, you misinterpret it as, “change your beliefs right this instant.” But there’s no real point discussing it further: you’ve undermined its relevance by denying that it’s even possible to choose a profitable set of beliefs to adopt, regardless of how one would go about persuading oneself.

  37. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    Not in any way that distinguishes it from anything else, there isn’t. This part of your argument rests on the assumption that anything is possible, and draws attention to the alternatives which favour your case, as though that had any significance. You may as well divide by zero while you’re at it.

    Remind me again why I should privilege your religious views instead of saying the same about them? They have just as much significance to me as the alternatives that I made up (read: none), and you´ve certainly given me no reason to rethink that assessment by simply telling me that I´ll don´t go to your heaven if I´m wrong about your religion being false.

    If that’s an analogy, then how can you possibly justify believing that death is the end of existence? By that analogy, we should all profess radical scepticism in relation to the hereafter. You are not doing that, thus not behaving in a manner consistent with your analogy, so why should I accept it as even remotely analogous to anything? What nonsense.

    *sigh* The point is that you cannot plan for X unless you know at least something about it. And that means that even if I grant you that there is an “afterlive”, then that, per se, is thoroughly 100% uninteresting and doesn´t allow me to plan anything for this afterlive *unless* I had at least some information about what this afterlife is like.

    Ah, I think I understand your position now. You think that atheism is true, but if it’s false, then there are so many other equally-likely and mutually incompatible possibilities that there is no rational course of action you can take in relation to them.

    Almost. Not “equally likely”, I don´t believe in the existence of an impersonal “god” (a necessarily existing “ground of all being” that is the first cause of every contingent thing, but that doesn´t have any personal attributes – no mind, no will, no plan and no love for humans or anything else) but I find it quite plausible that it does exist. When it comes to a personal God however, I indeed consider the various different conceptions of what this God would be like, including the ones I made up in my previous comments, to be almost equally unlikely (read: exceedingly unlikely).

    Yes, it’s the perfect defence against Pascal’s Wager. “Give me atheism, or give me radical scepticism, for I deny that anything at all can be known about God.”

    Indeed, that’s a fairly evidence-proof fortress you’ve holed up in there. I can’t think of anything which could budge you from it. Seriously, even if the Christian God were real and came down and performed a thousand miracles for you, personally, he might be a trickster God giving you a false lead for all you know, right?

    No, not at all. Divine hiddenness is one of the main reasons that lead me to believe that a personal God, who is benevolent and has an interest in human beings, most likely does not exist. Btw, there is also a vast grey area between the two extremes of the Christian God performing a magic show with thousand miracles for each individual personally on the one hand, and on the other hand the Christian God ignoring all of humanity for many thousand years, then picking a completely arbitrary near eastern region and prove to some of the humans there that he actually does exist while still ignoring the rest of the world, and then after a few centuries vanish again completely and leave a largely illiterate humanity alone with a fricken book of collected stories that some people wrote about him.

    But there’s no real point discussing it further: you’ve undermined its relevance by denying that it’s even possible to choose a profitable set of beliefs to adopt, regardless of how one would go about persuading oneself.

    I don´t deny that it´s possible in principle. I deny that Pascal or you did show that some set of beliefs is indeed “profitable” – both of you are cheating because you exclude ALL possibilities except for two without doing the actual work of DEMONSTRATING that those are indeed the only two options or that those two options are so overwhelmingly more likely than all hypothetical alternatives that nothing else warrants serious consideration.

  38. Doug says:

    @Andy,
    re: “cheating” — hardly. Pascal (if you read him) makes no bones about considering (only) the choice between Christianity and atheism. He’s honest about it at the outset.
    That it is necessary to “change the denominator” (as TFBW correctly interprets) to avoid the implications of the wager is no news to Pascal (or to anyone else). But in order to do so, you need to be already invested in atheism! You might respond that in order to maintain Pascal’s denominator requires one to be already invested in Christianity. Fair enough. We’ve simply established that our prior commitments leak into our analyses — no news there. But the point is that it is both unfair and question-begging to apply atheist commitments to “undermine” Pascal’s eminently sensible wager (which explicitly considers only atheism and Christianity).

  39. Andy says:

    Doug,

    That it is necessary to “change the denominator” (as TFBW correctly interprets) to avoid the implications of the wager is no news to Pascal (or to anyone else). But in order to do so, you need to be already invested in atheism!

    No, not at all. You could also be an agnostic or deist or unconventional theist or a believer in some eastern religion or what have you – Pascal´s wager is a meaningless thought experiment / a meaningless cost-benefit analysis for *everyone* who doesn´t consider Christianity and atheism to be the only two options.

    You might respond that in order to maintain Pascal’s denominator requires one to be already invested in Christianity.

    see my first reply to Michael earlier where I said:
    “Do you mean to say that the “target audience” of the wager are people that:
    1. Already believe that Christianity is true (one of the versions of Christianity that involves eternal damnation for unbelievers and that doesn´t allow for something like post mortem conversions).
    2. Are convinced that Christianity and Atheism are the only two options. Every other hypothetical option can be ruled out with so much confidence that one doesn´t have to seriously entertain the possibility of them being true.
    ?
    And that the wager is essentially just a thought experiment that reassures the Christian that he is better off with his belief in Christianity than he would be with Atheism?

    If it is what you had in mind, then I´d agree that Harris´ objections against it fail.”

    But the point is that it is both unfair and question-begging to apply atheist commitments to “undermine” Pascal’s eminently sensible wager

    I didn´t “apply atheist commitments”, I just denied that Christianity and atheism are the only two options. What is actually question-begging is Christians using Pascal´s wager as an apologetics tool without first providing *arguments* that aim to establish that Christianity and atheism are the only possible options and that everything else is either strictly impossible or so unlikely that it doesn´t warrant serious consideration in a cost-benefit analysis.

  40. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    The point is that you cannot plan for X unless you know at least something about it.

    And my point was that you do profess to know something about it: specifically, that it doesn’t exist. And if you’re wrong about that, then your fallback position is that nobody knows anything about it, or at least that I can’t assert that my scenario has greater probability than anything you can make up on the spot. There’s something distinctly lopsided about this situation, and I’d like to determine what, exactly. You seem to be gaining an unfair advantage from some unwritten rule, or inconsistent application of a rule. Any thoughts?

    Almost. Not “equally likely”, I don´t believe in the existence of an impersonal “god” (a necessarily existing “ground of all being” that is the first cause of every contingent thing, but that doesn´t have any personal attributes – no mind, no will, no plan and no love for humans or anything else) but I find it quite plausible that it does exist. When it comes to a personal God however, I indeed consider the various different conceptions of what this God would be like, including the ones I made up in my previous comments, to be almost equally unlikely (read: exceedingly unlikely).

    Well, it’s nice to know that I’m getting closer to an understanding. All I’m seeing here, however, is a subjective statement of how probable you consider various alternatives to be. You go on to speak of “Divine hiddenness” and a general lack of satisfaction with how the Judeo-Christian God has allegedly conducted His affairs — more subjective criteria.

    So while I was hasty to categorise all possibilities as equally likely, I still have the problem that my particular alternative is buried down in the long tail of least-probable alternatives, and the criteria for determining the probabilities seems to be entirely subjective anyhow. Not exactly the problem I thought I had, but a fairly close relative.

    I don´t deny that it´s possible in principle. I deny that Pascal or you did show that some set of beliefs is indeed “profitable” – both of you are cheating because you exclude ALL possibilities except for two without doing the actual work of DEMONSTRATING that those are indeed the only two options or that those two options are so overwhelmingly more likely than all hypothetical alternatives that nothing else warrants serious consideration.

    Okay, tell me more. How is it possible in principle to demonstrate to you that heaven is a real thing, and that some kind of activity is more likely to get you there than others? What do I need to do?

  41. Andy says:

    And my point was that you do profess to know something about it: specifically, that it doesn’t exist. And if you’re wrong about that, then your fallback position is that nobody knows anything about it, or at least that I can’t assert that my scenario has greater probability than anything you can make up on the spot. There’s something distinctly lopsided about this situation, and I’d like to determine what, exactly. You seem to be gaining an unfair advantage from some unwritten rule, or inconsistent application of a rule. Any thoughts?

    Well, I indeed do believe that mental activity cannot persist after the death of its physical substrate and I also indeed do believe that if I am wrong about this and that there thus is some kind of afterlife, that there is no way for me to make an educated guess as to what this afterlife might be like based on the information accessible to me.
    I don´t see how I have an unfair advantage here, I wouldn´t ask you to accept my belief that there is no afterlife without first explaining in detail why exactly I think there is none, and I´m not accepting your belief as to what a hypothetical afterlife would be like to be more probable than anything I could make up on the spot unless you can provide arguments that establish that your belief is more plausible.

    All I’m seeing here, however, is a subjective statement of how probable you consider various alternatives to be. You go on to speak of “Divine hiddenness” and a general lack of satisfaction with how the Judeo-Christian God has allegedly conducted His affairs — more subjective criteria.

    So while I was hasty to categorise all possibilities as equally likely, I still have the problem that my particular alternative is buried down in the long tail of least-probable alternatives, and the criteria for determining the probabilities seems to be entirely subjective anyhow.

    I haven´t seen any formal argument for Christianity from you so far, do you think that based on that I would be justified in asserting that you couldn´t come up with one even if you wanted to and that your belief in Christianity being more probable than atheism is thus just some entirely subjective preference? Or would you think that this assertion would be both completely baseless and needlessly provocative?

    Okay, tell me more. How is it possible in principle to demonstrate to you that heaven is a real thing, and that some kind of activity is more likely to get you there than others? What do I need to do?

    You have a specific heaven in mind here – the Christian one. So what you would need to do is demonstrate that if one considers all the evidence for and against Christianity, Christianity ends up being more likely than not (the “against” would include for example the fact that *you* need to do this in the first place while your God stays completely silent). And then you´d need to demonstrate that your interpretation of Christianity – which I presume involves universalism being false and post mortem conversions being impossible – is the one that is most likely correct (Christianity is not monolithic after all and it is not *that* uncommon to find, say, protestants who believe that Catholics are blasphemers that will go to hell and Catholics who still believe in the extra Ecclesiam nulla salus doctrine).

  42. Doug says:

    @Andy,

    Pascal´s wager is a meaningless thought experiment / a meaningless cost-benefit analysis for *everyone* who doesn´t consider Christianity and atheism to be the only two options.

    You realize that this is in complete agreement with what I wrote, right?
    In other words, you are missing the entire point of the wager by requiring it to address something that it was never intended to address.
    The entertaining thing here is that the vehemence with which atheists attack the wager derives from their cognitive dissonance: on the one hand, they require a huge number of “live options” in order to undermine the wager; on the other, they are only attacking Christianity — because they instinctively and subconsciously know that it is the only other “live option” besides their atheism.

  43. Andy says:

    Doug,

    You realize that this is in complete agreement with what I wrote, right?
    In other words, you are missing the entire point of the wager by requiring it to address something that it was never intended to address.

    I fail to see how this in any way rebuts my conclusion:
    “What is actually question-begging is Christians using Pascal´s wager as an apologetics tool without first providing *arguments* that aim to establish that Christianity and atheism are the only possible options and that everything else is either strictly impossible or so unlikely that it doesn´t warrant serious consideration in a cost-benefit analysis.”

    The entertaining thing here is that the vehemence with which atheists attack the wager derives from their cognitive dissonance: on the one hand, they require a huge number of “live options” in order to undermine the wager; on the other, they are only attacking Christianity — because they instinctively and subconsciously know that it is the only other “live option” besides their atheism.

    That might have something to do with the fact that in the parochial communities you frequent (online and offline) , the overwhelming majority of people are either Christians or atheists. What is actually amusing here is that your mind is so small that you cannot even imagine the diversity that exists outside your immediate neighbourhood. If you travel a little and see something of the world, or visit some online forums that are not dominated by US-americans and western europeans, or have a job that requires you to interact with many different people, your perspective would be quite different (for the last two months, I almost exclusively “attacked” (rather: “argued against”) Islam, because I had to work in an environment where the majority of people were Muslims).
    Btw, I don´t consider Christianity to be a “live” option, just a hypothetical one.

  44. Doug says:

    @Andy,
    Of course you don’t consider Christianity to be a “live” option! How could you?
    But I seem to have touched a nerve – and the hostility you demonstrate is quite in keeping with the cognitive dissonance I called out. On the other hand, your amateur psychoanalysis will provide considerable amusement to my friends and colleagues around the world. Thanks for that!

  45. Andy says:

    Doug,

    Of course you don’t consider Christianity to be a “live” option! How could you?

    By considering it to be plausible enough to warrant serious consideration – that is what “live” option means. And since I consider Christianity to be false (and any kind of personal deity to be exceedingly unlikely), I don´t consider Christianity to be a “live” option as long as I don´t change my mind about the reasons I had for making that assessment.

    But I seem to have touched a nerve – and the hostility you demonstrate….

    I see that you are reduced to flat out trolling, but I strongly doubt that you are good enough at it to provoke any hostility from me.

    On the other hand, your amateur psychoanalysis will provide considerable amusement to my friends and colleagues around the world.

    You have friends and colleagues around the world and have never seen a religious debate / discussion other than atheism vs. Christianity? Sounds legit.

  46. Doug says:

    @Andy,
    I was debating Muslims while you were still in diapers.

  47. Andy says:

    Doug,

    I was debating Muslims while you were still in diapers.

    So you have friends and colleagues around the world, and you are also so old that you can safely presume that the average interlocutor is much younger than you – yet you still have seen so little that you haven´t even once have encountered an atheist arguing against any religion other than Christianity?
    How very plausible.

  48. Doug says:

    @Andy,
    How much of the atheist literature in the last twenty years has been targeting Christianity; how much of it has been directed elsewhere? Exactly. Even the exceptions make attempts to tar Christianity with the same brushes wielded toward other targets.

  49. Doug says:

    @Andy – it would appear that your “plausability meter” is quite broken. What makes you think that it is operative when directed toward theological concerns?

  50. Andy says:

    Doug,

    How much of the atheist literature in the last twenty years has been targeting Christianity; how much of it has been directed elsewhere?

    I´m not aware of any statistics, but based on the literature I´ve seen, I´d say that the literature that targets Christianity specifically are a distinct minority. I just checked the first best-of list of atheist literature I could find and all but one of the books on the list don´t focus exclusively on Christianity or single out Christianity in some way:
    http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=3545
    Also, note that we are only dealing with *english* literature here. If we check the market for, say, India, I´d be very surprised if we can find even just a single piece of atheist literature that deals exclusively with Christianity.
    How many atheist books that don´t focus on Christianity specifically do I have to show you until you concede that you were wrong? Are a dozen enough? Or do you need more than a hundred?

  51. Andy says:

    Doug,

    it would appear that your “plausability meter” is quite broken

    Because you say so? Or do you have any rational argument for making that assessment?

  52. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    Well, I indeed do believe that mental activity cannot persist after the death of its physical substrate and I also indeed do believe that if I am wrong about this and that there thus is some kind of afterlife, that there is no way for me to make an educated guess as to what this afterlife might be like based on the information accessible to me.

    There’s a conceptual difference between consciousness and brain activity, as even Sam Harris has pointed out. Also, even if you’re right about the importance of brain activity, but wrong about the existence of God, what’s to stop God from bringing you back, brain and all? It seems like your “death is the end” theory is propped up by a lot of metaphysical assumptions rather than solid evidence — or at least, the evidence only acts as evidence if you first accept the metaphysical assumptions.

    Aside from that, I do seem to have at least identified your position, more or less. That’s progress.

    I haven´t seen any formal argument for Christianity from you so far …

    Pascal’s Wager is a form of argument for Christianity. It just so happens that it works from premises that you don’t accept, and it’s taken us a while to sort out where the disagreement arises. What I need to do is start from something that you actually accept, and work forwards from there, or demonstrate that such an argument isn’t possible from your starting position.

    I’m still working out the details of your starting position at this point — trying to identify something objective to work with.

    … do you think that based on that I would be justified in asserting that you couldn´t come up with one even if you wanted to and that your belief in Christianity being more probable than atheism is thus just some entirely subjective preference? Or would you think that this assertion would be both completely baseless and needlessly provocative?

    I think it would smack of tu quoque, and you’re welcome to do it if you are actually asserting that your atheism is subjective, and you want to assert that I’m no better. If it isn’t, then I’d rather that you helped me identify your objective bases.

    Also, I’d point out that I don’t have to believe that Christianity is more probably true than atheism. If I were to assume that atheism is a hundred times more likely to be true than Christianity, and Christianity is ten times more likely than any other alternative, then Christianity would still be the rational choice (thanks, Pascal).

    So what you would need to do is demonstrate that if one considers all the evidence for and against Christianity, Christianity ends up being more likely than not (the “against” would include for example the fact that *you* need to do this in the first place while your God stays completely silent).

    Okay, you see there are a lot of implied background beliefs in a statement like that. Clearly you have certain expectations as to how God ought to interact with us if He cares about us (which He’s failing to meet), but I don’t know the details or share similar intuitions. I don’t want to play a guessing game as to what counts as good evidence for you, since that could take forever. What I would like you to do is give me some minimum evidential bar that I need to clear — a concrete example of actual evidence that you might accept as sufficient, rather than a general demand for sufficient evidence. If you can also explain why you think your stated requirement is objectively reasonable, that would help, since it may suggest suitable alternatives.

    And let’s not get too ambitious about specific doctrines here, because the more I learn about some of that stuff, the less certain I become. Let’s just aim for what evidence it would take for you to accept that there is a God, a heaven worth living in, and some means to have a better-than-nothing understanding of the entry criteria. It doesn’t even have to be specifically compatible with Christianity.

  53. Doug says:

    @Andy – you are answering the wrong question (viz “how many of the books focus exclusively on Christianity?”) — that word “exclusively” will get you out of trouble every time. Neither Pascal nor I care much about atheists who are entirely ignorant of Christianity (why would we?) The fact of the matter is that atheists statistically have much less concern for Mormonism, Scientology, or even Islam. Do you deny this? If not, why do you suppose it is the case? Is it related to the fact that children brought up in atheistic households statistically convert to Christianity at a higher rate than children brought up in Christian households deconvert to atheism?

  54. Andy says:

    The fact of the matter is that atheists statistically have much less concern for Mormonism, Scientology, or even Islam. Do you deny this? If not, why do you suppose it is the case?

    First of all, I will point out that you completely shifted the goalposts from your original claim that “[Atheists] are *only* attacking Christianity” (emphasis yours) to atheists statistically being more likely to attack Christianity than attacking, say, Mormonism, Scientology or Islam – without first conceding that your original claim is indeed flat out wrong.
    Regarding your new claim, maybe you are really not aware of this but there are actually more than a hundred times as many Christians than there are Mormons, so the fact that criticism directed against Mormomism is statistically less frequent than criticism against Christianity is not as surprising as you think.
    Also, most of the advanced atheist literature (like many of the items in the best of list I linked to in my last comment) doesn´t deal with ANY specific religion but rather with quite general claims relating to the philosophy of religion.

  55. Doug says:

    New claim = old claim (thanks for granting nuance to hastily-written posts, and for focusing on the main claims rather than quibbling about wording – not)
    Most of the advanced atheist literature (just in case you weren’t aware) deals with the “quite general claims relating to the philosophy of religion” that originally derived from Christianity.

  56. Andy says:

    Also, even if you’re right about the importance of brain activity, but wrong about the existence of God, what’s to stop God from bringing you back, brain and all?

    I cannot tell you that without knowing if there is a God in the first place and without being able to make at least some educated guesses as to what this God is likely to do or not.

    Pascal’s Wager is a form of argument for Christianity. It just so happens that it works from premises that you don’t accept

    Like the premise that Christianity and atheism are the only two options? You´ve got to be kidding. How can you rationally use that as a premise *without* first arguing that those indeed are the only two options? This is totally begging the question.

    Okay, you see there are a lot of implied background beliefs in a statement like that. Clearly you have certain expectations as to how God ought to interact with us if He cares about us (which He’s failing to meet), but I don’t know the details or share similar intuitions. I don’t want to play a guessing game as to what counts as good evidence for you, since that could take forever. What I would like you to do is give me some minimum evidential bar that I need to clear — a concrete example of actual evidence that you might accept as sufficient, rather than a general demand for sufficient evidence. If you can also explain why you think your stated requirement is objectively reasonable, that would help, since it may suggest suitable alternatives.

    A concrete example? Alright, the most obvious one I could think of would be the Christian God, or one aspect of the trinity, being as “accessible” as Jesus allegedly was for his peers according to the NT accounts of his life. By “accessible” I mean that one aspect of the trinity would nowadays be ready to demonstrate God´s power and share at least some of his wisdom to a degree roughly comparable to what Jesus allegedly did two millenia ago. That is not the only possible hypothetical line of evidence that would support Christianity I could think of, but it is the first thing that comes to mind. And expecting such evidence would be reasonable under the assumption that Christianity is true because then God actually once was *exactly* this accessible for people and there is no rational reason for why God should not be similarly accessible to people that didn´t live in ancient Palestine (not necessarily in the form of Jesus, there are still two other aspects of the trinity after all) and it would be both unfair and irrational for God to expect every sincere truth-seeker to be convinced of mere hearsay.

  57. Andy says:

    Doug,

    New claim = old claim

    Because “every” = “statistically more likely”-

    Most of the advanced atheist literature (just in case you weren’t aware) deals with the “quite general claims relating to the philosophy of religion” that originally derived from Christianity.

    “Classical theism is, historically, the mainstream view in philosophy and is associated with the tradition of writers like Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, St. Anselm, Maimonides, Averroes and Thomas Aquinas.”
    Hint: Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus were not Christians and lived before Jesus. Also, the discussion in this literature is not limited to classical theism.

  58. Doug says:

    @Andy,

    Here is my original claim (reproduced for your convenience):

    The entertaining thing here is that the vehemence with which atheists attack the wager derives from their cognitive dissonance: on the one hand, they require a huge number of “live options” in order to undermine the wager; on the other, they are only attacking Christianity — because they instinctively and subconsciously know that it is the only other “live option” besides their atheism.

    The context in which the word “only” was used was “the cognitive dissonance of atheists vehemently attacking Pascal’s wager”. Perhaps you missed that. Of course, it served your rhetorical purposes to entirely deflect the conversation in order to pull that word out of context and pretend that I was making a more general claim. Bad form. But nice try.

  59. Doug says:

    @Andy,

    In your response to TFBW, you request that God provide an incarnation to appear to every human being in history? Really? Is this your standard of evidence?

  60. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    I cannot tell you that without knowing if there is a God in the first place and without being able to make at least some educated guesses as to what this God is likely to do or not.

    But doesn’t your assessment of “death is the end” as the most probable alternative depend on some of these factors? On the one hand, you seem to assign a high degree of probability to “death is the end”, and on the other, you express a lack of knowledge about factors which you would need to know in order to compute that probability.

    Like the premise that Christianity and atheism are the only two options? You´ve got to be kidding. How can you rationally use that as a premise *without* first arguing that those indeed are the only two options?

    If two people happen to share a premise at the outset, then there’s no need to argue about it — end of story. Also, Christianity and atheism don’t have to be the only two options: Christianity just has to be more likely than the relevant left-overs. I keep mentioning these details, and you keep oversimplifying them back out. It doesn’t inspire much confidence in our communication.

    Alright, the most obvious one I could think of would be the Christian God, or one aspect of the trinity, being as “accessible” as Jesus allegedly was for his peers according to the NT accounts of his life. By “accessible” I mean that one aspect of the trinity would nowadays be ready to demonstrate God´s power and share at least some of his wisdom to a degree roughly comparable to what Jesus allegedly did two millenia ago.

    So if Jesus turned up and claimed to be the Son of God, turned some water into wine, healed some folks, raised some folks from the dead, and reiterated a bunch of stuff from the New Testament, you’d consider that sufficient? But surely you could construct ad hoc explanations of all these events in which Christianity was still false, like a trickster God scenario? If you’re willing to consider a trickster God scenario as being about equally probable to Christianity in response to Pascal’s Wager, why ignore that same possibility when interpreting the evidence?

  61. Andy says:

    But doesn’t your assessment of “death is the end” as the most probable alternative depend on some of these factors? On the one hand, you seem to assign a high degree of probability to “death is the end”, and on the other, you express a lack of knowledge about factors which you would need to know in order to compute that probability.

    I replied to your question “what’s to stop God from bringing you back, brain and all?” – and that question cannot be answered without knowing something about what God is likely to do. I don´t believe in a God that would be interested in humans at all, so the question is moot from the get go if I am right about that.

    If two people happen to share a premise at the outset, then there’s no need to argue about it — end of story. Also, Christianity and atheism don’t have to be the only two options: Christianity just has to be more likely than the relevant left-overs. I keep mentioning these details, and you keep oversimplifying them back out.

    Pascal wasn´t interested in whether a potential reader of his treatise shared his premise, and you were not interested in it either. Why don´t you ask people *first* whether they accept that premise because Pascal´s wager is thoroughly illogical without it?

    So if Jesus turned up and claimed to be the Son of God, turned some water into wine, healed some folks, raised some folks from the dead, and reiterated a bunch of stuff from the New Testament, you’d consider that sufficient?

    Yup. Although I strongly suspect that Jesus wouldn´t just reiterate the stuff in the NT but also answer some other questions – like for example which interpretation of the atonement is correct for Christianity and how it makes any sense (I´d be quite curious because it is quite unintelligible to me and every time some Christian tried to explain it to me, it only made it worse. but Jesus was an extremely skilled teach as far as I´ve heard so I´m sure he can explain it better).

    But surely you could construct ad hoc explanations of all these events in which Christianity was still false, like a trickster God scenario?

    Yes, just like I could postulate a trickster God that would explain all of the evidence for common descent even if common descent is completely false and every kind came into existence through special creation. If X predicts a set of observation and Y doesn´t predict those observations but is made *compatible* with them through some ad hoc hypotheses, then those observations only support the truth of X and are completely neutral (neither supporting nor contradicting) wrt Y.

    If you’re willing to consider a trickster God scenario as being about equally probable to Christianity in response to Pascal’s Wager, why ignore that same possibility when interpreting the evidence?

    You have to be more specific. I consider the hypothetical scenarios I sketched above to be roughly equally likely to Christianity because they are immune to the best arguments against Christianity (or very similar religions) specifically on the one hand, but lack any evidence in support of them that is unique to Christianity on the other hand – and that roughly cancels each other out.

  62. Andy says:

    Doug,
    “The context in which the word “only” was used was “the cognitive dissonance of atheists vehemently attacking Pascal’s wager”. Perhaps you missed that. Of course, it served your rhetorical purposes to entirely deflect the conversation in order to pull that word out of context and pretend that I was making a more general claim. Bad form. But nice try.”
    – The sentence in quotes “the cognitive dissonance of atheists vehemently attacking Pascal’s wager”, is something you never said before, you just made that up. What you actually said was:
    “on the one hand, they require a huge number of “live options” in order to undermine the wager; on the other, they are only attacking Christianity” so you did actually make the general claim that “they are ONLY attacking Christianity”. It would be ok to just admit that you completely overgeneralized in the heat of the moment and actually just meant that atheists, when they attack a specific relgion, are more likely to attack Christianity than Mormonism or Scientology. But you rather want to rewrite history and pretend that you never did make this overgeneralization at all, which is quite dishonest.

  63. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    I don´t believe in a God that would be interested in humans at all, so the question is moot from the get go if I am right about that.

    It’s just a little confusing, because you vacillate between making fairly confident probability claims, and denying knowledge. It seems to me that you would need to know some of the things that you say you don’t know in order to make the probability claim, unless the probability claim is merely an expression of subjective assent. If it were merely an expression of subjective assent, you would operate under a much looser set of rules, but you’ve taken exception to my classification of anything as subjective.

    Pascal wasn´t interested in whether a potential reader of his treatise shared his premise …

    Treatise? Have you actually read Pensées? It’s not even a finished work, more’s the pity. What’s your basis for the claim that Pascal lacked such interest?

    … I strongly suspect that Jesus wouldn´t just reiterate the stuff in the NT but also answer some other questions …

    I strongly suspect that your ideas are based on what you desire, rather than what you might find in the New Testament accounts. Jesus’ willingness to give clear answers varied a great deal depending on who was asking, and most of his public teaching came in the form of parables. You might be disappointed.

    If X predicts a set of observation and Y doesn´t predict those observations but is made *compatible* with them through some ad hoc hypotheses, then those observations only support the truth of X and are completely neutral (neither supporting nor contradicting) wrt Y.

    That’s an interesting distinction, although I can see plenty of scope for difficulty in it. Much as I enjoy the philosophy of science, however, I don’t want to digress into it any more than is necessary for the task at hand.

    You have to be more specific.

    I didn’t really understand your remark beyond this point, but maybe if I’m more specific, a clearer explanation will follow. In response to Pascal’s Wager, you raised the possibility that “there could be a God who considers skepticism to be the most noble virtue,” and your barrier to defeat the objection was, “prove that this cannot possibly be true.” The evidence you’ve now cited as acceptable doesn’t clear this barrier. It could still be the case that God considers scepticism to be the most noble virtue, and this Jesus act is just a test to see how truly sceptical people are. Richard Dawkins would pass the test, because he’s just that resistant to accepting anything as evidence for God.

    The difference between what your evidence shows and what you demanded earlier looks like an inconsistency to me. Please explain. Also, assuming you stand by your requirements for evidence, do you think that Richard Dawkins would be unreasonable in his continued scepticism, given that evidence?

  64. Andy says:

    It’s just a little confusing, because you vacillate between making fairly confident probability claims, and denying knowledge.

    For some reason, you expect that someone who neither believes in an afterlife nor in a God, needs to have specific beliefs about what kind of God exactly would exist if he is wrong and what the afterlife would look like if he is wrong. Don´t you think that´s quite strange?
    Imagine asking someone who doesn´t believe that anyone was ever abducted by aliens a question along the line of:
    “Ok, but what if you are wrong? What do you think would aliens most likely then have done to the people that they abducted?”, him then replying “I don´t believe in alien abductions to begin with, and how the hell should I know what a *hypothetical* alien would most likely do to a human without having any knowledge of what those aliens would be like IF they exist” and you then replying “strange, you vacillate between making confident claims, like not believing in alien abductions, and denying knowledge”.

    It seems to me that you would need to know some of the things that you say you don’t know in order to make the probability claim…

    Maybe, but you´ve given me no reason to believe this. Be specific, which knowledge that I say I don´t have would I need in order to defend a claim that I made?

    Treatise? Have you actually read Pensées? It’s not even a finished work, more’s the pity. What’s your basis for the claim that Pascal lacked such interest?

    I´ll tell you that right after you answered my earlier question:
    “Why don´t you ask people *first* whether they accept that premise because Pascal´s wager is thoroughly illogical without it?”

    I strongly suspect that your ideas are based on what you desire, rather than what you might find in the New Testament accounts. Jesus’ willingness to give clear answers varied a great deal depending on who was asking, and most of his public teaching came in the form of parables.

    I don´t have desires wrt Christianity and my suspicions about what Jesus (or God or the holy spirit) would or wouldn´t do *exactly* are not very relevant to the core issue – if the Christian God exists, then one aspect of the trinity could be as accessible to us as Jesus once allegedly was to his peers, this would be extremely good evidence for Christianity being true, but we do not have such evidence. As far as I can tell, I thus fulfilled your request for “a concrete example of actual evidence that you might accept as sufficient”.

    I didn’t really understand your remark beyond this point, but maybe if I’m more specific, a clearer explanation will follow. In response to Pascal’s Wager, you raised the possibility that “there could be a God who considers skepticism to be the most noble virtue,” and your barrier to defeat the objection was, “prove that this cannot possibly be true.” The evidence you’ve now cited as acceptable doesn’t clear this barrier. It could still be the case that God considers scepticism to be the most noble virtue, and this Jesus act is just a test to see how truly sceptical people are.

    1. Note that we have been talking about *counterfactuals*. In a hypothetical world where we had evidence like the example I mentioned above, I would no longer claim that all accounts of what a theistic God might be like are exceedingly unlikely and all roughly equally unlikely – but would rather say that the available evidence favors Christianity over all other options.
    2. The “prove that this cannot possibly be true” barrier is necessary as soon as you want to do a cost-benefit calculus along the line of Pascal´s wager. When you do that, you are talking about infinite potential gains and infinite potential costs, so even astronomically unlikely scenarios would warrant serious consideration and the only rational way to *completely exclude* an option from such a cost-benefit analysis is to show that it is not just unlikely. but rather strictly impossible. If you cannot show them to be impossible, you cannot use such a calculation as an argument for Christianity unless Christianity still wins if you consider ALL possible options.

    Also, assuming you stand by your requirements for evidence, do you think that Richard Dawkins would be unreasonable in his continued scepticism, given that evidence?

    For the hypothetical observations I mentioned, I don´t see how any other explanation could be more probable than Christianity being true – so yes, I´d consider that unreasonable.

  65. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    For some reason, you expect that someone who neither believes in an afterlife nor in a God, needs to have specific beliefs about what kind of God exactly would exist if he is wrong and what the afterlife would look like if he is wrong. Don´t you think that´s quite strange?

    A bit strange, perhaps, but in my defence, you have actually expressed specific opinions as to what God would be like if there were such a thing. You said that you considered an impersonal God to be relatively plausible, whereas you consider all the possibilities relating to a personal God, “including the ones I made up in my previous comments, to be almost equally unlikely (read: exceedingly unlikely).”

    Can we have a final word on whether these probability measures are meant to be objective or subjective, because if they’re subjective, then most of my scrutiny becomes irrelevant — you are, after all, entitled to your opinions, and I am entitled to disagree with them. If they’re meant to be objective, however, then you’re expecting me to agree with them (if I’m rational about it), and some auditing will be required.

    I´ll tell you that right after you answered my earlier question …

    If you insist. In my opinion, all the caveats and conditions surrounding Pascal’s Wager were actually adequately covered in the original post and your initial comment exchange with Michael. So, “why don’t you ask first whether people accept the premise?” Answer, “I thought it had been made clear that the wager was based on such premises, and if you didn’t agree with them, you’d mention that important fact at the outset.”

    So, repeating my questions, have you actually read Pensées, and what’s your basis for the claim that Pascal lacked such interest?

    The “prove that this cannot possibly be true” barrier is necessary as soon as you want to do a cost-benefit calculus along the line of Pascal´s wager. When you do that, you are talking about infinite potential gains and infinite potential costs, so even astronomically unlikely scenarios would warrant serious consideration and the only rational way to *completely exclude* an option from such a cost-benefit analysis is to show that it is not just unlikely. but rather strictly impossible. If you cannot show them to be impossible, you cannot use such a calculation as an argument for Christianity unless Christianity still wins if you consider ALL possible options.

    No, that’s not right at all. It will take a rather lengthy explanation to describe the problem, so brace yourself for a lecture.

    There are possibilities that can be categorically ignored, and there are limiting conditions which can render other possibilities irrelevant. The “death is the end” possibility, for example, can be categorically ignored, regardless of how probable it is. The long-term cost/benefit analysis is trivial: everyone ceases to exist in the long run, no matter what they do, so it makes no long-term difference at all what you do between now and when you die. Universalism faces a similar issue: on universalism, everyone goes to heaven for eternity in the long run, no matter what they do, so it makes only infinitesimal long-term difference what you do now. Any outcome which is truly universal in the long run can be ignored, because nothing you can do in the here and now will have anything more than infinitesimal impact on it.

    Beyond that, you have to consider probability (of picking the true alternative), cost (lifestyle sacrifices), and pay-off. The pay-off is a two dimensional property consisting of quality and quantity. The quality ranges from some ideal optimum to its opposite, and the quality varies according to some factors under your control (in the cases that matter to us). Adjusting those control factors is where you encounter your cost. Non-existence should be treated as a zero on the quality scale, with fates worse than non-existence (a subjective measure) treated as negatives.

    The quantity can be finite or infinite (eternal). Ideally, you want something where the pay-off is optimal and eternal, because that’s as good as it gets, but anything with an eternal, better-than-nothing pay-off is a contender thanks to the probability consideration: an eternal pay-off with a quality of 50% is a better bet than an eternal pay-off with quality of 100% if the latter outcome is less than half as likely. That’s “expected value” — an important concept.

    Finite outcomes are a special case: in some sense, all outcomes must be eternal, but for something like reincarnation, you have to model it as a sequence of wagers with finite pay-offs, rather than a single indefinite pay-off. In this case, cost can become a significant consideration, because you only get so much pay-off per initial cost outlay. For one-time costs, the cost is usually immaterial relative to the pay-off (costs are opportunity costs paid during your lifetime).

    So, a possible limiting condition here is if you find an alternative which has precisely two available outcomes — a maximally positive one and a maximally negative one — coupled with a greater than 50% probability (after discounting irrelevant universals). Without any further information, we know that the path of maximum pay-off requires that we “win” this one (obtain the maximally positive pay-off). In the worst case, there is only one other alternative, and it’s the exact opposite of this one, but its expected value will be lower due to its lower probability.

    So this is an example of a case where you know that you must “win” a certain outcome, regardless of what all the other alternatives are. It’s not the only case, but the general principle is that you can compute worst-case scenarios for your unknowns, and see what their maximum theoretical impact is like. The result may tell you that you can afford to ignore the unknowns.

  66. FZM says:

    Andy,

    I don´t deny that it´s possible in principle. I deny that Pascal or you did show that some set of beliefs is indeed “profitable” – both of you are cheating because you exclude ALL possibilities except for two without doing the actual work of DEMONSTRATING that those are indeed the only two options or that those two options are so overwhelmingly more likely than all hypothetical alternatives that nothing else warrants serious consideration.

    For the wager argument to still work I don’t think you need to demonstrate that there are only two options or that they be overwhemlingly more likely than all others. It seems like it would be more a case of being able to show that the alternatives which involve God rewarding atheism and rejection/denial of belief in God, or God punishing those who believe in the wrong God/s more severely than those who are outright atheists are less probable than alternatives where belief in a God of some kind brings rewards.

    Even if it’s impossible to say which among this latter kind of God is the ‘right one’ to get the reward, it would still be better to bet on any one of them than to deny them all. Choosing that option leads certainly to a total loss, with the other options there would still be a chance of making a good bet.

    (This raises a question: Are there any arguments that could be used to judge the probablity of the existence of loads of different Gods all with specific exclusive belief requirements? This could evidently influence the odds of the chance of picking the ‘right’ one.)

    As an example of what I was thinking of in the first paragraph, there are arguments in the Catholic tradition which claim to show that God exists, that God is Truth, Goodness and Being and that consequently God cannot directly will any evil or badness (understood as the absence of Being, Truth and Goodness), and presumably cannot reward those who deny/reject Truth, Goodness and Being. This kind of argument could be used to support the claims regarding the existence of a God who rewards belief in God but is (perhaps much) less likely to reward atheism.

    Unless there were counter arguments that were at least as strong suggesting that a God exercising a more pure divine voluntarism (this seems necessary to have Gods who reward those who reject or deny belief in them, or are likely punish those who believe in the wrong God more than those who reject all Gods) existed, and was likely to act in those particular ways, it seems like the wager argument could still be re-established.

    like for example which interpretation of the atonement is correct for Christianity and how it makes any sense (I´d be quite curious because it is quite unintelligible to me and every time some Christian tried to explain it to me, it only made it worse. but Jesus was an extremely skilled teach as far as I´ve heard so I´m sure he can explain it better).

    To start to think about different interpretations of Christ’s atonement (if this is really the correct way of thinking about Christ’s redemptive action) I think you need to work within the context of the rest of Christian revelation. As an atheist, if you can’t entertain the idea God as a Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit, divine creation of humanity and rational agents, Original Sin and the Fall, can’t entertain the idea of the Incarnation etc. in the first place I can see how discussion of what exactly the nature of Christ’s atonement was/what it means would be unintelligible.

  67. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    A bit strange, perhaps, but in my defence, you have actually expressed specific opinions as to what God would be like if there were such a thing. You said that you considered an impersonal God to be relatively plausible, whereas you consider all the possibilities relating to a personal God, “including the ones I made up in my previous comments, to be almost equally unlikely (read: exceedingly unlikely).”

    Can we have a final word on whether these probability measures are meant to be objective or subjective, because if they’re subjective, then most of my scrutiny becomes irrelevant — you are, after all, entitled to your opinions, and I am entitled to disagree with them. If they’re meant to be objective, however, then you’re expecting me to agree with them (if I’m rational about it), and some auditing will be required.

    Yes, I tried to be as objective as I can while making these assessments, and no, that doesn´t necessarily mean that I expect you to agree with that´s why I expressed them as an opinion (“I consider…”) after all and not as a statement of fact. The context was that you thought my position entailed that all claims about God would be equally likely, and I told you that this is not quite correct and gave you some more details about what my position actually entails. I didn´t assert my position in that context as a fact, I didn´t ask you to agree with it, and whether you agree with it or not is completely irrelevant for the claims I did express as statements of fact in this thread instead of as an opinion.

    If you insist. In my opinion, all the caveats and conditions surrounding Pascal’s Wager were actually adequately covered in the original post and your initial comment exchange with Michael. So, “why don’t you ask first whether people accept the premise?” Answer, “I thought it had been made clear that the wager was based on such premises, and if you didn’t agree with them, you’d mention that important fact at the outset.”

    If you now agree with what I said in my earlier reply to Michael, that would mean that you moved from the position you originally had in this thread, because I did reference my reply to Michael very early in our exchange, specifically the part about the “it must be either Christianity or atheism” premise, and you disagreed with me then.

    So, repeating my questions, have you actually read Pensées, and what’s your basis for the claim that Pascal lacked such interest?

    Because the premise is absolutely central to the wager and it doesn´t make any sense at all without it, yet Pascal didn´t try to defend it and didn´t even hint at the fact that this premise is necessary for his wager in the first place – he just silently presupposed that a reader would share this premise.

    So, a possible limiting condition here is if you find an alternative which has precisely two available outcomes — a maximally positive one and a maximally negative one — coupled with a greater than 50% probability (after discounting irrelevant universals). Without any further information, we know that the path of maximum pay-off requires that we “win” this one (obtain the maximally positive pay-off). In the worst case, there is only one other alternative, and it’s the exact opposite of this one, but its expected value will be lower due to its lower probability.

    So this is an example of a case where you know that you must “win” a certain outcome, regardless of what all the other alternatives are. It’s not the only case, but the general principle is that you can compute worst-case scenarios for your unknowns, and see what their maximum theoretical impact is like. The result may tell you that you can afford to ignore the unknowns.

    This is not a rebuttal to what I said at all. Yes, the result “MAY tell” you that (this is trivially true…) but you cannot know whether it does tell you that or not until you actually do the work of evaluating and comparing the probabilities and expected costs and benefits of the respective alternatives, to actually get the result instead of speculating what it MAY look like. And that is precisely what I pointed out earlier.

  68. Andy says:

    FZM,

    For the wager argument to still work I don’t think you need to demonstrate that there are only two options or that they be overwhemlingly more likely than all others. It seems like it would be more a case of being able to show that the alternatives which involve God rewarding atheism and rejection/denial of belief in God, or God punishing those who believe in the wrong God/s more severely than those who are outright atheists are less probable than alternatives where belief in a God of some kind brings rewards.

    You are confusing two different things here:
    1. Using only the two options “Christianity or atheism” for a cost-benefit analysis without first demonstrating that those indeed are the only two options.
    2. Considering all possible options and showing that Christianity would still win in a cost-benefit analysis.
    What you say here corresponds to #2 (and yes, if you could do that, Pascal´s wager would work), what I was talking about however was #1.

    Even if it’s impossible to say which among this latter kind of God is the ‘right one’ to get the reward, it would still be better to bet on any one of them than to deny them all. Choosing that option leads certainly to a total loss,

    That is completely false. I pointed out several times in earlier comments how being an atheist could easily lead to a better fate in a hypothetical afterlife than being, say, a Christian. Example: there is a God and he doesn´t care whether humans believe in his existence or not, but finds the kind of thinking that underlies Pascal´s wager (rather going for convenient delusions than embracing inconvenient truths) to be absolutely abhorrent – in that case, trying to will yourself into believing Christianity even though there most likely is no God as far as you can tell based on the information you have, would be the worst thing you could do wrt your fate in the afterlife. So no, denying the existence of all Gods does not certainly lead to a total loss if there is an afterlife.

    As an example of what I was thinking of in the first paragraph, there are arguments in the Catholic tradition which claim to show that God exists, that God is Truth, Goodness and Being and that consequently God cannot directly will any evil or badness (understood as the absence of Being, Truth and Goodness), and presumably cannot reward those who deny/reject Truth, Goodness and Being. This kind of argument could be used to support the claims regarding the existence of a God who rewards belief in God but is (perhaps much) less likely to reward atheism.

    Let me present you an alternative to that:
    John and Jim are both atheists. Jim tries to act as if Catholicism is true because he wants to will himself into believing that it is indeed true so that he might go to heaven. And God is much more likely to reward John because while John was mistaken and his beliefs wrt God were false, he was also sincere and cared about what is true – while Jim was a hypocrite who didn´t care about truth in itself.
    How would you try to demonstrate that this alternative is less likely than what you are suggesting?

    As an atheist, if you can’t entertain the idea God as a Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit, divine creation of humanity and rational agents, Original Sin and the Fall, can’t entertain the idea of the Incarnation etc. in the first place I can see how discussion of what exactly the nature of Christ’s atonement was/what it means would be unintelligible.

    I can try to entertain those ideas but I thought that the Trinity was supposed to be at least largely unintelligible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says so:
    “In order to articulate the dogma of the Trinity, the Church had to develop her own terminology with the help of certain notions of philosophical origin: “substance”, “person” or “hypostasis”, “relation” and so on. In doing this, she did not submit the faith to human wisdom, but gave a new and unprecedented meaning to these terms, which from then on would be used to signify an ineffable mystery, “infinitely beyond all that we can humanly understand””
    If that is correct, then understanding what the Trinity actually means cannot be a requirement for understanding what the atonement is supposed to mean.

  69. FZM says:

    Andy,

    Actually, to some extent you are right. I should have added an extra clause in my first paragraph:

    God rewarding atheism and rejection/denial of belief in God, God punishing those who believe in the wrong God/s more severely than those who are outright atheists and God punishing people who believe in him for certain reasons God dislikes more severely than those who are outright atheists are less probable than alternatives where belief in a God of some kind brings rewards.

    …to cover the point you mention, which I think is something like a variation of ‘God punishing those who believe in the wrong God/s more severely than those who are outright atheists’.

    Let me present you an alternative to that:
    John and Jim are both atheists. Jim tries to act as if Catholicism is true because he wants to will himself into believing that it is indeed true so that he might go to heaven. And God is much more likely to reward John because while John was mistaken and his beliefs wrt God were false, he was also sincere and cared about what is true – while Jim was a hypocrite who didn´t care about truth in itself.
    How would you try to demonstrate that this alternative is less likely than what you are suggesting?

    In the context of what I was suggesting, how possible is the alternative scenario you present?

    In response to the wager and knowing the arguments I was referring to Jim has to try to act as if Catholicism/some type of theism was true (it could be something other than Catholic theism, the arguments I was thinking of come from the Catholic tradition but could be applied to some other kinds of theism) because for some reason the rational reasons he has for believing in it aren’t enough to make him have any actual belief in it?

    Can John know the relevant arguments from the Catholic tradition I referred to about the nature and existence of God, reject them, remain a convinced atheist and choose this option in the wager, yet still remain completely sincere, rational and care about what is true?

    What strength do the arguments for the existence of a God that abhores self interested rationalisation completely, and at the same time is committed to rewarding someone’s (yours in this case) idea of sincere belief that God does not exist, have? Presumably this God would act in this way because he is committed to placing high value on something called ‘truth itself’, but ‘truth itself’ understood in such a way that it’s something distinct from God.

    If that is correct, then understanding what the Trinity actually means cannot be a requirement for understanding what the atonement is supposed to mean.

    Did I claim that understanding the Trinity in the way that the Catholic Church rules out in the excerpt of the Catechism you quoted was a prerequisite to make arguments about Christ’s atonement intelligible? Perhaps you feel you require this kind of understanding in order for them to be intelligible to you; if so you could have been clearer in stating your position. Apart from this point if you can entertain the series of ideas I mentioned why do you find the discussions about the nature of Christ’s atonement unintelligible?

  70. Andy says:

    FZM,

    In the context of what I was suggesting, how possible is the alternative scenario you present?

    I don´t know how to evaluate whether your scenario or my alternative is more probable. Do you?

    In response to the wager and knowing the arguments I was referring to Jim has to try to act as if Catholicism/some type of theism was true (it could be something other than Catholic theism, the arguments I was thinking of come from the Catholic tradition but could be applied to some other kinds of theism) because for some reason the rational reasons he has for believing in it aren’t enough to make him have any actual belief in it?

    They might be enough for someone else, but they are obviously not enough for Jim because then he wouldn´t be an atheist.

    Can John know the relevant arguments from the Catholic tradition I referred to about the nature and existence of God, reject them, remain a convinced atheist and choose this option in the wager, yet still remain completely sincere, rational and care about what is true?

    If he wants to know the truth about the matter, studies those arguments, and is sincerely not convinced by them, then yes – he would be a sincere truth-seeker wrt that issue. I´m not sure why you think it is relevant whether Jim was rational or not – lets assume that those arguments are actually sound, and that Jim sincerely wanted to know the truth about this matter but that he is also not very bright and his mental faculties are simply not capable of evaluating those arguments in a sufficiently rational manner, do you think that God would then punish Jim for being stupid?

    What strength do the arguments for the existence of a God that abhores self interested rationalisation completely, and at the same time is committed to rewarding someone’s (yours in this case) idea of sincere belief that God does not exist, have? Presumably this God would act in this way because he is committed to placing high value on something called ‘truth itself’, but ‘truth itself’ understood in such a way that it’s something distinct from God.

    I didn´t mean that this God might reward the “sincere belief that God does not exist”, I meant that he might reward the behaviour / the intention of honestly seeking truth and embracing it even if it is inconvenient – and that he cares much more about whether people have such truth-directed intentions and act accordingly then he cares about how many of the beliefs they ended up with are correct. Phrased differently: God might reward the sincere truth-seeker despite his philosophical beliefs being mostly false, while punishing the hypocrite despite his philosophical beliefs being mostly correct.
    I don´t see any way to evaluate whether this alternative is more or less likely than what you suggest, do you?

    Apart from this point if you can entertain the series of ideas I mentioned why do you find the discussions about the nature of Christ’s atonement unintelligible?

    Based on experience, I don´t think that talking about this would be illuminating for either one of us so I suggest we just drop it.

  71. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    I tried to be as objective as I can while making these assessments, and no, that doesn´t necessarily mean that I expect you to agree with that´s why I expressed them as an opinion (“I consider…”) after all and not as a statement of fact.

    Subjective, then. Fair enough.

    Because the premise is absolutely central to the wager and it doesn´t make any sense at all without it, yet Pascal didn´t try to defend it and didn´t even hint at the fact that this premise is necessary for his wager in the first place – he just silently presupposed that a reader would share this premise.

    I see. And have you actually read Pensées, since you didn’t answer that part of the question? Also, do you think that Pascal’s contemporaries did share his premise, or are you actually accusing him of deception and/or sloppy presentation?

    This is not a rebuttal to what I said at all.

    I’m going with, “yes it is.” I rest my case.

    I think we’re done with this conversation, but it’s given me some interesting ideas with regards to the “many gods” smokescreen, so thanks for taking the time. As a note to self and anyone else who is still following, the “many gods” smokescreen is an appeal to necessary ignorance: a claim that we can’t know what God is like, whether heaven is a thing, or what we would need to do in order to reach it. In other words, theology is not possible. And yet, as so often happens, the argument that God probably doesn’t exist is theologically grounded — “divine hiddenness”, for example, presumes that God ought to behave in such and such a way.

    A subject for another day, perhaps.

  72. FZM says:

    I don´t know how to evaluate whether your scenario or my alternative is more probable. Do you?

    Your scenario seems to involve a peculiar philosophy/psychology of belief in which an individual’s holding of a belief is independent of the same individual holding that there are good reasons to treat the belief as true. I was questioning whether there was any reason for supposing that the ‘Jim’ you propose is even a possibility because it’s an individual who simultaneously seems to know there are good reasons for holding a belief to be true, yet manages not to believe it.

    If he wants to know the truth about the matter, studies those arguments, and is sincerely not convinced by them, then yes – he would be a sincere truth-seeker wrt that issue. I´m not sure why you think it is relevant whether Jim was rational or not – lets assume that those arguments are actually sound, and that Jim sincerely wanted to know the truth about this matter but that he is also not very bright and his mental faculties are simply not capable of evaluating those arguments in a sufficiently rational manner, do you think that God would then punish Jim for being stupid?

    How relevant is this to the wager argument? If Jim (or John?) isn’t really capable of thinking in a sufficiently rational manner to evaluate with any confidence whether there is anything to suggest that the existence of one type of God is more or less probable than the existence of another, and why one choice could be a better one to make than another, would the wager argument be appropriate in trying to demonstrate anything to him?

    I didn´t mean that this God might reward the “sincere belief that God does not exist”, I meant that he might reward the behaviour / the intention of honestly seeking truth and embracing it even if it is inconvenient – and that he cares much more about whether people have such truth-directed intentions and act accordingly then he cares about how many of the beliefs they ended up with are correct. Phrased differently: God might reward the sincere truth-seeker despite his philosophical beliefs being mostly false, while punishing the hypocrite despite his philosophical beliefs being mostly correct.
    I don´t see any way to evaluate whether this alternative is more or less likely than what you suggest, do you?

    Thinking in the context of the wager, what you suggest would seem to mean that the ‘gambler’ confronted with it aught to bet on atheism, if they believe that they have a sincere belief in the truth of atheism (independently of having any good philosophical reasons for it) because of the belief that God, if God exists, would be more likely to reward them for holding a belief sincerely (even if the belief in question is devoid of goodness) than if they choose to adopt another belief just to increase their chances of a reward.

    That they sincerely believe this about a God they do not believe exists and mostly for no reason at all would seem to make them immune to the wager type argument in the first place. For it to have any traction I think it needs to assume a ‘gambler’ who is a rational decision maker of some kind otherwise it will be irrelevant.

  73. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    Subjective, then. Fair enough.

    No, not subjective. Do you honestly simply don´t understand the difference between someone not being able to rigorously argue for a case on the one hand, and someone being able to do that, but not being interested in doing it because it has no relevance to the issue at hand?

    I see. And have you actually read Pensées, since you didn’t answer that part of the question?[1] Also, do you think that Pascal’s contemporaries did share his premise, or are you actually accusing him of deception and/or sloppy presentation?[2]

    1. Yes.
    2. He grew up right during the 30 Years’ War and plenty of his contemporaries were not Catholics, but rather Lutherans or Calvinists or one of the more obscure protestant sects like the Anabaptists. Also, the Ottoman empire was pretty much the most influential so, silently presupposing that people must be either Catholics or nonreligious was indeed sloppy presentation. That he didn´t consider the possibility of a Christian converting to, say, Islam for example, is understandable because that never happened for all intents and purposes back then.

    I’m going with, “yes it is.” I rest my case.

    Then I´m going with “no, it´s not” and do the same.

    I think we’re done with this conversation, but it’s given me some interesting ideas with regards to the “many gods” smokescreen, so thanks for taking the time. As a note to self and anyone else who is still following, the “many gods” smokescreen is an appeal to necessary ignorance: a claim that we can’t know what God is like, whether heaven is a thing, or what we would need to do in order to reach it. In other words, theology is not possible.

    First of all, you are accusing me of being deceptive by choosing the language “smokescreen”, was this your intention?
    And second, yes, I would claim that theology is not possible in a sense that would be relevant for what we are talking about – because theology has no method to validate or falsify claims or at the very least to assess the relative plausibility of them, if two theologians present two different accounts of what God is like, accounts that are both logically coherent but mutually contradict each other, then there is no non-circular method known to anyone that could be used to demonstrate that one account is more probable than the other.

    And yet, as so often happens, the argument that God probably doesn’t exist is theologically grounded — “divine hiddenness”, for example, presumes that God ought to behave in such and such a way.

    Not quite. One version of the argument from hiddenness would look like this:
    1. God exists.
    2. God is perfectly loving.
    3. There are two possible fates for humans in the afterlife, one infinitely good one and one infinitely bad one.
    4. Believing in God in this life is a sine qua non for infinite reward in the afterlife and not believing in God in this life guarantees infinite punishment in the afterlife.
    5. God is capable of making himself known to human beings in this life and has done so in the past.
    6. If God exists, no human that is open to the idea that he exists would die as an unbeliever (from 1-5).
    7. Some people were open to die idea that God exists and maybe even wanted him to exist, yet still died as unbelievers.
    8. One, several, or all of the premises 1-5 must be false (from 6 and 7)

    This doesn´t presume that God per se ought to behave in a certain way, it rather makes some assumptions about the nature of the afterlife and the nature of God and shows that they cannot all be simultaneously true – in other words, it doesn´t rest on certain theological premises being true, it rather aims to show that certain combinations of theological premises are logically incoherent.

  74. Andy says:

    FZM,

    Your scenario seems to involve a peculiar philosophy/psychology of belief in which an individual’s holding of a belief is independent of the same individual holding that there are good reasons to treat the belief as true. I was questioning whether there was any reason for supposing that the ‘Jim’ you propose is even a possibility because it’s an individual who simultaneously seems to know there are good reasons for holding a belief to be true, yet manages not to believe it.

    Well I said that Jim was an atheist, so for him, the reasons for not believing in God are apparently stronger than the reasons for believing in God – but he still wants the latter to be true because he is worried about his fate in the afterlife. I don´t understand what the problem is supposed to be here?

    How relevant is this to the wager argument? If Jim (or John?) isn’t really capable of thinking in a sufficiently rational manner to evaluate with any confidence whether there is anything to suggest that the existence of one type of God is more or less probable than the existence of another, and why one choice could be a better one to make than another, would the wager argument be appropriate in trying to demonstrate anything to him?

    Maybe because the wager is almost trivially simple and even comprehensible to an idiot like Jim while the details of, say, the argument from motion or the defenses of the metaphysical assumptions on which it rests, are way beyond is ability to understand?

    Thinking in the context of the wager, what you suggest would seem to mean that the ‘gambler’ confronted with it aught to bet on atheism, if they believe that they have a sincere belief in the truth of atheism (independently of having any good philosophical reasons for it) because of the belief that God, if God exists, would be more likely to reward them for holding a belief sincerely (even if the belief in question is devoid of goodness) than if they choose to adopt another belief just to increase their chances of a reward.

    That they sincerely believe this about a God they do not believe exists and mostly for no reason at all would seem to make them immune to the wager type argument in the first place. For it to have any traction I think it needs to assume a ‘gambler’ who is a rational decision maker of some kind otherwise it will be irrelevant.

    *sigh* No, that´s still not what I have been talking about. I keep talking about rewarding intentions and behaviour, and you keep misrepresenting it as rewarding beliefs. What I said was:
    “I meant that he might reward the behaviour / the intention of honestly SEEKING truth”
    – so I wasn´t talking about rewarding any belief in itself, but rather the truth-directed intentions and the behaviour of trying to find out what is most likely true, and sticking to what is true as far as you are able to tell, even if believing in a falsehood would be more convenient for you. So no, the hypothetical atheist I talked about is not an atheist for “mostly no reason at all”, but rather because he tried to find out what is most likely true about this matter, thought about it and arrived at the conclusion that there most likely is no God.

  75. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    No, not subjective.

    Not going to argue semantics.

    First of all, you are accusing me of being deceptive by choosing the language “smokescreen”, was this your intention?

    No.

    One version of the argument from hiddenness would look like this.

    Not relevant to my point.

  76. Andy says:

    Not relevant to my point.

    Of course it´s relevant to your point. Your point was that I am inconsistent by denying that theology can be done on the one hand while simultaneously relying on certain theological premises on the other hand by for example using the argument from hiddenness. And I explained to you that I am not relying on any theological premises being true when I use the argument from hiddenness and that your point is therefore false.

  77. TFBW says:

    You know when I said that “smokescreen” wasn’t meant to imply that you were lying? I sincerely meant it. A lot of what you say is unintentional smokescreen. This most recent comment is an example of that. You honestly think that you’re rebutting me, but you’re not. What you’ve presented is not a theology-free argument from hiddenness, but a collection of propositions, most of which relate to God and some of which relate to divine hiddenness, and an argument that they can’t all be true. You could have done that in far fewer words, like so.

    1. God is hidden.
    2. It is not the case that God is hidden.
    3. By the principle of non-contradiction, either (1) or (2) must be false.

    This demonstrates exactly the same point, but the point is clearly trivial in this context because there’s so little to understand. When you complicate it by adding more concepts and more words, the point becomes obscured — a smokescreen. What your argument actually demonstrates is that some sets of theological statements contain internal inconsistencies. Nobody was arguing against that point at all, so your argument is irrelevant, as charged. It was, however, complex enough to act as a smokescreen, and may have even fooled you into thinking that it was relevant through its passing mention of related concepts.

  78. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    You honestly think that you’re rebutting me, but you’re not. What you’ve presented is not a theology-free argument from hiddenness, but a collection of propositions, most of which relate to God and some of which relate to divine hiddenness, and an argument that they can’t all be true. You could have done that in far fewer words, like so.

    I deny that theology has a method to evaluate which one of two different accounts of what God is like is the more probable one, assuming that both accounts are logically coherent. Now, consider those two scenarios:
    1. I am sometimes myself relying on certain premises of what God is like being true when I argue that atheism is most likely true.
    2. I am never relying on certain premises of what God is like being true.

    In scenario #1, I would be inconsistent, in scenario #2 however, I wouldn´t be inconsistent at all. And since scenario #2 is the one that matches reality, your accusation:
    “As a note to self and anyone else who is still following, the “many gods” smokescreen is an appeal to necessary ignorance: a claim that we can’t know what God is like, whether heaven is a thing, or what we would need to do in order to reach it. In other words, theology is not possible. And yet, as so often happens, the argument that God probably doesn’t exist is theologically grounded — “divine hiddenness”, for example”
    – is completely baseless. I am not using a smokescreen, intentionally or unintentionally.

    You could have done that in far fewer words, like so.

    1. God is hidden.
    2. It is not the case that God is hidden.
    3. By the principle of non-contradiction, either (1) or (2) must be false.

    This demonstrates exactly the same point

    No. That is not even a simplification of the argument I actually presented but rather has nothing to do with it whatsoever. I have no idea how you could misunderstand it so completely – literally “completely” because this misrepresentation has literally *nothing* in common with the argument I actually presented – so I don´t know how to even begin to try to correct your misrepresentation.

    When you complicate it by adding more concepts and more words, the point becomes obscured — a smokescreen. What your argument actually demonstrates is that some sets of theological statements contain internal inconsistencies. What your argument actually demonstrates is that some sets of theological statements contain internal inconsistencies. Nobody was arguing against that point at all, so your argument is irrelevant, as charged. It was, however, complex enough to act as a smokescreen, and may have even fooled you into thinking that it was relevant through its passing mention of related concepts.

    So you think that my argument is valid, but irrelevant? Interesting, because that means that at least one, and potentially all of premises 1-5 must be false. But if any of them is false, Pascal´s wager becomes immediately completely irrelevant.
    If #1 is false for example, there is no God to begin with.
    If #2 is false, there is no reason to assume that God would care about humans in the first place or punish / reward them for believing or not believing in him.
    If #3 if false, the cost-benefit calculation that Pascal´s wager uses (with the options a) zero costs and gains in the afterlife because there is none or b) infinite costs or gains in the afterlife) cannot be correct.
    If #4 is false, the cost-benefit calculation that Pascal´s wager uses can also not be correct because the reward and cost in the afterlife wouldn´t depend on whether you believe in God or not.
    If #5 is false, then the Christian account of what God is like cannot be correct (because Christianity entails that God can and has revealed himself to individual humans before) and Pascal´s religion thus cannot be true.

    But since you are trying to defend Pascal´s wager and haven´t seen the relevance of the fact that those five premises cannot simultaneously be true, that means that you have either not been reading or thinking carefully – or both. In any case, I´d recommend to not so quickly jump to entirely unwarranted conclusions like me using a smokescreen here, but rather reading and thinking more carefully and asking for clarification first if the relevance of something isn´t clear to you.

  79. TFBW says:

    So you think that my argument is valid, but irrelevant?

    No, just irrelevant. Validity hardly matters if it’s irrelevant.

    But it turns out that you think you’re beating Pascal’s Wager with this, because you think that Pascal’s Wager depends on the truth of all the premises. That’s new. Well, you win the argument by sheer endurance. I lack the time and enthusiasm to wade through that mire. For every fallacy I point out, you not only deny it, but introduce five more, hydra-like. I lack the stamina to finish the job, if finishing it is even possible.

    Let the reader be the judge.

  80. Michael says:

    If it is what you had in mind, then I´d agree that Harris´ objections against it fail. However, I am positively certain that your conception of what the wager is about, is idiosyncratic and not at all what Pascal had in mind……Pascal clearly saw his wager as an apologetics tool, one that could be used to convince people who do NOT already believe Christianity to be true and who also don´t necessarily believe that Christianity and Atheism are the only possible options.

    OKay, so let’s just agree that Michael’s Wager defeats Sam Harris’s objections.

    As for your feelings of positive certainty about Pascal, if Pascal intended his wager as an apologetic tool, it was aimed at a particular type of skeptic. Drawing from the link you provided, he’s talking about a skeptic who would agree with the following:

    Let us examine this point of view and declare: ‘Either God exists, or He does
    not.’ To which view shall we incline? Reason cannot decide for us one wayor
    the other: we are separated byan infinite gulf

    although reason inclines you to believe, you cannot
    do so

    You desire to attain faith

    You would like to cure yourself of unbelief

    Doesn’t sound to me like Pascal had someone like Sam Harris in mind. Y’think it’s possible Harris misread Pascal’s intentions?

  81. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    No, just irrelevant.

    It is evidently impossible to reason with you. Your ludicrous claims about my use of the argument from hiddenness are probably the best example for that. First you accuse me of being inconsistent by doing theology while denying that theology can be done in another context:
    “In other words, theology is not possible. And yet, as so often happens, the argument that God probably doesn’t exist is theologically grounded — “divine hiddenness”, for example””
    – I never tried to establish any set of theological claims as true or more probable than another set when I use the argument from hiddenness, all I did was trying to demonstrate that there are internal inconsistencies in a set of theological claims so that they cannot be simultaneously true. Period. And since I never denied, explicitly or implicitly, that theologians can use logic in the same way as literally everyone else can, I am not being inconsistent here. Your charge is completely and transparently wrong. But when I explain to you why it is wrong, you just mindlessly repeat it as if repetition would make your ludicrous charge true.
    And then you have the gall to call my explanation of what the argument from hiddenness actually entails to be “irrelevant”. Even if we ignored the fact that this argument is absolutely relevant to the issue of Pascal´s wager, it was *you* who accused me of being inconsistent by relying on such arguments, so calling my explanation of what the argument actually entails and why I´m not being inconsistent when I use it “irrelevant” is just downright stupid. But of course, you´ll also mindlessly repeat that accusation, no matter how transparently and completely wrong it is.

    For every fallacy I point out, you not only deny it, but introduce five more, hydra-like. I lack the stamina to finish the job, if finishing it is even possible.

    Hydra, eh? Well, if we change the myth slightly – so that Heracles clumsily swung his sword and the Hydra thus effortlessly dodged every strike, until the “hero” gives up in frustration, throws his sword away, pouts, and then goes back to Eurystheus and whines “I was totally about to slay that beast, but alas, it regenerated faster than I could cut its heads off, so the task was impossible”.

  82. Andy says:

    Michael,

    Doesn’t sound to me like Pascal had someone like Sam Harris in mind. Y’think it’s possible Harris misread Pascal’s intentions?

    It also doesn´t sound like Pascal had someone like you in mind because for you, the wager came into play after you already believed in Christianity:

    I was not raised as a Christian. I became a Christian, and remain a Christian, because of reason and evidence. However, I also recognize the limitations of the human intellect. Since my Christian faith is not rooted in intellectual certainty, I fully concede that I could be wrong. I could be deluded. That naturally leads to the following question – “What if I am wrong?” It’s precisely at this point that the Wager comes into play.

  83. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    Your ludicrous claims about my use of the argument from hiddenness are probably the best example for that.

    I haven’t spelled out my claim on that front, and it was never about you, specifically, anyhow. You’ve presumed a great deal about what I claim, and responded to those presumptions. You do that a lot, actually. But hey, you won’t introspect on the basis of criticism from me, what with me being a grade A imbecile and all, so I’ll spare you any further commentary.

  84. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    I haven’t spelled out my claim on that front, and it was never about you, specifically, anyhow.

    Now you are just lying. Your words:
    “I think we’re done with this conversation, but it’s given me some interesting ideas with regards to the “many gods” smokescreen, so thanks for taking the time. As a note to self and anyone else who is still following, the “many gods” smokescreen is an appeal to necessary ignorance: a claim that we can’t know what God is like, whether heaven is a thing, or what we would need to do in order to reach it. In other words, theology is not possible. And yet, as so often happens, the argument that God probably doesn’t exist is theologically grounded — “divine hiddenness”, for example, presumes that God ought to behave in such and such a way.”
    – You unambiguously do spell out the ludicrous claims I accused you of, and since you specifically refer to this conversation here and since I am the one who used the argument from hiddenness, you are indeed talking specifically about me.

    You’ve presumed a great deal about what I claim, and responded to those presumptions

    This is also a lie. I didn´t presume anything about what you claim but rather quoted your claims verbatim and addressed them directly.

    You do that a lot, actually.

    Not a single example given of course, probably because you are still lying.

    But hey, you won’t introspect on the basis of criticism from me

    Your criticism has been addressed, repeatedly, and you just mindlessly repeating your accusations without even so much as *trying* or at the very least acknowledging the existence of my responses indeed is no rational reason for me to continue to take your criticism seriously.

  85. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    You unambiguously do spell out the ludicrous claims I accused you of, and since you specifically refer to this conversation here and since I am the one who used the argument from hiddenness, you are indeed talking specifically about me.

    It’s all about you, because you are obviously the only atheist who has ever appealed to some kind of “God hasn’t made himself obvious enough” type of argument on this blog, ever. It’s not like it could possibly be a common refrain around here.

  86. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    It’s all about you, because you are obviously the only atheist who has ever appealed to some kind of “God hasn’t made himself obvious enough” type of argument on this blog, ever. It’s not like it could possibly be a common refrain around here.

    Only you didn´t say anything along the line “Hey Andy, this doesn´t have anything to do with you or the argument that you are using, but other atheists have in my experience…,”, you rather said:
    “I think WE’re done with THIS CONVERSATION, but it’s given me some interesting ideas with regards to the “many gods” smokescreen, so thanks for taking the time. As a note to self and anyone else who is still following, the “many gods” smokescreen is an appeal to necessary ignorance: a claim that we can’t know what God is like, whether heaven is a thing, or what we would need to do in order to reach it. In other words, THEOLOGY IS NOT POSSIBLE. AND YET, as so often happens, THE ARGUMENT that God probably doesn’t exist IS THEOLOGICALLY GROUNDED — “DIVINE HIDDENNESS”, for example, PRESUMES THAT GOD OUGHT TO BEHAVE IN SUCH AND SUCH A WAY.”” (emphasis aded)
    – You didn´t talk about some general experience with other atheists, you talked about us and our conversation and my use of the argument from hiddenness. And what you said about my use of the argument from hiddenness was completely and transparently wrong.

  87. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    Thank you for the conversation. My apologies for getting you all riled up. Let’s start afresh on a different topic some other time.

    Regards,
    TFBW

  88. Michael says:

    It also doesn´t sound like Pascal had someone like you in mind because for you, the wager came into play after you already believed in Christianity

    Indeed. That’s why I said it was Michael’s Wager that defeated Harris’s objections. But you wrote, “Pascal clearly saw his wager as an apologetics tool…..And understood like this, the wager is logically flawed and Harris criticism is not misguided.” Given that Harris doesn’t argue with the Wager as it was intended, it sure looks like Harris’s criticism is misguided.

  89. Andy says:

    Indeed. That’s why I said it was Michael’s Wager that defeated Harris’s objections. But you wrote, “Pascal clearly saw his wager as an apologetics tool…..And understood like this, the wager is logically flawed and Harris criticism is not misguided.” Given that Harris doesn’t argue with the Wager as it was intended, it sure looks like Harris’s criticism is misguided.

    It is. But so is your defense of it. We now have three different versions – a) Pascal´s wager, b) Michael´s wager and c) Sam´s wager.
    What Harris criticizes (c) is not what Pascal had in mind (a), but what you defend in the OP (b), is not what Pascal had in mind either.
    Btw, as I noted earlier, I think that your conclusions based on Michael´s wager are indeed correct – if you already believe Christianity to be true, are not absolutely certain about it, but can rule out every option but Christianity and Atheism with utmost confidence, then Michael´s wager indeed shows that you´ve landed on the better one of two options. However, wouldn´t that also entail that it would be wise for someone like you to either not study arguments for atheism at all or only those from intellectual lightweights (like e.g. Harris) or scholars who are way outside their area of expertise in the philosophy of religion (e.g. Dawkins), while steering clear of literature written by atheists with genuine expertise in the subject matter (e.g. Oppy, Schellenberg or Everitt)?

  90. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    My apologies for getting you all riled up.

    A textbook example of a notpology – structured like an apology, but void of any contrition or acknowledgement of wrongdoing on your part, instead it contains the insinuation that your antics got me riled up as a parting shot.

    Let’s start afresh on a different topic some other time.

    No thanks. You seem to be much more interested in debating rather than discussing, and I prefer the latter.

  91. Michael says:

    What Harris criticizes (c) is not what Pascal had in mind (a), but what you defend in the OP (b), is not what Pascal had in mind either.

    Yep. Of course, what I am doing in the OP is responding to….Sam Harris.

    However, wouldn´t that also entail that it would be wise for someone like you to either not study arguments for atheism at all or only those from intellectual lightweights (like e.g. Harris) or scholars who are way outside their area of expertise in the philosophy of religion (e.g. Dawkins), while steering clear of literature written by atheists with genuine expertise in the subject matter (e.g. Oppy, Schellenberg or Everitt)?

    Nice. But you need to flesh it out. It is wise, for someone like me, to either not study arguments for atheism at all or only those from intellectual lightweights (like e.g. Harris) or scholars who are way outside their area of expertise in the philosophy of religion (e.g. Dawkins), while steering clear of literature written by atheists with genuine expertise in the subject matter (e.g. Oppy, Schellenberg or Everitt) because…….

  92. FZM says:

    Andy,

    Well I said that Jim was an atheist, so for him, the reasons for not believing in God are apparently stronger than the reasons for believing in God – but he still wants the latter to be true because he is worried about his fate in the afterlife. I don´t understand what the problem is supposed to be here?

    I seem to remember that Jim accepts both rational arguments that a God of a certain kind exists, has a strong enough belief in the possibility to be worried about himself in relation to an afterlife, but for some other reasons also feels he cannot but reject the possibility of God’s existence outright. I don’t know how a God would judge a person in a confused state like this.

    Maybe because the wager is almost trivially simple and even comprehensible to an idiot like Jim while the details of, say, the argument from motion or the defenses of the metaphysical assumptions on which it rests, are way beyond is ability to understand?

    There was a bit where I wrote:

    ‘If Jim (or John?) isn’t really capable of thinking in a sufficiently rational manner to evaluate with any confidence whether there is anything to suggest that the existence of one type of God is more or less probable than the existence of another…’?

    …which may not be a trivially simple undertaking.

    *sigh* No, that´s still not what I have been talking about. I keep talking about rewarding intentions and behaviour, and you keep misrepresenting it as rewarding beliefs. What I said was:
    “I meant that he might reward the behaviour / the intention of honestly SEEKING truth”
    – so I wasn´t talking about rewarding any belief in itself, but rather the truth-directed intentions and the behaviour of trying to find out what is most likely true, and sticking to what is true as far as you are able to tell, even if believing in a falsehood would be more convenient for you. So no, the hypothetical atheist I talked about is not an atheist for “mostly no reason at all”, but rather because he tried to find out what is most likely true about this matter, thought about it and arrived at the conclusion that there most likely is no God.

    It’s because I find your separation of intentions and behaviour from beliefs hard to understand in this context. Presented with something like the wager, how does your sincere truth seeking atheist reason about which bet would be the best to make?

    I am thinking of a context in which a gambler has to make a bet and is looking to maximise his chances of acheiving a positive outcome and avoiding a negative one. Whether there is a God who rewards people in the afterlife because they sincerely pursued particular conceptions of truth in respect of certain propositions and fails to reward, or actively punishes, those who choose to adopt particular beliefs for purely self interested reasons seems irrelevant to the gambler unless he has access to some argument/information suggesting that the existence of a God who rewards and punishes in this way is more probable than the existence of a God who does so on different, or the opposite, criteria.

    That’s why I suggested that if there are arguments to suggest that God exists and has a more determinate nature and pattern of behaviour that are at least as strong as arguments suggesting that God exists but that we can know nothing about his nature or how he might choose to reward or punish, the gambler is better off betting with the former idea of God in mind. From what the gambler can know, this option offers a higher probability of obtaining the reward than other blind bets.

    So no, the hypothetical atheist I talked about is not an atheist for “mostly no reason at all”, but rather because he tried to find out what is most likely true about this matter, thought about it and arrived at the conclusion that there most likely is no God.

    I wasn’t arguing that the atheist is an atheist for mostly no reason at all, I was arguing that they would be an instance of choosing the atheism option in the wager for mostly no reason at all, or maybe more accurately, a series of false/groundless reasons.

    I noticed this bit in a reply to TFBW:
    He grew up right during the 30 Years’ War and plenty of his contemporaries were not Catholics, but rather Lutherans or Calvinists or one of the more obscure protestant sects like the Anabaptists. Also, the Ottoman empire was pretty much the most influential so, silently presupposing that people must be either Catholics or nonreligious was indeed sloppy presentation. That he didn´t consider the possibility of a Christian converting to, say, Islam for example, is understandable because that never happened for all intents and purposes back then.

    If I am remembering what I read in an introduction to the Pensees years ago correctly Pascal’s wager argument is taken from rough notes he made on a bit of paper which was found by his bed after his death (like the rest of the Pensees). He was working on some kind of apologetic work but never got beyond this stage. Christians did convert to Islam during this period, in, for example, Eastern Europe, North Africa and those from Southern Europe taken by Muslims as slaves. I doubt these kinds of apologetic arguments would have been relevant in their conversions, and maybe Pascal also intended to deal with these kind of possibilities in other parts of his work.

  93. FZM says:

    My first paragraph needs an edit, it should read:

    “I seem to remember that Jim accepts various arguments demonstrating the possibility that a God of a certain kind exists, has a strong enough belief in the possibility to be worried about himself in relation to an afterlife, but for some other reasons also feels he cannot but reject the possibility of God’s existence outright. I don’t know how a God would judge a person in a confused state like this.”

  94. Andy says:

    Michael,

    Nice. But you need to flesh it out. It is wise, for someone like me, to either not study arguments for atheism at all or only those from intellectual lightweights (like e.g. Harris) or scholars who are way outside their area of expertise in the philosophy of religion (e.g. Dawkins), while steering clear of literature written by atheists with genuine expertise in the subject matter (e.g. Oppy, Schellenberg or Everitt) because…….

    Isn´t it obvious? You say that you cannot be absolutely certain that Christianity is true and that you consider atheism to be the only possible alternative to Christianity. So, it is at least in principle possible that studying arguments against theism in general or Christianity in particular could gradually weaken your belief in Christianity and eventually even turn you into an atheist. But, given the dichotomy (atheism or Christianity) you have and given Michael´s wager – turning into an atheist would be a change to the worse one of two options. So it would be wise to minimize the risk of that happening. And since one of the most effective ways to minimize that risk would be to either avoid arguments against theism / Christianity completely, or only study those from intellectual lightweights – that would be the wise course of action for you, wouldn´t it?

  95. Andy says:

    FZM,

    1. You say that you find it hard to understand why I distinguish between intentions and behaviour on the one hand, and beliefs on the other. I´m a little baffled by that because it seems to me that the distinction is incredibly obvious given that humans are not infallible – so humans could always be wrong about X despite wanting to know the truth about X and doing the best they can to figure out the truth about X. So, wrt beliefs about “God”, there are four possibilities:
    a) A person wants to know the truth about God, does the best (s)he can to find it out, and ends up with beliefs about God that are largely correct.
    b) Same as above except the person ends up with beliefs about God that are largely false.
    c) A person wants to hold the beliefs about God that are most likely to be beneficial for him/her, whether those beliefs are also the ones that are most likely true as far as (s)he can tell is of no importance at all or at best of secondary importance – and those beliefs about God turn out to be largely correct.
    d) Same as above except the beliefs about God that the person ends up with are largely false.

    Is the distinction clear to you now?

    2. For convenience, I´ll define:
    G1 as a personal God who would, everything else being equal, punish humans in the afterlife for not believing in her and reward humans for believing in her, and
    G2 as a personal God who would, everything else being equal, reward humans for truth-directed intentions and behaviour (i.e. for trying to figure out what is true about the world they live in and embracing what they find to be most likely true, even if something else would be more convenient) and punish them for trying to will themselves into believing what is convenient instead of what they find to be most likely true.

    As I pointed out earlier, I´m not aware of any rational method to evaluate whether G1 is more probable than G2 or vice versa. Are you?

    3. Regarding “Presented with something like the wager, how does your sincere truth seeking atheist reason about which bet would be the best to make?”
    – There is no universal answer to that of course just like there is no universal answer as to how *every* Christian reasons about some issue, I can only tell you how I would reason about that. And my reasoning would be to first reject the cost-benefit calculation in Pascal´s wager because it is based on a false dichotomy. I realize that I could be wrong about a personal God being nonexistent, but I´m not aware of any rational method to evaluate whether something like G1 or G2 as defined above are more probable, but without that, I cannot do a cost-benefit calculation for the possibility that I am wrong – so the wager is completely moot from the get go (I´m oversimplifying by only considering G1 and G2, but this is sufficient to illustrate the point I´m trying to make). I could go further by criticizing whether this could even be a “bet” in any sense because I reject both direct and indirect doxastic voluntarism, but I would consider that to be a wasted effort since the wager is moot from the get go anyway.

    4. Regarding Jim, you are misremembering. I didn´t say that he “accepts both rational arguments that a God of a certain kind exists” or anything like that.

  96. Squirrely says:

    Andy,

    Just out of curiosity, do you think that G1 or G2 is closer to the God of traditional Christian theology?

  97. TFBW says:

    Andy said:

    I´m not aware of any rational method to evaluate whether G1 is more probable than G2 or vice versa.

    Presumably that statement comes with the implied condition, “based on known, available evidence”, as Andy has already granted that he’d be open to Jesus as a source of information on the subject, were He to make a contemporary appearance on Earth which sufficiently resembles the New Testament account (ref. comments between Andy and TFBW, around Nov 28). Or, if that’s not a correct interpretation, then further clarification would help.

  98. Andy says:

    Squirrely,

    Just out of curiosity, do you think that G1 or G2 is closer to the God of traditional Christian theology?

    G1.

  99. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    Presumably that statement comes with the implied condition, “based on known, available evidence”, as Andy has already granted that he’d be open to Jesus as a source of information on the subject, were He to make a contemporary appearance on Earth which sufficiently resembles the New Testament account

    I´d generalize that to “If God would be as accessible as Jesus once allegedly was, then of course I´d be open to God himself being a / *the* source on that subject matter – and of course it doesn´t have to be in the form of Jesus Christ (could also be the holy spirit or what have you) and it also doesn´t have to mirror what Jesus did in the NT, what matters is whether God and his wisdom would be that *accessible* or not.” And to avoid misunderstandings, that´s of course not the only example I could think of that would convince me that Christianity is true, it´s just the easiest to explain (for every other example I could think of, it would be much more complicated).

    But given what we do have, I´m not aware of any rational method to evaluate whether my G1 is more likely than G2 or vice versa, or whether, say, Calvinism (which would make Pascal´s wager moot) is more likely than Catholicism etc.pp. Theologians can try to argue that one option is more plausible than others here, but this, afaict, always rests on premises that are neither self-evidently true nor demonstrably true nor even just probably true.

  100. Squirrely says:

    Andy,

    That’s what I thought. If I had to choose between your two options, however, I’d be more inclined to say G2.

    There may be modern fundamentalist sects who really do believe in a “God” that would cast people into the lake of fire for being unable to force themselves to believe in him/her/it. But according to classical theism, such a petty being could not possibly be God at all, but at best a malicious “god” or demiurge, completely unworthy of worship. For classical theists, God is Truth, and so any sincere pursuit of the truth will be leading to God, even if it appears to be leading away from God.

    For examples, off the top of my head, I think of C. S. Lewis writing somewhere of a young man who, in casting off the cramped faith of his upbringing, might in fact be closer to God than he has ever been. Also of St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching that conscience always binds. If I’m not mistaken, the example that Thomas uses is a conflict between obeying one’s conscience and obeying one’s bishop, in which case one is morally obligated to obey one’s conscience. (The catch being that while conscience always binds, it does not always excuse, since one may be morally responsible for forming a bad conscience.)

    And so, according to Catholic theology, and the theologies of other churches informed by classical theism, your hypothetical honest unbeliever has nothing to worry about. Indeed, the honest pursuit of the truth, wherever it leads, is the one approach to life that is guaranteed to avoid eternal damnation. But of course, it’s that “honest” part that is absolutely key.

    I think understanding this may shed some light on what Pascal’s wager is, and what it ain’t.

  101. Andy says:

    Squirrely,

    And so, according to Catholic theology, and the theologies of other churches informed by classical theism, your hypothetical honest unbeliever has nothing to worry about.

    I had the impression that this is the most popular understanding among Catholics today. But it seems that that this is a modern view and that Catholic teaching on this matter was different in earlier times. Example:
    “Pope Sylvester II, Profession of Faith, June AD 991: “I believe that in Baptism all sins are forgiven, that one which was committed originally as much as those which are voluntarily committed, and I profess that outside the Catholic Church no one is saved.””
    – See many more quotes here:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extra_Ecclesiam_nulla_salus#Catholic_statements_of_this_teaching

    I think understanding this may shed some light on what Pascal’s wager is, and what it ain’t.

    Based on what you said before, the wise thing to do would be to pursue truth – wherever it may lead you – but that entails a rejection of the cost-benefit calculation of Pascal´s wager (and hence a rejection of the wager itself), doesn´t it?

  102. TFBW says:

    Andy said:

    … rests on premises that are neither self-evidently true nor demonstrably true nor even just probably true.

    Assuming, for the sake of argument, that you’re right, why is this a problem?

    … to pursue truth – wherever it may lead you – but that entails a rejection of the cost-benefit calculation of Pascal´s wager (and hence a rejection of the wager itself), doesn´t it?

    Not obviously. If the truth could be known with certainty, then there would be no wager, since every wager is based on an element of uncertainty. Absent that outcome, however, I don’t see how pursuit of the truth entails a rejection of the wager. Would you care to spell out your reasoning in more detail?

  103. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    Assuming, for the sake of argument, that you’re right, why is this a problem?

    I didn´t say that it is a “problem”. But it makes an objective cost-benefit calculation (at least in the sense that it doesn´t rest on arbitrary premises) for the possibility that I am wrong about the existence of God impossible and hence renders Pascal´s wager meaningless.

  104. Squirrely says:

    Andy,

    Of course, the dogma of extra Ecclesium nulla salus has never been revoked by the Church; nor could it be, given the Church’s self-understanding. I don’t want to charge into the thorny issues of how Catholic doctrine evolves over time, or how one separates authoritative teaching from the personal opinion of Church authorities, since 1) I am not a Catholic or even a Christian (yet), and 2) my theological knowledge is decidedly limited. Suffice it to say that I didn’t see anything in my quick survey of the link you helpfully provided that clearly contradicts what I take to be the Church’s current position.

    One quote that did jump out at me, however, was Origen’s quite forceful pronouncement of the dogma. Origen was, quite famously, a proponent of Universalism, the doctrine that all people will be saved in the end. If one can hold that there is no salvation outside the Church, and all people will be saved, presumably one can also hold that there is no salvation outside the Church, and some non-Catholics may be saved. Universalism was declared heretical after Origen’s death, which seems to be the primary reason we don’t call him Saint Origen. But the fact that Universalism had not been condemned as late as 254 is itself quite telling, I think.

    Obviously, much more could be said about this, but it’s really beside the point. My point was that your reading of the wager as implying that one ought to force oneself to believe something that one cannot believe in good conscience cannot be accurate, since the concept of God Pascal adhered to would not have allowed for it.

    I’m not exactly sure what to make of the wager. Indeed, we can’t be sure what Pascal made of it, since, as was mentioned above, it was discovered in his personal notes after his death, and we have no way of knowing what context it would have been placed in had he published it. Perhaps he would have decided not to publish it. Whatever the case, my impression is that the wager only comes into effect when a person is in a state of crisis, convinced that Christianity and atheism are the only viable options, but unable to choose between them (a situation not uncommon in Pascal’s time, or in the time since then). And the wager demonstrates, even if only on the level of personal interest, that choosing atheism will always be irrational. I can’t help but think that is significant.

  105. Michael says:

    Isn´t it obvious? You say that you cannot be absolutely certain that Christianity is true and that you consider atheism to be the only possible alternative to Christianity. So, it is at least in principle possible that studying arguments against theism in general or Christianity in particular could gradually weaken your belief in Christianity and eventually even turn you into an atheist. But, given the dichotomy (atheism or Christianity) you have and given Michael´s wager – turning into an atheist would be a change to the worse one of two options. So it would be wise to minimize the risk of that happening. And since one of the most effective ways to minimize that risk would be to either avoid arguments against theism / Christianity completely, or only study those from intellectual lightweights – that would be the wise course of action for you, wouldn´t it?

    You are doing the same thing Harris did – using the wager as some guide that leads the way. But that’s not how I use it. As I explained in the blog entry:

    Christians accept and embrace their Christianity because they think it is true because of their use of reason and evidence. As I explained, the Wager comes into play after the evidence is considered. The Wager exists due to the fact that none of us can purchase intellectual certainty. The human brain is too limited and too fallible. The Wager is the response to the question, “I don’t think I am wrong, but what if I am wrong?”

    The wager does not help me decide which books to read. It’s utility lies elsewhere:

    That naturally leads to the following question – “What if I am wrong?” It’s precisely at this point that the Wager comes into play.

    So……are you trying to imply I should be reading Oppy, Schellenberg and Everitt?

  106. TFBW says:

    Andy said:

    I didn´t say that it is a “problem”.

    You made an assertion in a context which suggested that the statement so asserted presented some difficulty to the position against which you are arguing (i.e. you were pointing out a problem). Are you saying that I misunderstood, and when you asserted, “theologians can try to argue that one option is more plausible than others here, but this, afaict, always rests on premises that are neither self-evidently true nor demonstrably true nor even just probably true,” that you weren’t pointing out a problem, but just making an observation?

    … it makes an objective cost-benefit calculation … impossible and hence renders Pascal´s wager meaningless.

    I’m still not clear on how you reached the conclusion. The “it” in this context is “the pursuit of truth”, which you have said, “entails a rejection of the cost-benefit calculation of Pascal´s wager (and hence a rejection of the wager itself).” If I understand your latest remarks, you’re saying that the pursuit of truth makes an objective cost-benefit calculation (of the relevant conditions) impossible, and that an objective cost-benefit calculation was essential to the wager.

    Unfortunately, this explanation raises more questions than it answers. First, how does the pursuit of truth conflict with an objective cost-benefit calculation? It seems to me that the cost and benefit estimates in such a calculation are improved by the quest for truth, not hampered by it, so what am I missing? Second, while it’s clearly true that a cost-benefit analysis is essential to the wager, what extra terms and conditions are you imposing with your “objective” qualifier, and why are they essential?

  107. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    You made an assertion in a context which suggested that the statement so asserted presented some difficulty to the position against which you are arguing (i.e. you were pointing out a problem). Are you saying that I misunderstood, and when you asserted, “theologians can try to argue that one option is more plausible than others here, but this, afaict, always rests on premises that are neither self-evidently true nor demonstrably true nor even just probably true,” that you weren’t pointing out a problem, but just making an observation?

    First of all – I am arguing against one position because everyone seems to have his own understanding of what the wager means (what you and Michael understand it to mean for example seems to be very different, you understand it as an argument for Christianity for example, Michael doesn´t). Second, I thought that you aren´t interested in discussing semantics? You seem to have understood what I meant when I said: “theologians can try to argue that one option is more plausible than others here, but this, afaict, always rests on premises that are neither self-evidently true nor demonstrably true nor even just probably true”, if you want to call that a “problem” (and if you for some reason need to select one of several possible theological premises and it would be problematic for you if you couldn´t select one in a non-arbitrary fashion, than it would make sense to call this a “problem”), be my guest.

    First, how does the pursuit of truth conflict with an objective cost-benefit calculation? It seems to me that the cost and benefit estimates in such a calculation are improved by the quest for truth, not hampered by it, so what am I missing?

    To avoid misunderstandings, we are now talking about what Pascal originally had in mind (which doesn´t have anything to do with the OP) – and that entails that there are only two choices, Christianity or atheism, and that you have no way to know which one of them is true (Pascal is explicit about reason not being able to decide this question for you). So, instead of staying agnostic, which is the only rationally justifiable position for someone in *that* situation and hence the only position that an honest truth seeker could adopt as long as he has no way to rationally decide which option is more likely, Pascal recommends to choose Christianity. Not because it´s more likely to be true – the cost-benefit calculation that he uses doesn´t give you *any* further information about which option is more likely to be true – but rather because believing it is more likely to have beneficial consequences for you. So this is a pursuit of personal benefit, not a pursuit of truth (truth is at best of secondary importance here). And if there is a God and he is like, say, Squirrely conceives him, then this God wouldn´t appreciate this at all – quite the opposite, God is identical to truth and you wouldn´t be pursuing truth but rather your own selfish benefit.

    Second, while it’s clearly true that a cost-benefit analysis is essential to the wager, what extra terms and conditions are you imposing with your “objective” qualifier, and why are they essential?

    I didn´t go into much detail, but I thought it was very clear what I meant when I said that I´m not aware of any rational method to decide whether G1 or G2 is more probable (and again, those are not the only options that would need to be considered, I´m just picking those to illustrate the principle). But I need to know this in order to do a cost-benefit calculation for the possibility that I am wrong about the non-existence of God. And if I can only decide between G1 and G2 by using arbitrary theological premises, then the whole exercise is pointless and circular anyway.

  108. Andy says:

    Michael,

    You are doing the same thing Harris did – using the wager as some guide that leads the way. But that’s not how I use it.

    But I´m wondering why not. I get it, the wager only comes into play for you after you have considered the evidence and concluded that Christianity is most likely true and that atheism is the only possible alternative. But once you *have* reached that point where you are now, wouldn´t it be wise to stop pursuing the question further because you´ve landed on the better one of two possible options and thus can only make it worse?

    So……are you trying to imply I should be reading Oppy, Schellenberg and Everitt?

    No. I´m saying that, given the situation you find yourself in – with a) believing Christianity to be true, b) not being absolutely certain about it and c) being absolutely certain that it can only be Christianity or atheism – it seems to me that it would be wise to NOT read them or any author of their caliber.

  109. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    Second, I thought that you aren´t interested in discussing semantics?

    I’m trying to follow your argument, thus the need for clarifying questions regarding what, exactly, you mean.

    … if you for some reason need to select one of several possible theological premises and it would be problematic for you if you couldn´t select one in a non-arbitrary fashion …

    Okay, so are you saying that, “premises that are neither self-evidently true nor demonstrably true nor even just probably true” are necessarily arbitrary? I don’t think I can agree with that. For example, I reject the proposition that I am a brain in a vat being fed false stimulus of a non-real world, despite the fact that it’s not self-evidently false, demonstrably false, or even just probably false. Rather, I reject it for pragmatic reasons that I would resist being classified as arbitrary.

    (Pascal is explicit about reason not being able to decide this question for you). So, instead of staying agnostic, which is the only rationally justifiable position for someone in *that* situation and hence the only position that an honest truth seeker could adopt as long as he has no way to rationally decide which option is more likely, Pascal recommends to choose Christianity. Not because it´s more likely to be true – the cost-benefit calculation that he uses doesn´t give you *any* further information about which option is more likely to be true – but rather because believing it is more likely to have beneficial consequences for you. So this is a pursuit of personal benefit, not a pursuit of truth (truth is at best of secondary importance here).

    This line of argument seems to have some problems. Grant Pascal’s premise that reason can not decide the question, so agnosticism is the only position that does not over-reach its grounds. Agnosticism pertains to knowledge, not belief: one can believe a particular thing, or act on the assumption that a particular thing is true, while denying that rational justification of that belief (and thus knowledge) is possible. Belief (or action in accordance with belief) and agnosticism can be compatible, but your argument seems to rest on the premise that they can’t (ref: “instead of staying agnostic”).

    Also, a pragmatically-motivated (rather than purely rational) decision to adopt a belief is not a repudiation (or even a mild deprecation) of truth if one has pursued truth as far as it goes. After all, if you’ve pursued the truth as far as you can, then you’ve pursued it as far as you can, and that’s what counts towards one’s status as an “honest seeker”. An honest seeker doesn’t become more honest by disregarding pragmatic outcomes in cases where the truth is not or can not be known — rather, such a person would be honest but unwise, or at least imprudent.

    So, if I’ve understood your claim correctly, then I reject it for the reasons given here.

    And if I can only decide between G1 and G2 by using arbitrary theological premises, then the whole exercise is pointless and circular anyway.

    I’m not persuaded that you’ve actually demonstrated pointlessness and circularity, as opposed to intransigent scepticism, say, but I can’t think of any (simple) clarifying questions that I could ask to help make that distinction, so I won’t pursue the matter further.

  110. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    Okay, so are you saying that, “premises that are neither self-evidently true nor demonstrably true nor even just probably true” are necessarily arbitrary? I don’t think I can agree with that. For example, I reject the proposition that I am a brain in a vat being fed false stimulus of a non-real world, despite the fact that it’s not self-evidently false, demonstrably false, or even just probably false. Rather, I reject it for pragmatic reasons that I would resist being classified as arbitrary.

    I think I would agree with that. A premise could be pragmatically useful (or have something else going for it), despite not being demonstrably true or at least likely true, and I wouldn´t call such a premise “arbitrary”. But I don´t see how this connects to the subject at hand. What I said was, that I´m not aware of a rational method to evaluate whether, say, G1 is more probable than G2 or vice versa – a method that doesn´t rely on premises “that are neither self-evidently true nor demonstrably true nor even just probably true”. I can expand that a little and say that if I have to choose between premise 1 and premise 2, cannot say which one is more likely, but can say that premise 1 is pragmatically more useful for me, I could rationally pick premise 1 over premise 2 – but how would that help me in evaluating whether G1 is more probable than G2 or vice versa?

    I’m not persuaded that you’ve actually demonstrated pointlessness and circularity, as opposed to intransigent scepticism, say, but I can’t think of any (simple) clarifying questions that I could ask to help make that distinction, so I won’t pursue the matter further.

    Note the “IF” in: “if I can only decide between G1 and G2 by using arbitrary theological premises, then the whole exercise is pointless and circular anyway”. IF it is indeed the case that I cannot rationally decide between G1 and G2, THEN the whole exercise is indeed pointless. And I´ve repeatedly asked whether you are aware of a method to rationally decide wether G1 is more probable than G2 or vice versa – IIRC, you never addressed that question.
    (again, I´m only considering the dichotomy of G1 or G2 to keep it simple, there would be more options that would need to be considered to do this properly)

  111. Doug says:

    Let me tweak the definitions slightly:

    G1 as a personal God who [constructed a universe in which] humans [suffer] for not believing in her and [in which] humans [are blessed] for believing in her, and
    G2 as a personal God who [constructed a universe in which] humans [are blessed] for truth-directed intentions and behaviour and [suffer] for [clinging to] what is convenient instead of what [is] true.

    G1 & G2 are quite congruent under this revision. What is so special about the original wording that makes any “dichotomy” worth discussing?

  112. Andy says:

    Doug,

    G1 & G2 are quite congruent under this revision.

    Only if people with truth-directed intentions and behaviour inevitably end up believing in a personal God. But this is not the case, so G1 and G2 are not necessarily congruent.

  113. Doug says:

    @Andy,
    Who are you to say “this is not the case”? Who made you the final arbiter and judge of Truth?

  114. Andy says:

    Doug,

    Who made you the final arbiter and judge of Truth?

    I don´t need to be the final arbiter and judge of Truth to say that there are people who have honestly sought the truth about God and did not end up believing in the existence of a personal God. Note that I am not saying that they were *right*, just that those people exist.

  115. Doug says:

    @Andy,
    The validity of the claim that such people exists requires you to affirm their “honesty”. Do you really claim to be in the position to do that?

  116. Andy says:

    Doug,
    for people I know sufficiently well, including myself, sure. Do you think that it is impossible to know (“know” in the sense of “being reasonably certain”) such things about people – that it is impossible for you to affirm the honesty of, say, your own wife?

  117. Doug says:

    @Andy,
    Deception, including self-deception, is remarkably common. I spent a decade affirming the honesty of my first wife (to my grief!) But I’m sure that if you are sufficiently truth-directed that you, too, will “inevitably end up believing in a personal God”. It just takes a bit longer for some than for others. Besides, “plausible congruence” is all that is necessary (i.e., it does not require “necessary congruence”) to undermine a false “dichotomy”.

  118. Andy says:

    Doug,

    Deception, including self-deception, is remarkably common.

    Do you think there is some for you to tell whether your belief in Christianity is most likely based on self-deception or not?

    But I’m sure that if you are sufficiently truth-directed that you, too, will “inevitably end up believing in a personal God”.

    Ah, so you think it is true that someone who honestly pursues truth will inevitably end up believing in a personal God? That has some interesting implications. It would mean for example that pursuing truth as a character trait is *much* more common among westerners than among east-asian people. It would also mean that everyone who died as a nonbeliever could not have possibly been a person who had honestly pursued truth.

    Besides, “plausible congruence” is all that is necessary (i.e., it does not require “necessary congruence”) to undermine a false “dichotomy”.

    But you haven´t shown that the congruence is plausible, you are just asserting it.

  119. Doug says:

    @Andy,
    I have no belief “in Christianity” (apart from the facts that it exists; it represents a force in history, etc). Are you suggesting that those are due to self-deception?
    But you seem to imagine that the honest pursuit of truth is …common? What makes you think that — contrary to all the available evidence? Frankly, that people prefer self-interest, pleasure, and power to the truth is really quite evident.
    Similarly, you haven’t shown that there exists a dichotomy: you are just asserting it.

  120. Doug says:

    @Andy,
    You seem to have entertained a small lapse in logic:
    It is true that my claim is that an honest pursuit of the truth with inevitably result in belief in a personal God.
    But this by no means implies that people who have a belief in a personal God were exercising an honest pursuit of the truth.

  121. Andy says:

    Doug,

    I have no belief “in Christianity” (apart from the facts that it exists; it represents a force in history, etc).

    Sorry, I just assumed that you are a Christian but that was apparently wrong.

    Are you suggesting that those are due to self-deception?

    No. Just wondering if you think that there is a way for you to tell whether some belief of yours is most likely due to self-deception or not.

    But you seem to imagine that the honest pursuit of truth is …common?

    I didn´t say that it is common. But I would say that it is not exceedingly rare either.

    Similarly, you haven’t shown that there exists a dichotomy: you are just asserting it.

    Not quite. My G1 and G2 are obviously different and you are trying to turn them into the same thing with an ad hoc claim that would make them congruent. So only you have a burden of proof here, because you are making a positive claim – that “an honest pursuit of the truth with inevitably result in belief in a personal God”. While I´m just stating my ignorance when I say that I do *not know* how I could tell whether G1 is more probable than G2 or vice versa.

  122. Doug says:

    @Andy
    (please also see my observation above)
    You misunderstand: “an honest pursuit of the truth will [NB: typo in original] inevitably result in belief in a personal God” is simply an arguendo rendering congruence between (at least my tweaks on) G1 and G2.

  123. Andy says:

    Doug,

    well, if the congruence you point out is just hypothetical, then I don´t see the point. Maybe G1 and G2 are actually congruent – but there is no way for me to know that they are. Just like there is no way for me to know whether G1 is more probable than G2 or vice versa if they are not congruent (at least no way known to me). So, the possibility you point out doesn´t seem to change anything here – I still cannot do cost-benefit calculation for the possibility that I am wrong about the existence of a personal God and a wager like Pascal´s is hence still nonsensical for me.

  124. Doug says:

    @Andy,

    Yes: I get it. But we’ve been over this ground a number of times. In order to defeat the wager, you require a number (“many”) options. Pascal starts his discourse limiting the frame to two. As long as the denominator is big enough, you can escape the wager. At that point, you might need to introspect: are your claims to that large denominator an attempt to defeat the wager, or is the wager defeated because there is (actually) a large denominator? Your life. Your bet.

  125. Michael says:

    But I´m wondering why not.

    Because I use reason as far as it will take me. The wager does not come into play until afterward. And it would not even be needed if reason could deliver accurate, absolute certainty. Are you suggesting I should abandon reason and rely solely on the wager?

    I get it, the wager only comes into play for you after you have considered the evidence and concluded that Christianity is most likely true and that atheism is the only possible alternative. But once you *have* reached that point where you are now, wouldn´t it be wise to stop pursuing the question further because you´ve landed on the better one of two possible options and thus can only make it worse?

    So you are saying even though I have not used the wager as a guide, I should suddenly do an about face and start using the wager as a guide? Why should I do that?

  126. Doug says:

    @Andy,

    re: “live option” vs. “hypothetical option”. Earlier, you indicated that Christianity is not a “live option” for you. Immediately, this renders the wager inappropriate (once again, as Pascal makes clear, the wager only makes sense if atheism and Christianity are the only “live options”). Of course, this also means that the wager is inappropriate if there are too many “live options” (your strategy on this thread). The curious thing in this discussion, however, is that you seem to want to treat “hypothetical options” (e.g., G1 disjoint G2) as if they were “live options”. If they actually were “live options”, then, indeed, the wager would be inappropriate. But treating them like “live options” when they are not isn’t exactly… honest.

  127. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    What I said was, that I´m not aware of a rational method to evaluate whether, say, G1 is more probable than G2 or vice versa …

    This illustrates the need for extreme clarity in such an argument. The question of whether one can rationally demonstrate that proposition P1 is more likely to be true than proposition P2 is related to but distinct from the question of whether it is wise to act in accordance with the assumption that P1 is true. There may be overriding pragmatic reasons why it’s better to assume the truth of P2, even though P1 is equally or more probably true.

    IF it is indeed the case that I cannot rationally decide between G1 and G2, THEN the whole exercise is indeed pointless.

    Given that your criteria for deciding between G1 and G2 focus exclusively on the probability of truth, to the exclusion of pragmatic considerations, I disagree, based on the reasons given above.

    And I´ve repeatedly asked whether you are aware of a method to rationally decide wether G1 is more probable than G2 or vice versa – IIRC, you never addressed that question.

    Yes, I am aware of such a method, and I’m also aware that you deny it. An argument on that front would be tangential, and I have resigned from defending my arguments in this thread in any case. At this point, I’m just trying to follow your arguments, get clarification where needs be, and evaluate them for soundness and validity. In that mode, I consider the quotation above to be a rhetorical appeal to a lack of counter-argument, which is fairly weak support.

    I note that you didn’t respond to the centre one-half of my comment (the compatibility of Christianity and agnosticism; the compatibility of honest truth-seeking and pragmatic decision-making). I rejected some key aspects of your argument there. You are letting those objections stand, unchallenged?

  128. Andy says:

    Doug,

    In order to defeat the wager, you require a number (“many”) options.

    I didn´t try to “defeat” the wager. I showed that it is completely moot from the get go if you have no way to rationally decide between just two options – G1 and G2.

  129. Andy says:

    Doug,

    The curious thing in this discussion, however, is that you seem to want to treat “hypothetical options” (e.g., G1 disjoint G2) as if they were “live options”. If they actually were “live options”, then, indeed, the wager would be inappropriate. But treating them like “live options” when they are not isn’t exactly… honest.

    As an atheist, this boils down to a big “what if I´m wrong about the non-existence of God”, and of course I could be wrong – but assuming that I am, I do not know what kind of God would exist and can only deal with hypotheticals like G1 or G2 (or some version of Christianity).

  130. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    This illustrates the need for extreme clarity in such an argument. The question of whether one can rationally demonstrate that proposition P1 is more likely to be true than proposition P2 is related to but distinct from the question of whether it is wise to act in accordance with the assumption that P1 is true. There may be overriding pragmatic reasons why it’s better to assume the truth of P2, even though P1 is equally or more probably true.

    If you cannot connect this to the subject at hand – by telling me how I could use such hypothetical “pragmatic reasons” to decide between, say, G1 and G2 – I don´t see how this is relevant in any way.

    Given that your criteria for deciding between G1 and G2 focus exclusively on the probability of truth, to the exclusion of pragmatic considerations, I disagree, based on the reasons given above.

    I already addressed this in my last comment to you.

    Yes, I am aware of such a method, and I’m also aware that you deny it. An argument on that front would be tangential, and I have resigned from defending my arguments in this thread in any case. At this point, I’m just trying to follow your arguments, get clarification where needs be, and evaluate them for soundness and validity. In that mode, I consider the quotation above to be a rhetorical appeal to a lack of counter-argument, which is fairly weak support.

    I´m pretty sure I´ve asked more than three times (and not only you) whether you are aware of such a method. And only now do you answer and simultaneously say that you are not even interested in saying what it would be. This has degenerated into me being interrogated by you without me getting anything from you in return and I hope you understand that continuing this conversation with you has just become completely uninteresting to me.

  131. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    If you cannot connect this to the subject at hand – by telling me how I could use such hypothetical “pragmatic reasons” to decide between, say, G1 and G2 – I don´t see how this is relevant in any way.

    It’s relevant in that your argument rests on assumptions that you have not declared or supported. You’re challenging me to prove the relevance of my objection, and that’s fair, so here we go. Without re-quoting the original definitions, G1 rewards belief in the proposition “God exists”, and G2 rewards truth-directed intentions and behaviour. If our truth-seeking efforts are unable to determine whether G1 exists, G2 exists, or no God exists (a given, because that’s why we’re resorting to pragmatic considerations), then I could (a) truthfully admit that I don’t know whether God exists or not, (b) tentatively accept the proposition that God exists as my “default” belief in the absence of such knowledge, and (c) continue to re-evaluate the situation as new information arises.

    I believe that this selection is optimal with regard to the three possibilities that G1 exists, G2 exists, or no God exists. The default belief chosen in (b) arises from the pragmatic considerations: it optimises for G1. Parts (a) and (c) implement the truth-seeking behaviour favoured by G2.

    It is possible to construct dilemmas in which pragmatic considerations don’t help make a decision. This, however, does not appear to be one of them.

  132. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    You’re challenging me to prove the relevance of my objection, and that’s fair, so here we go. Without re-quoting the original definitions, G1 rewards belief in the proposition “God exists”, and G2 rewards truth-directed intentions and behaviour. If our truth-seeking efforts are unable to determine whether G1 exists, G2 exists, or no God exists (a given, because that’s why we’re resorting to pragmatic considerations),

    No, that´s not necessarily a given. It´s also possible that you know (or rather think that you know) that one of those options is true, or much more likely to be true than all others, but also realize that you cannot rationally be 100.0% certain and that there always is the possibility that you are wrong – no matter how good the arguments for your position are (as an example: see the OP where Michael says “I was not raised as a Christian. I became a Christian, and remain a Christian, because of reason and evidence. However, I also recognize the limitations of the human intellect. Since my Christian faith is not rooted in intellectual certainty, I fully concede that I could be wrong. I could be deluded. That naturally leads to the following question – “What if I am wrong?” It’s precisely at this point that the Wager comes into play.”).

    then I could (a) truthfully admit that I don’t know whether God exists or not, (b) tentatively accept the proposition that God exists as my “default” belief in the absence of such knowledge, and (c) continue to re-evaluate the situation as new information arises.

    I believe that this selection is optimal with regard to the three possibilities that G1 exists, G2 exists, or no God exists. The default belief chosen in (b) arises from the pragmatic considerations: it optimises for G1. Parts (a) and (c) implement the truth-seeking behaviour favoured by G2.

    G1 would punish you for not believing in her, G2 would punish you for doing something like (b). You are trying to accomodate both by doing (b) to please G1 and (c) to please G2 – but the definition of G2 didn´t include something like “G2 would punish you for doing something like (b) *unless* you try to compensate for it by doing something like (c)”, so your strategy doesn´t work, you cannot have your cake and eat it too.

  133. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    No, that´s not necessarily a given.

    It was given by the parameters of the question, which only declared G1 and G2. If you’re going to play the “many gods” card, at least be up front about it and declare that I must also take into consideration G3 through G-infinity, which each have unknown and potentially conflicting requirements. That way I won’t waste my time trying to respond.

    Eh, I owe you and your moving goalposts no further explanation.

  134. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    It was given by the parameters of the question, which only declared G1 and G2. If you’re going to play the “many gods” card, at least be up front about it and declare that I must also take into consideration G3 through G-infinity…

    1. I *repeatedly* emphasized something like “(I´m oversimplifying by only considering G1 and G2, but this is sufficient to illustrate the point I´m trying to make)”.
    2. I´m not “playing the many Gods” card now, it would still be completely sufficient to just consider G1 and G2 and I said nothing whatsoever to indicate otherwise.
    3. That you have no idea which of the options – G1, G2 or no God – is most likely was not at all given by the parameters and this is also something I´ve been completely clear about all this time.

    Your reading comprehension is abysmal.

    which each have unknown and potentially conflicting requirements

    The requirements are actually completely known to everyone that can read simple english sentences with comprehension – a class of people that evidently doesn´t include you.

    Eh, I owe you and your moving goalposts…

    I was about to call that a lie but I´ll go with Hanlon’s razor instead.

  135. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    Your pronouncements on my lack of reading comprehension and overall stupidity carry a certain self-interested taint which can’t be avoided, and which makes your acerbic disparagement sound arrogant. Maybe I’m the dullard you think I am, or maybe you aren’t as good a communicator as you think you are — we don’t really have a competent and disinterested third party who can make that call.

    Whatever the case, I think that I can concede the sheer power of the “many gods” argument to defeat Pascal’s Wager — and I’m not the first to do so in this thread. If you insist that there are unlimited possibilities as to what God might be like, each with indeterminate or equal likelihood, then you can always arbitrarily invent some ad-hoc bloody-minded personality profile to defeat any pragmatic problem-solving technique that one might throw at the problem.

    Point conceded.

    Having said that, however, I reject the “many gods” hypothesis for much the same reason that I reject the “deceived brain in a vat” hypothesis: not because it is self-evidently false, demonstrably false, or even just probably false, and not because you’ve presented no evidence that it’s true. Rather, I reject it for pragmatic reasons.

    It does us no good to start from the assumption that theology is impossible, which is basically what you’re asking us to do (by insisting that everything is equally possible and that we have no way to distinguish between possibilities). It is better, I think, to simply ignore the radical nay-saying sceptics (such as you), not because you are demonstrably wrong, but simply because we are guaranteed never to make any progress if we take you seriously.

    So feel free to reject the whole of theology and Pascal’s Wager with it, but don’t expect us to follow.

  136. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    Whatever the case, I think that I can concede the sheer power of the “many gods” argument to defeat Pascal’s Wager — and I’m not the first to do so in this thread. If you insist that there are unlimited possibilities as to what God might be like, each with indeterminate or equal likelihood, then you can always arbitrarily invent some ad-hoc bloody-minded personality profile to defeat any pragmatic problem-solving technique that one might throw at the problem.

    1. I came up with just two possibilities for which I said that I´m not aware of any rational method to evaluate which one is more probable.
    2. Despite me repeatedly asking, no one here, including you, seems to be aware of a method to evaluate which one is more probable either.
    3. I didn´t invent some “ad-hoc bloody-minded personality profile to defeat any pragmatic problem-solving technique”, you didn´t understand the very simple definitions of G1 and G2 and tried to come up with a strategy that works for both, a strategy that fails because it targets your misrepresentation of G2, not my actual definition.

    Having said that, however, I reject the “many gods” hypothesis for much the same reason that I reject the “deceived brain in a vat” hypothesis: not because it is self-evidently false, demonstrably false, or even just probably false, and not because you’ve presented no evidence that it’s true. Rather, I reject it for pragmatic reasons.

    I have no idea what exactly the “many gods hypothesis” is supposed to be, and based on your constant misinterpretations of what I have been saying so far, I consider it to be very implausible that it actually has anything to do with what I have been saying. In any case, the only time that you actually tried to use a “pragmatic” approach to dismantle my criticism, it was a complete failure because you were unable to understand the very simple definitions of G1 and G2.

    It does us no good to start from the assumption that theology is impossible, which is basically what you’re asking us to do (by insisting that everything is equally possible and that we have no way to distinguish between possibilities).

    *headdesk*
    I´m not asking you to accept that theology is impossible and I sure as hell didn´t start from that assumption. If you can use theology to make a rational decision between G1 and G2, then fucking do that already – I challenged you to do exactly that many times before. What I actually claimed is that *I* am not aware of any way how it could be done, and that as far as I can tell, no one else seems to be aware of a way for how it could be done either.

    It is better, I think, to simply ignore the radical nay-saying sceptics (such as you), not because you are demonstrably wrong, but simply because we are guaranteed never to make any progress if we take you seriously.

    Or, alternatively, you just leave the conversation to people that can read simple english sentences with comprehension? (yeah yeah, that does sound extremely condescending – but it honestly does seem to be almost impossible to have a conversation about this matter with you because you just don´t understand anything that has been said and argue exclusively against misconceptions that only exist in your own mind).

  137. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    I didn´t invent some “ad-hoc bloody-minded personality profile to defeat any pragmatic problem-solving technique” …

    So, those two arbitrary personality profiles weren’t invented by you for the strict purpose of being entirely incompatible with each other, in the sense that there was no possible way to please both? Really? Pinkie-swear?

  138. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    So, those two arbitrary personality profiles…

    I wouldn´t call them arbitrary, at least no less arbitrary than the claim rooted in classical theism that God *is* truth. G1 and G2 are just slight variations of a personal God that is truth / values truth – with G1 valuing most whether the beliefs that a person hold are true while valuing the intentions and behaviour that led to those beliefs less, and G2 valuing truth-directed intentions and behaviour most and valuing less whether the beliefs that people hold are actually true.
    If you can use theology to make a rational decision between G1 or G2 – be it because you can show that one is more probable or that one is the better choice for pragmatic reasons or whatever – then do it. If you cannot do it, then I´ll point out again that I don´t know any rational method to decide between the two and you evidently don´t know one either.

    …for the strict purpose of being entirely incompatible with each other, in the sense that there was no possible way to please both?

    Note that your earlier charge was:
    “then you can always arbitrarily invent some ad-hoc bloody-minded personality profile to defeat any pragmatic problem-solving technique that one might throw at the problem”
    – and I didn´t invent them to defeat your attempt at solving the problem, I *started* with them and pointed out that your attempt doesn´t solve the problem because you had misinterpreted the definition of G2. If you now agree that the problem is unsolvable with a pragmatic approach (previously, you thought that it *could* be dealt with pragmatically) and you also agree that you cannot rationally decide between them using theology (see above), then I would now summarize:
    1. My G1 and G2 are not arbitrary, they are just slight modifications of a God that is truth / values truth.
    2. Theology is useless to rationally decide between them.
    3. There is no pragmatic problem-solving technique to decide between them.
    – and rest my case.

  139. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    I wouldn´t call them arbitrary, at least no less arbitrary than the claim rooted in classical theism that God *is* truth.

    Well, there’s a mixed message. Look, do you actually admit to any element of non-arbitrariness in theology, or are you just pointing out that you can tweak things around without crossing out of whatever threshold of arbitrariness you’ve set for yourself? Because if it’s the former, then perhaps you should let us in on the secret, and if it’s the latter, then why should I engage you in your silly game? And “classical theism” is based on more criteria than “God is truth”, so why should I take it seriously when all you’ve done is pick that one isolated aspect and distort it? You’re skewering a caricature of theology here — so fricking what?

    … previously, you thought that it *could* be dealt with pragmatically …

    And then you said nasty things about my reading comprehension, yadda yadda. I thought your description left some room for compatibility, but it’s now clear that you never intended that to be a possibility. Pardon me if I have to change course to accommodate that.

    My G1 and G2 are not arbitrary, they are just slight modifications of a God that is truth / values truth.

    With just enough ad hoc fussiness thrown in (once clarifying remarks are added) to ensure that they are incompatible: G1 values belief in a truth, whereas G2 despises the same belief in the same truth because the believer lacks epistemic justification, or is improperly motivated (only you can tell us for sure — I’m going to misinterpret no matter what, evidently). I reject your G2 because it describes a pedant: belief doesn’t have to be justified. And if you’re asking me to accept the possibility that God is a pedant, then which possibilities can I legitimately exclude? Any at all? Where are the goalposts?

  140. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    Ah, so we can reject ad hoc claims about what God is like? Excellent! Why didn´t you say so from the beginning? That would have made things much easier and I could just have rejected your claims that atheists are guaranteed to lose out on something if they are wrong about the nonexistence of God and that it would hence always be rational to “bet” on the existence of God (i.e. try to will yourself into believing that God exists) – because it is based on the ad hoc assumption that God would punish atheists for not believing in her existence and you have given zero rational reasons to pick your assumption over a different assumption (like the one that underlies my G2 for example).
    As to your charges that I am “caricaturing” or “distorting” theology here – that might sound convincing if you could actually provide any rational reasons for picking your preferred theological assumptions over different ones, but since those seem to be entirely subjective preferences (you sure as hell give no reason whatsoever to suspect that they are anything else – and I´ve given you more than enough opportunities to demonstrate otherwise).

    With just enough ad hoc fussiness thrown in (once clarifying remarks are added) to ensure that they are incompatible

    Actually, that could have been clear from the get go if you´ve just tried to take the definitions as they were originally stated instead of adding something to them like the assumption that you could do something that G2 would punish you for, but try to compensate for this by doing something that G2 would like (hint: that was never part of the definition).

    I reject your G2 because it describes a pedant: belief doesn’t have to be justified. And if you’re asking me to accept the possibility that God is a pedant, then which possibilities can I legitimately exclude? Any at all? Where are the goalposts?

    Lets make this symmetrical: I reject your God because you ask me to accept the possibility that God might punish someone just because said someone thinks it´s more probable that God doesn´t exist, and I find that pedantic and dickish. However, I wouldn´t delude myself into believing that my subjective assessments of what would turn God into a pedant and / or a dick constitute a rational argument for concluding that one model of God is more likely to be true than another – you on the other hand seem to believe just that. I guess that explains why you value theology more highly than I do.

  141. Squirrely says:

    Andy,

    You can slam your head to the desk for me one time as well. Whatever your position is it’s evidently far too subtle for me to comprehend.

    Just for the record.

  142. Andy says:

    Squirrely,
    that might be due to fact that everyone seems to have a different understanding of what Pascal´s wager is about. Understood as Michael phrased it in the OP, it makes sense to me (well, it has no relevance for me in my position, but I see how it would make sense to Michael from where he is coming from). Understood as TFBW phrases it – entailing that atheists necessarily lose out on something if they are wrong about the non-existence of God and that it hence would always be rational to “bet” on the existence of God – I consider it to be irrational, for the reasons I´ve given above. In a nutshell, TFBW´s understanding of the wager requires that God is like G1 and NOT like G2 (if God would be like G2, “betting” on his existence for pragmatic / selfish reasons would be a very bad idea) – but TFBW cannot give any reason for why anyone should consider G1 to be more plausible than G2.

  143. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    Ah, so we can reject ad hoc claims about what God is like? Excellent! Why didn´t you say so from the beginning?

    Well, it depends: by “reject ad hoc claims”, do you mean “reject any claim whatsoever”? Or is there some claim that you would consider not to be ad hoc. I asked for you to point to the goalposts on that front, and I’m still not seeing any. “Reject any claim whatsoever” is that radical scepticism area which I reject and which you posture as if you don’t occupy.

    I reject your God because you ask me to accept the possibility that God might punish someone just because said someone thinks it´s more probable that God doesn´t exist …

    Could you quote the part where I said that? This page is getting kind of big, and I can’t find it, and I don’t believe I actually said it.

  144. Doug says:

    @Andy

    Your “punish someone just because said someone thinks it’s more probable that God doesn’t exist” is such a strawman. But I predict that it won’t make a whit of difference to you — your agenda seems too tied to beating that strawman.

    Here’s the deal: given that the universe has been created by God, and given that humanity has been created by God for communion with Him, it isn’t a stretch to appreciate that imagining that such a (given) God does not exist is detrimental to said imaginer.

    Do you play “go”? If you were to make a mistake playing go against a master, his response (by convention) would be “now I will punish you”. If the same master were an expert programmer, and you were to make a mistake playing his program (while he watched), he would also say “now I will punish you”. NB: the “punishment” in the second instance represents the result of the program (i.e., the master is taking no active part in it in the moment). Similarly, the “punishment” in this universe can often be as a result of God’s “programming”.

  145. Andy says:

    Doug,

    Your “punish someone just because said someone thinks it’s more probable that God doesn’t exist” is such a strawman.

    Because every theist has to share your beliefs! Quote from the Southern Baptis Convention 1925 statement: “Those who continue in impenitence and unbelief are in his sight wicked and are under condemnation. This…will be made manifest at the judgment when final and everlasting awards are made to all men.”

    Here’s the deal: given that the universe has been created by God, and given that humanity has been created by God for communion with Him, it isn’t a stretch to appreciate that imagining that such a (given) God does not exist is detrimental to said imaginer.

    Excellent – a testable claim! If what you say would be true, then a transition from belief to nonbelief in God would have to be, ceteris paribus, significantly correlated with detrimental effects and vice versa. If there indeed is any such effect (it is incredibly hard to isolate confounding variables for such questions), it cannot be very strong, check out those two rankings:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Happiness_Report
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Peace_Index
    – then check this:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreligion_by_country
    – and ask yourself why you see pretty much the opposite of the effect that you would have predicted based on the claim that lack of belief is associated with detrimental effects (again, it is almost impossible to isolate confounding variables here, the Danes have on average a much easier life (low unemployment rate, high economic security etc.) compared to most of the people in highly religious countries, and this has to be controlled for, but what you can already say based on such data, is that IF nonbelief indeed has detrimental effects, those effects cannot possibly be very strong).

  146. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    Well, it depends: by “reject ad hoc claims”, do you mean “reject any claim whatsoever”? Or is there some claim that you would consider not to be ad hoc. I asked for you to point to the goalposts on that front, and I’m still not seeing any. “Reject any claim whatsoever” is that radical scepticism area which I reject and which you posture as if you don’t occupy.

    This is now the last time that I will say this because I get tired of repeating myself, should you ask this yet again, I will simply refer you to this comment right here:
    Provide a rational reason to pick one claim over the other.
    How the hell do you manage to not get this?
    If we have two claims A and B, and know that they cannot be simultaneously true – then we could ask if there maybe is some way to determine which one if more likely true. That would be rational. If we cannot do that, we could check if there are maybe pragmatic reasons for picking one over the other. That would also be rational. If we have neither rational arguments nor pragmatic reasons, we could also say that we cannot make a decision yet. That would also be rational. We could also just toss a coin or something along that line and make a decision based on that. That would not be rational.

    Could you quote the part where I said that? This page is getting kind of big, and I can’t find it, and I don’t believe I actually said it.

    I thought that was implied by your claim that atheists are guaranteed to lose out on something if they are wrong about God and hence should rationally bet on God´s existence. If you do not actually believe that God would punish people for not believing in her, then your claim was nonsensical from the get go.

  147. Doug says:

    @Andy – you’re hilarious. Perhaps you’re clever enough to explain why your first two maps also correlate with this one?

    …or were you being dishonest?

  148. Andy says:

    Doug,
    let me get this straight:
    You are saying that nonbelief in God has detrimental effects. And the fact that a country like Denmark, where 43-80% (depending on how the poll question was phrased) are atheists and agnostics scores much better for pretty much all measures of happiness and general wellbeing than *any* highly religious country like the USA where only 2-9% of people are atheists or agnostics, does *not* contradict your point – because the Danes that are still religious are “predominantly Christian”? If so, I recommend this:
    http://www.amazon.com/Logic-For-Dummies-Mark-Zegarelli/dp/0471799416
    If that wasn´t your point, I´m afraid you´ll have to be more specific.

  149. Doug says:

    Andy,
    Let me get this straight:
    You seriously imagine that things like societal health derive from trends (Danes becoming atheists and agnostics) in the last few decades? Do you really expect anyone to believe that Danes — who were nearly uniformly Christian a century ago — were that much less happy then?
    Please don’t distract us with such stupidity.

  150. Andy says:

    Doug,

    I see. My bad, I just took your claim that nonbelief leads to detrimental at face value, while what you actually meant was apparently “nonbelief will cause some detrimental effects. Not for nonbelieving people right now, but rather for their descendants an unspecified number of generations later.”
    Cute. Almost as if saying “the easy availability of birth control actually causes an increase in birth rates. Not now, but an unspecified number of generations after birth control has become easily available.”
    So your claim that nonbelief has detrimental effects cannot possibly be tested because the effects would be invisible for an unspecified number of generations and once that time has passed, isolating confounding factors (which is hard enough to do anyway, even for very short timespans) is completely impossible.

    Regarding “were that much less happy then?” – there are no statistics that could be compared to modern results, but how happy they were back then is completely irrelevant for the point I made. You have two populations (US-Americans and Danes), one with very few atheists and agnostics and one with a very high number of atheists and agnostics. For virtually all measurements of happiness and wellbeing, the latter population scores significantly better than the former. So, the logically inevitable conclusion is that the pattern “nonbelief => detrimental effects” is either non-existent or so weak that it is strongly *overcompensated* by other factors that distinguish the two populations (economic security, crime rates, education etc.pp.).
    This is not hard to understand Doug.

  151. Doug says:

    …after all, the demographic that has the highest nonbelief in God (i.e., the young) are so responsible for infrastructure, culture, legal system, social networks, healthcare, education — you know, all those things that derive from hundreds of years of Christian influence. Don’t embarrass yourself.

  152. Doug says:

    Andy,
    Please tell me you understand the following sentence:
    “correlation does not imply causation”.
    If and only if you are capable of comprehending this basic fact, then, perhaps, people might be willing to start to take you seriously.

  153. Andy says:

    Doug,

    Please tell me you understand the following sentence:
    “correlation does not imply causation”.
    If and only if you are capable of comprehending this basic fact, then, perhaps, people might be willing to start to take you seriously.

    I understand it. But, as I will now demonstrate, you do not. Correlation does not imply causation, but causation DOES imply correlation (not necessarily linear correlation though, technically correct would be “causation implies high mutual information”). And my reasoning was the latter (“causation implies correlation”) not the former. And this was impossible to miss – I didn´t infer any causation from the data, I pointed out that the causation YOU are claiming (“nonbelief => detrimental effects”) can only be either non-existent or extremely weak given the data we have.
    So, since you so completely misunderstood this issue and since you yourself say that one does not have to take people seriously who do not understand it – the conclusion is that people don´t have to take Doug seriously according to Doug´s own reasoning ;-).

  154. Doug says:

    Here‘s a study that can actually get you to causation on that “testable claim”. Here’s the money quote:

    “Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.”

    If you want a better view on correlation, how about this study?
    Your first two maps correlated quite well indeed with the map I linked to, or is your disconfirmation bias so strong that you are unable to even register data that displeases you?

  155. Doug says:

    …besides, you do appreciate that the original context for “detrimental” was in reference to what you called “punishment”, right? Presumably, you understood this “punishment” to be something that doesn’t happened on Earth, right? So why did you run headlong (and with such vehemence!) into such a losing argument? It certainly wasn’t to follow the thread where it would naturally go. A puzzle, I guess.

  156. Andy says:

    Doug,

    Here‘s a study that can actually get you to causation on that “testable claim”. Here’s the money quote:

    1. The quote does not even occur in the article, it only appears in a Christianity today reference *about* the article that you copied. Which means that you did not even read that study.
    2. This article is not even about religion per se, it is specifically about protestantism vs. other religions. Example:
    “Context 2: Among European-settler colonies, ―Protestant-based‖ US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have been more democratic than ―Catholic-based‖ Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Costa Rica. Both sets of countries had similar pre-colonial conditions (e.g., temperate climates, communal land holding, and small indigenous populations). ”
    – Note that the author here compares two different *Christian* belief systems, not belief vs. nonbelief. Also, the author misses the completely obvious point that colonialism by the Portuguese and Spanish vs colonialism by the British (and Dutch, Irish, French and Germans to a much lesser extent) does not just differ in the sense that the former were almost exclusively Catholic while the vast majority of the latter were protestant, it also differs by the fact that the latter group started colonizing much later and that the latter coincided with the enlightenment – which was absolutely crucial for developing the ideas that underlie modern democracies – while the former did not. That doesn´t exactly make me trust his reasoning. But this is all moot anyway since again, this isn´t even about belief vs. nonbelief but rather about whether a *specific* religious tradition – protestantism – has some effects or not.
    Btw, this debate – whether protestantism specifically served as a catalyst for things like democracy and the scientific revolution – is ancient (look up “Merton Thesis” for example) and hugely controversial, don´t expect that any single article will settle this once and for all (and again, you could at most use this as a point against Catholics, not against unbelievers – they will just chuckle and refer you to the influence of the enlightenment).

    If you want a better view on correlation, how about this study?

    I see your study and raise you this one:
    “Claims about religion, spirituality, and health have recently appeared with increasing frequency, in both the popular media and professional journals. These claims have asserted that there are a great many studies in the literature that have examined relations between religious involvement and health outcomes and that the majority of them have shown that religious people are healthier. We examined the validity of these claims in two ways: (a) To determine the percentage of articles in the literature that were potentially relevant to such a claim, we identified all English-language articles with published abstracts identified by a Medline search using the search term religion in the year 2000, and (b) to examine the quality of the data in articles cited as providing supportfor such a claim, we examined all articles in the area of cardiovascular disease and hypertension cited by two comprehensive reviews of the literature. Of the 266 articles published in the year 2000 and identified by the Medline search, only 17% were relevant to claims of health benefits associated with religious involvement. About half of the articles cited in the comprehensive reviews were irrelevant to these claims. Of those that actually were relevant, many either had significant methodological flaws or were misrepresented, leaving only afew articles that could truly be described as demonstrating beneficial effects of religious involvement. We conclude that there is little empirical basis for assertions that religious involvement or activity is associated with beneficial health outcomes.”
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12008790

    Note also that the studies that do show a positive trend between religiosity and happiness almost all deal with the US population, and given the much higher average happiness of secular europeans compared to US-americans, this indicates that what those studies actually measure is the positive influence of strong social ties – which apply differently to atheists in the US vs europe because they are a despised minority in the former but not in the latter.

    Your first two maps correlated quite well indeed with the map I linked to, or is your disconfirmation bias so strong that you are unable to even register data that displeases you?

    The point you tried to make with that map was completely moronic and I can only repeat what I said earlier:
    “Doug,
    let me get this straight:
    You are saying that nonbelief in God has detrimental effects. And the fact that a country like Denmark, where 43-80% (depending on how the poll question was phrased) are atheists and agnostics scores much better for pretty much all measures of happiness and general wellbeing than *any* highly religious country like the USA where only 2-9% of people are atheists or agnostics, does *not* contradict your point – because the Danes that are still religious are “predominantly Christian”? If so, I recommend this:
    http://www.amazon.com/Logic-For-Dummies-Mark-Zegarelli/dp/0471799416
    If that wasn´t your point, I´m afraid you´ll have to be more specific.”

  157. Andy says:

    Doug,

    Presumably, you understood this “punishment” to be something that doesn’t happened on Earth, right?

    Interesting, so the punishment happens in the afterlife and it is not God that punishes people (you said that this is a strawman after all), so, pray tell, what is that “punishment” supposed to be?

    So why did you run headlong (and with such vehemence!) into such a losing argument?

    Wow, Dunning-Kruger on steroids! It takes some balls to brag this much after getting your ass kicked so hard just minutes before.

  158. Doug says:

    @Andy,
    your delusions are starting to get tiresome, right along with your lovely facility at projection. tata.

  159. TFBW says:

    This is now the last time that I will say this because I get tired of repeating myself, should you ask this yet again, I will simply refer you to this comment right here: Provide a rational reason to pick one claim over the other. How the hell do you manage to not get this?

    I don’t get how that is an answer to, “by ‘reject ad hoc claims’, do you mean ‘reject any claim whatsoever,’ or is there some claim that you would consider not to be ad hoc?” Your answer here dictates a means for choosing between claims, but offers no criteria for “ad hoc”. The answer makes no sense in the context of the question. See, I was rejecting a claim because it was an ad hoc claim — “ad hoc” was the reason for the rejection. (Actually, all your hypothetical claims about God seem to be ad hoc, manufactured for the express purpose of supporting your argument: G1 and G2 are part of a matching set in that regard.) Then you gleefully jumped on that approach, like it was an excuse to reject anything whatsoever a theist might offer, and I’m just asking for clarification as to whether that was actually the case, or whether you allow a distinction between claims which are ad hoc and those which aren’t.

    The question still stands. If that was your final answer, it’s a non-answer.

    If we have two claims A and B, and know that they cannot be simultaneously true – then we could ask if there maybe is some way to determine which one if more likely true. That would be rational. If we cannot do that, we could check if there are maybe pragmatic reasons for picking one over the other. That would also be rational. If we have neither rational arguments nor pragmatic reasons, we could also say that we cannot make a decision yet. That would also be rational. We could also just toss a coin or something along that line and make a decision based on that. That would not be rational.

    But if you can’t avoid making a decision, then, under the circumstances, tossing a coin would be a reasonable approach, if not a rational one, because the rational approaches simply aren’t up to the job. “Not making a decision” isn’t always an option: deciding to do nothing or not change one’s present course is just as much a decision as deciding to do something or changing course. This being so, I can more or less agree with everything you’ve said here, and still wonder what point you were trying to make with it. Your point seems to be that “not making a decision” is the only rational thing to do in the absence of clear rational guidance, but sometimes that’s not an option.

    I thought that was implied by your claim that atheists are guaranteed to lose out on something if they are wrong about God and hence should rationally bet on God´s existence. If you do not actually believe that God would punish people for not believing in her, then your claim was nonsensical from the get go.

    Is your use of “her” here meant to be offensive to theists, women, or Grammar Nazis? Seems rather petulant, whatever the case, don’t you think? In my capacity as a Grammar Nazi, however, I did roll my eyes.

    That aside, if you think that Pascal’s Wager is necessarily premised on a God who punishes people for not believing, then that’s astonishingly naive for someone who’s supposed to be so well-versed in the subject. I had supposed that your G1, who demands belief only, was merely a device constructed for the purposes of argument, but perhaps you actually think that it’s representative of Pascal’s beliefs? Do you require a Christianity 101 lesson here? Seems like it.

    The fact that lack of belief leads to punishment does not mean that the punishment is for the lack of belief. If you broke the law and lacked belief in laws, you’d be punished for breaking the law, not lacking belief in them. Believing in the existence of laws would simply be the first necessary step in dealing with the problem (although hardly sufficient in and of itself).

  160. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    I’m just asking for clarification as to whether that was actually the case, or whether you allow a distinction between claims which are ad hoc and those which aren’t.

    An ad hoc claim is itself completely unsupported (by definition), it you can provide support for the claim, then it cannot be classified as an ad hoc claim to begin with.

    Is your use of “her” here meant to be offensive to theists, women, or Grammar Nazis? Seems rather petulant, whatever the case, don’t you think? In my capacity as a Grammar Nazi, however, I did roll my eyes.

    It actually wasn´t meant to be offensive to anyone. God, as most theists conceive her, is in some sense personal, so using “it” would be misleading, but using exclusively “him” is just as misleading because God doesn´t have a gender – so I use both more or less randomly. The only “argument” for always making God a dude I have heard so far is “well, we´ve always done it that way so why not?”.

    That aside, if you think that Pascal’s Wager is necessarily premised on a God who punishes people for not believing, then that’s astonishingly naive for someone who’s supposed to be so well-versed in the subject. I had supposed that your G1, who demands belief only, was merely a device constructed for the purposes of argument, but perhaps you actually think that it’s representative of Pascal’s beliefs? Do you require a Christianity 101 lesson here? Seems like it.

    The fact that lack of belief leads to punishment does not mean that the punishment is for the lack of belief. If you broke the law and lacked belief in laws, you’d be punished for breaking the law…

    Imagine that there are two guys, Dick and Harry. Both try to live a good life, but they sometimes fail – lets just call that “breaking Gods laws”. They both broke Gods laws to a roughly equal degree (i.e. the number and severity of their sins is comparable) and they both sincerely “repent” (in the purely secular sense of sincerely regretting past conduct and trying to make up for it and change for the better) to a roughly equal degree. However, Dick believes that Jesus was God incarnate and died for his sins, while Harry doesn´t believe that Jesus was more than a man.
    If it is not only Harry that is being punished while Dick is not, then Harry *IS* punished for his lack of belief, not for his actions – because the lack of belief is the *only* thing that distinguishes the two.
    Maybe there is some hypothetical scenario where the nonbeliever would be “punished” in some way without God being involved – but I can´t think of one.

  161. TFBW says:

    An ad hoc claim is itself completely unsupported (by definition), it you can provide support for the claim, then it cannot be classified as an ad hoc claim to begin with.

    Fair enough, as far as it goes. Anything which can be supported is not ad hoc. Classical theistic philosophy starts from first principles, and is supported by arguments based on those principles. Biblical theism is supported by scripture. Are these, then, broad examples of how one might produce possibly-true theistic claims which are not ad hoc?

    … but using exclusively “him” is just as misleading because God doesn´t have a gender …

    Grammar Nazi says, “English uses the capitalised pronoun ‘He’ to refer to God.”

    If it is not only Harry that is being punished while Dick is not …

    Well, it’s not at all clear to me that this is the case, based on the distinction you have made. The outcome seems to be dependent on the condition, “the key to salvation is to believe the proposition that Jesus is God incarnate, and died for our sins” — a condition which I am inclined to deny. While I would affirm the fact that Jesus is God incarnate and died for sins, my reading of scripture lends no support to the idea that the key to salvation is to hold that statement to be true: scripture emphasises heart attitude over propositional beliefs, to put it mildly. Harry’s destination is uncertain — to me, at least. It may well depend on facts not given here, such as what his reaction would be if his error were revealed to him. To be incorrect about Jesus is not the same as to reject him; to be correct is not the same as to accept him.

  162. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    Fair enough, as far as it goes. Anything which can be supported is not ad hoc. Classical theistic philosophy starts from first principles, and is supported by arguments based on those principles.

    Indeed. This requires you to accept aristotelian premises on metaphysics (aristotelian definitions of “causation” and “goodness” etc.pp.) and to then derive the divine attributes that classical theism proposes deductively. Those claims about God are thus indeed not “ad hoc” at all. Although the premises they are built on are not self-evidently or undeniably true, no matter how much some Christian philosophers like to claim otherwise (and the majority of contemporary philosophers does indeed reject aristotelian metaphysics – that´s just an appeal to popular opinion of course, but given this, it seems kind of absurd to call those metaphysical principles self-evident and undeniable while the majority of professional philosophers do deny them). From what I have seen in this respect, the arguments within classical theism are very well thought out and valid as far as I can tell, and I´ve also seen good defenses of the premises they rest on, not good enough for me to conclude that they are most likely true, but I absolutely respect this intellectually (and yes, most popular atheist attacks directed against this are terrible or even embarrassingly terrible). Btw, if I imagine a hypothetical situation where I became convinced that aristotelian metaphysics is most likely true and that the God of classical theism hence most likely exists – I would still be convinced that biblical theism is false (maybe even more so than I am now), because the God described in the Bible seems to be irreconcilably different from the God described by classical theism – the most obvious instance of this would be trying to reconcile God´s love of and concern for humans as expressed in the actions of Jesus with the absolute impassibility that God must have if classical theism is true, trying to reconcile this is trying to square the circle (I have seen Christian scholars like David Bentley Hart trying to reconcile this – but their attempts were some of the worst reasoning that I have ever seen in my life).
    And when it comes to deciding between G1 and G2 for example, classical theism would not help you at all, because classical theism only tells you that “truth” is identical to “God”, that the latter literally *is* the former, but it takes you no further – it doesn´t tell you what implications this has for what humans ought to do, whether they should always strive to believe what reason tells them is most likely, or whether they should strive to believe in God even if God´s non-existence is more likely as far as they can tell.

    Biblical theism is supported by scripture.

    And they would then also not be ad hoc and I would most likely reject them because I consider the claim that the Bible was divinely inspired to be exceedingly less likely than the claim that it wasn´t. Or, in other words, I would not reject them out of hand but rather assess them based on the evidence for and against the claims that a) the Bible was divinely inspired while other alleged revelations that contradict it are either not inspired or at least not as authoritative as the Bible is and b) that your exegesis is indeed the most plausible one given what is known about the cultural context in which the biblical texts were produced.

    Grammar Nazi says, “English uses the capitalised pronoun ‘He’ to refer to God.”

    That the “He” is capitalized is indeed proper english spelling (if we talk about a monotheistic God like the Christian one), that you use a “He” instead of a “She” however is just tradition – and the community of English speaking people are rarely faithful towards such traditions over long periods of time, so I don´t see myself breaking the tradition as something problematic or unusual (I´ve even seen theists purposely using both “He” and “She” to create awareness of the fact that God is not conceived as having a gender and that casually anthropologizing God in such a way can be misleading). But if it makes you happy, I´ll just use “He” from now on when I talk to you.

    Well, it’s not at all clear to me that this is the case, based on the distinction you have made. The outcome seems to be dependent on the condition, “the key to salvation is to believe the proposition that Jesus is God incarnate, and died for our sins” — a condition which I am inclined to deny.

    I didn´t say that necessarily have to accept that condition, I said it followed from my hypothetical scenario. If you believed that for that hypothetical, that Harry would most likely be punished but Dick would not be (or punished less than Harry would be) – then I don´t see how you could deny it without introducing a contradiction into your beliefs.

    While I would affirm the fact that Jesus is God incarnate and died for sins, my reading of scripture lends no support to the idea that the key to salvation is to hold that statement to be true: scripture emphasises heart attitude over propositional beliefs, to put it mildly. Harry’s destination is uncertain — to me, at least. It may well depend on facts not given here, such as what his reaction would be if his error were revealed to him. To be incorrect about Jesus is not the same as to reject him; to be correct is not the same as to accept him.

    I´ve seen plenty of modern Christians who believe that non-Christians will have the opportunity to “choose God” in the afterlife and that hell is really nothing but a place where God is absent and where people go and stay voluntarily (as CS Lewis wrote “Hell is locked from the inside”). If this, or something like it, is what you believe, then there is indeed no reason for you to accept the condition mentioned above. But, assuming that you are right about this, there is then also no reason for an atheist to be worried about something like Pascal´s wager – because them being wrong about the non-existence of God in this earthly life would have no negative consequences for them, only their voluntary rejection of God in the afterlife would have.

  163. FZM says:

    Andy,

    …that might be due to fact that everyone seems to have a different understanding of what Pascal´s wager is about. Understood as Michael phrased it in the OP, it makes sense to me (well, it has no relevance for me in my position, but I see how it would make sense to Michael from where he is coming from).

    I thought I’d post a short version of the text of Pascal’s wager here, it might be useful:

    God is, or God is not. Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives. A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up. You must wager (it is not optional). 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. 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. But some cannot believe. They should then ‘at least learn your inability to believe…’ and ‘Endeavour then to convince’ themselves.

    The above if from Wikipedia and there’s also a fuller text here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager

    Is the distinction clear to you now?

    I said that I found it hard to understand in the context of the wager. I don’t see any particular idea of God in Pascal’s wager, beyond that God may reward people with something like heaven. There doesn’t seem to be anything specific about what ‘belief in God’ involves, whether, for example, it involves anything more than something very minimal like being open to the idea that something may grant you heaven for unspecified reasons. I haven’t been able see why the question of intentions versus belief was necessarily so relevant to this, unless there’s an idea that self interest is necessarily opposed to/excludes truth.

    As I pointed out earlier, I´m not aware of any rational method to evaluate whether G1 is more probable than G2 or vice versa. Are you?

    Are you saying here that there isn’t one because you aren’t personally aware of one?

    A side point, in the G2 example you gave how far could an individual know that their behaviour and intentions were genuinely truth directed, and that they weren’t willing themselves into believing things on the basis of convenience?

    3. Regarding “Presented with something like the wager, how does your sincere truth seeking atheist reason about which bet would be the best to make?”
    – There is no universal answer to that of course just like there is no universal answer as to how *every* Christian reasons about some issue, I can only tell you how I would reason about that.

    While I agree that there’s unlikely to be any universal answer I thought we were discussing an ‘everyman’ or generic ‘sincere truth seeking atheist’, looking at things in more general terms, as opposed to you personally and your own reasoning.

    And my reasoning would be to first reject the cost-benefit calculation in Pascal´s wager because it is based on a false dichotomy.

    From Pascal’s wager it doesn’t seem like much of a cost benefit analysis is necessary because it’s not clear what the cost of wagering on the existence of God is, if anything.

    I realize that I could be wrong about a personal God being nonexistent, but I´m not aware of any rational method to evaluate whether something like G1 or G2 as defined above are more probable, but without that, I cannot do a cost-benefit calculation for the possibility that I am wrong – so the wager is completely moot from the get go (I´m oversimplifying by only considering G1 and G2, but this is sufficient to illustrate the point I´m trying to make).

    I can see that just considering G1 and G2 is oversimplifying; potentially there could be multitudes of potential ‘G’ options. I imagine quite a few could come from minor variations on G2 alone. Given that, and that you have no way of judging any particular option to be more probable than any other, picking the ‘G’ option which is the most minimal and involves the least commitment seems the best thing to do.

    It actually wasn´t meant to be offensive to anyone. God, as most theists conceive her, is in some sense personal, so using “it” would be misleading, but using exclusively “him” is just as misleading because God doesn´t have a gender – so I use both more or less randomly. The only “argument” for always making God a dude I have heard so far is “well, we´ve always done it that way so why not?”.

    At least officially a lot of theists conceive of God as a Trinty of persons so perhaps you could have used ‘it’ as well.

    Btw, if I imagine a hypothetical situation where I became convinced that aristotelian metaphysics is most likely true and that the God of classical theism hence most likely exists – I would still be convinced that biblical theism is false (maybe even more so than I am now), because the God described in the Bible seems to be irreconcilably different from the God described by classical theism – the most obvious instance of this would be trying to reconcile God´s love of and concern for humans as expressed in the actions of Jesus with the absolute impassibility that God must have if classical theism is true, trying to reconcile this is trying to square the circle (I have seen Christian scholars like David Bentley Hart trying to reconcile this – but their attempts were some of the worst reasoning that I have ever seen in my life).

    At least as far as I am aware Bentley Hart isn’t all that friendly towards Aristotelian scholastic theism and has written critically about it. I don’t know if he would be the best writer to look to for arguments about how to reconcile the God described by Scholastic theism with the God of the Bible. On the other hand I don’t think this is a new question either, and it seems like many scholastic philosophers haven’t found this kind of irreconcilable conflict between classical theism and the God of the Bible.

  164. TFBW says:

    This requires you to accept aristotelian premises on metaphysics (aristotelian definitions of “causation” and “goodness” etc.pp.) …

    Well, it doesn’t have to be strictly Aristotelian, but it has to be a metaphysics which admits more than mere matter. There are good arguments to be made that materialist philosophies suffer from various reductio issues, not to mention the utter failure of such frameworks to account for consciousness. Personally, I think that the current low popularity of Aristotelian metaphysics is (a) a bit of an indictment on the state of modern philosophy, and (b) a great opportunity for future hipster bragging rights (“I was Aristotelian back when it wasn’t popular”).

    I have seen Christian scholars like David Bentley Hart trying to reconcile this – but their attempts were some of the worst reasoning that I have ever seen in my life.

    I don’t know who that is. How about Alvin Plantinga? I haven’t read him, but he’s a top shelf Christian philosopher. If you think his reasoning is terrible, you’re probably the one making the mistake.

    And when it comes to deciding between G1 and G2 for example, classical theism would not help you at all …

    Which isn’t a problem, because G1 and G2 are ad hoc inventions designed to throw a spanner in the works. They succeed in doing that, but we don’t have to take them at all seriously as candidates for what God is actually like, because the aspects which make them a problem also make them groundless.

    I didn´t say that necessarily have to accept that condition …

    I didn’t mean to imply that you accepted it. I was just trying to distil the problem down to the most precisely defined conditions that I could. It was an analysis of the problem statement, nothing more.

    If this, or something like it, is what you believe, then there is indeed no reason for you to accept the condition mentioned above. But, assuming that you are right about this, there is then also no reason for an atheist to be worried about something like Pascal´s wager …

    There surely is: one alternative is secure, the other is uncertain and risky. Given equal reward, the secure alternative is the rational choice. Also, by the time you’ve adopted an actual penitent attitude (per Harry), most of the atheist “I get to live as I please” perks are off the table. If you don’t make a firm policy decision to live a particular way, you leave yourself more open to the winds of change and influence, which might cause you to drift off the path to salvation. Furthermore, a lifetime of habits may not suddenly up and vanish on judgement day, so it still pays to live your life like it matters what you do. It’s hard to picture any of the New Atheists suddenly getting all “save me Jesus”, even on judgement day, isn’t it?

    You can reiterate the “I can’t make myself believe” objection again (don’t want you to think I’ve forgotten), but that’s a separate issue from the risk/reward calculation and its continued relevance.

  165. Andy says:

    FZM,

    I said that I found it hard to understand in the context of the wager. I don’t see any particular idea of God in Pascal’s wager, beyond that God may reward people with something like heaven. There doesn’t seem to be anything specific about what ‘belief in God’ involves, whether, for example, it involves anything more than something very minimal like being open to the idea that something may grant you heaven for unspecified reasons.

    I don´t see that as a plausible interpretation of the text. If Pascal had something like this in mind, why did he talk about “unbelief” instead of talking about a hypothetical person that not only doesn´t believe in God, but categorically denies that this *could* be true. And note that you would essentially have to demonstrate that a claim is logically incoherent (i.e. self-refuting) in order to reasonably conclude that it is not just false, but rather not even *possibly* true, i.e. *necessarily* false. How many of Pascal´s contemporaries do you think would have thought that the existence of God is not just improbable, or extremely unlikely, or false beyond any reasonable doubt, but rather *necessarily* false? I don´t believe that Pascal had such people in mind – there is nothing in the text that indicates this, and there is no reason to believe that there even were a non-negligible number of people with that attitude about God in his days.

    Are you saying here that there isn’t one because you aren’t personally aware of one?

    I phrased it as a question. Are you aware of a method?

    A side point, in the G2 example you gave how far could an individual know that their behaviour and intentions were genuinely truth directed, and that they weren’t willing themselves into believing things on the basis of convenience?

    Well, introspection is, like every other cognitive faculty, fallible:
    http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~eschwitz/SchwitzPapers/Naive1.pdf
    How far you could go at confirming that your introspection wrt some issue most likely gave you a largely correct picture of went on in your mind is hard to tell and I don´t think you could make any general statements about it – completely depends on the individual context.

    While I agree that there’s unlikely to be any universal answer I thought we were discussing an ‘everyman’ or generic ‘sincere truth seeking atheist’, looking at things in more general terms, as opposed to you personally and your own reasoning.

    I have no idea how you would even try to generalize this. How is this supposed to work for any sufficiently large group of people? Lets take Christians as a different example, how many claims wrt how people reason about God could be generalized to all people that identify as “Christians” – which would include the loyal Catholic intellectual, some snake-handling Protestant hillbilly, a prosperity gospel advocate, a Christian mystic, a Mormon and countless other kinds of people? I couldn´t think of one beyond the incredibly vague “they rely in some sense on the Bible” (which could mean anything up to and including someone who has never even read anything from the Bible verse or heard any sermon, but has heard about Bible stories from his father and identifies as a Christian based on his belief in those stories).

    From Pascal’s wager it doesn’t seem like much of a cost benefit analysis is necessary because it’s not clear what the cost of wagering on the existence of God is, if anything.

    But then there is no such thing as a wager in any sense. This is like I would tell you “Maybe someone somewhere is going to toss a coin now, maybe you win something if you call it right, maybe he´ll punish you if you call it wrongly, or maybe you win something if you just refuse to gamble, there´s no way for you to tell – so, how do you bet?”
    This is just nonsensical, you cannot “bet” without knowing anything about the rules of the game – a person that approaches a roulette table and puts his wallet on one of the numbers (because he tought it´s just some table where he could put his stuff on), might well lose his money or win something if the casino staff don´t realize that the guy has no idea what he is doing, but not because he made a “bet” on that number.

    I can see that just considering G1 and G2 is oversimplifying; potentially there could be multitudes of potential ‘G’ options. I imagine quite a few could come from minor variations on G2 alone. Given that, and that you have no way of judging any particular option to be more probable than any other, picking the ‘G’ option which is the most minimal and involves the least commitment seems the best thing to do.

    Not really. Compare ‘G’ vs. ” – which one is the minimal option?

    At least as far as I am aware Bentley Hart isn’t all that friendly towards Aristotelian scholastic theism and has written critically about it.

    I noticed that he has some beef with scholasticism, but was pretty sure that he does accept the aristotelian premises that underlie classical theism (if he wouldn´t, he would have little reason to identify as a classical theist).

    On the other hand I don’t think this is a new question either, and it seems like many scholastic philosophers haven’t found this kind of irreconcilable conflict between classical theism and the God of the Bible.

    I know, and I find it quite baffling. Have you seen some good attempts at reconciling classical theism with the biblical description of what God is like? (again, I find the issue of divine impassibility to be the most obvious, but not the only, issue that seems to make the two irreconciilable)

  166. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    Well, it doesn’t have to be strictly Aristotelian, but it has to be a metaphysics which admits more than mere matter.

    That is completely false. You actually do need Aristotelian premises on metaphysics – his account of potentiality vs. actuality, his account of causation, of goodness, and so on and so forth. If you don´t have, you might be able to construct something to call “God” – but it won´t be the God of classical theism. Also, you are ridiculously oversimplifying the matter when you say that you just need to subscribe to a metaphysics that admits more than matter – atheism doesn´t logically require naturalism and plenty of atheists (and the oldest (eastern) philosophical traditions that are atheistic or nontheistic) are not naturalists.

    There are good arguments to be made that materialist philosophies suffer from various reductio issues, not to mention the utter failure of such frameworks to account for consciousness.

    Well, I don´t really care since I see no need to defend any materialist philosophy. But I´ll just point out thatthere isn´t actually any philosophy that “accounts for” consciousness in a non-trivial sense and that I can guarantee you that if you specifcally state which metaphysical principles you subscribe to – I can point out at least one huge problem with it for which it´s adherents have no defense better than trying to handwave the issue away.

    Which isn’t a problem, because G1 and G2 are ad hoc inventions designed to throw a spanner in the works. They succeed in doing that, but we don’t have to take them at all seriously as candidates for what God is actually like, because the aspects which make them a problem also make them groundless.

    And if you would just be content with saying that “God” is identical to “truth” and refrain from making any claims about what exactly this means for us, then this would be fine. But if you do make such claims, then they are not based on classical theism but rather something else that you would need to defend – and if you cannot defend it, whatever it is, then your claim is not an iota more valid than my G1 or G2.

    There surely is: one alternative is secure, the other is uncertain and risky.

    So we do have to take the “God punishes you for not believing” alternative seriously after all? And why is it again that we do have to take that one seriously while we do not have to take G2 alternative seriously?

    Also, by the time you’ve adopted an actual penitent attitude (per Harry), most of the atheist “I get to live as I please” perks are off the table.

    So I can get the “I can do whatever I want, then just ask skydaddy for forgiveness and everything´s cool” perks instead. (yeah, yeah, strawman – but still a completely appropriate response to what you are saying here).

    Furthermore, a lifetime of habits may not suddenly up and vanish on judgement day, so it still pays to live your life like it matters what you do.

    You don´t say! Btw, it still pays to be charitable, even if God would forgive you for being uncharitable.

  167. TFBW says:

    You actually do need Aristotelian premises on metaphysics – his account of potentiality vs. actuality, his account of causation, of goodness, and so on and so forth.

    If you say so. I only have a passing familiarity.

    Also, you are ridiculously oversimplifying the matter when you say that you just need to subscribe to a metaphysics that admits more than matter – atheism doesn´t logically require naturalism and plenty of atheists (and the oldest (eastern) philosophical traditions that are atheistic or nontheistic) are not naturalists.

    Well, if you are going to admit the possibility of a God, then you do (trivially) need a metaphysics which admits more than matter, because God is not material. The fact that non-theistic philosophical traditions might also embrace such a metaphysics is neither here nor there as far as I’m concerned. I think you’re criticising something related to but different from what I actually said.

    Well, I don´t really care since I see no need to defend any materialist philosophy.

    Materialist philosophies seem to be the major competitor to the classics. They may be popular, but they’re not without obvious difficulties. Just saying.

    But if you do make such claims, then they are not based on classical theism but rather something else that you would need to defend – and if you cannot defend it, whatever it is, then your claim is not an iota more valid than my G1 or G2.

    On the contrary, we’ve already established that Biblical theology does not suffer from the “ad hoc” problem of G1 and G2. Of course, you reject it for other reasons (no surprise to anyone), but there’s a qualitative difference.

    Persuading you that such a foundation is a reliable one is a different problem, and I’m not sure how to defeat that scepticism. You’ve expressed some openness to a divine visitation with parallels to the New Testament, so presumably the New Testament itself (at the very least) would have been acceptable to you, had you been around to see the events it documents. It has all the right qualities to act as a basis for theology, in principle, at least. Am I wrong?

    So we do have to take the “God punishes you for not believing” alternative seriously after all?

    No, but as I mentioned, there may be other significant considerations in play that aren’t declared in your hypothetical. Also, there is the distinction between a thing explicitly declared versus a thing implied: working from “if X, then Y,” you have a clear outcome for X, but the implications of not-X may be less clear. Probability is weakened by uncertainty. Lastly, how high are you willing to pile up those caveats? Maybe there is some penalty for not believing if you ought to have believed, based on available evidence. We can split that hair as finely as we like in a hypothetical, but it carries a degree of uncertainty in the real world which makes the hair-splitting irrelevant.

    So I can get the “I can do whatever I want, then just ask skydaddy for forgiveness and everything´s cool” perks instead.

    Perhaps another aspect of this that you haven’t taken into consideration is that I don’t grant that all rewards are equal, either. Sure, there’s the rather drastic binary life/death kind of distinction between heaven and hell, but Jesus gave explicit advice to store up treasures in heaven, rather than on Earth, so there’s investment advice regarding long-term results on that front also.

  168. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    On the contrary, we’ve already established that Biblical theology does not suffer from the “ad hoc” problem of G1 and G2. Of course, you reject it for other reasons (no surprise to anyone), but there’s a qualitative difference.

    Indeed. But not necessarily in a positive way for your claim. If the arguments against the Bible being divinely inspired would strongly outweigh the arguments for it being divinely inspired, than my G2 is actually more of a live option than your claim – because while I never even tried to support it in any way, it is also not yet disconfirmed either.

    Persuading you that such a foundation is a reliable one is a different problem, and I’m not sure how to defeat that scepticism. You’ve expressed some openness to a divine visitation with parallels to the New Testament, so presumably the New Testament itself (at the very least) would have been acceptable to you, had you been around to see the events it documents. It has all the right qualities to act as a basis for theology, in principle, at least. Am I wrong?

    I see two different questions here.
    1. Is it reasonable to conclude that the claims made in the Bible are true (not necessarily all of them but at least the theologically significant ones).
    2. Does the Bible have “all the right qualities to act as a basis for theology, in principle, at least.” (assuming that #1 is true)
    Regarding #1 – I could imagine several scenarios where this is the most likely conclusion, but they have extremely little in common with our actual reality. Based on what we actually have, I´m convinced that this is false.
    Regarding #2 – Difficult. A book with narratives about a person, no matter how well written, is necessarily a poor substitute for the actual person. And if you have just a book as the basis for your theology (or rather, for any theology more specific than naked classical theism or something comparable), then the book at least should be very systematic and self-sufficient – not exactly labels I would attach to the Bible. So, I´d say it could be used as a basis for theology (well, that´s what Christians have been doing after all for centuries), but it certainly lacks important qualities that an ideal basis for theology would have.

    No, but as I mentioned, there may be other significant considerations in play that aren’t declared in your hypothetical. Also, there is the distinction between a thing explicitly declared versus a thing implied: working from “if X, then Y,” you have a clear outcome for X, but the implications of not-X may be less clear.

    I don´t see how this connects to what I said… You say that based on your biblical theology, God wouldn´t punish people for not believing. And you also say that one should take the possibility that God *might* do that. But if you open the door to what God *might* do – how do you close it for something like my G2? Because it´s ad hoc? Your alternative seems to be ad hoc as well, you seem to think it doesn´t follow from biblical teachings and I can discern no reason for you to bring it up other than it being currently useful in an argument for you – and that would be as ad hoc as it gets.

    Lastly, how high are you willing to pile up those caveats? Maybe there is some penalty for not believing if you ought to have believed, based on available evidence. We can split that hair as finely as we like in a hypothetical, but it carries a degree of uncertainty in the real world which makes the hair-splitting irrelevant.

    I´d say that it is uncertainty that makes the wager irrelevant. If a hypothetical nonbeliever cannot say what would most likely happen if he is wrong about the non-existence of God – he has no basis to conclude that trying to will himself into believing that God exists would be a good idea.

    Perhaps another aspect of this that you haven’t taken into consideration is that I don’t grant that all rewards are equal, either. Sure, there’s the rather drastic binary life/death kind of distinction between heaven and hell, but Jesus gave explicit advice to store up treasures in heaven, rather than on Earth, so there’s investment advice regarding long-term results on that front also.

    And then you have the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard and the Parable of the Prodigal Son… And the instructions for how to accumulate treasure (if treasure can indeed be accumulated despite the two Parables mentioned before) are also not really clear, does the “noble pagan” accumulate as much treasure as a Christian who lived an equally good life? Or are actions maybe completely irrelevant? Quote from wikipedia:
    “Justification, in Christian theology, is God’s act of removing the guilt and penalty of sin while at the same time declaring a sinner righteous through Christ’s atoning sacrifice. In Protestantism, righteousness from God is viewed as being credited to the sinner’s account through faith alone, without works.
    The means of justification is an area of significant difference between Catholics/Eastern Orthodox and Protestants. Broadly speaking, Catholic and Orthodox Christians distinguish between initial justification, which in their view occurs at baptism, and permanent justification, accomplished after a lifetime of striving to do God’s will. Most Protestants believe that justification is a singular act in which God declares an unrighteous individual to be righteous, an act made possible because Christ was legally “made sin” while on the cross (2 Cor 5:21). Justification is granted to all who exercise faith, and that is viewed as a gift from God (unmerited favour) by Lutherans and Calvinists, who use Eph 2:8, as well as Acts 16:14 and Phil 1:29 to support that belief. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox use James 2:14-26, Galatians 5:19-21 and Matthew 19:17 to support their belief that justification is kept through avoiding grave sins. Justification is seen by Protestants as being the theological fault line that divided Catholic from Protestant during the Protestant Reformation.[1]”

  169. FZM says:

    Andy,

    I don´t see that as a plausible interpretation of the text. If Pascal had something like this in mind, why did he talk about “unbelief” instead of talking about a hypothetical person that not only doesn´t believe in God, but categorically denies that this *could* be true. And note that you would essentially have to demonstrate that a claim is logically incoherent (i.e. self-refuting) in order to reasonably conclude that it is not just false, but rather not even *possibly* true, i.e. *necessarily* false. How many of Pascal´s contemporaries do you think would have thought that the existence of God is not just improbable, or extremely unlikely, or false beyond any reasonable doubt, but rather *necessarily* false? I don´t believe that Pascal had such people in mind – there is nothing in the text that indicates this, and there is no reason to believe that there even were a non-negligible number of people with that attitude about God in his days.

    The notes that constitute Pascal’s wager were found on bits of paper beside his bed after his death and printed up. How do we know what stage his ideas were at and what he might have done with the wager argument notes if he had lived and finished his apologetic work, and therefore which interpretation most closely reflects his intentions?

    In the light of arguments he might have had with his contemporaries I’d have thought that parts of what has survived of Pascal’s thinking might seem unusual anyway, for example:

    If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither
    parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing
    either what He is or if He is….

    or

    …”God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can
    decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is
    being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails
    will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the
    one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the
    propositions.

    And apparently he was quite innovative:

    Historically, Pascal’s Wager was groundbreaking because it charted new territory in probability theory, marked the first formal use of decision theory, and anticipated future philosophies such as existentialism, pragmatism and voluntarism.[3]

    Is your general expertise on Pascal and his work a reason that I should trust that your interpretation of Pascal’s Wager is the only plausible one? (btw what exactly is your interpretation of it?)

    I phrased it as a question. Are you aware of a method?

    I don’t know. What relationship does my personal knowledge of such a method have to the existence or not of such a method?

    But then there is no such thing as a wager in any sense. This is like I would tell you “Maybe someone somewhere is going to toss a coin now, maybe you win something if you call it right, maybe he´ll punish you if you call it wrongly, or maybe you win something if you just refuse to gamble, there´s no way for you to tell – so, how do you bet?”

    Yes, you couldn’t avoid taking some an option if there was an obligation to bet and you ran the risk of punishment whatever you did anyway c.f.

    No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all. Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then?

    As far as I can see, unless there is an argument which, as you described, rules out the possibility of the existence of God, this seems to be the situation the wager puts everyone in. I would agree that it isn’t a wager in a normal sense.

    I always wondered about Pascal’s wager as it stood back when I first read it, you seem to have made some of the issues with it clearer so thanks for that.

    I noticed that he has some beef with scholasticism, but was pretty sure that he does accept the aristotelian premises that underlie classical theism (if he wouldn´t, he would have little reason to identify as a classical theist).

    I’ve read things written by scholastics arguing that he is a fideist of some kind. He is an Orthodox theologian though so he might be hard to categorise easily.

    I know, and I find it quite baffling. Have you seen some good attempts at reconciling classical theism with the biblical description of what God is like? (again, I find the issue of divine impassibility to be the most obvious, but not the only, issue that seems to make the two irreconciilable)

    I don’t know, I was just stating a fact. Why do you find it baffling? How widely read are you on the topic? What would, from your point of view, constitute a ‘good attempt’ at reconciling classical theism with the biblical description of what God is like?

  170. G. Rodrigues says:

    “This requires you to accept aristotelian premises on metaphysics (aristotelian definitions of “causation” and “goodness” etc.pp.) and to then derive the divine attributes that classical theism proposes deductively.”

    This is wrong. What characterizes classical theism, in opposition to more modern forms of theism, is not an acceptance of Aristotelean metaphysics, but an acceptance of such doctrines as that of divine simplicity. The neo-Platonist Plotinus is as much a “classical” as the Aristotelean Scholastic like Aquinas (who, it must be remembered, also went far beyond the Master Philosopher Aristotle). Anselm’s argument it is not a causal argument, etc. and etc.

  171. Andy says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    This is wrong. What characterizes classical theism, in opposition to more modern forms of theism, is not an acceptance of Aristotelean metaphysics, but an acceptance of such doctrines as that of divine simplicity.

    But divine simplicity is not just accepted as a premise, Aquinas concludes that God must be metaphysically simple by deductive reasoning (Summa Question 3, Article 7), and he relies on concepts like “form”, “essence”, “actuality-potentiality” etc. for that – so you´d need to accept a metaphysical foundation that establishes these concepts in order to derive divine simplicity the way Aquinas did. I know very little about Neoplatonism and Plotinus – did Neoplatonists disagree with Aristotle on the metaphysical principles that Aquinas used for his reasoning and do you know on what grounds they claimed that God is metaphysically simple?

    Anselm’s argument it is not a causal argument

    Sure. But Anselm´s argument intends to demonstrate that a “maximally great” being exists, and that, in itself ,doesn´t necessarily lead you to all the attributes that God has according to classical theism. Afaik, there are arguments that aim to show that a maximally great being is also necessarily metaphysically simple, but they also use concepts like actuality-potentiality.

  172. Andy says:

    FZM,

    The notes that constitute Pascal’s wager were found on bits of paper beside his bed after his death and printed up. How do we know what stage his ideas were at and what he might have done with the wager argument notes if he had lived and finished his apologetic work, and therefore which interpretation most closely reflects his intentions?

    Well, if it is that unclear what he actually meant – it is not very useful for apologists today, unless they clarify the idea *first* and then try to use it as an argument.

    Is your general expertise on Pascal and his work a reason that I should trust that your interpretation of Pascal’s Wager is the only plausible one? (btw what exactly is your interpretation of it?)

    I don´t have my own interpretation. I´m just commenting on the different versions used in the OP and by commenters in this thread – Michael´s conception of what it means for example sounds reasonable to me, but it is irrelevant for someone who is not already a theist and hence useless for apologetics. TFBW´s conception of what it means relies on premises for the cost-benefit calculation that a skeptic can rationally reject. And your earlier idea that Pascal might have just meant a general openness to the possibility that God *might* exist has no relevance for any skeptic except for those that do not just claim that the existence of God is unlikely, or exceedingly unlikely, but rather strictly impossible (and would also suffer from the problem of TFBWs conception regarding how the skeptic could actually know what the “rules” of the game are – how the cost-benefit calculation would actually look like).

    I don’t know. What relationship does my personal knowledge of such a method have to the existence or not of such a method?

    That is a strange question. If I´d asked you whether you know any black swans, and you tell me “sure, there is one in the Zoo right down the street”, then the “relationship” between your “personal knowledge” and the existence or not of black swans is that there black swans and that one of them is in the Zoo right down the street. And if you had told me “no, I´ve never seen or heard of a black swan”, then that wouldn´t tell me very much about whether or not black swans exist – but if I ask a sufficiently large group of people, particularly those that are interested in swans and maybe even members of organizations devoted to the study of swans, and they all tell me that they are not aware of any, then I can reasonably conclude that black swans are either nonexistent or so exceedingly rare that I shouldn´t expect to ever find one.

    Yes, you couldn’t avoid taking some an option if there was an obligation to bet and you ran the risk of punishment whatever you did anyway c.f.
    As far as I can see, unless there is an argument which, as you described, rules out the possibility of the existence of God, this seems to be the situation the wager puts everyone in. I would agree that it isn’t a wager in a normal sense.

    Imagine I´d say “maybe there is a game that you necessarily have to play and after which you will be punished if you [insert unknown condition x here]”. So if you do x, you´ll not be punished, but if you don´t do x, you won´t be punished, but since you do not know what x even is, you wouldn´t be “betting” by doing or not doing x. If the rules of the game are simply unknown to you, you are not truly “betting” by doing anything either way.
    But I guess we can just agree on this “not being a wager in a normal sense” and say that the rest is semantics.

    I always wondered about Pascal’s wager as it stood back when I first read it, you seem to have made some of the issues with it clearer so thanks for that.

    You´re welcome. I on the other hand was more interested in what Christians today think of it, and that discussion here made that clearer, so thanks to you also.

    Why do you find it baffling?

    Well, to me, the tension seems to be quite obvious, and since some profilic Christian philosophers indeed do deny some aspects of classical theism (particularly impassibility and simplicity afaict) because of that tension (Platinga rejects simplicity for example, and impassibility is very widely rejected among Protestant scholars), I don´t think I´m completely off the mark with that. And the “baffled” part is mostly due to the terrible reasoning I´ve seen in the attempts of reconciling Christianity with divine impassibility, but maybe I just stumbled upon the worst examples and missed good ones.

    What would, from your point of view, constitute a ‘good attempt’ at reconciling classical theism with the biblical description of what God is like?

    How should I know? If I knew how such an attempt would look like, I would be aware of at least a potential way to reconcile them, and then I wouldn´t have considered them to be irreconcilable in the first place.

  173. Andy says:

    “So if you do x, you´ll not be punished, but if you don´t do x, you won´t be punished”
    should of course have been:
    So if you do x, you´ll be punished, but if you don´t do x, you won´t be punished

  174. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Andy:

    “But divine simplicity is not just accepted as a premise, Aquinas concludes that God must be metaphysically simple by deductive reasoning (Summa Question 3, Article 7), and he relies on concepts like “form”, “essence”, “actuality-potentiality” etc. for that – so you´d need to accept a metaphysical foundation that establishes these concepts in order to derive divine simplicity the way Aquinas did.”

    Yes, you would need to accept Aquinas metaphysical outlook to buy into his arguments — a metaphysical outlook that is argued for by the way. So? I will repeat myself:

    (1) Not all classical theists are, like Aquinas was, an Aristotelean. They arrive at the God of classical theism through different (though related) means, and thus necessarily, argue for the divine attributes in different ways. Once again, neo-Platonists are a typical case.

    (2) Many of the classical arguments for the existence of God are not causal arguments. Anselm’s is one example; neo-Platonist arguments are another; Aquinas famous argument based on the distinction between essence and existence is another (a distinction some have argued is decidedly un-Aristotelian). Even causal arguments (like the First Way) have to be handled with care, because what the, Scholastics say, mean by cause is not what moderns typically mean by it, and what causal arguments, or quia arguments from effect to cause, establish is typically not what a causal argument in a modern dressing would establish. This is important because arguing from God to His attributes is based on the *specifics* of what these arguments purport to prove: The One for Plotinus, Pure Act for Aristotle, Being Itself for St. Thomas, That Which Nothing Greater Can be Thought Of for Anselm. The way a neo-Platonist like Plotinus would arrive at the goodness of God, indeed the very meaning of attributing goodness to God, is different (but once again related; at turns, intimately so) to how the more Aristotelean St. Thomas would.

    So, and to get back on track, it is not true that Classical theists are required to accept full-blooded Aristotelean premises. It is true however that there are striking family resemblances, and these, at least in regards to where the battle lines are drawn nowadays, outweigh their differences. Augustine was very influenced by neo-Platonists; who in his turn influenced St. Thomas, who also borrowed, and then “Aristoteleanized”, ideas from the neo-Platonist tradition, ideas themselves the neo-Platonists would argue were the working out of ideas already present in Plato. What these traditions have in common, and in opposition to more modern ones — and the justification for the distinct label of “Classical” — is a specific view on Divinity characterized by divine simplicity, the absolute ontological primacy and priority of God over the created order, divine conservation, etc.

    So the portion I quoted is not correct. On the other hand, if your point is a more general one, as it seems to be in the quoted portion in this comment, to the effect that one has to accept certain (controversial) premises to accept Classical theists’ conclusions — whatever the specifics may be — sure, that much is obvious. And? The same can be said about any metaphysician, materialists included. And, to repeat myself once again, it is not like these premises are not argued for.

  175. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    If the arguments against the Bible being divinely inspired would strongly outweigh the arguments for it being divinely inspired, than my G2 is actually more of a live option than your claim – because while I never even tried to support it in any way, it is also not yet disconfirmed either.

    The proposition that you made up for the express purpose of constructing a dilemma is “more of a live claim” than the Bible if the evidence supports the Bible not being divinely inspired, because your claim is not yet disconfirmed? That’s highbrow comedy gold — especially the falsificationist punchline. I’m going to let you reconsider and perhaps revise that remark before I analyse it in any further detail, though, because I’m sure you didn’t intend it to be so funny.

    A book with narratives about a person, no matter how well written, is necessarily a poor substitute for the actual person.

    Can I follow that with, “therefore the Bible lacks the right qualities to act as a basis for theology,” or not? If so, please explain your reasoning. If not, please explain your point.

    And if you have just a book as the basis for your theology … then the book at least should be very systematic and self-sufficient …

    Okay, I’m trying to figure out what that means, exactly. Does it mean that if God was going to give us scriptures, they ought to have been something more like a systematic treatise on theology? Because, yeah, in some sense I can see that such a work would be an excellent basis for theology, but it kind of assumes that God’s primary purpose in communicating with us in the first place was to make us excellent theologians, and that’s a bit of a weird concept.

    I’d argue that if you have a book as the basis of your theology, it should be divinely inspired, or at least contain true accounts of God’s interaction with the world. It doesn’t have to be a systematic theology in and of itself, but it should provide material which is properly connected to the subject of study. That’s the normal way in which human knowledge progresses: we write the textbooks based on the findings of relevant research.

    You say that based on your biblical theology, God wouldn´t punish people for not believing. And you also say that one should take the possibility that God *might* do that. But if you open the door to what God *might* do – how do you close it for something like my G2? Because it´s ad hoc? Your alternative seems to be ad hoc as well …

    I’m trying to emphasise that while I have a Biblical basis for my beliefs, not all such beliefs have equal support. That “belief leads to salvation” is a relatively explicit Biblical claim, so I hold it firmly. That a lack of belief might not lead to damnation (given a bunch of caveats) is not based on an explicit Biblical claim. I believe it, and I have good reasons for believing it, but there is way more inference involved, and way more scope for error.

    This is not ad hoc reasoning: it is a question of which subjects the text addresses directly, and which it addresses tangentially, and holding one’s beliefs with tenacity commensurate to that degree of support. There’s a reason why some doctrines are central to the old creeds, and why some are matters of debate and controversy.

    So the point stands: given a secure option, and a conditionally survivable (in my view, but it’s controversial) option, you’d be nuts to take the latter if you had a choice in the matter.

    If a hypothetical nonbeliever cannot say what would most likely happen if he is wrong about the non-existence of God – he has no basis to conclude that trying to will himself into believing that God exists would be a good idea.

    If that hypothetical nonbeliever is willing to accept my estimates, then he does have such a basis. If he isn’t, then why am I providing estimates? A hypothetical nonbeliever can retreat into scepticism and plead helpless ignorance, but there’s no helping a person like that unless they’re willing to climb out of the sceptical bunker one way or another.

    Is this some sort of roundabout way of arguing that if God exists and cares for us, that it shouldn’t be possible to be sceptical?

    And then you have the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard and the Parable of the Prodigal Son …

    As I’ve said, I have my reasons for holding the beliefs that I do, and I hold to some of them more tenaciously than others. Other people have differing doctrines for their own reasons: I do not insist that they must be wrong because they come to a different conclusion than mine on the more controversial issues. Your long list of examples of such points of difference is not news to me. I’ll explain my views and defend them with reasons if needs be, but I don’t think you’re looking for that: you’re just trying to imply something by pointing out controversies.

    What is your argument here, exactly? Should we expect unanimity on every point of scriptural interpretation? Does disagreement disqualify the Bible as a basis for theology, or does it simply mean that it’s an imperfect science conducted by imperfect people, same as everything else? Does it actually matter how assuredly I can tell you whether “the ‘noble pagan’ accumulate[s] as much treasure as a Christian who lived an equally good life?”

  176. FZM says:

    Andy,

    Well, if it is that unclear what he actually meant – it is not very useful for apologists today, unless they clarify the idea *first* and then try to use it as an argument.

    Yes, I agree with that. This is from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Pascal’s Wager:

    Pascal never finished the Pensées, but rather left them in the form of notes of various sizes pinned together. Hacking 1972 describes the “Infinite—nothing” as consisting of “two pieces of paper covered on both sides by handwriting going in all directions, full of erasures, corrections, insertions, and afterthoughts” (24).[2] This may explain why certain passages are notoriously difficult to interpret, as we will see…To some extent, “Pascal’s Wager” now has a life of its own, and our presentation of it here is perfectly standard. Still, we will closely follow Pascal’s text, supporting our reading of his arguments as much as possible.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager/

    I don´t have my own interpretation.

    I phrased my question carelessly; it probably should have been ‘exactly what interpretation(s) of Pascal’s Wager do you accept as plausibly reflecting Pascal’s intentions and arguments?’ To me this:

    I don´t see that as a plausible interpretation of the text. If Pascal had something like this in mind, why did he talk about “unbelief” instead of talking about a hypothetical person that not only doesn´t believe in God, but categorically denies that this *could* be true.

    …didn’t look like just commenting on the interpretations provided others. It looked like a claim about which interpretation of the text actually reflects Pascal’s intentions, to make which I imagine you had to have in mind some idea of how it aught to be interpreted.

    That is a strange question. If I´d asked you whether you know any black swans, and you tell me “sure, there is one in the Zoo right down the street”, then the “relationship” between your “personal knowledge” and the existence or not of black swans is that there black swans and that one of them is in the Zoo right down the street. And if you had told me “no, I´ve never seen or heard of a black swan”, then that wouldn´t tell me very much about whether or not black swans exist – but if I ask a sufficiently large group of people, particularly those that are interested in swans and maybe even members of organizations devoted to the study of swans, and they all tell me that they are not aware of any, then I can reasonably conclude that black swans are either nonexistent or so exceedingly rare that I shouldn´t expect to ever find one.

    It’s a strange question, which you then seem to have no trouble understanding and answering quite well. Why change the context to swan related stuff though?

    From the Stanford Encyclopedia article I quoted above it looks like study and interpretation of the Wager has become a kind of topic in itself, perhaps people who have studied it in depth are the best to look to try to find out whether there are any responses to the objections you raised.

    You´re welcome. I on the other hand was more interested in what Christians today think of it, and that discussion here made that clearer, so thanks to you also.
    If seeing the views of a couple of Christians or possibly Christians, one of whom (me) finds Pascal’s Wager as he left it relatively limited and confusing and in need of interpretation has been helpful to you, you’re welcome too.

    Well, to me, the tension seems to be quite obvious, and since some profilic Christian philosophers indeed do deny some aspects of classical theism (particularly impassibility and simplicity afaict) because of that tension (Platinga rejects simplicity for example, and impassibility is very widely rejected among Protestant scholars), I don´t think I´m completely off the mark with that. And the “baffled” part is mostly due to the terrible reasoning I´ve seen in the attempts of reconciling Christianity with divine impassibility, but maybe I just stumbled upon the worst examples and missed good ones.

    I’m still none the wiser as to why the tension seems obvious to you, though I guess being obvious it is quite easy to explain. Do you follow Platinga’s view or have other reasons? Maybe I should conclude that it is beyond reasonable doubt that the two are irreconcilable and that it is baffling that anyone ever thought they could be reconciled because you think something like this (for reasons unknown to me so far) and so does Alvin Platinga and many other Protestant scholars. I’ve no idea what attempts at reconciling divine impassibility with Christianity you’ve seen, and I don’t know why you find the reasoning in them terrible, so I can’t start to make much of a judgement about whether you have only stumbled on the worst and missed the good ones.

    How should I know? If I knew how such an attempt would look like, I would be aware of at least a potential way to reconcile them, and then I wouldn´t have considered them to be irreconcilable in the first place.

    I think you could have been a bit clearer in what you wrote earlier then, substituting ‘successful’, or even ‘potentially successful’ for good (which I think can sound comparative) here:

    I know, and I find it quite baffling. Have you seen some good attempts at reconciling classical theism with the biblical description of what God is like? (again, I find the issue of divine impassibility to be the most obvious, but not the only, issue that seems to make the two irreconciilable)

    I should have been clearer in asking about what criteria might be used to judge whether an argument to reconcile them is successful or not.

  177. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    The proposition that you made up for the express purpose of constructing a dilemma is “more of a live claim” than the Bible if the evidence supports the Bible not being divinely inspired, because your claim is not yet disconfirmed? That’s highbrow comedy gold — especially the falsificationist punchline. I’m going to let you reconsider and perhaps revise that remark before I analyse it in any further detail, though, because I’m sure you didn’t intend it to be so funny.

    Lets consider a different scenario for the sake of the argument. Imagine a corpse is being found, and that the cause of death is completely unknown, however, the police does have some reason to suspect that this was murder because the person had received several death threats recently, so an autopsy is ordered. The coroner first checks whether it might have been a heart attack and diligently looks for the characteristic signs of sudden cardiac death, but he cannot find any evidence whatsoever for any of those signs and hence concludes that it could not have been a heart attack. That is all that is known so far, and now, I would say that, while there is no support whatsoever (yet) for any other possible cause of death (be it a stroke or poisoning or what have you), those causes are currently more of a live option than a heart attack is. And I´d also say that the coroner would be reasonable in focussing his efforts on testing for anything OTHER than a heart attack and that treating a heart attack as just as much of a live option than anything that hasn´t yet been disconfirmed would be a waste of his limited ressources (he cannot test this forever after all) and completely unreasonable.
    You would apparently disagree with that. Or you would try to engage in special pleading by saying that while this might be true for the coroner scenario, the same reasoning doesn´t apply to claims about, say, the Bible, because that would be like totally disanalogous… because… hey look, a squirrel! And no matter whether it is the former or the latter, your position here is ludicrous either way.

    If that hypothetical nonbeliever is willing to accept my estimates, then he does have such a basis. If he isn’t, then why am I providing estimates? A hypothetical nonbeliever can retreat into scepticism and plead helpless ignorance, but there’s no helping a person like that unless they’re willing to climb out of the sceptical bunker one way or another.

    There is a difference between a mere assertion and an argument. If you merely assert your “estimates” here, that wouldn´t be very interesting for a skeptic, if you can argue for them, you might have a point (but only if your arguments are stronger than possible counterarguments the skeptic has) – and you could proceed to talk about practical recommendation like what one should “bet” on. It doesn´t make any sense to do this the other way around by *starting* with telling the skeptic what he should “bet” on, before you have even tried to provide any rational argument for why anyone should accept that your “estimates” that the bet relies on are indeed plausible.

    Is this some sort of roundabout way of arguing that if God exists and cares for us, that it shouldn’t be possible to be sceptical?

    No, it wasn´t. While I would indeed argue that for many common Christian conceptions of what God is like, the fact that the existence of God isn´t obvious strongly favors the non-existence of a God with such attributes over his existence, everything else being equal – I didn´t do so in the comment you replied to.

    What is your argument here, exactly?[1] Should we expect unanimity on every point of scriptural interpretation? Does disagreement disqualify the Bible as a basis for theology, or does it simply mean that it’s an imperfect science conducted by imperfect people, same as everything else?[2] Does it actually matter how assuredly I can tell you whether “the ‘noble pagan’ accumulate[s] as much treasure as a Christian who lived an equally good life?”[3]

    1. That your claim about “accumulating treasures in heaven” and not all “rewards being equal” is flat out contradicted by two parables that are attributed to Jesus.
    2. I´d amend that to “an imperfect science conducted by imperfect people working with imperfect source material”.
    3. If Christianity is true, then the question of how to be reconciled with God is the single most important question that the Bible has to answer – because the stakes for humans are potentially infinitely high. So yes, IF Christianity is true, such questions would be as important as any question could possibly be. And given how ridiculously easy it would be to make this unambiguous and crystal clear by, say, stating that yes, it ultimately doesn´t matter at all what you do, faith and faith alone is absolutely necessary and completely sufficient to be reconciled with God (or some alternative view on how reconciliation with God works) and yes, you will pay an infinite price if you don´t have faith, without contradicting those statements in dozens of other places – calling your “basis for theology” merely suboptimal would be a huge understatement.
    It´s *possible* to do theology with it, but it´s so bad as a basis for theology that schisms among the people that try to follow it – including schisms over issues of paramount theological importance – are completely unavoidable.

  178. TFBW says:

    Andy,

    Or you would try to engage in special pleading by saying that while this might be true for the coroner scenario, the same reasoning doesn´t apply to claims about, say, the Bible, because that would be like totally disanalogous… because… hey look, a squirrel!

    Doubling down, hmm? Déjà vu. Alright, since you’ve thrown down the gauntlet, I’ll elaborate on some of the things wrong with your argument. I do not guarantee that the criticisms will be exhaustive. And on this note, I’ll probably have to break off the conversation again, because analysis of this sort takes a lot of time, and the return on investment is dubious.

    For starters, let’s ignore your “coroner scenario”, except as an example of what you think you delivered, and focus on the joke that you actually delivered. I still love the punchline: it’s begging to be the payoff in a joke about a falsificationist. Here’s what you said.

    If the arguments against the Bible being divinely inspired would strongly outweigh the arguments for it being divinely inspired, than my G2 is actually more of a live option than your claim – because while I never even tried to support it in any way, it is also not yet disconfirmed either.

    First, I note that this is missing a lot of the detail that would actually render it an argument, as opposed to an antecedent which is humorously disconnected from its consequent. As such, I’m going to have to infer some of the logical fallacies that got us from A to B. You will, of course, want to deny these. Please do so by actually spelling out the formal argument in full, if you can, rather than just denying what I say here. Denying faulty reasoning does not demonstrate sound reasoning.

    Now, on with the actual problems.

    Let’s imagine that you have strong arguments against the Bible being divinely inspired. These would use reliable premises regarding what God is like (if He exists) to make predictions about what sort of scripture He would produce, and demonstrate that the Bible as-is conflicts with those predictions in important ways. In other words, the argument would be theologically grounded, based on the kinds of reliable premises we need for Pascal’s Wager — the kind you deny that we possess.

    Now maybe you can pick your way through that minefield and come up with some non-controversial premises which back your claim while not helping Pascal, and not admitting the possibility of other such useful premises being found. We’d have to do a very close audit of that argument, just to make sure that it was all aboveboard and sound, and not based on cheap nonsense like, “my hostile, self-interested exegesis has uncovered a contradiction in the Bible.” Lay it on us if you think you’ve got it, but make it crystal clear and rock solid, because it’s going to want some close scrutiny.

    But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that you succeed. You astound the philosophical world with your ingenious argument, convincing everyone that the Bible couldn’t be divinely inspired, without conceding anything that might be useful to Pascal in the process. This conclusively proves that the Bible is false — when it claims to be divinely inspired.

    Unfortunately, you’re posturing as though you just falsified the whole book, holding it in contrast with your G2 which is “not yet disconfirmed”. But that’s fallacious: the remaining claims in the Bible (other than claims of divine inspiration) are not proved false; they are only proved to be not divinely inspired. If you wanted to prove more theological claims in the Bible to be false, you could only do so by introducing theological knowledge from some other source which contradicted those claims. The more you do that (not that we’ve seen much possibility of it admitted here), the more you prove the Bible false, but the more theological knowledge you introduce, and the more you make Pascal’s Wager a well-informed bet instead of a shot in the dark.

    The lack of divine inspiration that you’ve just hypothetically proved would certainly be a blow to the Bible’s alleged usefulness as a source of theological claims, but it still leaves the possibility that it documents (in the ordinary historical sense) real interactions between God and man, and that would still be useful. Of course, you could go on to prove that the various things documented there couldn’t be God, but only by introducing sound theological knowledge which contradicts the Biblical claims, and providing more raw computational data for Pascal.

    But let’s suppose that you manage to cast a whole lot of doubt on the Bible’s reliability as a historical document, ruining its usefulness as theological source material without aiding Pascal again. That’s super clever, but you’d still be over-reaching when you say that G2 is “more of a live option,” because your G2 isn’t divinely inspired or based on useful historical data either (to say the least). The only thing that G2 has going for it is that it’s partly derived from an idea in classical theistic philosophy — which is to say that it’s useful only to the extent that it’s something other than G2.

    At best, G2 is now on equal footing with the Bible, but only if we can show that the remaining claims in the Bible were ad hoc creations, like your G2, invented with a particular (non truth-seeking) purpose in mind. More likely, the Biblical claims can be classified as personal intuitions regarding God, and that’s still worth marginally more than G2, which was constructed with the sole intention of creating a dichotomy.

    And lastly, to the falsificationist punchline: G2 hasn’t been falsified. Indeed, it hasn’t. I have dismissed it as a valueless ad hoc construction, but that’s totally different from falsifying it, since it might (by sheer coincidence) be true. You haven’t falsified it either. In fact, back when you introduced G1 and G2, you said, “I´m not aware of any rational method to evaluate whether G1 is more probable than G2 or vice versa.”

    Ba-boom-tish! The guy who denies the existence of a rational method to do so much as determine whether G1 is more or less probable than G2 has just appealed to the unfalsified status of G2 to promote it as a “live option”. Andy, please proceed to the white courtesy phone: Karl Popper would like to speak to you on line #1. A. J. Ayer has something to say to you on line #2 when you’re done, if you care what he thinks — personally, I’d tell him that his opinion is meaningless.

    So much philosophical comedy packed into such a small statement.

    That your claim about “accumulating treasures in heaven” and not all “rewards being equal” is flat out contradicted by two parables that are attributed to Jesus.

    Why, exactly, should I think that your exegesis is both charitable and better informed than mine? It looks utterly obtuse.

    If Christianity is true, then the question of how to be reconciled with God is the single most important question that the Bible has to answer …

    And the Bible answers it clearly, with good news. Where it’s substantially less clear is on the consequences of not being reconciled with God, but if your interest is in being reconciled with God, you don’t really need to know those details, do you? If your interest is in doing the minimum necessary (i.e. getting away with as much as you can), or wondering exactly what unrepentance is going to cost you, then this lack of clarity is a major nuisance. The more I think about that, however, the more I suspect it’s a feature, not a bug.

  179. Andy says:

    TFBW,

    First, I note that this is missing a lot of the detail that would actually render it an argument, as opposed to an antecedent which is humorously disconnected from its consequent. As such, I’m going to have to infer some of the logical fallacies that got us from A to B.

    I didn´t even make an argument here, and there is nothing in what I wrote that says or even just implies that I tried to make an argument, I was talking about hypotheticals. So what tripped you up here is your abysmal reading comprehension again.

    Let’s imagine that you have strong arguments against the Bible being divinely inspired. These would use reliable premises regarding what God is like (if He exists) to make predictions about what sort of scripture He would produce, and demonstrate that the Bible as-is conflicts with those predictions in important ways. In other words, the argument would be theologically grounded, based on the kinds of reliable premises we need for Pascal’s Wager — the kind you deny that we possess.

    Nope, we don´t need such premises at all, we rather take the claims of the Bible about God, accept them for the sake of the argument, and then look for evidence for and against the claim that a God *like the one the Bible describes* would reveal himself in such a way.

    But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that you succeed. You astound the philosophical world with your ingenious argument, convincing everyone that the Bible couldn’t be divinely inspired,

    Yeah, that would be totally “astounding” because there are sooo many philosophers right now that take the Bible seriously. No wait… In the biggest survey among professional philosophers that has ever been conducted (the PhilPapers Survey from 2009), the results looked like this:
    “Accept or lean toward: atheism 678 / 931 (72.8%)
    Accept or lean toward: theism 136 / 931 (14.6%)
    Other 117 / 931 (12.6%)”
    Even if every single one of the ~15% of philosophers that accepts theism in the first place would also take the Bible seriously, convincing a distinct minority would still not count as “astounding the philosophical world”.

    Unfortunately, you’re posturing as though you just falsified the whole book, holding it in contrast with your G2 which is “not yet disconfirmed”. But that’s fallacious: the remaining claims in the Bible (other than claims of divine inspiration) are not proved false; they are only proved to be not divinely inspired.

    Yes, that is in that context indeed completely fallacious, because I thought about a completely different claim (that the Bible has “all the right qualities to act as a basis for theology”) while writing that reply, my bad.

    At best, G2 is now on equal footing with the Bible, but only if we can show that the remaining claims in the Bible were ad hoc creations, like your G2, invented with a particular (non truth-seeking) purpose in mind. More likely, the Biblical claims can be classified as personal intuitions regarding God, and that’s still worth marginally more than G2…

    Mere assertion.

    And lastly, to the falsificationist punchline: G2 hasn’t been falsified. Indeed, it hasn’t. I have dismissed it as a valueless ad hoc construction, but that’s totally different from falsifying it, since it might (by sheer coincidence) be true. You haven’t falsified it either. In fact, back when you introduced G1 and G2, you said, “I´m not aware of any rational method to evaluate whether G1 is more probable than G2 or vice versa.”
    Ba-boom-tish! The guy who denies the existence of a rational method to do so much as determine whether G1 is more or less probable than G2 has just appealed to the unfalsified status of G2 to promote it as a “live option”.

    Another reading comprehension fail, this time on your side again. In the original context, I said that I am convinced that there is no personal God, but for the possibility that I am wrong – I´m not aware of any model for how to determine which model of what this God would be like (and here I gave G1 and G2 as examples) and challenged others, including you, many times to explain how this could be done. So I actually didn´t say that they cannot be falsified, I even implied that I already consider both of them (and any other model of a personal God) to be already falsified.

    So much philosophical comedy packed into such a small statement.

    Actually, it was all about reading comprehension fails, although this time 33% from my side instead of 0% like last time.

    Why, exactly, should I think that your exegesis is both charitable and better informed than mine? It looks utterly obtuse.

    Your “exegesis” boils down to “there is some stuff here about “accumulating treasures in heaven”, awesome! Wait, what do you say about vineyards and prodigal sons? Nah, Jesus was probably just drunk when he told that nonsense.”
    What you do there is a prime example of eisegesis instead, you start with a preconceived idea of what the Bible should teach, cherry pick what supports this and pretent that stuff that contradicts it doesn´t exist.

    And the Bible answers it clearly

    Of course! As we all know, a Catholic, a Calvinist and a Lutheran theologian just give three irreconcilably different answers to it and as we all know, just one of those groups takes the Bible seriously.[/sarcasm]

    Where it’s substantially less clear is on the consequences of not being reconciled with God

    Substantially less clear than completely unclear, got it.

    If your interest is in doing the minimum necessary (i.e. getting away with as much as you can), or wondering exactly what unrepentance is going to cost you, then this lack of clarity is a major nuisance.

    Yup, people that don´t believe in your God just want to sin:

  180. TFBW says:

    Okay, I’m going to let that response stand on its own merits.

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