The Instigator
TheSkeptic
Pro (for)
Winning
20 Points
The Contender
TombLikeBomb
Con (against)
Losing
10 Points

Pascal's Wager is a failed argument.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/3/2009 Category: Religion
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 1,896 times Debate No: 6405
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (9)
Votes (6)

 

TheSkeptic

Pro

Yeah, I can never think of a good wording of the debate topic.

Basically, I am here to refute Pascal's Wager. Your common Christian uses it a lot, and it gets tiring sometimes. And I'm so nice, I'll let my opponent go first (I'm lazy and new quarter is coming up, sue me).
TombLikeBomb

Con

I'm not a Christian and I don't believe in God, but I like Pascal's wager. Consider the following values:
a)The expected decrease in worldly utility of attempting to live a Christian life
b)The probability that Christianity is false
c)The probability that Christianity is true but one can't force oneself to believe in God
d)The probability that Christianity is true and one can force oneself to believe in God, but that God wouldn't accept Pascal's motivation
e)The maximum utilitarian difference, times infinite.

a(b+c+d) is the value of deliberately remaining an atheist. e(1-b-c-d) is the value of attempting to become a Christian. a is a complex set of probabilities (whose sum is 1) of utilitarian differentials, some infinite by virtue of the probability of natural immortality and some finite by virtue of the probability of natural mortality. So, excluding c and d, (each of which are evidently unlikely) the Pascal bettor believes that the difference between the probability of natural immortality and the probability of supernatural immortality, if it even favors natural immortality, is less than the difference between heaven/hell's utilitarian difference and that of piety/non-piety. The utilitarian difference between two mortal lifestyles is of course irrelevant in the presence of infinite terms.
Debate Round No. 1
TheSkeptic

Pro

I'll admit...my opponent's argument is confusing. I hate math, and his argument definitely resembles it. Since I have no clue which direction my opponent is arguing, I will simply state every argument against Pascal's Wager and hope that one of these hit his argument. If I fail, then I apologize for not understanding my opponent's argument. But really, things like natural immortality and supernatural immortality? At least define these terms…

=====Counterarguments=====

>>>Can't make yourself believe in something<<<
Pascal's Wager says the safe bet is to just believe in a God. However, I argue that you can't MAKE YOURSELF BELIEVE IN SOMETHING SINCERELY. Sure, you can perhaps TELL other's that you believe in something, but you yourself can't change your beliefs by simple choice. Beliefs are shaped by evidence and compelling reason. You can tell people that you don't believe coffee tables exist, but common sense and evidence will tell your inner voice otherwise. This shows the impracticality of Pascal's Wager.

>>>Infinite amount of other possible god<<<

There could be an INFINITE AMOUNT OF POSSIBLE GODS that praise and desire skeptics, atheists, or people who don't believe in religion. In fact, there could be a "atheist heaven" and a "theist hell". This is equally possible along with every other god. Sure, we know of no religion right now that has that. But so what? If there was a skeptic God, then we would imagine that it would NOT want a religion based on it. Because there are an infinite amount of possible religions (that can be either discovered or not), then Pascal's element of numbers and probabilities is thrown out the window.

=====Conclusion=====

This is all I can say right now, and I hope it hits the target. The only thing I ask of my opponent is that if he's going to use arcane diction, at least define them. Or perhaps I'm dumb. Who knows.
TombLikeBomb

Con

If your counterarguments are exhaustive, clarification of my first argument will be useless and unnecessary.

Counterargument 1: One cannot change one's beliefs by "simple choice", because beliefs are shaped exclusively by "evidence" and "compelling reason". Therefore, Pascal's Wager is "impractical".

But there is neither sufficient evidence nor compelling reason to believe counterargument 1's premise. Added to which, its conclusion does not follow from its premise. On the latter note, the Pascal bettor has more options than simply "simple choice". He has what you might call "complex choice". He can choose to expose himself predominantly to such evidence and lines of reasoning which tend to produce and maintain Christians. He can cancel his subscription to Skeptic magazine, find a church, move to the Bible Belt, etc. Eventually, like the protagonist in 1984, he will have achieved God's requirement of not only telling you the coffee table doesn't exist but also quite believing it. We are a social animal, you see, even when it comes to belief, and even when we fancy ourselves intelligent.

Even the premise of counterargument 1 has been shown to be false by evolutionary biology, to say nothing of the assumptions of religion. For example, deception (which can be useful) is often impossible without self-deception (See the work of Robin Trivers). Hence, we have evolved the ability to actually believe what it would be useful to believe, even in the total absence of evidence, even where the only "compelling reason" was an initial utility forecast. In the perhaps unlikely event that God is real, the self-deception will have not been deception at all, but simply ignorance of a possible lack of evidence, evidence that was ultimately false. The idea that God will not save those who willfully ignore lack of evidence is absurd, as a commenter explained well: "Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe." And the idea that God would reject fear-of-hell or desire-for-heaven as underlying motivation, is belied by the Scripture's repeated forewarnings of the two realms. Added to which, Pascal's Wager need not be selfish at all. As belief is useful to convincing, we serve others' salvation through our own. Pascal's Wager might even be from a consideration of merit: though God's likelihood of existence is, by a small margin, less than my current master's; the former deserves service more than the latter, and by a great margin. I can't speak for God, but if I were he, I would be more flattered by that reasoning than reasoning based on the presumed certainty of my existence.

Counter-argument two rests on the misconception that the sum of one infinite set is equal to the sum of all others. Is the sum of the set of even integers equal to the sum of the set of integers divisible by three? Both are infinite sets, but the sum of the former is clearly greater than the sum of the latter, and clearly by an infinite margin. Likewise, the infinite possible atheist-rewarding heavens suffer from being individually and collectively improbable. Not helping their case is that not even atheists believe in them.
Debate Round No. 2
TheSkeptic

Pro

=====Counterarguments=====

>>>Can't make oneself believe<<<

At most, this point was to show the impracticality of Pascal's Wager, my second argument was intended to be the refutation.

>>>Infinite possibilities<<<

"Is the sum of the set of even integers equal to the sum of the set of integers divisible by three?"
----> And by what basis do you make this comparison? I argue that the amount of "God's who praise atheism" are infinitley many as "God's who have a specific religion". In fact, we don't know. There could be more religious ones, or more atheistic ones. Or perhaps the religious ones are specific and non-compatible with each other, while the atheistic God's can co-exist. There are so many unknown variables that come into account that Pascal's Wager is made null.

"Likewise, the infinite possible atheist-rewarding heavens suffer from being individually and collectively improbable."
----> In comparison to what, the religious-rewarding heavens? And by what merit do you make this claim?

"Not helping their case is that not even atheists believe in them."
----> This, in fact, can very well be one of the REQUIREMENTS to be seen in a good light by these atheistic Gods.

=====Conclusion=====

I deeply apologize for my short answers, I would really love to develop on this debate. Unfortunately, school is cutting into my time (I had to wake up at 4 to reply to this debate). As such, I won't be debating so much for awhile, and if my opponent wishes to start this debate again then I'll accept when I can.

My opponent's refutation of my argument of infinite possibilites makes the erroneous presumption that there are the infinite set of religious gods is more than the infinite set of atheistic gods. He has no grounds to make this claim, and if variables such as these, among many others, are not satistfied than Pascal's Wager should be thrown out the window.
TombLikeBomb

Con

"And by what basis do you make this comparison?"

The probability of "atheist heaven" and "theist hell" is less than the probability of the reverse. Separating our two opposite possibilities into their respective infinite variations, we arrive at exactly the same conclusion. To simplify the numeric analogy, you could split "2" into the infinite set "1 + � + � + …" and its sum would still be less than the elementary set "3".

That "we don't know" evidently does not cause you to believe God is as likely to exist as he is to not exist. So why would it cause you to believe that this God you've invented for the sake of argument is as likely to exist as one whose existence billions attest to? There being "so many unknown variables" is a normal problem, making nothing "null". "Wager" implies imperfect knowledge.

I would love to continue the debate, except I think you've proven your point. I realize now, I can't adequately argue the relative improbability of atheist heaven. For peace of mind, I think I'll believe in it, as well. Nice job.
Debate Round No. 3
9 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 9 records.
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
Hm?
Posted by Yraelz 7 years ago
Yraelz
"I will simply state every argument against Pascal's Wager and hope that one of these hit his argument." = 2? -.-
Posted by RoyLatham 8 years ago
RoyLatham
An detailed and exhaustive refutation of Pascal's Wager is given in "Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God" by Theodore M. Drange.
Posted by KRFournier 8 years ago
KRFournier
Conduct - Tie

Spelling and Grammar - Tie

Convincing Argument - Pro - It was interesting to see where Con was going, especially his taking into account interesting (though a little confusing) probabilities. However, Con conceded the debate in R3.

Reliable Sources - Tie
Posted by TombLikeBomb 8 years ago
TombLikeBomb
And you have no basis for that opinion. Be careful, because your last Biblical quote tends to contradict it.

You are judging the Pascal bettor at the point at which he's making the bet, the point prior to which he acts on it. But we have no indication from Scripture that God makes his judgement otherwise than at the point of death. At the point of death, it is not only God, but the Pascal bettor too, who rejects the utilitarian maxim. At the point of death, the Pascal bettor's sin of utilitarian thoughts is only like the sins of the repentant child-molester, except in terms of scale.

Also, utilitarianism does not imply "self-serving". There is altruistic utilitarianism, and there is even a Pascal's Wager which, as I said, is based on merit, as God would have it. The essence of Pascal's Wager is only that probability-of-existence is irrelevant in the face of the gravity of the notion.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
>> "Yes, the Pascal bettor is driven initially by the hedonistic desire to avoid a hell that probably doesn't exist (when you pull the trigger in Russian Roullette, probably no one will die). But people change, particularly when they intend to, and it's entirely conceivable that the new church-goer will come to find the logic that brought him there (utilitarianism) reprehensible."

You've got the right idea. Pascal's wager assumes that God rewards "hedonistic desires" and "reprehensible utilitarianism" - the assumption that God would find the bettor's self-serving reason for believing a "worthy" belief.

IMO, God would probably send these insincere bettors to hell with the rest of the goats...
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
>> "What makes Pascal's Wager insincere?"

The logic in Pascal's Wager is basically a cost-benefit analysis. Consider:

1. If you believe and God is real, your reward is infinite.
2. If you believe and God is not real, your loss is finite.
3. If you don't believe and God is not real, your loss is zero.
4. If you don't believe and God is real, your loss is infinite.

Thus, it makes the most sense to believe, because you could have a finite loss or infinite reward (the expected return is infinite reward). If you don't believe, the expected return is infinite loss.

However, belief BASED on Pascal's wager is insincere belief because it is simply a way of saying "I'm going to believe because I might have infinite loss."
Posted by TombLikeBomb 8 years ago
TombLikeBomb
What makes Pascal's Wager insincere? That it's a choice? Isn't the very purpose of "Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe" to encourage people to use their free will to believe, as opposed to simply reacting to sensory stimulus? I think what you mean is not that Pascal's wager is insincere, but that the Pascal bettor in his final form (earnest believer) appears to have been helped to salvation by sin (in the form of individual rationalism).

But consider the non-believer who jumps off a bridge but survives. He assumes it's a heavenly miracle(maybe it was, maybe it wasn't). He starts going to church and reading the Scripture (as you have) and is ultimately driven by love, reason, or whatever you require, to a spiritual state in which memory of his lucky survival is no longer necessary to his belief. If God didn't indeed intervene that fateful day, the born-again likewise no longer believes it was intervention. Presumably, God is not actively trying to convince people of his non-existence. But whether it was truly God who saved him or not, he was driven to that perhaps critical bridge by an impulse at least as sinful as what drives the Pascal bettor to church, or the Bible store, or a new religious community. Yes, the Pascal bettor is driven initially by the hedonistic desire to avoid a hell that probably doesn't exist (when you pull the trigger in Russian Roullette, probably no one will die). But people change, particularly when they intend to, and it's entirely conceivable that the new church-goer will come to find the logic that brought him there (utilitarianism) reprehensible.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
Lol - Pascal's Wager assumes that God rewards insincere belief. Doesn't mesh too well with "Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe."
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