Tue 17 Mar 2009
The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensées, a collection of notes made towards the end of his life, that when making a life wager on the existence of God, belief in God is the best bet. This is known as Pascal’s Wager. Using the first formally structured decision theory and probability theory Pascal started from the proposition that reason and experiment cannot establish the existence or non-existence of God. He developed the proposal that no matter the state of existence of God, it was a better bet to behave as though there was one. In his other writings, Pascal expressed his belief that in comparison to other options, like stoicism, paganism, Islam, and Judaism, the Christian faith is the only one that could be correct. A corollary of Pascal’s thesis is “If it is impossible to know whether God exists, it follows that it is also impossible to know (in the case that God does exist) God’s expectations of us.” This corollary makes Pascal’s belief in the correctness of Christianity unsupported by his own logic.
Pascal’s wager has been attacked and defended by philosophers over the ages, Voltare – treatied it as a proof, as opposed to a pragmatic analysis. Denis Diderot, and J. L. Mackie point out that the same argument could be said about any religion, many of which each claim to be the only true path to salvation. Richard Dawkins further challenges the scope of outcomes by proposing the possibility of a God who rewards honest search for truth, and punishes blind faith. You see, taking these refinements into consideration, the decision matrix no longer supports Pascal’s clear odds.
My contribution to this discussion is to show that there is a third choice. When the decision matrix is evaluated with my “third way”, it can be seen that this is the only sure bet.
Pascal’s original wager can be shown in a formal presentation as:
|God exists (G)||God does not exist (~G)|
|Living as if God exists (B)||+∞ (heaven)||−N (Pointless actions during life)|
|Living as if God does not exist (~B)||?? not specified
perhaps N (limbo/purgatory/spiritual death)
or −∞ (hell)