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The Centrality of Pascalís Wager to Christian Apologetics

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enki23 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-24-11 11:38 AM
Original message
The Centrality of Pascalís Wager to Christian Apologetics
Most serious apologists avoid the Pascalís Wager argument for Christianity. My argument here, however, is that this isnít because Pascalís Wager doesnít accurately describe their arguments. Iím arguing that the wager is the essence of their arguments. They avoid it because it clarifies them, and because that clarification exposes their arguments to well deserved ridicule.
First, Iíll assume everyone knows what the wager is, so I wonít repeat it again here. But I will need to establish the premises of the argument, and then establish that those same premises are present, either explicitly or implicitly, in virtually every argument for the Christian deity (and, most likely, for the other similar deities.)

Premise 1: Generally, you can choose whether or not to believe in things. Specifically, you can choose whether to believe in a particular god. There are several versions of this among mainstream Christian dogma. Calvinists can excuse themselves from this one, for reasons obvious to anyone know knows anything about their theological position. Among the rest, some readily embrace the idea that you choose whether or not to believe in their god (and/or believe in the right sort of way such that you voluntary accept, and thereby accrue the beneficial effects of Jesusís sacrifice. Some try to hide this, because it isnít entirely clear whether itís consistent with a ďgraceĒ idea, in that you arenít able to take credit for any act that leads to your salvation. If they arenít Calvinists, however, they typically must still imagine you have the power to at least reject that salvation. That is, Jesus gets all the credit if you believe in him, but if you fail to believe in him itís your fault, such that you are able to merit your reward or punishment based on an act you can take. I reject that difference on the simple basis that there is no practical or logical difference between failure to reject and active acceptance. The essence of non-Calvinist mainstream Christianity, from The Fall to The Final Judgement, is that you have a choice, and so you own the consequences of that choice.
Premise 2: Belief, or unbelief have consequences. Specifically, there will be some sort of differential outcome for believers and unbelievers in a presumed afterlife. I donít think I need to bother arguing about how this is central to mainstream Christian dogma. If you disagree with this premise, then you donít ascribe to mainstream Christian dogma, and this particular series of arguments doesnít apply to you. Yes, of course itís possible to believe in a god that doesnít reward or punish or both based on faith in its existence. That just doesnít describe any sort of god believed in by the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians. So, if that describes you, then you can join the Calvinists over in the ďthis doesnít apply to youĒ corner. Thing is, itís not all about you. This argument is about Christianity. And the judgment of the quick and the dead is central to Christianity.
Premise 3: The Christian god is more likely than all other gods, such that the significant belief choice is to either believe in him, or to fail to believe in him. This one may not be as obvious in some Christian apologetics, but that doesnít mean it isnít there. In fact, itís central to nearly all of it. To establish this, I need something like a list of the main arguments in Christian apologetics, to show how this premise is implicit in most, if not all of them. But before I get there, Iím going to show that these three premises, by themselves, are sufficient to establish the validity of Pascalís wager.

Explicit Pascalís wager, simple version: The proposition (god exists, or not. premise 3), the wager (choosing whether or not to believe. premise 1), and the payout (differential reward/punishment. premise 2).

Longer version: The Christian god, or something sufficiently like him to be called ďthe Christian god,Ē is either real, or is not. Gods that are sufficiently different from this one, such that belief in them doesnít count as belief in the Christian god, are likewise sufficiently unlikely to exist. Under these conditions, the most pertinent question about the deity is whether or not it exists, rather than which one it is. (premise 3). This god will reward or punish you in some way based on whether or not you choose to believe in its existence. That voluntary belief or unbelief may not be sufficient to achieve the reward or punishment, but it is necessary, or at the very least contributory (premises 1 and 2).

So, about the implicit necessity of premise 3 in Christian apologetics, that the Christian god is the only important possibility. Here follows a list of the main apologist arguments for god, with some commentary. Iíd like to see someone make a convincing argument that premise 3 is not, in fact, implicit in most or all of these.

1: Cosmological argument (first cause). This argument attempts to establish that the universe itself, along with everything in it, has a cause, and in order to avoid infinite regress, we must establish something that is different from the universe in that it is able to cause things without itself being caused by anything. Even if one accepts this argument, it only establishes that there must be an uncaused cause. In order for this to be an argument for the Christian god, there must be two further (and huge!) steps. First, that something like a god is the best proposition for the nature of this uncaused cause. Second, that the Christian god is the most likely god. Whenever a Christian argues this argument in favor of her actual belief, those two steps are implicit. And that means that they implicitly accept premise 3, that the Christian god is the most likely god. If they donít, then they arenít arguing for their god. In fact, they arenít arguing for a god at all, theyíre arguing for a ďcause.Ē The rest is typically assumed implicitly.

2: Teleological argument (argument from design). This argument argues that a god is the most likely explanation for apparent complexity/order/etc. In order for this to be a Christian argument, premise 3 is implicit.

3: Ontological argument (logical necessity). This argument tries to establish that there is such thing as a greatest possible being, and if you accept that there could be such a thing then it must, by its nature, exist. Implicitly, the Christian god is the that most perfect possible being. Premise 3. Without it, itís not a Christian argument. When a Christian makes this argument, theyíre arguing that they believe in the Christian god because they believe in the necessary existence of a perfect being. Premise 3 is implicit, and unavoidable.

4: All the rest. Anthropic? Just a special case of the teleological. Check. Objective morality? Same thing. Check. Transcendental argument? Same problem. Check. Will to believe/argument from personal consequences (William James, etc.)? This one gets a pass. But this argument is actually empirical, and fails for lots of other reasons. Not least that the initial hypothesis for the empirical argument proceedes from an almost certain acceptance of premise 3. Still, at least itís not strictly necessary for the argument, so Iíll give this one a pass. Sort of.

Jamesís argument, along with all the other attempted empirical arguments (personal religious experience, i.e. the argument from (my) authority), historical (a.k.a. the argument that the bible says something true, therefore it all is), attempts at eyewitness/historical, etc. and all the rest of the empirical arguments get the same sort of pass. But only in the sense that they arenít necessarily accepting premise 3. But practically? Christian apologists arguing about the wonders of the witnesses to Christís miracles, his resurrection, the motivations of the martyrs, their personal religious experience etc. are implicitly rejecting the likelihood of the witnesses, miracles, martyrs and experiences for all other religions. Practically then, virtually all of them still rely on premise 3, in that they assume, but almost never try to actually establish, that their dubious empirical arguments are sufficiently better than those for any other god.

So, yes. Pascal's Wager fails on many fronts. Unfortunately for the Christian arguments, virtually all of them fail for exactly the same reasons. Those aren't the only ways they fail, of course. Those failures aren't necessary to reject nearly all Christian apologetics out of hand. But they're sufficient to do exactly that.
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Scuba Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-24-11 11:44 AM
Response to Original message
1. Part of me doesn't believe in god because I don't...
...want to believe in any "supreme being" that would make such a mess of things. There is way too much suffering in this world by innocent parties to permit a "god" worth believing in.
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enki23 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-24-11 11:49 AM
Response to Original message
2. Addendum: the motivation bit
Inevitably, someone will bring up the idea that choosing to believe in a god based on attempted rational cost/benefit calculations is proceeding from a flawed motivation, and the god will not actually reward (or fail to punish) based on belief for the wrong reasons, or even that belief for those reasons isn't really belief. There are several problems with that logic, not least of which that the bible, and Christian dogma are explicitly in favor of the idea that seeking reward and avoiding punishment are in fact completely valid reasons for choosing to believe. You may not agree, but then, if you don't, you are taking a position well outside mainstream Christianity.

Further, though, even if you stake out a minority position that says that you can choose to believe, but can't do it based on fear of punishment or hope for reward, it brings up some pretty big questions. 1) What basis can you choose to believe on, if not these? 2) How do you know what that basis is?
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skepticscott Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-24-11 12:10 PM
Response to Original message
3. What most people ignore
in their discussion of the "god doesn't exist" side of the wager is that being a believer in god when he isn't there is not cost-free. It may be punishment free, in the way that non-belief in the face of a real Christian god is not, but that's far from the same thing.
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Festivito Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-24-11 03:01 PM
Response to Original message
4. So, by enki, agreeing with Pascal deserves ridicule, or,
by convoluting arguments whose basis is the same as Pascal's, believers' arguments deserve ridicule for not being as clear, concise, et. al, as Pascal's premise, opening, or, as you call it, exposing their arguments to, per enki, deserved ridicule.

Hmm.

Not buying the deserves ridicule part.

Happy Easter, decade-long anti-religion adversary.
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 06:40 AM
Response to Reply #4
7. What's an "anti-religion adversary"?
Wouldn't that be someone like the pope or Pat Robertson or Fred Phelps? I mean, if you're fighting against anti-religion...
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Festivito Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 06:55 PM
Response to Reply #7
8. It's a refining of adversary. Not just any adversary, ...
but, an adversary on the topic of anti-religion.

Although, your list fits. As those people are to religion as, say, Joe Lieberman is to Democrats. On our side in name only, not in actions.
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-26-11 06:21 AM
Response to Reply #8
10. Ah yes, only "we" are TRUE CHRISTIANS...
Who certainly don't put sugar on our porridge!
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Festivito Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-26-11 12:31 PM
Response to Reply #10
11. What? Like Joe Lieberman is the only TRUE DEMOCRAT. To you maybe!
Did somebody piss in your porridge, and now you get mad whenever you have to pee?
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-26-11 01:43 PM
Response to Reply #11
13. Sorry.
Didn't mean to intrude on your judging who is and isn't a Christian, or a Democrat. Because true Christians judge, just like their Jesus dude told them to, right?
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Festivito Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-26-11 07:54 PM
Response to Reply #13
14. Yes, if you read beyond the headline, you'll see, good Christians judge. No need to be sorry.
For example, I could judge a poster to be asinine, and that poster might in turn judge me or not judge me the same. See. In measure.

Now, what I am not judging is whether or not that person is evil, hating good, because, it's not for me to decide. That judgment is left to God. The person might claim no interest, even hatred of God, yet, deep inside he actually, silently, doesn't hate God and loves good, he might believe and, thus, it remains that I would never be able to judge that, and so I won't and am admonished not to do so.
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-27-11 06:06 AM
Response to Reply #14
16. I can now truly see the type of Christian you are.
Thanks for making it patently clear!
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Festivito Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-27-11 11:22 AM
Response to Reply #16
17. I'm sure type-casting is something at which you excel.
Thanks.
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-27-11 12:45 PM
Response to Reply #17
18. When the pure love and compassion of Jesus is radiating so strongly from someone...
how can they not be instantly recognized as a True Christian? Jesus was of course widely known for his insults and snide remarks, right?
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Festivito Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-27-11 06:36 PM
Response to Reply #18
19. Some just live for the snipe hunt. Did you ever go out on one?
Did you ever return?
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-28-11 06:38 AM
Response to Reply #19
20. Luke 6:27-36
You make baby Jesus cry.
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Festivito Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-28-11 08:48 PM
Response to Reply #20
21. Perhaps I do, or could it be: Just Impossible. /nt
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-29-11 06:14 AM
Response to Reply #21
22. I do want to thank you, Festivito.
For showing me the one characteristic that True Christians share: hypocrisy.
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Festivito Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-29-11 11:32 AM
Response to Reply #22
23. No, thank you, trotsky. For finding that part in another that one sees in oneself.
Looking at the connection between what is said to you and how you so well connect in response, I would consider your parting comment just as connected to me as are your responses to what I have said indicative of your identification to me versus your very own self.
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-29-11 01:49 PM
Response to Reply #23
24. "I'm rubber and you're glue?"
I really would have expected more from your obsession with having the last word. Sorry the truth hits home so hard. Take care though. Sorry to have made you so very angry.
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Festivito Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-29-11 04:53 PM
Response to Reply #24
25. Oh, isn't that precious! Oh, angry?, me, no, I'm all smiles. And, L-ingOL.
But, perhaps you have been psychologically projecting, and you're trying to tell me that the truth is hurting and that you're angry. You should not be afraid of the truth, because when you are it comes out in fear and anger invoking obsessions, compulsions and disorder in your life.

Instead, embrace the truth, even if the only truth you feel is that you do not know what the truth is. That would be truth.

I wish you well. Take care of yourself.
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dimbear Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-24-11 06:07 PM
Response to Original message
5. Serious apologists. Haven't heard that phrase for a while.
They deserve protection, as an endangered species.

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tiny elvis Donating Member (619 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 03:12 AM
Response to Original message
6. devil's advocate
the third premise is central to faith and shapes the world of believers
that faith comes from a not intellectual personal occurrence which is also intellectually anomalous
it is often called being saved, a term of faith demanding the third premise, unusable for those not saved

you have shown for the umpteenth time that faith cannot teach reason
i submit that reason cannot understand what it cannot name
there is a mythical description of the origin of peter's faith in the godspells
how does your intellect describe the origin of that faith in real people?
or, what is the origin of the third premise in a particular apologist's world view/alternate universe/dharma?

there is another presumptuous premise at work: that reason is the arbiter of what is and is not
apologists make quacks of themselves when they presume to teach reason,
but how will reason discredit the origin of acts of faith, which is the same origin for premise three?
will it go beyond contradiction and claim authority?

note
i did not defend the wager or apologists, but neither did you show that the full wager is central to apologetics
devil's advocate, for the hell of it. these statements are not meant to be factual
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Robert Vroom Donating Member (1 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-26-11 02:34 AM
Response to Original message
9. Pascal
I disagree with you about a number of things in this posting. The Cosmological, Teleological, and Moral Arguments are strong arguments for God's existence, but none are meant to be arguments for Christianity. These are good arguments for theism, not for a specific religious belief. The reasons to accept Christianity deal with Old Testament prophecies, the powerful reasons to accept the resurrection as an event in history, the accuracy the Bible has shown when compared to secular history, the number of ancient documents we possess which show the accuracy with which the Bible was preserved, etc.

Pascal's Wager assumes that there is no way to know the truth, but the arguments you mention provide strong evidence for theism, and the items I brought up give reasons for moving from theism to Christianity. It is not possible to prove anything with 100% certainty (can you prove that you are reading this post and not sitting in a nice rubber room drooling in a corner just imagining it?). If we accept that our senses tell us things that are true, and that we are logical being however, there are excellent reasons to logically accept that God exists, and that the Bible tells us about this being.
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skepticscott Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-26-11 09:19 PM
Response to Reply #9
15. If these are arguments for
"God" but not Christianity, then define "God". Very specifically. And in a way that doesn't presuppose what you're trying to prove.
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pokerfan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-26-11 01:17 PM
Response to Original message
12. Homer Simpson addressed premise 3
"Suppose we've chosen the wrong god? Every time we go to church we're just making him madder and madder!"
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