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The Centrality of Pascals Wager to Christian Apologetics [View All]

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enki23 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-24-11 11:38 AM
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Most serious apologists avoid the Pascals Wager argument for Christianity. My argument here, however, is that this isnt because Pascals Wager doesnt accurately describe their arguments. Im 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, Ill assume everyone knows what the wager is, so I wont 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 Jesuss sacrifice. Some try to hide this, because it isnt entirely clear whether its consistent with a grace idea, in that you arent able to take credit for any act that leads to your salvation. If they arent 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 its 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 dont think I need to bother arguing about how this is central to mainstream Christian dogma. If you disagree with this premise, then you dont ascribe to mainstream Christian dogma, and this particular series of arguments doesnt apply to you. Yes, of course its possible to believe in a god that doesnt reward or punish or both based on faith in its existence. That just doesnt 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 this doesnt apply to you corner. Thing is, its 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 doesnt mean it isnt there. In fact, its 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, Im going to show that these three premises, by themselves, are sufficient to establish the validity of Pascals wager.

Explicit Pascals 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 the Christian god, is either real, or is not. Gods that are sufficiently different from this one, such that belief in them doesnt 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. Id 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 dont, then they arent arguing for their god. In fact, they arent arguing for a god at all, theyre arguing for a cause. 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, its not a Christian argument. When a Christian makes this argument, theyre 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 its not strictly necessary for the argument, so Ill give this one a pass. Sort of.

Jamess 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 arent necessarily accepting premise 3. But practically? Christian apologists arguing about the wonders of the witnesses to Christs 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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