Loaded Dice


Well, nice to hear from an atheist these days, especially in the NY Times. Eduardo Porter, in a column today discusses the tiresome God-talk of the candidates and mulls over Pascal’s wager.

As far as I’m concerned, the U.S. Constitution said it all for politics and religion in our country. It does not use the word “God,” and it says of religion only that there shall be no theological test for officeholders and that the government shall establish no official religion. End of discussion – candidates can believe in whatever cult they choose to. Even, as Gore Vidal calls it, the cult of the Bronze Age Sky Gods. (That’s you Jews and Christians, oh, Muslims too.)

Pascal is a strange figure in intellectual history. A brilliant scientist and mathematician, and a religious mystic. His wager is summarized here:

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….

…”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.

… Which will you choose then? Let us see. … 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.

He tries to use game theory and probability – which he practically invented – to prove that only belief in God is rational. He has loaded the dice in so many ways – I’m not going to go into it here, but any atheist who has given half an hour of thought to it will find multiple objections to the rules of his game, that it is not a tenable argument at all. Yet, it continues to be debated! Why? Only because so many cannot abandon their belief in a “creator”.

2 Responses to Loaded Dice

  1. JAK says:

    Humans, sadly, are not omniscient. Worse, not being omniscient, we do not know how much more there is to know. Do we know a little? Do we know a lot? But even with the latter case, how can we be sure that “God” is not lurking in the corners of the universe we do not comprehend? Perhaps he is not even what or how we imagine. Thus, in the spirit of Pascal, your choice is whether to believe or disbelieve. Actually, there are at least four situations: you disbelieve, but you are wrong; you believe, but you are wrong; you disbelieve, and you are right; you believe, and you are right. The choice made, from the 4 given, has a great bearing upon the quality of life as well as upon society as a whole. I suggest that disbelief promotes futility and is tragic if God truly exists. Belief, even if wrong, is still beneficent as long as it promotes the harmony and well-being of the people who believe.

  2. lichanos says:

    Yes, well, given our limited knowledge, if we were to follow your prescription, we would believe in faeries, leprechauns, evil genies, etc. After all, they might exist, lurking in some corner of the universe. But most of us don’t, right? Why not?

    It’s the same with God.

    Bertrand Russell remarked that if he died and was reproved by God for not believing in him, he would reply, “Why did you not give me more evidence?” Not the stuff of tragedy.

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