Embracing the Wager

My dad and my dad’s dad were Lutheran ministers, and my dad’s brother taught theology at a Lutheran seminary. Lotta preachers on the paternal side of the tree. (Lotta teachers on the maternal side; mom and sis among them. I grew up with preachers and teachers.)

All of which gave me something of an insider view of religion and the organizational church. It also provided a cornerstone I’ve built on through much of my life: a reconciliation between the Yin of my science side and the Yang of my spiritual side.

One interesting place the two meet is Pascal’s Wager.

In this Wager, rational analysis meets ineffable belief. They don’t mix; they coexist in tension as Yin-Yang pairs do. The Wager is also a bit Zen-like: it’s a rational analysis of why a rational analysis isn’t useful when it comes to God.

The first premise of the Wager is that God either exists or doesn’t. Implicit, however, is the possibility that God judges our actions and rewards or punishes us in some meaningful way. It’s a whopper of a hidden assumption, but it’s one a large fraction of the world’s religious do make (certainly, Christians and Muslims; 56% of the world in 2020).

The second premise is that reason cannot decide the matter. God’s properties are beyond our ability to know. No logic can demonstrate God’s existence; the fact of the matter can neither be denied nor confirmed.

The third premise is that an intelligence capable of apprehending all this, of asking these questions, inevitably wagers on the outcome of this existential coinflip. We either allow ourselves to surrender to some form of faith in mysticism or we pin our hopes on potentially understandable physicalism.

Pascal’s Wager involves the costs either way.

§

Figure 1. Pascal’s Wager

Given some pair of yes-no choices, there are four possible outcomes: yes-yes; yes-no; no-yes; no-no. Those comprise all four possible combinations of two yes-no choices.

One generic way to show such outcomes is with a truth table — which can accommodate any number of yes-no questions — but when there are only two questions, a four-square diagram, such as Figure 1, offers a simple, clear, and effective presentation.

The upper and lower rows flip the God coin. Upper row for heads — God exists — lower row for tails — no God. The left and right columns flip the faith coin. Left column for accepting it, right column for denying it.

The columns are critical here. The left column offers the perhaps improbable infinite reward, but also offers the possibly greater chance of ending up with a bit of egg on your face. The right column, on the greater chance offers being right and whatever material gains one might make against the tiny chance of an infinite cost.

Basically it’s a matter of weighing an outside chance against infinite payoff. Pascal’s main point isn’t that you should logically believe in God — that isn’t possible. But one might want to consider living their life as if that outside chance is true… just in case.

However, there are a lot of caveats to this Wager.

§

Figure 2. The (vertical) spectrum of certainty.

For one thing, a Bayesian approach places God’s possible existence at 50/50 odds — a coin flip. Under such odds, the argument is a lot more compelling.

But many would place God’s existence at much lower odds. Strong-line atheists place it at zero. In contrast, strong-line theists consider it a certainty. Everyone else falls somewhere on an agnosticism spectrum somewhere between the gnostics. Modern culture is increasingly secular, yet many non-religious people retain mystical beliefs of some kind (ghosts, astrology, crystals, copper, etc).

Anyone not taking a strong-line view has some threshold of maybe-yes-maybe-no. The force of the Wager depends somewhat on the probability one assigns God’s existence.

§

There is also that the bottom row of the square is a bit irrelevant. If God doesn’t exist, those consequences, which only apply after death, never apply. The chagrin of mistaken theism or the satisfaction of correct atheism are things we can never experience.

On the other hand, and this is Pascal’s point, the far greater chagrin of mistaken atheism is a pretty huge bummer. The alternate, the payoff for correct theism, is an equally huge reward.

The Wager is founded on the idea that something of us persists after death. If one is utterly convinced death is the end, the Wager has no force at all.

§

A key question is whether belief is necessary. Some religions not only require belief, but even distinguish genuine faith from going through the motions.

Christianity is among the religions that ask for faith — explicitly in Christ — but there has always been the theological question about those who antecede Christianity or who exist outside its reach. A requirement of faith would seem to unfairly exclude them. (And what about life on other planets? Do they have their own Jesus?)

Pascal assumes the Christian God, a jealous theistic ruling deity who insists we behave according to His code and who punishes those who don’t. And He may even require faith.

But that’s just one (very human) conception of God. The Jews don’t see God that way and neither do many other religions. For example, Buddhists and Hindus have Karma, a type of automatic justice. It’s individual, but more like game points given and taken by the system — your “score” determines the quality of future lives.

The Jews don’t believe divine justice exists. Good in this life is its own reward, and evil usually reaps what it sows, as well. Yet part of their view is that sometimes evil flourishes while good suffers. The sun shines on all. Such is life.

Pascal’s Wager mainly has force under theism. The less one frames their metaphysics on a deity, the less force the Wager has.

§

Still, it’s interesting to me that Christianity and Islam are the two largest religions (31.1% and 24.9%, respectively), and karmic religions (Hindus and Buddhists comprise 20.1%) also have a strong standing. At the very least we’re apparently wired to want the scales balanced — we’re wired for fairness.

So are many animals. They can have a strong sense of “fair share” when it comes to food or play. It has always been possible that humans are evolutionarily wired to see a Creator in the patterns of nature. That we have some sort of “God circuit” in our brain. (One apparently engaged by hallucinogens and other mind-altering experiences.)

Or maybe all this didn’t just happen, and there is something behind it, and our universal sense of a Creator is a valid apprehension of something real. (And hallucinogens, as the hippies always said, are a path to a greater apprehension of that reality. So also, perhaps, are fasting and other ways of tapping into areas our minds don’t usually go.)

Which I quite agree is an outside chance that seems like giving in to some primitive brain bias towards seeing metaphorical tigers in the metaphorical tall grass. But I can’t help but think, damn, if this huge universe just happened and has no purpose or meaning, what a waste of space and energy.

The bottom line makes a good bumper sticker:

The Atheist problem: It might be true.
The Theist problem: It might be false.

It’s impossible to say for sure, and it seems the case that the only way we ever can know is if it’s true. And it takes dying to find out.

§ §

Faith isn’t something that comes from logic; it has been referred to as a deliberately irrational act. We can’t seek faith, only surrender to it.

Many who do find joy and comfort in it. Even if it isn’t true, acting like it is brings with it community and an explicit moral code. Those aren’t bad things. And as with all our powerful notions, faith can be misused or misdirected. Bad things can happen then, but faith also accounts for much good in the world.

I think a fair accounting probably makes it, on balance, a good thing for humanity. Contrast that with some of our other powerful tools, politics, finance, nuclear power, the internet. Big pros and cons for all, but the balance? These things may be no better nor worse.

At least religion usually has a great deal of joy, love, and music.

§

Those who just can’t ride that train are still faced with the challenge of determining how to live life. In fact, there’s the initial choice, the zeroth choice, of determining whether to live life intentionally and thoughtfully at all or just take it as it comes.

Assuming one does choose an intentional thoughtful life, Pascal’s Wager suggests it might be worth considering a life that mimics a religious life just in case all those crazy Christians turn out to have been on to something. Certainly the moral statements that lie at the core of most religions are worthy life guides.

One can’t, and shouldn’t, pretend faith, but one can follow a similar path.

Or at least a similar direction.

§ §

As an aside, positing an ineffable God is one way to fix the ‘turtles all the way down’ problem. A problem for physicalism is determining the axioms beyond which one has to stop asking ‘why?’ At what point must physicists accept ‘this just is.’

With some form of God, there’s a metaphysical hard stop. By definition God is unknowable and the ultimate answer to ‘why?’ While that might seem an unsatisfying, too magical, answer, is it that much worse than forever chasing turtles?

More to the point, Yin-Yang style, why couldn’t an ineffable God create an effable reality for us to inhabit? I don’t see it as an either-or question, an exclusion, but as a wholeness.

Stay wagering, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

39 responses to “Embracing the Wager

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Another way to look at it is that it’s a bet against the possibility that billions of people and thousands of years of human history are completely wrong.

    Which is certainly possible. It wouldn’t be the first time that happened.

    But it’s fascinating how successful the Christian and Islam meme have been and continue to be. If it’s just brain wiring, it’s very powerful wiring indeed.

  • Anonymole

    Fun topic. Odd how Blaise started out as a math-fanatic and ended up being a religious one.

    I think there is, somewhere, a damn good rebuttal argument to this Wager. Can recall it though — NdTyson, maybe?

    Couple of thoughts:
    1) Accepting there is a god does not answer the question, where did god come from?

    2) You might want to separate spirituality from religion. Being spiritual has little to do (aside from the basic assumptions) with religion. Organized religion is all about controlling society; man creating the doctrine to rule other men.

    3) “But I can’t help but think, damn, if this huge universe just happened and has no purpose or meaning, what a waste of space and energy.”

    That’s a human with an overly-large brain assuming things must always have a purpose. That’s just your DNA talking. DNA does not want you questioning your existence, nor that of the cosmos in general. Bottom line is, the Universe has no purpose, nor does anything or anybody.

    “Meaning” is an illusion contrived by humans to justify waking up in the morning.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      😀 That’s definitely one possibility. Pascal asks, “But are you sure?” 😎

      I suppose in Pascal’s time, belief was far more the dominant mind-set. And he certainly wouldn’t be the first to seek greater meaning as he got older. (I read once that Hitchens became more open-minded, or at least curious, when he was dying. I keep meaning to try to track down the truth of that. There’s a reason for the saying about the lack of atheists in trenches.)

      1) Totally agree! In many conceptions of God, that question has no answer or makes no sense; God just is.

      Firstly, either God exists or doesn’t. Secondly, I think it’s either turtles all the way down, or some things are axiomatic, they just are. For me, time is one of those things. If god exists, then so is God. (FWIW, I’m less inclined to believe in turtles than in God. I think some things have to be axiomatic.)

      2) I totally do! Having grown up in organized religion, I’m quite aware of it as a business. As I said in the post, I grew up with an insider view.

      May I suggest your complaint is mainly with the Christian church, in particular the Catholic version? That’s where the oxymoron “worldly church” seems most apt. Some of that materialism traces back to the desire to impress people, hence the giant cathedrals of Europe and other grand monuments to faith. Something to understand about organized religion is that, above all it’s a business. It’s about money and power and a form of tribalism.

      The other thing is that organization is natural. It happens in all human endeavors from grocers to newspapers. The economy of scale, the power of numbers — like groups always band together and organize themselves. There have long been those in the church who’d rather see bottom-up than top-down, who’d rather see neighborhood granularity, but that’s just not how humans do things. We call that anarchy. (Personally I’m for it in religion and politics, but I’m a social idealist.)

      Keep in mind that organized religions do a good share of the world’s charity and outreach.

      3) Again I quite agree, but I am a human with an overly large brain (which I think might be a special thing in the universe), so of course I do!

      In fact, Pascal’s Wager is suggesting that, since we can ask that question, we’re making that wager like it or not. Definitely one option is to gamble your DNA is totally full of shit. It may very well be. We may have a “God circuit” in our brains.

      Or, outside chance that it is, billions of humans and thousands of years of history aren’t entirely wrong.

      The universe presents me with a choice: I can live in a vast cold dark cosmos where everything just happened and nothing means anything, or I can live in a cosmos that has some kind of meaning. Until there’s hard evidence either way I’m free to choose which I prefer, and I simply like the possibilities of the second one better. 😉

      • Anonymole

        The opposite of a meaningful existence is untenable in nearly everybody’s mind. In fact, I know for a fact that there exists no true Nihilists, for, the instant once truly embraces that “dark side” one must immediately kill oneself. To do anything else is to admit to the tiniest of hope.

        I’m still here, which is proof in and of itself. However, I’m convinced we are pure and total slaves to our DNA. All arguments justifying our existence are merely byproducts of our servitude.

        Oof, what a contentious subject. I love it!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yep, it’s a choice to be made. I base mine, in part, on the good music.

        But Steve Martin to the rescue…

      • Anonymole

        Have you watched Only Murders in the Building?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Love it! I’ve been a fan of Martin’s work since he began. L.A. Story is in my Top Five Favorite Films of All Time. He’s on a very short list of famous people I wish I was friends with.

      • Anonymole

        (I’m a generally unhappy fellow. But I’m sure that’s obvious.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        (Quite. I wish I could point you towards greater joy in life! Yin-Yang; there is balance.)

    • SoundEagle 🦅ೋღஜஇ

      Dear Anonymole and Wyrd,

      As usual, I enjoyed every one of your thoughtful conversations. Thank you.

      Where is SoundEagle … spiritually?

      Live a good life.

      If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by.

      If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them.

      If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.

      Yours sincerely,
      SoundEagle

  • Michael

    Hello Wyrd,

    I think the Wager is interesting to consider, as you have done, but that making any decisions of how to think or act on such a basis would not be helpful. Religions (and spiritualities) aside, I think our authenticity and integrity are important–to right here and now–and that we can’t be the unique persons we are “guessing” how we ought to be in order to achieve an end. This inherently makes us into what we are not, into images.

    The other thing I might say is that often these arguments are based on logic alone, and I think the truth of one’s heart at some point must come into play. We are multi-faceted beings, and I don’t think the nature of such questions can be resolved with only half of our faculties in play.

    These comments are related to the notion that when the whole of our being is in alignment, our experience of living tends to improve and our unique individual nature(s) differentiate more creatively.

    Michael

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Hey Michael, nice of you to drop by!

      I agree the Wager is little more than food for thought. As I mentioned in the post, the bottom row is inaccessible to us. And Pascal would agree we can’t logic ourselves into spiritual feels. I think it’s mainly pointed at getting atheists to think about the upper-right square. At the time the Scientific Revolution was challenging ancient views about God, so it was something of a social issue then.

      I also very much agree about authenticity and integrity. I place great value on honesty and openness. I think within the notion of being ourselves we can have rational and/or passionate goals about who we want to be. I think becoming is as important as being.

      Agree yet again about logic alone. I’ve always loved the idea that we surrender to faith — we don’t logic ourselves into it; we can’t. I think it was Thomas Aquinas that called faith a “deliberately irrational act” — another good way to put it. It’s like love that way.

      And one last agreement about alignment and balance. Totally. The Navajo call it Hózhó — being in balance and harmony with the world. They blame a lot of mental illness on being out of balance, which I always thought was a good way to put it.

  • Lee Roetcisoender

    It is unfortunate that as a system ourselves, we are not able to be objective. The most existential feature of our own primary experience is subjectivity. And with subjectivity comes the intrinsic proclivity to project our own sentient experience onto a fundamental reality. Every human being does it. Even the physical sciences project our own experience of mind, a system which has the capacity to hold all possible outcomes in a superposition until an intellectual measurement is made is projected onto the fundamental reality of the quantum world. What’s up with that??????

    The entire notion of a god of some kind (pick your favorite flavor) is a projection of our own experience. Subjectivity is the domain of the gods and we ourselves are gods in the truest sense of the word. Therefore as gods, we cannot help but project. But keep this in mind folks: projection is recognized as a serious psychological disorder. So in the end, is being human a pathology?😎

    I do not find these type of conversations to be useful……

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I suppose it depends on a definition of “useful” — mindless exercise can be useful even if riding that bike takes one nowhere.

      I quite agree subjectivity is a key distinguishing feature — one mysterious enough to be called “The Hard Problem” — and it does frame our experience of and thoughts about life.

      That said, albeit through a glass darkly, my subjective experience of the tree in my front yard is due to there actually being a tree there. So the question is, while our experience of God may be distorted by our subjectivity, is it possible our minds apprehend some fragment of something true?

      It has always been the case that one possibility is that we all have a “god circuit” in our brains. (One that hallucinogens seem to activate. Religious and spiritual feelings are commonly reported. Fasting and other behaviors can invoke it, too.) It’s apparently a very universal circuit, since there has never been a genuinely atheist culture in human history.

      But when there is no evidence one way or the other it seems unscientific to deny the other possibility — that our minds apprehend something real. There is also the vexing question of what accounts for this vast universe? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why the Big Bang?

      Absent evidence I get to choose, and I just plain like a universe with spirit more than one without.

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        Yeah, it’s difficult for us to reconcile the existence of a sentient reality that is valance ladened, one that exists independent of our own sentient experience when the only thing we have to work with is a conceptual representation of that sentient world.

        Those dichotomies, one being “real” in the context of valance ladened and the other being “real” in the context of a conceptual representation of that world creates a natural disconnect from our own experience with that valance ladened reality. I think it is this dynamic, a conceptual experience in contrast to non-conceptual experience that is responsible for us concluding that there are two distinct substances, one being physical and the other being spiritual.

        It’s a natural conclusion to draw based upon the evidence of our own experience. This is especially true for young children. Research has shown that substance dualism is the most common conclusion made by young children and they carry this basic assumption with them into adulthood. And that basic assumption is expressed as either objective idealism aka “God” or subjective idealism aka “a universal field of consciousness”.

        I don’t necessarily think we have a “god circuit” in our brains per se, I think the predisposition of a God is based solely upon our own sentient experience which just happens to be 100% conceptually ladened. And I also think that hallucinogens, fasting and other practices make this natural disconnect even more acute; and it is this heightened “awareness” of dis-connectivity that is responsible for those religious and spiritual feelings. For us, everything is a concept, even feelings.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        When I use the term “God circuit” I mean something much along the lines you described. I very much doubt there’s a specific area of our brain with a spirituality function, but it’s certainly possible that the way our brain works pre-disposes us. Our tendency to see patterns as meaningful no doubt plays into that.

        That we imagine God as you suggest has always been one possible answer, but nothing factual insists it’s necessarily the correct answer. (As I said before, maybe that imagination is on to something.)

        I quite agree we have, at best, a kind of wireframe model of reality, and that model is necessarily framed by, and built using, our intuition. What we’ve found is that our conceptions and experience are sometimes accurate and sometimes misleading. Ideas that survive the test of time and billions of minds are interesting just on that basis, let alone their content.

        As an aside about substance dualism, it need not involve “two distinct substances” but one a subset of the other. The Virtual Reality Hypothesis would be one example. Our reality would be a subset of whatever entities run the simulation. Theories with higher dimensions would be another example. Our reality is a 3D+time subset of a universe with more dimensions than that (in String Theory, 10+time). Conceptions where we are part of “the Mind of God” would be another example.

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        “As an aside about substance dualism, it need not involve “two distinct substances” but one a subset of the other.”

        This is certainly true but, the examples you cited are known only to us because of recent scientific and technological advancements including the recent notion of property dualism. Prior to these new insights, substance dualism has been the prevailing paradigm and is responsible for the infamous Cartesian paradox.

        “As I said before, maybe that imagination is on to something.”

        It’s more than our imagination at work here, our own sentient experience which is a conceptual representation speaks volumes all by itself. And this entire notion of God is nothing more than a “projection” of our own experience onto a fundamental reality. Personally, I don’t think projecting our own unique experience of consciousness onto a fundamental reality is prudent.

        If one wants to get technical here, and I think we should; our own experience of consciousness can be characterized as a localized field of sentient experiences that are conceptual representations of some “thing” that is fundamental. And this conceptual representation is one step removed from the biology that gives rise to our own experience as well as the objects that make up the world around us, all of which have a sentient experience consisting of valances which are “non-conceptual” representation of that same fundamental and ubiquitous “thing”.

        Ready for winter? I’m getting ready to hook up the snow plow to my jeep. It seems like just yesterday that I put it into storage. Bring it on winter……..

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The years do go by faster and faster. Every Monday I’m usually surprised; it’s wash day again already?!

        Animism and Mind-of-God theories are pretty old. The idea of being part of some greater whole isn’t a new one.

        You present a view of reality, but what makes it a correct view? Your thesis seems to be that we’re all blind and stupid, but if so doesn’t that apply to all ideas, this one as well?

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        Stupid is too harsh of a word Wyrd. But when it comes to a fundamental reality, blind and ignorant is ground zero is it not?

        The only thing I can say in defense of what I consider to be an unfairly biased critique is that my “view of reality” is original, it’s novel and it’s new. You can’t google any of my original insights and find an academic paper that has been written about them. One would think that I would at least get some kudos for originality…………😔

        Furthermore, it’s not like my views are outlandishly wild, crazy, bizarre or not grounded in logical consistency; it’s just that they challenge the prevailing paradigm that we’ve inherited from the mythos. Challenging the prevailing paradigm should be a good thing should it not? Correct me if I am mistaken but, we don’t actually burn heretics at the stake any more do we?

        And with that final thought, I will cease and desist…….

      • Wyrd Smythe

        😮 I apologize if the brevity of my last reply gave the wrong impression. I was trying to narrow the focus to a single aspect. The key question: How do we judge our models of reality?

        You’ve read this blog… you’ve seen my comments… you gotta know I’m one analytical mofu. 😀 😀 I’m not sure what constitutes being “unfairly biased” — I’m pretty open to ideas. But I am one analytical mofu; I understand by taking apart. And I’ve long believed ideas need to fight for survival. Our ideas should never be too precious to question.

        I do give kudos for originality (especially in art where it’s the main thing). Challenging the prevailing paradigms is how science grows. On the small scale it’s how we grow.

        Based on what I’ve gotten from our conversations, your challenge is sweeping. I said “blind and stupid” because that’s the sense I’ve gotten. At times you’ve been quite disdainful of that prevailing paradigm. We’re all looking at this wrong (“blind”), and our rational minds can’t help (“stupid”). That’s the take-away I’ve gotten. What I don’t have a good sense of is what replaces that, what fixes it. I get you think there’s a better way, but I don’t get what that entails.

        Maybe I need to post a warning sign: CAUTION: Blogger Questions Everything!! 🚨🚨

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        “…your challenge is sweeping.”

        Indeed it is Wyrd; and coming from a Lutheran background yourself, you should recognize the same sweeping challenge recorded for posterity’s sake.

        “I get you think there’s a better way, but I don’t get what that entails.”

        Reference the documents recorded for our posterity, drop the religious overtones and jargon associated with that vocabulary and view it from a secular, scientific and metaphysical perspective. If one can do that, then those same words will take on a different meaning.

        I call Mark 1:15 the simplicity of the gospel: “(Reality) is at hand, repent, and believe the (good news).” Repent is the Greek word for change: but change what? Change the way one thinks. It really is that simple.

        Nobody really believes that Reality is accessible not really, not even the most dedicated devotees of religion. I remember a personal correspondence I had with Bernardo Kastrup once. He willing admitted that the metaphysical model of Idealism has holes in it big enough to drive a semi truck through. Do you know what his only defense was for rigorously defending Idealism? “Well, everybody knows that there is no way we can have access or know what the fundamental reality actually is. Therefore, I choose Idealism because it makes more sense that materialism”.

        Original assumptions rule……. For me, spiritualism is courage. It takes courage to remain open to possibilities.

        Just one final anecdote before I sign off: this type change has nothing to do with the bullshit about the three (Rs) of religion namely; redemption, reconciliation or the remission of sin. You own that change, so the rest is up to you…

        Be at peace my internet friend….

      • Wyrd Smythe

        (By “sweeping” I meant I perceive a tendency to throw out the baby with the bathwater.)

        I quite agree the simple message of the Gospel is “surrender unto Christ” — that really is about all there is to it for Christians. For all the other religions, not so much. I don’t know if it was clear: Despite my origins, I moved beyond Christianity — or any religion — long ago. I’d identify as basically agnostic with strong pantheistic leanings (and serious deistic suspicions). Christianity is just one of many, many ways up the mountain.

        In my book, morality in general is equally simple: Try not to be an asshole. Or as Kant and Granny Weatherwax put it: Don’t treat people like objects. (Not always easy, though.)

        As to Kastrup, I think I noted once that we all have to pick our metaphysics. One of the best quips I ever came up with: One man’s Duh! is another man’s Huh? I can’t fathom choosing Idealism any more than I can fathom choosing the MWI. My mind boggles.

        Peas beyond you, too! 😉

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        “(By “sweeping” I meant I perceive a tendency to throw out the baby with the bathwater.)”

        Indeed….. If you consider the “baby” to be a fundamental reality that has to be either a mind of some kind or matter then yes; I have definitively thrown out the baby with the dirty bathwater. And to be clear, I am not agnostic about that metaphysical position simply because neither mind nor matter as a fundamental reality will stand up under the scrutiny of analysis.

        Mind as a fundamental reality be it an “…eism” of some kind or the version Kastrup and the Buddhists promote is a projection of our own experience onto a fundamental reality. The metaphysical position of materialism is a no brainer, it’s an indefensible, naive realism metaphysical position.

        But then again, if one’s metaphysical position is “I couldn’t care less”, then let’s drop the subject and “play ball”. I really love that game😃

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, as I said, we all gotta pick our own metaphysics. It’s easy to be deconstructive, certainly there are issues with just about any metaphysical view, but it’s much harder to be constructive.

  • Paul Torek

    If we have one particular God in mind – as specified by some particular variety of Lutheranism, say – we have to split the bottom row of payoffs. Maybe disbelief in that-particular-God brings infinite reward (from some other God, that we decided to believe in instead). Maybe belief in that-particular-God brings infinite loss (from that other God being pissed at your insolence).

    If we don’t have one particular God in mind, we have to split the top row.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’m sorry, I don’t understand; both rows are split. How would you split them differently?

      Certainly if one is somehow caught between very different conceptions of God, one will have to make some decisions.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        They already are. You’ll need to elaborate.

      • Paul Torek

        Row1: God1 exists, where God1 is the one Pascal is talking about. Row 2a: God1 doesn’t but God2 does. Row2b: neither exists. Row2b gets the payoffs specified in your diagram; Row2a needs different ones. (This is for the option where we split the bottom row.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Okay, I see what you mean, thanks. I think you might have missed the point of the Wager. It’s directed at non-believers. If believers are caught between different conceptions of God, certainly they have some decisions to make (as you point out), but the Wager won’t be particularly helpful in making them.

        Pascal came up with this at a time when religion, which had been predominant, was having to share space with the Scientific Revolution, and many believers feared the growing atheism. The Wager is meant to suggest that if one doesn’t believe in God, acting like it might be true might be the smarter wager.

      • Paul Torek

        But it doesn’t matter if your original inclinations were theistic or atheistic. Given that there are an absurd, potentially infinite, number and variety of possible gods, a purely-practical argument about what is the safer bet leads nowhere. Or rather everywhere, which is as good as nowhere.

        To make a sensible bet, you would need to know a lot about the probability of each of the possible theisms. Which puts the issue back to what is the evidence.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        But what evidence? God is metaphysics and evidence is physics. Plus, under some conceptions of God, faith is instrumental, and evidence destroys faith. Yin-Yang incompatibility. (Or Heisenberg Uncertainty, if you prefer.) The Wager is fundamentally about an unknowable that doesn’t pay off until after death.

        I do think the calculus is different between theistic and atheistic views. The Wager is oriented towards the latter. Different theisms are human constructions of the ineffable; the fundamental question is whether the universe is teleological. The exact nature of that teleology is a different, and as you suggest, much more complicated question.

        Because they are human constructs, multiple theisms don’t necessarily represent disjoint realities, only one of which can be true. It’s also possible all are dimly seen versions of one meta-reality beyond our capacity to apprehend. When it comes to gods, the major dividing line, at least for me, is between zero and not-zero. The universe is teleological or it isn’t. A single question. The calculus of different theologies is an infinite one.

        In that calculus, one could construct a four-square window for each theism, align those as a 3D cube, and consider the matching panes across them. God ‘A’ tends not to differentiate between believing in god ‘B’ or ‘C’ — they tend to care about believing in god ‘A’ or not. Separate windows provide the distinct consequences for each theism.

        Then there is the consequences of correctly believing in ‘A’ versus correctly believing in ‘B’ or in ‘C’ or etc. Those in contrast with the penalties of disbelief in the same set. The bottom rows can generally be disregarded because we never experience them. One is left trying to assess an open-ended set of positive consequences with a matching set of negative ones. There’s no, as you said sensible, way to take the measure of such a set.

        Simplifying things to the abstraction of the basic teleological question at least provides a question one can ask oneself, but yeah, it is just a starting point; the first metaphysical question we have to answer.

      • Paul Torek

        Usually, people who like to draw a sharp physics-metaphysics distinction call “metaphysical” that which (they think) *never* can get evidence. But something that predicts what I will experience – that’s not metaphysical in that sense.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Okay,… and? I’m afraid you’re being too pithy again for me to follow your meaning.

        FWIW, I take the word at face value; metaphysics is that which is ‘beyond physics.’ But I wouldn’t agree with *never* — the future is (literally) unpredictable — but generally speaking I do class unfalsifiable theories about the nature of reality as metaphysics. I do require that a physics theory be falsifiable. Do you take a different view?

        The problem with theory prediction is sometimes there are mutually exclusive, roughly equally valid, competing theories. The many interpretations of quantum mechanics are a good example. All predict what we observe. None seem evidentially or arguably superior. For a theory’s predictions to give the theory serious weight, that theory has to have fewer starting axioms, fewer derived theorems, less complexity, and more explanatory power.

        [It may be that religion has proven to be such a powerful meme in part due to, as unfalsifiable metaphysical theories go, usually hitting all four of those targets dead center.]

      • Paul Torek

        I was basically just looking for an explanation of “metaphysical”, which you provided. Making metaphysicality changeable, depending on the state of knowledge, is an option I hadn’t considered.

        I agree that there are often theories / interpretations that are approximately tied for epistemic virtue. I think it makes sense to give them all some credence, where credence can be a qualitative notion. Interpretations A and B can be on a par, followed by C, then D, with all still being on the table, say. Numerical probabilities might be required if we have to make a practical decision that depends on the differences, but not before.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I think we have to be willing to evolve what we see as metaphysics. Once upon a time animism and the Celestial Spheres were serious metaphysics. Now we perceive different mysteries. (I include religion in that; we updated the once superstitious medicine, why not also religions?)

        I agree about equal credence for apparently equal theories. When we’re talking physical theories, as a Realist I assume there is some fact of the matter. It’s possible we may never discover it, but I do assume it exists. With metaphysical theories, that’s less certain. In some cases, ‘A’ may be as good as ‘B’ — both valid. (I tend to view spirituality that way; many ways up the same mountain.)

And what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: