Pascal’s Wager, redux.

In the last week or so, I have been deluged by a ridiculous amount of spam and phishing expeditions on myspace. I have been fervently avoiding watching naughty webcams and offers of awesome ringtones or a free ipod for filling out surveys. Somewhere in the ugly mess of ignorance and greed, my friend Preston has been thinking philosophically about the nature of belief and the rewards of faith. He has taken the old “betting man’s theory of religion.” And rejiggered it. Interesting stuff, and don’t let the math deter you, it’s more conceptual than anything else.

My reaction (which you can see with typos if you follow the above link) is this:

While I always come at the Wager from the faith versus action angle, that is the idea (which you address, albeit briefly) that salvation may or may not require more than mere belief- works over faith, etc., I see where you’re going here and I’ll come along for the ride. But I have two thoughts on the matter.
1. Pascal’s Wager, whether in its original incarnation, or in your reworked version presupposes that people behave rationally. For this formulation to work, we have to assume that human beings behave in a way that yields the most good in the long term, and forgo instant gratification for future dividends. While this is no doubt true of some rational actors, I think there is a great deal of evidence (current environmental concerns, war, obesity, et al.) for the assertion that man behaves in destructive, irrational, contrary ways.
2. In my experience, conversations about faith have no place for rationality and logic. And the more formal the logic, the greater the likelihood that you will lose your audience. I don’t mean to say that people with faith are incapable of grasping the schema, just that faith comes from a different part of us than mathematics and matrices. True believers won’t be swayed or tempted from their path by the Devil’s Arithmetic.

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