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First Philosophy Essay; Pascal's Wager and the Advent of Infinite Future Gods

aroundtheworld 1 / 8  
Oct 11, 2009   #1
Dear Essay Forum Contributors,

I found this website a few days ago and found the feedback given to others to be of a great quality! I thought you might be able to help me, and I might be able to help you in the future.

My situation right now:
I'm writing my first essay in about 6 years right now, after taking many gap years off after high school. Below is my first draft, which is as far as I've gotten so far. I know it still has a lot of work left to be done, but if you fine people could look over it fot structural and logical errors, I would really appreciate it.

Thank you,

Topic B: Pascal's Wager and the Many Gods Objection

Blaise Pascal argued that it makes sense to believe in God because the cost of not doing so if God exists is eternal damnation, while the benefit of believing in God if he exists is eternal bliss. Pascal's critics have often replied that his argument doesn't work because it applies equally as well to many other supernatural beings and doesn't single out the Judeo-Christian God. Does this objection work? Your job in this paper is to critically assess the many gods objection to Pascal's wager, taking into account W. Lycan and G. Schlesinger's discussion in their paper "You Bet Your Life" (available in the course packet). Does the many gods objection undermine Pascal's wager? Or do Lycan and Schlesinger succeed in showing that Pascal's wager works after all? Explain. Pascal's wager will be covered in lecture, but you may also find it useful to consult the short expository piece by Elliott Sober, which can be found on the handouts section of the course website.

Pascal's Wager and the Advent of Infinite Future Gods

Philosophers like Blaise Pascal and Willian Lycan plant seeds of doubt in our heads, making us wonder that despite the low probability that God, or multiple gods, actually exist, it is beneficial to believe in them because the potential benefits outweigh the potential costs. If the Christian God really exists then belief in him has infinite rewards, while not believing holds only infinite punishment. If he does not exist, then there is only a very small gain or punishment during our lives, which can be calculated in finite terms. Infinity will always surpass a finite number, so if I were to search back through time and weigh the expected utility of believing in different gods, it is plausible that I will find a god, using my own set of criteria, that will give me the largest possible gain for the least risk. Assigning values to a very large, but finite, number of things in an unchanging universe may be possible. Adversely, assigning concrete values to an infinite number of things is impossible. I argue that once confronted with with the idea of an infinite timeline, and the appearance of infinite gods, Pascal's Wager fails because the idea of infinite, currently unknown gods conquers it.

Lycan and his contemporary, George Schlesinger, first argue in their essay that the expected utility of a god can be increased or decreased by empirical evidence from history (274). One may look at the spread of Christianity and it's current status as the worlds most practiced religion as evidence that Christianity is the most true religion. When one does this they are only analyzing information gathered thus far. It is illogical to expect that no more information can ever be gathered. With the birth of Muhammad in 570 (Peters 102), new facts become available that could drastically alter the calculations for Christianity. Prior to the birth of Muhammad the world population was 0% Muslim, while currently it sits at 22% (CIA World Fact Book). Using Pascal's own argument, it is wise for us to believe that many other religions will rise in the future, because we have have evidence throughout history of religions rising. With the rise of a theoretically infinite number of religions rising in an infinite future, it is not possible to assign an inflexible possibility on the existence of one religion. Just as Islam came to question Christianity, an infinite number of future religions will be created, causing further question into which religion correct.

Within this concept of infinite religions being created, one might ask why they should not just believe in Christianity and hope for the best. It is after all, promising infinite rewards for belief, and threatening infinite punishment for disbelief. In a world of infinite possible gods, it may be the case that a future god, or infinite number of future gods, will offer an even greater reward versus suffering package. Future god x might offer everything that Christian God offers and more, but there might be the stipulation that you can have never believed in the Christian God. Lycan and Schlesinger suggest that the reward that a god offers will greatly influence the god people choose to worship (280) and that these rewards will be different for different people (280). In a future where infinite possible gods may rise there also rises an infinite number of hellish punishments for believing in a false idea. Betting on one possible infinite pleasure opens a person up to an infinite number of hellish punishments, which seems like a very unsafe bet. By not believing in anything a person opens themselves up to an infinite number of future punishments, but also an infinite number of future rewards from the gods who reward not believing in any false gods. By betting on one god in this manner, a person is losing out on an infinite number of rewards from gods that reward non-believers, while still receiving an infinite amount of possible damnation.

A final argument from Lycan and Schlesinger is that when presented with so much data, it is very logical to choose the most simple answer (276-277). When we cast aside superfluous information like God's shape, form and his story of creation, we are left with what Anselm called an "absolutely perfect being" (Lycan 276). Without the preconception that God may have curly blonde hair or the trunk of an elephant, we are left with the fewest possible things to refute. This means that we have less to disprove, so it is most likely we are correct. However, when we are faced with an infinite timeline we are again confronted with the idea of infinity; if the future is infinite, no one can really know if believing in the simplest possible god is a good bet. In an infinite future we will be presented with a possibly infinite number of simple and perfect gods, and also an infinite number of extremely complicated gods. When we are presented with an infinite number or every type of god, it becomes impossible to even choose the simplest possible god, because the probability of choosing anything is infinite.

One might argue that in questioning belief in god with infinity, people should also question everything else with the infinity concept. I say that this does not hurt my argument. I am not trying to prove that god does or does not exist, nor am I trying to prove that anything else does or does not exist. I am not attempting to prove or disprove that Julius Caesar was really First Consul of Rome. When we are questioning whether it is pertinent to believe in God and his afterlife, we have already agreed that we are currently alive and that we will one day die. We would not worry about an afterlife is we did not believe this. So in believing that we are alive we will worry about our ultimate demise and what will happen after it. With the argument for the advent of infinite future gods, I am attempting to say that it does not matter if gods exists or not, because our probability for reward and punishment are both infinity. If we do not assume that we are alive to begin with, then the argument for an afterlife does not really matter. Something that is not alive can not have a life that comes after life.

When the concept of infinity is introduced to the arguments of Lycan and Schlesinger the idea of a best guess is rendered moot. Even if one is to start off with a 40% chance of God X existing, dividing 40% by the concept of infinity can only result in an answer of infinity. A god with an initial probability of .0001% divided by the infinity concept will also be infinity. If one tries to calculate an expected probability, or expected utility of a god actually existing with only a finite amount of information, they are not taking into account the fact that there will always be more facts in the future. If future information and revelations were not possible, Christianity would never have had an Islam rise to challenge it. Therefor, Pascal's Wager and Lycan's defenses of it cannot stand in a world of infinite future and infinite probability.

EF_Kevin 8 / 13,335 129  
Oct 11, 2009   #2
This is excellent. I don't see any grammatical errors. You could use some short, succinct topic sentences to make the whole thing easier to follow, because it is a complex discussion.

Especially in the first paragraph, you might want to add a clarifying sentence -- perhaps at the end. It is already quite clear, but you could do even better. You can add an attention-grabbing sentence at the start of that first paragraph, and then you can restate your thesis argument succinctly at the end. Can you state your thesis in a ten word sentence? That is always a good challenge.

You could also challenge the assertion (that one should believe in god for the sake of usefulness) by pointing out that we cannot really decide whether or not to believe something. If something does not ring true, we will have doubts, but if something rings true we cannot help but believe it!
EF_Stephen - / 264  
Oct 11, 2009   #3
There is another possibility which may complicate things, but is worth discussing. many people now believe that there are not an infinite number of gods, but that one god has many names, and all of the apparently different gods are the same one. This renders the future gods argument moot, and leaves us with only Pascal's argument.

The complication comes when one does not chose based on potential cost but on other factors, such as desire, need, personality, opportunity and the like.
OP aroundtheworld 1 / 8  
Oct 11, 2009   #4
Thanks for the early praise! It's good to hear something nice after not having written in so long. I immediately understood your points when I looked back at my essay and am busy altering it to reflect your thoughts.

Your point about not being able to 'go shopping' for our beliefs is a very good one, and one that I believe in myself. Pascal said in his original wager that it is possible to force ourselves to believe something by immersing ourselves in this belief. If we cut ourselves off from heretical things like philosophy and go to church everyday and sing, it is far easier for us to believe than it is for us if we live a different life. The idea of brainwashing and indoctrination have, I think, proven that it is possible to make people believe things against their better judgements.

But I totally agree with you. People don't usually just decide to believe in something because it might be beneficial for them. I think the wager is directed more towards the agnostic, less towards the atheist.

That is not an argument against my point that I had previously thought of. Thank you for raining on my parade!

But I think the Multiple Gods Objection might still stand up to your point, depending on which god you're talking about. If you're considering Yahweh, God and Allah as being the same god with a different name, I would argue that there could still be other gods brought into the picture that are different in substance and name. If you're thinking that Zeus, Ra, Allah and future-god-x are all the same god, this poses a larger problem. But since different religions demand obedience to one doctrine, a contradiction is formed here. What is the point in believing in any god, since certain religious groups will let me ascend to heaven without belief? If every religion, now and future, were to be worshipping the same god, there is no need for me to believe, since some of those religions say I go to heaven, even if I live as a terrible person.

Philosophy is kind of crazy. It was the last class available that my program would accept for credit, but it has proven to be the most trying and insightful!

edit: Have I explained Pascal's Wager well enough that if you had never seen it before, would you understand it?
EF_Stephen - / 264  
Oct 11, 2009   #5
I was already aware of Pascal's Wager, so of course I recognized what you were saying. But reading back over it now, I can see that you were quite precise in defining it, so I think most anyone with intelligence would understand it as you've expressed it.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Oct 11, 2009   #6
The one God many names argument doesn't really affect your argument too much. If all of the various religions taught essentially the same thing, then the objection would stand, because you could be a good Christian/Hindu/Buddhist etc. by acting the same way. While many people now like to claim that all religions embrace essentially the same truths, though, this is not actually the case. The God of the Old Testament is not the God of the New Testament, even within the Judeo-Christian tradition. No one likes to admit, for instance, that when a fanatical Muslim commits an honor killing, in some sense he is being a "better" Muslim than a moderate Muslim who preaches peace. Likewise, a Jew who would stone to death an adulteress would in some sense be a "better" Jew than one who would be horrified at the very thought. Likewise, a Christian who never fought back against anyone would be a "better" Christian than one who stood up for himself. That many people have decided to claim to be religious while utterly ignoring the actual texts upon which their religion is based does not change the nature of those texts.

Also, what of the notion that anyone can "invent" a god and make it the subject of the wager? I have been expressly told by God, personally, that everyone should give me all of their money in order to get into Heaven. Honest. If Pascal's wager is based on solid logic, why then should people refuse to believe me? Because I just made it up? Would it have been acceptable if I had made it up 2000 years ago instead? For that matter, I don't have to make up a God. I can appropriate an existing one. Christ appeared to me last night and said that everyone should give me their money or risk damnation. Why should my claim have any less authority than that of a prophet or priest? On what possible grounds could one justify valuing it less?
OP aroundtheworld 1 / 8  
Oct 12, 2009   #7
Dear EF contributors,

I have just finished a massiveedit of my essay and I feel it is much stronger than before. If you would please look over it for any errors, I would be very appreciative. The instructions for writing are still the same as my first post.

EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Oct 13, 2009   #8
When we cast aside superfluous information like God's shape, form and his story of creation, we are left with what Anselm called an "absolutely perfect being" (Lycan and Scheslinger 276).

Also, you could argue that an absolutely perfect being wouldn't inflict harm on another sentient being or allow another sentient being to suffer eternal punishment. Thus, such a being would not punish non-believers, removing at least half the impetus for making Pascal's wager.

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