Modified Pascal's Wager

It had never occurred to me before, but a little ago and after I had posted above, I realized (duh) that this is addressed to believers as much or more than others, and certainly and explicitly more than atheists and agnostics:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.
Hebrews 11:6


That is not unlike Revelation 3:20 that is typically pictured (literally à la Sallman, and figuratively of course) as being addressed to non-Christians, but it is actually being addressed to a church whose members are Christians or who may be only ‘mere professors’ and identifying as Christians:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me.

If I understand your question, I think it is impossible to answer (scientifically) without completing the (equally impossible) task of separating cultural Christians from true, converted believers, as it were. In a country such as the US, how many who claim Christianity are cultural Christians only (and in some ways are taking the Pascal’s wager)?


Yes, that’s a good way of putting it–but it’s also interesting to observe how, for example, some will convert to a faith to marry someone else. How does one intellectually assent to the abstracts of salvation to join a significantly different faith, in order to be with someone else in matrimony? It reminds me of Rich Mullins’ song, “We are not as strong as we think we are”!

From personal experience: you can agree to “be” that religion, in my case christian, and engage in all the expected ecclesiastical behaviors, look the part, claim the part, desire what others seem to have–all of these–without truly believing, even though you may sincerely want to believe. *

  • While doing all this for my bride’s sake one day in church, which I found interesting in an academic sense, I found myself in tears listening to the account of the repentant thief on the cross, and I realized that actual belief had snuck up on me and taken hold.

It would seem to have been a better outcome for you than faking it. Some things are worth waiting for. It sounds like you probably don’t go in for overstating the case for belief through tricky arguments or force of personality. It is Christians like you and others here who are reasonably modest in your claims that have given me new respect for Christianity.

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Why couldn’t you say that it is truly immoral not to drink 2 liters of water? If it were truly immoral not to drink 2L of waters per day, would you then agree that every rational person should try their best to drink 2L of water per day, and that anyone who would not do this, would be irrational?

If you have any specific examples or scenarios in mind, please let me know.

I think that rational arguments are our best hope our attempt to understand the world and what is rational/irrational behaviour. What are the alternatives to rational arguments? Irrational arguments? Emotional arguments?

If this is correct , if there is no way to choose or influence what to believe, then I think that this implies at least 3 things for the context of this discussion:

a) Christian God will send billions of people to hell because they did not truly believe the gospel which is something that they couldn’t control at all, since no one can choose to truly believe or not to believe in the gospel, they ‘did not deserve’ to be in hell since it wasn’t their choice to not believe in the orthodox Christian theology (you are basically denying that they have any free will when it comes to their eternal destiny)
b) If someone cannot choose or influence their beliefs, can we blame anybody for anything that they believe? From flat-earth to most disgusting social policies, can we truly ‘blame’ them for what they believe since they do not have any free will in that regard.
c) If there is no option to bet on Christianity, then this argument (if it works) works against Christianity. Take the following scenario:

  1. Atheism 98%
  2. Christianity 1.5%
  3. Islam 0.49%
  4. Other God theories 0.01%

If betting on Christianity does not generate any rewards or punishments, under this scenario, every rational non-Christian should bet on Islam, despite the fact that it is 3x more likely that Christianity is correct.

You can say whatever you want but that doesn’t preclude other people from saying the opposite. Rationality does not consist of a uniformity of thought.

I judge rationality to consist of three things…

  1. logical coherence – which is the requirement for something to be meaningful.
  2. consistent with the objective scientific findings – which is the requirement for something to be reasonable.
  3. compatible with the ideals of a free society – which is the requirement for something to be moral in only kind of society I want to be a part of.

But even this extension of rationality does not even come close to a singularity of conclusions about most things let alone all things.

  1. logic depends on what premises you start with, and it is pretty easy to choose premises which give you whatever conclusion you want.
  2. Science is limited to hypotheses which can be tested – which generally means it remains silent on things which cannot be measured let alone on things which are not even falsifiable.
  3. Tolerance is the central principle of a free society. Religious freedom requires defending the rights of people to come to their own conclusions when thing cannot be objectively demonstrated.

Well, this is your proposed argument, so the burden of proof is on you. In order for it to be a sound argument you have to demonstrate that both of these two variables are relevant and only these two. I’m sure we could come up with an infinite number of variables. What rational justification do you have for choosing both of these and no others?

Surely you recognize that this is a statement of faith. You seem to want a purely rational argument, and to eliminate faith from the decision. My point simply is that your entire quest is founded on faith.

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In terms of this argument and my example, yes. The point of the scenario is not to provide evidence for the God who will punish all people that do not drink 2L of water, but rather, the point is to see if under that (limited) scenario, every rational person should drink (or try they very best) to drink 2L of water per day - and that every person who would not do that, would be irrational.

And if this arguments works, then the answer is yes. Every person who would not drink 2L per day is irrational. If the argument does not work, I would like to know why is the argument invalid.

I disagree, my view about this specific situation is: here is the argument, let me know what is wrong with it. I don’t have to consider 1B objections to the argument and answer all of them upfront.

If you can point out why the argument is invalid, let me know your objection.

What is the alternative to rational arguments? Emotional arguments? Wishful-thinking arguments? If you define faith as believing something without any rational justification - then I don’t want to have any part of it. If you define faith as trusting something for which you have good arguments to believe in - then I am perfectly fine with faith.

Of course there is. In response to new evidence would be the obvious way. Another way would be to have your beliefs and/or desires changed supernaturally.

What I am saying is impossible is to change from unbelief to belief merely because you want the perceived benefits that come with that belief.

…work at doing WHAT? With someone who thinks the premises of your argument are just plain silly, your argument does nothing at all.

Valid arguments are a penny per thousand. “If the moon is made of green cheese then any mice living on the moon will have plenty to eat.” That is a valid argument, but it only goes to show that valid arguments are worthless. The argument isn’t sound because the premises are ridiculous. We have been over this before.

Rationality is more than mere logical coherence. And accepting your premises is certainly not a requirement for rationality.

Here you acknowledge that you have to respond to objections, so what difference does it make whether I make the objection or you think of it yourself? If there is an objection which invalidates your argument, then the argument is invalid whether the objection is expressed or not. So, I maintain that you bear the burden of proof for justifying your argument.

Of course not. To address every alternative individually is an impossible task. The scientific method does not require that you disprove every alternative hypothesis, only that you provide evidence supporting your hypothesis.

Ok, what are your good arguments for the faith that you place in rational thinking?

That is what I am trying to do. Let me attempt to be a little more clear. I have three primary objections to this line of reasoning.

  • You reject faith in God while embracing faith in rational thinking without demonstrating that the latter is any more justified than the former.
  • This argument presupposes that we ought to make decisions based on what is most beneficial to the individual. I reject this assumption as it reflects an ethic founded on self-interest, which is morally deficient. However, it is at the center of Pascal’s Wager, so I am willing to grant it for the sake of this conversation.
  • As for the argument itself – if I have understood it correctly – you propose that the benefit, or Expected Payout (EP), is the result of Probability of Truth (P) and Promised Value (V). Which can be expressed as EP = P x V. In the case of Christianity, we would say that V is extremely large, let’s say 1,000,000,000. For P, I’ll grant you a low probability, let’s say 1%. So, the equation looks like EP = 1% x 1,000,000,000 = 10,000,000. However, as we discussed previously, Christianity requires more than a simple wager, it requires sincere belief. So, without sincere belief, EP=0. Which leaves us with a situation where the given equation would result in 1% x 1,000,000,000 = 0. Which is a mathematical contradiction. Thus, this equation – and the argument which it represents – is flawed.
    • More importantly, sincere belief in Christianity is a single example; we could come up with countless more, and you would have to defend your argument against each of them. This is an impossible task. You would be much better served to seek out positive proof for your two variables. Or at least a valid reason to exclude all other variables, rather than each one individually.

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