Saturday, March 30, 2013

[PHI 3000] Faith, Reason, and Poker

At the end of this segment from the Radiolab podcast, Are You Sure?, Pascal's Wager is mentioned as an example of making decisions based on odds. Pascal's Wager can be represented by the following decision matrix:

Pascal argues that the rational decision is to believe in God. In the podcast, one of the hosts of Radiolab claims that belief in God that is based on odds of "winning" or "losing" is a lesser form of belief; less sincere perhaps, but certainly not as good as belief in God for the "right" reasons.

If so, then, presumably, God would be able to tell the difference between sincere belief for the "right" reasons and belief for personal gain, since God is supposed to be all-knowing.

If this is correct, then is belief in God still the rational decision to make, as Pascal argues? And even if one decides to believe, is that going to do one any good (in terms of winning the "jackpot")?


  1. Personally, I believe that our beliefs cannot be put simply into any boxes. Our beliefs are the ones that we stick to no matter what an outside opinion says. If on one hand, a person believed in God way before ever knowing the consequences or the results, then that would be considered the right reason. If someone's belief changed after knowing what could be (which we can never know to be a definite), I would consider that the wrong reason for believing in such things. In this case, if we knew Pascal's argument to be absolutely true, then I still don't believe that it should change any person's original belief. The problem with this statement is that people tend to do things that will benefit themselves no matter what. Most people will change their belief to believe in God and therefore think that this will do them some "good." Although even if they changed their opinions, then I believe that God would know whether people believe in what they believe for the right reasons or not and therefore supposedly win the jackpot or not.

  2. In my opinion, this is not a "right" or rational reason to believe in the existence of God. Considering that we agree to the notion that God is indeed all knowing, he would be able to weed out the person with true believes and the individual who is just trying to play his cards right in order to gain the perks of the existence of God. The way Pascal argues this decision to believe in God is wrong because not all people only believe in God for the sole purpose of eternal salvation. For some its just a way of living or a type of aid, like a light that keeps the darkness of reality away from their reach. Either way one cannot be thrown into a such a broad category as this Pascal's wager. Besides the fact that this is a rationally unacceptable statement, it is also morally wrong. You cannot look at belief in God as a form of a lottery because it defeats the purpose of God completely in my honest opinion.

  3. I think that although there is a difference between doing something "right" for reasons of genuine care and trying to be a good person, rather than doing the "right" thing or refraining from doing evil solely for the reason that there may be a god up there who might judge and punish the person, it's still better to do good in any sense. Even if there is a god who can decipher between a person's true intentions, it's better to do some good even for the wrong reasons than to not do anything good at all.

  4. I think this can be answered with a solid no; belief in God is not the rational decision to make contrary to what Pascal argues. To start, what Pascal says seems to be a loaded statement. He only mentions one side of the story. It assumes that the one making the decision believes in the theist view. But if a person does not believe in God, he or she will not believe they can be eternally damned nor believe that you can be eternally saved. So he has nothing to gain from any of the situations.

    Like a poker game, if a gambler believes there is no jackpot, he’s not going to place his bets. If he didn’t bet but finds out there really was a jackpot, he stills knows he has lost nothing. “Nothing ventured nothing gained.” However, if he bets while he believes there is no jackpot, he will be losing that money. In addition, if he bets and there does happen to be a jackpot, he knows that the chances of actually winning that jackpot would be almost next to nothing. The typical gambler would have concluded, using the WHOLE story, and realize it’s a bad investment and move on to something else.


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