Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pascal's scary Wager



Pascal's wager is usually used as a way to scare people into being religious, because, "What if you're wrong?" Among its many, many problems is that it can be used in the same way to scare people into anything. For the same reasons it fails to be convincing for all those other things, it fails to be a convincing argument to believe in God and accept religion.



Pascal's Wager

Wager God exists
Wager God doesn't exist
You're right
Eternal reward
Nothing
You're wrong
Nothing
Suffering in Afterlife / missed out on eternal reward

Sex wager
The world will end unless you sleep with me.

Wager I'm telling the truth
Wager I'm lying
You're right
You save the world
Nothing
You're wrong
Nothing
World ends

So, your place or mine?

23 comments:

  1. For somebody who truly believes in God and finds serving him the most joyous experience possible, then the risk of being wrong that God exists really is nothing. But to those of us who would find every minute spent serving a god we are 99.9% sure doesn't exist dreadfully boring and meaningless, the risk is most definitely not nothing.

    As for the argument that infinite reward beats finite reward, no matter how low the probability of infinite reward, that would be correct if we could play this life over many times, until we finally hit the jackpot, received our infinite reward, and made up for all the losses we had till then.

    But that's not the case. We've only got one life. And I'm sure as hell not going to ruin it for a <0.1% chance of infinite reward.

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    1. > For somebody who truly believes in God and finds serving him the most joyous experience possible, then the risk of being wrong that God exists really is nothing.

      That Wager isn't for that person. He has a reason to serve God, whether or not God exists. The Wager is supposed to convince the rest of us that betting God exists is the better bet. But we wouldn't bet that way for anything else.

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  2. I see Pascal's Wager as a simplified form of the St. Petersburg paradox (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Petersburg_paradox). Whatever solution you use for that would apply to Pascal too, providing you don't work with "no such wealthy banker exists", as Pascal builds that into his problem by making the "banker" God.

    G*3 - your version does not work quite as well as Pascal's. As an example, consider someone with a linear utility function (y=x). To her (i presume it is a her you are aiming your argument at, but I may of course be wrong) the "cost" of the world ending is associated with a utility of 0, vs. her current wealth, say 1. She can then calculate whether to acquiesce by weighting the "cost" of doing so by the probability of you being wrong and comparing it to the "cost" of not doing so and you being right:

    "acquiesce cost" x P(you are wrong) vs. 0 x [1-P(you are wrong)]

    Whichever is the higher is the option she should take. Presumably P(you are wrong) is fairly close to 1, meaning that even with a fairly small cost of accepting your request she may well be best of saying no. I am presuming that there is no "gain" in having saved the world. Things just go on as they are. Even if there is, presumably the gain is not infinite, in which case the point remains.

    Contrast this with Pascal, where as the payoff is infinite, weighted payoff is infinite for any non-zero P, meaning that "wagering God's side" is always preferable *for any unbounded utility function*.

    Your case *would* work for any utility curve that put an infinitly low

    To make yours equivalent you either need an infinite *positive* reward, a specific subset of possible utility functions (it would work fine for a log utility function as log(0) is - infinity), or the supposition that the "world ending" is an event with a negative infinity payoff (in which yours would work for any unbounded utility function, but would effectively rely on God as otherwise why is the world ending an infinitely bad nominal payoff).

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    1. You're right, nothing is exactly analogous to Pascal's Wager because of the infinite payoffs. But, 1. infinities do weird things to the calculations, and more importantly, 2. we can't really conceive of infinities and 3. most people don't use the Wager as a mathematical construct. It's a "gothcha," a, "What if you're wrong? You'll have sacrificed so much good, and be in so much trouble!"

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    2. How about "you'll receive infinite reward in the afterlife if you sleep with me"?

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    3. Some unscrupulous rabbis (like the ex-head of the Breslav group) actually used that one to deceive vulnerable women to sleeping with them

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  3. I never found Pascal Wager at all convincing. Some Christians told me if I do not accept Jesus I will suffer eternal damnation. So I should reject all religions because of this threat ? And what if other religions also make threats ? I have to evaluate all competing threats ? Also, 'believing'in the hope of obtaining supernatural favors seems obsequious, fawning and dishonest.

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    1. It may seem obsequious etc, but if it works it works.

      Re your first point, some would point out that you then need to go with whichever religion promising infinite reward is most likely. What they may miss is that you also need to take into account how good the infinite rewards are and punishments for being wrong are comparatively. You then need to scale for probability of each being correct. Personally from what i have heard the christian hell sounds the worst so Pascal is sounding the bell for jc.

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  4. G*3, let us assume that there is a 1% chance that the Torah is from Sinai, would you then agree that a person should observe the mitzvahs? If not, what percentage would be appropriate? I mean, I avoid smoking, wear a seatbelt, pay my taxes, look both ways before crossing, despite the inconvenience. So why should I not wear tefillin as well, for the (even [if] slight) chance that it will be beneficial?

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    1. @anonymous let us assume that there is a 1% chance that the Jesus is the real messiah, would you then agree that a person should become christian ? If not, what percentage would be appropriate? I mean, I avoid smoking, wear a seatbelt, pay my taxes, look both ways before crossing, despite the inconvenience. So why should I not worship Jesus as as well, for the (even [if] slight) chance that it will be beneficial?

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    2. How do you know following Judaism or any religion will gain points with any alleged supernatural being ? Maybe that being will be repelled by your reason to worship.

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    3. 1. Your examples are nothing like TMS. Not smoking and wearing a seat belt have demonstrable health benefits, and if you don't pay your taxes, you'll be punished by people you know exist and know have punished others for the same offense. We have nothing approaching that kind of certainty when it comes to TMS.

      2. Would you sleep with someone if there was a 1% chance that doing so would keep the world from ending? Why not? Because it's an unsubstantiated claim? Because of the great cost? For the same reasons, Pascal's Wager is not compelling when it comes to keeping mitzvos.

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  5. Sorry, ACJA, but I don't get your point. First, even if I am wrong regarding not accepting Jesus, does that mean I should also stop wearing teffilin? The fact remains that stopping to observe the mitzvahs of the Torah is a dangerous thing to do. If I am 1% sure that Judaism is true (based upon some evidence which points to it), then why should I accept your "Maybe that being will be repelled by your reason to worship" which I see no evidence for?

    G*3, right. Not paying your taxes will lead to your punishment, but only a tiny percentage of the time. If we accept that there is a tiny percentage of proof for Judaism, I don't see how the situations aren't SUFFICIENTLY analogous. Yes, of course I would sleep with someone if there was a 1% chance that it would keep the world from ending. I will repeat my original, unanswered question: How sure about the truth of Judaism would you have to be in order to feel compelled to observe the mitzvahs? 1%, 5%, 95%?

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    1. @ Anonymous Actually I made two points. The first is your argument can apply to Christianity. So why not accept Christianity ? I mean if there is even a tiny percent Christianity is true based on some evidence which points to it, why not accept it ? That sure beats going to hell forever if you do not become a Christian. So I expect you now to accept Jesus into your heart, go to church etc: You may also don Tefillian, eat Kosher etc: to the extent Christianity does not disallow it. Maybe you have an argument for Jews for Jesus or Messianic Jews ? OOPs, I forgot about Islam - don’t they promise such great rewards if you become a Muslim ? Maybe they also provide for great punishments if you do not ? Maybe if there is a tiny percent chance Islam is true you should become a Muslim also ? But wait, what about the Dakota religion ? I mean if there is even a tiny percent that is true based on some evidence which points to it, why not accept it ? Good luck trying to keep track of all these different religions, denominations, practices which often contradict each other.

      My second point is more subtle. You are assuming G-d will behave in a certain way. But maybe it will be repelled by your reason to worship. Your reasons bordering on disingenuousness. If there is “G-d” I would assume it would be more or less repelled by such reasons. And if it is not, I could not bring myself to worship it, this is something out of my control.

      I would rather make decisions based on the best evidence and what seems most likely, not wagers on things that there is at best tiny evidence for their existence. I would prefer not to waste time and resources for pie in the sky.

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    2. @Anonymous How sure about the truth of Christianity would you have to be in order to feel compelled to become a good Christian ? 1%, 5%, 95%? How sure about the truth of Islam would you have to be in order to feel compelled to become a good Muslim ? 1%, 5%, 95%?
      How sure about the truth of the Dakota religion would you have to be in order to feel compelled to become a good Dakota ? 1%, 5%, 95%? How sure about the truth of Wicca would you have to be in order to feel compelled to become a good Wiccian ? 1%, 5%, 95%?

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    3. @Anonymous "How sure about the truth of Judaism would you have to be in order to feel compelled to observe the mitzvahs? 1%, 5%, 95%?"

      One response is Extraordinary claims requires Extraordinary evidence. Lacking such evidence weighs heavily against accepting Judaism. Moreover, if there is evidence or good reasons to question the veracity of Judaism that is a second nail in it's coffin. Thus we may rationally reject Judaism.

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  6. 1. I am failing to understand how the fact that Pascal's Wager applies to other religions is at all relevant. I am merely saying that it makes more sense to continue wearing teffilin than to stop. The fact that Pascal's Wager says that one should adopt other religious practices as well (I actually disagree with this point, but it's not for now), how does that contradict my argument that we should continue wearing teffilin?

    2. You claimed that I am "assuming" that God would behave a particular way, and that if so, why not "assume" that God would not like my reasons for being religious. The problem with your argument is that I am not assuming anything. I am merely saying that if the EVIDENCE says that there is a 1% chance that the Torah is true, we should follow the Torah. If you have evidence that God does not like those who follow Pascal's Wager, please present it. Until then, you aren't presenting anything relevant.

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    1. Regarding your "failure to understand..." not sure how I can help you with that, so I need to think about how to explain it to you better.

      Regarding point 2 - You are assuming that G-d of the Torah will behave a certain way otherwise you would not accept the wager. G-d is unknowable, is a mystery thus you can not assume he will accept your reasons for following but give you hell instead. So first prove to me he will accept your reasons for following the Torah and not give you hell for it instead. If he is a "god" that wants sincerity, which I think he is am afraid of offending him if I follow Judaism because of Pascal's Wager.

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    2. @Anonymous rgarding your failure to understand.y help. I have written previously: Good luck trying to keep track of all these different religions, denominations, practices which often contradict each other. AND I had written You may also don Tefillian, eat Kosher etc: to the extent Christianity does not disallow it.

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    3. @Anonymous - I think you made some good points, so I clarified my position herenhttps://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2017/12/pascals-wager.html

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  7. @Thesecondson Your decision tree/box is incomplete if applied to specific religions or cults. There are consequences if the religion is wrong. I wanted to discuss my concerns with the Pascal Style Wager for a while and at anonymous prodding I finally wrote some of it up. https://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2017/12/pascals-wager.html

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