Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Pascals Wager - Why It Doesn't Work

Let us imagine Pascal’s wager in a different context:

A young man, Horatio, has become fond of a woman, Alexa. After some time his fondness for her becomes deeper- he finds himself distracted by her, day by day his feelings grow. Alexa is unaware of his feelings for her and her Father has sought out a ‘suitable’ husband for her.

Horatio soon finds out that Alexa is engaged to this suitable man. In his dismay he approaches Alexa’s Father and says:

“I am deeply distressed, I love your daughter very much, I am sure that she would love me too if she knew how much I loved her. She does not seem happy with this other man- I feel I must tell her of my love before she is married.”

The Father replies:

“If you really love her, you would want what is best for her- as I do – I have selected a suitable man for her, he is strong, rich and much respected. Therefore, if you really love her you should not interfere with this engagement.”

Horatio feels more distressed than before, so to help him make the decision he approaches a friend who is well known for his philosophical thinking. After discussing the situation with his friend, the friend thinks for a while and says:

“This reminds me of Pascal’s wager, Pascal proposed the idea that if God exists and you believe in him you are infinitely better off than if He exists and you don’t believe in him, whereas if he doesn’t exist it matters not whether you believe or not: This can be drawn as a table-

In your situation with Alexa there is a similar situation, if she really will love you once you tell her of your love- and you two were meant to be together- then it makes sense to tell her as you both find true love. But if you don’t tell her, and you were both meant to be together, then neither of you will gain- she will be miserable with her suitable man and you will never know of her love.

Whereas if she will never love you it makes little difference whether or not you tell her- you will be no worse off than now, not knowing her love: This can be drawn as a table-

There you have it, Horatio, it is better for you if you choose to tell her”

The philosophers argument seemed very good, Horatio now had all the decision making, probability breaking designer answers he needed. With a big smile of new found confidence he approached Alexa and poured out his love for her. Overwhelmed by the love for her Alexa says:
“I feel I could really love you but don’t you know I am engaged to a suitable man?”

“Yes- I know you are engaged, your Father said if I truly loved you I would not threaten your engagement, but I talked to a friend and I think your Father is wrong”

“So… what was it that persuaded you to come to me?”

“My philosopher friend showed me, that if I decided to tell you of my love for you, I was in a no-lose situation.”

“I’m sorry Horatio, but if you truly loved me you would have listened to my Father- what sort of love do you have for me that you seek to gain everything and lose nothing?”

Herein lies a problem with Pascal’s wager, in the situation that God exists then motive for belief in God becomes paramount-

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:28-31(NIV Holy Bible)

If God desires that you should love Him, then what measure of love is it that seeks only gain?

From probably the most well known passage (1 Corinthians 13):

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.


John said...

A Gentleman never bets on a certainty!

normdoering said...

Ever watch the SciFi channel show called Scare Tactics?

I've got a hubpage article on how victims of the Scare Tactics pranks are resorting to a version of Pascal's Wager:


normdoering said...

Sorry, I can make that link clickable: