Logic, Pascal’s Wager and God

Last Wednesday, I had the opportunity to join the Columbia Atheists and The University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics (MU-SASHA) and about 40 others to listen to JT Eberhard, co-founder of Skepticon and atheist blogger.

JT talked about the arguments for God and why they do not work. Overall this was a very good discussion but needed more detailed information, but that is just me.

One argument JT discussed has Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal proposed a simple matrix to prove God’s existence and that believing was better than not. Instead of pouring it out in some uncertain language, the wager looks something like this:

 

God exists

God does not exist

Wager for God

Gain all

Status quo

Wager against God

Misery

Status quo

The argument is very interesting, but JT did not provide the audience the arguments why Pascal was wrong.

Here are but some of the arguments that counter Pascal and his wager for god, several that even Pascal identified.

1) The premise of Pascal’s wager is no different than a simple a two-coin flip.

2) The premise actually supports that non-belief has better odds.

3) The Wager suggests a single point in time and does not lend itself from a person who bets for God will not later bet against God.

4) The argument represents a false dichotomy – ‘wagering for God’ and ‘wagering against God’ are the extremes, the Black and White, of the argument. We do know from simple statistics that the two ends of the continuum, the tails of the Bell Curve, represent less than 2-percent of the populous.

5) Betting against God provides the best possible outcomes.

6) Voltaire argued that the Pascal’s Wager is one of self-interest and, therefore, “unworthy of the gravity of the subject of theistic belief.”

7) From a logic perspective – The wager forces one to make a wager based on an irrational premise – that God does exist without proof, but using faith alone. 

From a scientific position, one cannot prove that something does not exist, but that it does. It is up to the questioners then to attempt to disprove the premise.

8) If I were to wager for God, I would be doing it out of self-interest. If I were wagering for self-interest, that wager would be contrary to basic Christian beliefs. If so, then God would reject that wager and I would end-up in your Hell?

I can go on. This is a standard argument made by those who claim Christianity as their belief. Having taught both Philosophy and Statistics for a few years, I can give a lengthy lecture as to why the argument is false on the surface, mostly using Pascal’s writings alone (responses 1-4).

Two days later, another argument was put forth, this time straight from Aristotle and his basic premise of statistical determination. If A is true and B is true, than A+B must be true.

I greatly enjoy threaded discussions with intelligent men and women; it expands my mind and understanding of their thought processes and my own convictions. Yet, there appears to be a basic problem in the language used by the proponents of God’s existence.

The discussion began with one of my earlier essays, “The Fear of answering “Why?””  Of course, some of the respondents supported my position that many of belief cannot answer the question, “Why do you believe the way you do without using biblical quotes?”

The questioner is a medical doctor who happens to be a Christian. Please understand that I am not implying anything here other than identifying the doctor’s intelligence and faith. He wrote:

In friendly discussion, here are two syllogisms that may be worth attention. You asked for reasons “without the Bible.” I am part of a community of faith that is deeply shaped by the Bible’s discourse. On the other hand, there are reasons “other than Bible” for why I think it is reasonable to live a life of faith in God.
 
Here, then, are the two syllogisms that might (or might not) fuel further discussion.
 
Syllogism #1:
Premise A: Something now exists.
Premise B: Something cannot come from nothing.
Conclusion #1: Something always was.
So, what was it that always was? The second syllogism attempts to address that question.
 
Syllogism #2
Premise A: Something conscious now exists.
Premise B: Something conscious cannot come from what it not conscious.
Conclusion #2: Someone conscious always was/is.
 
So, who is it who always is?

Interesting response and question. I usually say it is Zeus or Odin, but I believed that jocularity would not have gone over that well. However, here are the arguments to prove even this logic argument is not on target.

Syllogism #1 starts off alright, but there is a problem with the basic conclusion. The assumption here is that something came from nothing, which is not the case. The cosmological model tells us that, indeed, what we see today over the vastness of the universe  came from something and that something was a singularity that, 13.75 billion years ago, rapidly continuously expanding state.

When science asks, “What was there before the singularity from which came the Big Bang?” the answer is “We don’t know but have some ideas.” Science and nature do not have “add magic here” in their formulas.

Syllogism #2 makes an assumption that consciousness is a “thing” and that thing is this supernatural “being.” This is anthropomorphizing consciousness and there is no apparent relationship between the premises, objects (something) and conclusion (supernatural entity). It is here the logic breaks down badly.

These are Aristotelian deduction reasoning arguments, that the premises are either both true, both false, or one true and one false.  Aristotle also noted that the conclusion must be based on the original statements. To simplify the argument,

If Something A is true, and
If Something B is true, then
A + B = Something.

If we put numbers to this form of equation, we get,

If A equals 5, and
If B equals 4, then
A+B equals 9.

But using our fine doctor’s argument, we get,

If A equals 5, and
If B equals 4, then
A+B equals Banana.

“What is wrong with this statement?” The answer; there is no relationship between the numerals and the banana.

Is my friends saying that if I take Rock A and Rock B, put them together,  I should get George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron “Lord” Byron? I certainly hope not, but…

Yes, that may happen if, and this is a big if, we break the rocks down to their atomic structures, combine elements with some additional molecules  place them in conditions that permit those elements to somehow fuse and then self-duplicate, and wait a few hundred-million years. But if our Christian friends agree with this statement, and that could happen, then they would be justifying Evolution, and that, most likely, will not happen.

JT is right, there are no new arguments for the existence of God. Joseph Campbell was right when he said that today’s religions have not kept up with scientific discovery.

And basic logic is right when it declares Thing A + Thing B does not equal Mythical God.

 

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place). He is the winner of the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing. He is also an editor and award-winning speaker. His book, "A Christian Nation? An examination of Christian nation theories and proofs" is available on Amazon, com as a paperback and eBook.
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