Sunday, November 27, 2011

I'll Wager That Pascal Was Right

Have you heard of my friend Blaise?

Well, if you are a student of higher mathematics you will either love him or curse his name. Ol' Blaise brought us many things, including CALCULUS.

(keep reading---this isn't really about math!)

Blaise Pascal was arguably one of the most brilliant mathematical and inventive minds in all of history.

Growing up well over 300 years ago, this Frenchman had invented a mechanical calculator while still a pimply teenager.

If you hate the Doctor's office, then you can probably blame Pascal, again.

His work in the fields of hydrodynamics and hydrostatics were based upon the properties of hydraulic fluids. Along with the hydraulic press, yep, he invented the medical syringe. looks like Mathematics and Syringes, the two things that terrify people most (excluding possibly the ultimate fear of PUBLIC SPEAKING), were brought to us by a child prodigy from Europe:

Blaise Pascal.

I'll Bet His Wager is More Important

Besides calculating machines, complex mathematics, and hyper-scary-dermic needles, Pascal is even more well-known for his famous theological challenge: Pascal's Wager.

You see, Pascal was not just a numbers genius and light-years-ahead inventor, he was also a Christian philosopher, whose writings are still relevant and challenging even today, over 300 years after he died.

His famous wager, which centers around the existential question of living a life of meaning and purpose (theism) or one of misery and fatalism (atheism) goes something like this:

Even if the existence of God could not be determined through reason, a rational person should wager as though God exists, because one living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.

To put this in more pragmatic terms, he argued that there are only two ways to live: either as (1) one who believes in God and purpose and meaning, or (2) one who denies god and therefore has no ultimate purpose or meaning.

It's About Quality, Quality, Quality...

His argument centers around the quality of life each offers and the effects of either being right or wrong. For example, if there is no god, yet someone is a Christian, living a joyful life of meaning and purpose, then, when they die---they are wrong, but they will never know it. Game over.

On the other hand, if there is no god, and someone lives life as an atheist, in fatalism, ultimate meaninglessness, and with no purpose, then, when they die---they are right, but they will never know it. Game over.

So, his philosophical and logical "wager" is that there is nothing to lose in living a Christian life of meaning and purpose. If you are wrong, you'll never know it, if you are right, you have everything to gain. (We will deal with the attempted refutations to this wager a bit later)
Here is a more detailed outline of what he argued:

  1. Either "God is, or He is not" 
  2. A Game is being played...where heads or tails will turn up. 
  3. According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions, each has an equal chance of being true (heads "God is" / tails "God is not"). 
  4. You must wager. It is not optional. (Life is being lived, and death will come) 
  5. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that "God is". Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. 
  6. Wager, then, without hesitation that "God is."

It's hard to deny his logic. If an atheist is right, he will not only lose everything in death, but he will also have lost the opportunity to move past the meaninglessness and vanity of a life caused by random quantum fluctuations over vast eons of time through waning energy moving dead chemicals through a sea of nothingness.

So the atheist loses TWICE, he loses in this life, and loses at death.

But, even if one who accepts God is wrong, they will still at least win in this life, with meaning, purpose, and personal fulfillment in service and helping others, thereby even creating more joy in the general experience of the species.

Skepticism Rarely Engenders Warm and Fuzzies

Atheism, though, isn't famous for bringing joy or fulfillment. Do I have to mention Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, or any other famous skeptics whose godless worldview was the foundation of their murderous and heartless objectives? 

Stalin, in a quaint conversation with a longtime friend, made this comment after reading Darwin's theory of evolution:

"You know, they are fooling us, there is no God... all this talk about God is sheer nonsense." 

He then went on to rule the Soviet Empire with an iron fist devoid of conscience. His evolutionary belief led him to feel that killing millions of people was, in actuality, no worse than, let's say, mowing down millions of blades of grass in your yard. At the chemical level, there is very little difference, if any at all.

Logically speaking, if there is no god, no creator, no one to give us meaning or purpose, then we are just cosmic accidents, carbon-based by-products of a cruel and pointless existence, coming from nothing and returning to nothing, for no reason.
(Does anyone feel inspired yet?!)

But, I digress, sort of. Back to Pascal...

I Exist, Therefore I Wager...

Many people completely misunderstand Pascal's Wager, I'll bet. They gamble that he was talking about life after death. But, looking at his formulation, Pascal was, in actuality, making a purely existential claim. If one lives life with no trust in God (read: no hope, no meaning, no purpose, no ultimate reality) then one will, if true to it's own philosophy and worldview, live a type of miserable and fatalistic existence (it is unavoidable).

If the atheist is right, and there is no god, then the atheist will never know that he is right after death. So he lives a life of actual misery and fatalism, then dies, and knows nothing more forever.

Existentially, if one has faith and confidence in God (read: love, purpose, joy, meaning, etc) and lives a life of joy in personal fulfillment and serving others (causing even more joy in others) and yet is wrong (there is no god) then he will die and never know it either.

So the wager is, you must choose how you will live your life, either of purpose or pointlessness. Even if there is no god, you will never know it, therefore, to live a life of meaning, purpose, and joy (in you and others) is far greater.

Where Pascal Was Wrong (gasp)

Now, Pascal originally posited that the wager was 50/50 that there either WAS or there WASN'T a "god".

But, I would disagree with that basic assertion.

Now, he is correct in the sense that God either DOES or DOESN'T exist. But, in reality, it's not like flipping a coin, in which you have the same odds of getting either a heads or tails (assuming all other factors are equal).

The difference between the issue of God's existence and a coin toss is obvious. Let me illustrate (if it's NOT obvious). If you were to have a 100-meter race between Bolt (considered the world's fastest living man) and let's say...Danny Devito, who would probably win? 

Would you not agree that there are only two possible outcomes, either Bolt wins, or Bolt loses? The chances are 50/50, right?


There is a huge difference between POSSIBLE outcomes, and PROBABLE outcomes.

Obviously, the odds heavily favor Bolt on many different levels: his past track record, his age, his speed, his experience, his physical condition, his leg length, etc. On the other hand...Danny is slightly outclassed in ALL of these. Bolt is the more probable winner, though it is possible that Devito could break the ribbon first.

How Do We Bolt From Danny to God?

Now, how do Olympic champions and short B-list actors relate back to the issue of God's existence? Everything. Yes, there are only TWO possibilities--(1) either God exists, or (2) God doesn't exist. But, which is more PROBABLE? That, now that, is the real question.

Just the single fact (science) that you (intelligence) are engaging in a highly complex, symbolic decoding process (language), and can contemplate (self-awareness) the evidence (logic) and can consider it's implications (reasoning) so overwhelmingly weights the odds (probability) towards the existence of God (theism), that it almost makes any other conclusion (atheism) incoherent by comparison (rationality).

Why were nearly all of the greatest scientific minds of the past several hundred years (almost without exception) theists, and most of them Christians? Darwin, Einstein, Newton, Maxwell, Copernicus, Pasteur, Pascal, Hoyle, Collins...all  theists.

The evidence.

Those who study logic and science typically find the evidence overwhelmingly convincing.

Evidence such as the Universe, Natural Law, the Big Bang, fine-tuning, DNA, the fossil record, meiosis, mitosis, chirality, protein synthesis, irreducible complexity, specified complexity, language, universal morality, intelligence, self-awareness, free will, fulfilled Bible prophecy, the history of the nation of Israel, the resurrection of Jesus.

In fact, perhaps the most notorious atheist of the 20th century, Anthony Flew, began delving into these important evidences in the decade just before his recent death. The result? 

He wrote a book titled: There is a god. He said that "you have to follow the argument wherever it leads" and the argument from evidence led him to abandon his strong-atheist position of several decades to become a theist.

And abandon it he did, as did other famous former atheists such as C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell. Their personal testimonies speak for themselves.

Objection! Your Honor

All of the arguments concerning:

"What if the true god is a god who rewards atheism?"
"What if by believing in Jesus you anger the true god more?"

blah blah are completely missing the point of the wager. It is an EXISTENTIAL wager (it is not about life after death). In the existential sense, the Christian has nothing to lose, and the atheist has nothing to gain.

If the atheist is right, he'll never know it, and if the theist is wrong, he'll never know it.

You are free to make whatever gamble you want, but in light of the probability of theism, and the irrefutable logic of Pascal's Existential Wager, I bet that you are thinking seriously about where your chips are.

At least, odds are, you should be...

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