Sunday, April 13, 2008

Feeding a Dead Horse: Pascal's Roulette

For those unwashed heathens amongst us, along with those who are philosophically minded among the religious, Pascal's Wager is no stranger. Though you may or may not know it by that name, it is effectively the argument that:

"If you believe in God, and he exists, your reward is infinite.
If you don't believe in God, and he exists, your punishment is infinite.
If God does not exist, neither the believer or non-believer earns or loses anything.
Therefore, believing in God is the most advantageous position to take".

Unfortunately, in the many forms that this argument is whored out in, it usually fails to address the possibility of anything other than a single God existing, and makes that God's non-existence and existence equal in probability. (This is to say nothing of the problem of not being able to force belief, or of the possibility of a God punishing blind faith and rewarding skepticism, but such concerns need not be addressed for the proceeding). So, I decided to undergo the task of pimping Pascal's wager.

Issue One: Deity

Alright, so Pascal's original wager assumes that the only possible God is the Abrahamic God. For the purposes of this section, the only concern with what god happens to be exist among the wide variety is only of nominal importance. That is to say, the nature of God is only relevant if you need to believe in that God specifically in order to attain an afterlife (or at least a positive one). So, in order to be generous, I will make it so that the specifics are not a problem, but only the general nature of the deity. So, we have the monotheistic, anthropic deity of Judeo-Christian lore. Then we have pantheistic, internally contained divine concepts (that is, that the world itself, along with life, compose the entirety of God's being, a liberal take on Taoism). Then we have polytheistic gods, where multiple individual deities have different spheres of influence (as in Hinduism and several ancient "mythologies"). Then we have animistic gods, or, in other words, spirits, which are effectively a fusion of pantheistic and polytheistic outlooks (e.g. Shintoism). And, finally, we have God as being deistic, and simply being a force of construction that has no more current influence on our reality.

So, we have the following for this issue: 1. monotheist 2. pantheist 3. polytheist 4. animist 5. deist/naturalist 6. none

Issue Two: Doctrine (for lack of a better word)

The problem I am going to address here is that we do not know what the deity, regardless of his nature, happens to demand of mankind in regards to how he will treat us. My focus I will be on what criteria God will judge us on.
According the original wager, the sole criterion was faith, which is the basic tenet of Christian and (I presume) Islamic religious lore. But, of course, we also add in the possibility that we are, logically, judged by our good deeds instead(an idea reflected in Judaism, and in the idea of karmic in Vedic religions). We can then posit that perhaps knowledge, or wisdom is what we are judged for and must attain, as proposed by Buddhism in the idea of enlightenment. Of course, implicit in many religious accounts, is the idea that we are somehow disadvantaged in attaining a favorable afterlife if we do not adhere to certain rituals that are unrelated to good deeds, so that it is worthy of mention (notable occurences are dietary restrictions, mandated times for prayer, genital mutilation rites, and the traditions surrounding burying deceased pharaohs in Egypt, deemed to assure their passage into the afterlife). And then, of course, there is the possiblity that our God does not care what we do at all.

This leaves us with the following list (including possibilities of more than one measure for judgment being used): 1. faith 2. works 3. wisdom 4. ritual 5. faith and works 6. faith and ritual 7. works and ritual 8. faith, works, and ritual 9. faith and wisdom 10. works and wisdom 11. wisdom and ritual 12. faith, works, and wisdom 13. works, faith, and wisdom 14. works, wisdom, and ritual 15. none

Issue Three: Afterlife

And this brings us to the final problem of whether, after being judged, we are sent to Heaven or Hell as Pascal's wager assumes.
So, here the possibilities for an afterlife real quick.
(Definitions: Hell is a punishment afterlife, Heaven is reward afterlife, reincarnation is a return to Earth, and Oblivion is full death).

1. Always Hell (effectively the afterlife established by early mythological cosmologies, with the exception of heroes in the favor of the gods).
2. Always Heaven (basic Judaic afterlife)
3. Heaven or Hell (Christian afterlife)
4. Heaven or reincarnation (Buddhism with an optimistic outlook of nirvana)
5. Hell or reincarnation
6. Heaven, Hell, or reincarnation
7. Always Oblivion. (Materialistic outlook)
8. Hell or Oblivion.
9. Heaven or Oblivion. (What Christian afterlife may actually be).
10. Reincarnation or Oblivion. (Buddhism with a less optimistic outlook of nirvana)
11. Heaven, Hell, or Oblivion.
12. Heaven, reincarnation, or oblivion.
13. Hell, reincarnation, or oblivion.
14. Heaven, Hell, reincarnation, or oblivion.
15. Always reincarnation. (Hinduism, I believe)

Put it all together...

As I'm sure you are already aware, if you seriously entertain the number of possibilities out there for the supernatural and essentially unknown, then it is very difficult to make any positive assertions about the nature of such things. Pascal's wager assumes far too much. In fact, even in addressing his wager, I assume that the exact god worshipped does not matter as long as you are on the right track, and I also assume that only the basic kinds of afterlives and criteria for being placed into them that have been popular by religions past and present are worthy of inclusion, and have omitted a great number of possible deviations. Although, I do include certain combinations of afterlife realms and necessary traits to be placed into them that are not common to any theology, so I guess I can call it a push. Well, here's the final product: Pascal's Roulette!

Deity ________Doctrine__________ Afterlife
1. monotheist ___1. faith_____________ 1. Heaven
2. polytheist ____2. works____________2. Hell
3. pantheist_____3. wisdom __________3. Heaven/Hell
4. deist _______4. ritual ____________4. Reincarnation
5. animist _____5. faith + works _______5. Reincarnation/Heaven
6. none _______6. faith + wisdom______ 6. Reincarnation/Hell
____________7. faith + ritual_________7. Reincarnation/Oblivion
____________8. works + wisdom ______8. Heaven/Oblivion
____________9. works + ritual ________9. Hell/Oblivion
____________10. wisdom + ritual ______10. Heaven/Hell/Reincar'
__________11. faith + works + wisdom _11. Heaven/Hell/ Oblivion
_________12. faith + works + ritual __12. Heaven/Reincar'/Oblivion
_________13. works + wisdom + ritual_13. Hell/Reincar'/Oblivion
_______14. all four criteria ______14. All four afterlife possibilites
____________15. none_____________15. none (Oblivion)

So, what does this mean? Well, it means that faith (dependent upon the correct type of god existing), in of itself, is only relevant in 7 out of 15 possible vague doctrines, and that it is only correctly applied 1/6th of the time. Ritual is similarly relevant in 7 out of 15 possible doctrines, but, even if the type of god is not relevant as it is for faith, the nature of the rituals themselves are relevant, in that you may not be following the proper ones. In reality, unlike faith, the necessity for rituals are incredibly religion specific, and, as such, the probability that the rituals that you follow happen to be the ones that you are judged for happen to be incredibly small. As such, almost every possibility in which ritual is a factor will almost always be disadvantageous to all parties involved.
Wisdom and works, however, are nearly universal in their appeal (even if the nuances of each have a good amount of variance). If you able to exhibit either or both, they are the most valuable in assuring a favorable outcome, due to only being minimally affected by the nature of the deities judging you for those qualities.
As for the afterlives possible...there is a significant chance that death is the full extent of our punishment, or that eternal reincarnation is the extent of our punishment, or that reincarnation is the full extent of our reward, or that death is the full extent of our reward. There is a chance that we are automatically given Heaven, regardless. Or that we are automatically sent to Hell. The long and short of it is that we do not know.

But, here is what Pascal's Wager actually looks like in here:
Monotheistic God (1/6) + faith alone (1/15) + Heaven/Hell (1/15)=1/1350 chance of belief in Christian God alone being advantageous and disbelief being fully disadvantageous.

It just really isn't all that convincing, but, hey...better than nothing, right?


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