Pascal’s Wager

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I was recently asked a question by an atheist we'll call Writer A
in a thread:

"Do you think we should seriously entertain the possibility of God's existence despite its failure as a scientifically-framed hypothesis? If so, why, and what means should we employ to evaluate the question?"

My full response to this was,

"Well, that answer depends on questions only you can answer for yourself. I think if the possibility of eternal separation from God is something one might wish to avoid, then one might be justified in seriously entertaining the possibility of God's existence whether they think God has failed as a scientifically-framed hypothesis or not. Contrary, if the possibility of eternal separation from God is not a big deal to one, then I'd say one has no reason to pursue the matter at all. And should one declare the pursuit worthy, the means one should employ to evaluate the question will likely be as unique and diverse as one's path to reverence of the question in the first place." (emph. added)

So you might imagine my bewilderment when one of my two guests charged me with making a modified form of Pascal's Wager. The charge itself, I suspect, sprang from Writer A taking too much liberty over something Writer B said:

"Seriously, you don't at all notice that this is precisely the same sort of strange logic a gambler might apply, despite what are reasonable grounds to discount it, to the hypothesis, 'If I just buy one more Lotto ticket it will be the winner?'"

Now Writer B didn't explicitly say I was rewording Pascal's Wager, but Writer B did insinuate that I made something other than a neutral if-then statement that attempts to persuade the reader of no particular point.

Writer A, however, did explicitly charge me with rewording Pascal's Wager, curiously beginning the attack by citing Writer B's words and not mine:

"The 'strange logic a gambler might apply'…you know that's a form of Pascal's Wager, right? Which atheists consider possibly the worst argument ever for belief in God? The way you phrase it is not as bad as the original…"

Well, I don't know whether to express concern over inaccuracy or gratitude over flattery. But here's what I really don't get: Writer A didn't have any problem with my original words in the original context under which I said them. It was from Writer B's comments that Writer A's charge sprang, and interestingly Writer A used Writer B's perception of my words as partial ground for attacking them. And besides, what is the original version of Pascal's Wager anyway, so we might have an objective position against which we might argue?

"…suggestion posed by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should 'wager as though God exists." (From Wikipedia)

At any rate, my response was that neither writer was at liberty to accuse me of rewording Pascal's Wager. The thesis I rest upon is that an if-then statement is clearly not a truth-claim or an argument for God. Pascal's Wager is at least one of the latter, maybe both; that I haven't thought enough about yet.

Analyze the thread for yourselves. Writer A asked me under what grounds I felt one might be justified in pursuing the question of God. That was the context I responded under. Folks, my original words clearly are not a modified version of Pascal's Wager, they represent a neutral if-then statement that favors no particular outcome. Pascal's Wager urges that the person it is wagered upon make an affirmative choice for God; as Writer A properly noted, Pascal's Wager is an "argument for God." The Wager says one better pursue the question and decide in the affirmative. My words summarized say, "If the matter is important to one, one might be justified to pursue it." The former statement appeals to a specific end, the latter statement aims to persuade no particular point at all.

Writer A's final response to this was,

"My point was that [my statement] has the Pascal's Wager ring to it. I have more patience for Jamesian versions of it, which seems to be how you used it. I recognize you intended it as an if-then, not a manipulative bad argument.

Writer A's description of my statement went from "modified use of the Wager" to "has the Pascal's Wager ring to it." As you can tell from the comments above, Writer A still seems to think I still used the Wager, a "Jamesian" version in particular. I gave up the exchange at this point.

Let's just say that the importance of sound definitions cannot be overstated.

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