Monday, September 07, 2009

Some more Pascal

I've been thinking about Blaise Pascal quite a bit recently. I don't really know enough about him but the little I do know has always made me a bit of a fan. Mostly, this is because he was a great all-rounder; physicist, mathematician, philosopher and theologian. I also know that he struggled his whole life with depression and doubt. It is said that when he died, they found sewn into the inside of his coat a little tag that said "remember Jesus died for you."

Pascal's Wager is probably his most famous philosophical pronoucement. It has been pointed out that it's a very poor argument for the existence of God. And it is. But that's not what it's really about. For those of you who don't know, Pascal's Wager it goes something like this;

If there is any doubt, the best course of action is to believe in God. If there is a God and you don't believe in him the downside is massive. If there isn't a God and you believe in him, there is very little downside. Essentially if you don't believe then your best-case scenario is the beliver's worst-case scenario.

Last year, the famous bus posters "There's Probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life" caught the media attention. (Link here)

Pascal's wager is the answer to this. It's the answer to can't-be-bothered-agnostism as I like to call it. I'm not entirely sure how "There's probably no God" is meant to be comforting - a licence to unrestraint maybe but not comforting. There's no God so you are alone in a cold and hostile universe, you are just an animal like any other, you have no inherent worth, there is no justice, no hope and no purpose. Whilst the theist has to wrestle with why God allows suffering, the atheist has no right to expect anything else.

Where the argument "There's Probably no God" really falls down is that it's an attempt to find comfort by avoiding the idea that one is accountable to God. As C.S. Lewis said: If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.