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Contemporary Perspectives on Religious

Epistemology by R. Douglas Geivett and others, editors


The old Pascal's wager reasoned that you should believe in God because the payoff of belief would be infinite. The payoff of not believing would be small. The new Pascal's wager offered by William G. Lycan and George N. Schlesinger, the most notable essay in this collection, attempts to answer some of the counterarguments against the old version.


To those who say the wager is mercenary, Lycan and Schlesinger argue the wager constitutes legitimate self-interest. If the wager were combined with a good life, a good God or Gods would not punish us.


Some argue that the probability of God is miniscule. The authors argue the payoff is infinite, no matter how small the probability. A tiny number times infinity is still infinity. What if one thinks one is sure the probability is zero? Inductive arguments cannot produce zero probability conclusions.


What if a religious life will produce my own death or immense amounts of my own suffering? The payoff is still infinite. There are worse things than death.


What if God is evil and plans on torturing religious people? A moral God, however, is more probable.


Lycan and Schlesinger fail to answer some counterarguments. Why should the payoff for a good life or bad life be infinitely large? An infinite result is not proportional to the good or bad done during a lifetime. There is no evidence for an infinite payoff.


Why should a believer with worse character get better afterlife treatment than an unbeliever with better character? Perhaps religious belief would only count extra when characters are equal.


Intriguingly, free will is another wager. If you believe in determinism, whether true or untrue, it leads to fatalism, apathy, and self-pity. If you believe humans are sometimes capable of free will, fatalism is less likely and self-possession is more likely, whether the belief in free will is true or not.


Other essays in this collection rehash old arguments in verbose form. Worth browsing.


Book review by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 26, 2009


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