Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How to misuse Pascal's wager!

This article published this month in the journal Heart does not use Pascal's wager appropriately.

Shaw D, Conway DI. Pascal’s Wager, infective endocarditis and the ‘‘no lose’’ philosophy in medicine.
Heart 2010;96:15–18.

Give it a read and see if you can identify how the wager is misrepresented and made to conform to a philosophical pre-commitment to naturalism.

My thoughts on the paper:

Firstly, the Wager was Pascal’s conclusion that human reason alone could not discern God, and is not simply a ‘hedging your bets’ approach.

Secondly, if the position of the believer is true, then it incorporates the meaning of existence in the other person’s life without compromising the pursuit of reason and intellectual enquiry. Conversely, if a person has believed human reason to be supreme, but after death finds this that God does indeed exist, then he or she will have lived a life of attenuated intellectual enquiry because they have chosen to ignore God’s hand in their reason. It does not force one to choose reason over faith as we are often led to believe.

Thirdly, it seems they are not clear about the definition of faith, for I presume they mean ‘blind faith’ when they use ‘faith’ alone. The etymology of the word ‘faith’ indicates that it is cleary evidence-based (see Oxford English dictionary). I suspect the type of faith to which the authors are referring would be more closely related to a delusion than to true faith.

But, perhaps most worryingly, they subscribe to the belief that that there is no evidence for God. This is indeed a bold statement as, in order to make it, a pre-requisite would be infinite knowledge of all things. Surely a finite mind cannot reasonably state that there is no evidence for an infinite God?

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