Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Pascal's Wager dissected with Occam's Razor


Lent 2016: Day 22

Prof Fr Michał Heller's Filozofia przypadku dwells a while on the figure of Blaise Pascal, 17th Century French mathematician and philosopher. In particular, Pascal's correspondence with Pierre de Fermat on the subject of probability, which led to huge advances in the mathematics concerned with statistics. However, Pascal is best known in popular culture today for his famous wager.

To paraphrase: If you believe in God, and God does not exist, you've lost nothing. If you don't believe in God, and God does exist, you've lost an eternity in paradise. Since believing in God doesn't cost you anything, you might as well do so, as you've nothing to lose. Logically this premise remains true.

Now, Pascal was a devout Christian, and for him, God was the God of the Catholic Church, there was either that God or none. But what of alternatives to a Christian God - a God that is omniscient, omnipotent and omniscient?

It's one thing to decide that it's worthwhile believing in God, quite another determining the nature of that God. And here I call upon William of Ockham, 13th Century English philosopher, who left us Ockham's (more usually spelt Occam's) Razor. For armed with this tool, thinkers through the ages have begun with the assumption that the simplest - or simpler if there are only two - explanation is more likely to be correct.

Flashing lights low on the horizon, away from the usual flight paths to the airport is more likely to be a radar calibration aircraft than a flying saucer from another world. The vase that fell off the window sill and smashed is more likely to have been moved by a gust of wind blowing at the curtains through an open vent than a malevolent sprite. The dinosaur fossils found in the Gobi Desert are more likely to be 65 million years old than to be the remains of creatures killed in Noah's flood 6,000 years ago.

And so on.

But applying Occam's Razor to the existence of God is not so simple. For while it can be used to dismiss a dualist view that there is a material Universe and a quite separate spiritual world as being unnecessarily complex, it cannot deny the notion that the Universe is unfolding, and therefore may well be said to have of itself a purpose. I would posit that it is easier to consider that the Universe does have a direction of travel, and that this direction is a fulfilment of consciousness, than to consider it all to be the result of a purpose-free accident.

This time last year:
Speaking to God, listening to God

[I didn't post yesterday, but it's worth reading this post from 1 March 2015:
How does God speak to us? Signs, tokens]

This time three years ago:
D3200 shoots X100
[One of my most popular blog posts!]

This time four years ago:
Weekend with the Fuji X100

This time seven years ago:
Sublime sunset, Jeziorki

This time eight years ago:
Dramatic sunset, Jeziorki

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