Thursday, February 17, 2011

Believing What You Know Ain't So?, Part 3

I knew Greta would shred Pascal's Wager. If you haven't already read her piece, go read it. Here's a taste to whet your appetite:
Pascal's Wager offers no evidence for God's existence -- not even the shaky "evidence" of the appearance of design or the supposed fine-tuning of the universe or the feelings in your heart. It offers no logical argument for why God must exist or probably exists -- not even the paper-thin "logic" of the First Cause argument. It does not offer one scrap of a positive reason for thinking that God is real.
Awesome as always, Greta! (I keep wanting to type her name as "Great," which I think is entirely appropriate.)

In formulating his "wager," Blaise Pascal posited that neither the existence nor non-existence of god can be conclusively proven, and acknowledged that some people just can't bring themselves to believe without evidence. What might serve as "evidence" for god (and what certainly doesn't) is a matter for another post; tonight I want to write about belief.

For those who who don't understand why I can't force myself to believe in a proposition that is inherently unbelievable (talking animals, virgin birth, dead people coming back to life, take your pick), I offer a thought experiment:
  • Imagine that somebody is threatening dreadful harm to you. (If your response is, "So what, I can take it," imagine instead that whoever or whatever you love the most is being threatened: your spouse, your child, your original Picasso, whatever.)
  • The only way to prevent this dreadful harm is through genuine belief in the existence of leprechauns. (If you already believe in leprechauns, substitute any creature you consider fictional: unicorns, dragons, the paperless office, etc.) Nothing else—not all your worldly wealth, not your ceaseless labor, not endless words of praise for The Little People—will suffice, and subterfuge will be immediately detected.
  • Can you, through sheer will, convince yourself that leprechauns exist?
Actually, I think it probably can be done, with time and effort. In 1984, Winston Smith needed a lot of help from O'Brien to change his way of thinking. He very nearly failed, although in the end he "won the victory over himself." He was even ecstatically happy at the end of the book. But the last sentence of that novel is the most chilling I've ever read.

No comments:

Post a Comment