Tag Archive | "Pascal’s Wager"

More Important than the God Question

In The Bottomline episode aired last February 4, Red Tani agreed with Boy Abunda that no one actually wins in debates on the existence of God. And I concur because the god concept has too many facets lumped together and discussions often shift from one facet to another.

For example, in order to prove the existence of God (or at least the high probability thereof), apologists like William Lane Craig put forth logical arguments like First Cause and Fine-Tuning. Even granting that these are based on correct premises and sound reasoning, they only support the deistic concept of a generic creator that does not necessarily intervene in the affairs of the universe, while God with a capital “G” is a proper noun referring to the Judeo-Christian god who gave specific instructions on how to live our lives.

As such, I think what’s more important than the God/creator question is whether we have immortal souls, and especially if the welfare of our souls depends so much on us believing in God’s existence. Can the apologists offer evidence or even philosophical arguments for Heaven and Hell (as well as the entrance rules) that are at least as challenging to refute as the cosmological and teleological arguments?

Going back to Boy Abunda’s interview with Red Tani, I think it would have been more interesting if the discussion focused on secularism instead of atheism. As Red said, the only difference between believers and nonbelievers is their position on the God question, and this is really not a big deal because most of the day most believers act and make decisions without thinking of God, so belief (or nonbelief) does not necessarily dictate our actions, politics, or morality.

But if there is a specific god we are talking about, like the Roman Catholic god who abhors contraception, divorce, and gay marriage, then the issue is no longer about theism and atheism, but which religion or sect correctly represents God. And here the debate would degenerate into disarray because unlike the discussions on the existence of God where the contenders at least try to stick to the rules of logic in the absence of empirical evidence, different religions would simply attempt to ram their opposing “revealed” doctrines into each other’s throat.

While I do not mean to assert the logical positivist position that any unverified proposition is meaningless, being a freethinker compels me to require evidence that is more than circumstantial before accepting something as true. And such skepticism is one of the foundations of secularism, which is “a form of opinion which concerns itself only with questions the issues of which can be tested by the experience of this life.

So going back to the question of souls and whether nonbelief or even doubt jeopardizes them, I think an even more important question would be, whose representation of God, assuming God exists, should we follow for the sake of our souls, assuming we have souls? And if we cannot figure that out, doesn’t this demand that we give precedence to our welfare in this life instead of denying ourselves carnal pleasures for the sake of some imaginable spiritual pleasures in the next life?

We really don’t know if there is an afterlife, and we have absolutely no idea how to secure our welfare in it – unless we seriously believe that the Bible is the true word of God (which is highly questionable given its circular claims) and that God revealed his will to certain individuals as claimed by the popes and some charismatic ministers (which is mere hearsay). All we really know about is the here and now, that there is real joy and real suffering in this world, and that we humans have the capacity to multiply this joy and reduce the suffering. Isn’t that a lot more important than trying to convince each other that there really is or isn’t a god?

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Image from Starmometer

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The Top 10 List – Why Religion is like the Lotto

I wanna be a billionaire so fricking bad
Buy all of the things I never had
I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine
Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen

Oh every time I close my eyes
I see my name in shining lights
A different city every night oh
I swear the world better prepare
For when I’m a billionaire

-Travie McCoy

It was a sad day for literally hundreds of thousands of people last week when their hopes of turning into an overnight millionaire shriveled up with the news that the lottery prize has already found an all-too-happy owner. Weeks before, the tension has been steadily mounting as the pot climbed steadily to a mind-blowing P741-M. Even people who don’t usually buy lottery tickets tried their luck at the guessing which among the 29 million possible combinations will be drawn next just for the heck of it.

Everywhere you go, the conversation meanders its way to the lotto. People were talking about betting techniques, dreaming of ways to spend all those millions, security concerns, and generally how it could change your life overnight – for better or for worse.

Now it’s strange that one of the most vocal critics of the lotto is the Catholic Church who opined that gambling is a sinful vice. But the irony here is that choosing to believe in a religion itself is a gamble. Mathematician Blaise Pascal was credited with formulating what is now known as Pascal’s Wager – that is, he reasoned that betting that there is a god is a winning proposition since you lose nothing but stand to gain everything by believing that there is one.

Now the argument may be sound if there was only one religion to believe in or not. But as it stands, according to Wikipedia, there are over 4,000 active religions, cults, and sub-denominations in the world today, each one claiming that they have the One True God(s) and/or Goddess(es). And in most cases, simply aligning yourself to a specific religion is not enough to “win” salvation, you have follow their often times vague and seemingly wishy-washy rules and regulations as dictated by their “sacred scriptures” so that come Judgment Day, you would have garnered enough points to pass your deity’s imponderable standards. Factor in extenuating circumstances like the accuracy of translating and interpreting said “sacred text” (the bible itself has over a hundred different variations) and depending on which denomination you belong to, you can’t really be sure which rules to follow anymore.

Suddenly, the numbers don’t seem to be in your favor. Religion has become the ultimate lottery game. You play against impossible odds but still, people get suckered in time and again because they’ve got their sights set on the ultimate “pot money” – heaven.

When you ask the man on the street what he’d do if he won the lottery, more often that not, he’d say that he’d put it to good use by making sure that his and his loved ones’ needs are met and he’d make sure that they’d never want for anything else ever again… well that’s “heaven” in a nutshell – the ultimate freedom from all worldly concerns and problems, where no one goes hungry ever again and you spend your days in  eternal happiness with your loved ones forever and ever… and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s an effective lure. Just look at the sales figures for lotto tickets during the height of the frenzy. The odds didn’t improve any more than it was during the last draw, but people didn’t care about that, they had their eyes set on the pot money and were already dreaming of all the ways to enjoy all that money… how much to spend, how much to give away, how much to invest… but now that someone actually walked away P741 million richer, everyone just sighed and went back to their daily grind, hopes dashed but still dreaming of someday being “the one“.

So what lesson have we learned from all this? The analogy between religion and lotto goes beyond winning or losing, so we have the…

The Top 10 List – Why Religion is like the Lotto:


  1. You’re playing against ridiculous odds but…

  2. It’s easy to ignore the odds if you’re fixated too much on the prize.

  3. There may not even be a “winner” at and you just wasted all that time and money for nothing.

  4. In most cases, you’re actually playing a Lucky-Pick game, because your choice of religion depends largely not on personal choice, but on the circumstances of your birth

  5. If the lotto was like religion, you are forced to use the same combination every time.

  6. If the lotto was like religion, you can’t bet on more than one combination at a time. That is, you can’t improve your chances of “winning” by playing the field.

  7. You have to play continuously and (pardon the pun) religiously because you don’t want to run the risk that your “number” was drawn on the day you didn’t prepare.

  8. Lotto tickets aren’t free. Bought one at a time, you may think its small change. But add up a lifetime’s worth of constant betting and it’s easy to regret all that time and money wasted on buying losing tickets.

  9. Some people may claim that they’re buying a ticket to “help charity” but everyone knows they’re just after the prize.

  10. There’s no shortage of quacks and superstitious nonsense all claiming to know the secret to getting the winning combination.

And a bonus #11: If everyone just stopped wasting all their time and money betting on the lotto and concentrated their efforts on something more tangible and realistic, a lot of good could have gotten done instead.

In recent senate reports, the aggregate lottery sales of PCSO’s accredited operators have grown to P23 billion in 2009. That’s 23 billion in disposable income that people were willing to throw away in a game with ridiculous odds. Now granted a third of that amount is supposed to go to charity, what if the whole amount instead went to a worthwhile cause? It shouldn’t be too hard of a strain to the imagination to think of ways to put the whole amount to good use, instead of 2/3 of it getting lost to the system.

In the same way, imagine a world where people found more productive ways to spend their time instead of worshiping their deities in the slim chance that he/she/it actually exists. And the same reasoning applies when apologists give the same lame excuse that religion does “some good”. If people *really* wanted to help their fellow men, then wouldn’t it make better sense to spend more time helping people than performing those inane religious rituals over and over again?

In the end, its a question of priority – do you want to spend your time and energy making this world a better place? or do you just want to play the odds that there’s a better one in the next world?

You do the math.

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Can you scare a Skeptic into believing?

One of the tactics proselytizers use to try to convert nonbelievers is the appeal to fear. What if you’re wrong? What if it turns out there really is a god and you’ve lived your life on the assumption that there isn’t? They invoke Pascal’s Wager in an attempt to scare people into believing. And this reminds me of my favorite skeptic Michael Shermer’s delightful appearance on Mr. Deity.

In that episode, Shermer has died and it turned out there was a god after all being referred to as Mr. Deity. Denied entry at the Pearly Gates, Shermer pleads his case before Mr. Deity:

Mr. Deity: The bottom line is you didn’t believe in the boy here (referring to Jesus).

Michael Shermer: Well, look, you gave me this brain to think critically. I read the Gospel stories…what about all those inconsistencies? They’re inconsistent about where he was born, who was there when he died…you know, come on.

Mr. Deity: Well maybe you were supposed to learn to walk by faith. Ever think of that, genius? Huh?

Michael Shermer: Uhm, well, sir, you remember, you created us in your image and you don’t walk by faith, do you? You walk by sound knowledge, and science is based on sound knowledge so I was trying to be more, you know, deity-like.

Mr. Deity: Yeah, but-

Michael Shermer: Plus if I said I really believed and I didn’t, you being all knowing would know that I’m lying and lying is a sin, right?

Now let’s take a look at the following definitions of believe:

1. To accept as true or real: Do you believe the news stories?

2. To credit with veracity: I believe you.

3. To expect or suppose; think: I believe they will arrive shortly.

Based on the above, it appears that belief doesn’t imply a conscious choice but rather something people arrive at as a result of some other mental process. To some people the mental process can be as simple as memorizing what an authority figure says while others use a more elaborate method of counter checking for fallacy.

While skeptics like Michael Shermer choose to scrutinize truth claims with no less than the scientific method, can the all-knowing, all-reasonable God blame them for arriving at a position of non-belief even though they did not actively choose non-belief itself? I suggest you watch the video so you’ll have an idea what to do in case you died and came face to face with God, and he isn’t happy.

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Just My Remarks on Pastor Orlaer’s Comments (Part 2)

In my last post I discussed the difference between belief, trust and faith, but before I go on, I would like to dive deeper into the subject.

We now know that belief encompasses anything that we accept as true – yet it doesn’t follow that before we arrive at a certain belief system we accept it without any evidence. As I have already said, not all beliefs are categorized as “faith”.

To illustrate this, maybe you guys have any idea on those people who are into NWO or “New World Order”. Conspiracy theorists believe on things like secret societies, that the September 11 attacks in 2001 were either intentionally allowed to happen, or that the moon landing never happened, but they believe such things not on faith but on what they believe as evidences. They have “reason” to believe. Their “evidences” are: big, contemporary newsworthy events which may suit their “theory”; some so-called “anomalies; and of course big organizations. But whatever wacky ideas that come to their mind, it is still “evidence”.

Evidence is anything that increases the estimate of the probability of the truthfulness of the proposition.

I believe that the Sun is going to rise in the East and will set in the West tomorrow and that there is an “invisible” thing we called wind. Is that faith?

Nah…Knowing these things rely on evidence. We use data to predict an outcome of something – like the rising or setting of the Sun for example. Unless something beyond natural event happened tomorrow, we expect the Sun to rise in the East and set in the West based on and limited by repeatable, objective experience.

Pastor Vince: That’s right, you cannot see it. But you can see other things being moved by it. You can see the clouds being pushed by it, etc… But the question is, can you see the wind? Molecules??? You felt the matter, but not the molecules my friend.

In the issue of the wind for example, we can feel it but we can’t see it. But again, that is not faith. The reason that we can “feel” the wind is a proof that it exists. When we talk about feeling in an empirical context, we don’t assume its existence because we have the “conviction” it exists…nope, we’re not talking about being euphoric.

We don’t see air because the molecules that make up air (nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, carbon dioxide, argon) just don’t happen to absorb light in the wavelengths our eyes can see.

Oh and molecules don’t exist?
Actually you can see a molecule. Since molecules move too fast and our eye can only see around 100 frames per second, if you saw a molecule it would be just a blur, maybe a sphere. But thanks to specialized microscopes, we can even see atoms. Also there is this device called scanning tunneling microscope (STM) that can be used to see a molecule (neat stuff eh?).

There are other evidences of the existence on molecules. Just pick up your physics and chemistry text book (do you have a copy Pastor Vince?).

If you hit a crystal with a beam of rays, the rays diffract into patterns which can be used to tell exactly where the atoms in the crystal are located. This technique, which was proposed by Sir William Bragg in the late 1800’s, only works if matter is made of atoms.

Botanist Robert Brown noticed that tiny objects like pollen grains shook and moved erratically when viewed under a microscope. Nearly seventy years later, Albert Einstein explained this “Brownian motion” as the result of bombardment by molecules. Einstein found his main clue to the size of molecules: how far the suspended particles move should depend on the number of molecules it takes to make one “mole”. Each time a fluid molecule bounced into a suspended particle, the particle would be moved a little, so after many bounces the particle might wind up in a quite different place. Einstein found that, if one mole equals so many molecules, the suspended particles would wander, on average, so far in one minute. If a mole only equals one fourth as many molecules so that each fluid molecule is four times as massive, the fluid molecules would hit hard enough for the suspended particles to wander, overall, twice as far in one minute.

Avogadro’s number is the number of molecules in one mole of any compound. There are dozens of different experimental methods for measuring Avogadro’s number. All give the same result. The fact that Avogadro’s number seems to be independent of any particular method implies that it actually has meaning- and so is strong circumstantial evidence that molecules actually exist.

Pastor Vince seems to forget, because of science, we can now see the wind.

Pascal’s Bad Bet

Pastor Vince: As for me, I would rather believe in God. For if I die and then there is no God, I will lose nothing. But if I believe that there is no God, then when I die I found out that there is God, then I lose everything.

Let’s talk about Pascal’s Wager.
Now, isn’t it funny that Christian evangelists like Pastor Vince always use Pascal’s Wager? Doesn’t he know Pascal’s wager was intended for Roman Catholic use? (Come on…give me something original.)

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) lived in a time when religious belief in Europe was simple; whether you’re a Roman Catholic or a non-believer. There were only two choices. In today’s Christianity for example, the wager can’t be that useful…let me explain.

How many dogma and doctrines does Christianity have today? Some Christians believe in the trinity while others don’t. Some believe in a human Christ, Biblical inerrancy, additional gospels (from the Gnostics)…whatever! Now what if Roman Catholicism turns out to be right and Born-Again Christianity is wrong. What will happen? What if “Sorianistas” are right or the Iglesia Ni Cristo is right? This is becoming a very bad bet.
Speaking of which, I’m just wondering…why would an omni-being punish those who don’t believe its existence? Does non-belief suck the very life-force of this “God being”? Does lack of worship weaken this “God”? It is really quite odd for a perfect, omni-being to require a need of worshippers and believers.

It seems this so-called “God” will wither and dry-out if people stop believing in its existence. So! It appears this God needs me that I need Him.

Enjoy it till it lasts

Pastor Vince: Do you think your life is wasted when you enjoy something doing it? Do you believe that your life is wasted for trying to prove that there is no God? I am pretty sure that you will answer that your life is not wasted for you have already judged my life that I already have wasted it.

But then again, going back to my question. Do you think your life is wasted when you enjoy the things you are doing and that it is with a purpose?

So according to Pastor Vince, if a person enjoys something, that won’t waste his life. Hmmmm…eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die eh?

Let me tell you a story of a person who enjoyed his youthful life going to sleazy bars and “beer houses” to have fun. Sure, don’t tell me he’s not enjoying every minute of it. Drinking all night long to drown his problems and his mundane existence with whiskey and beer.

Now that he’s 75 years old…what happened? What did he achieve?

The same reason can be heard on kids who waste their time “enjoying” leisure with their friends instead of going to school…(Have you heard the Nonoy Zuniga song “Sa Panaginip Lang”?)

Pastor Vince: Well, as a Christian myself, I don’t think that it is a waste of life to believe in God, just as you believe that there is no GOd. I enjoy exercising my faith with a purpose and with the hope of second life while you enjoy searching and reasoning that there is no GOd with the hope that there is no second life. What life have been wasted then? I simply believe that I have made a better preparation of what it is to come or “if there will be no second life at all.” It’s not a waste of life my friend.

Drug addiction also has the same effect. You enjoy being a “junkie”. You enjoy all the euphoria while speed-balling or injecting or snuffing Methamphetamine on your system. Something like belief in a so-called “promise of an after-life in heaven” can do. So, to say that it is not a waste of time to prepare for an after-life with God is the same excuse a blotter user would say when he’s “high”.

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