Posts Tagged ‘Pascal’s Wager’

Arguments for a Belief in God

April 19, 2019

Given a decrease in religious beliefs and a decline in spirituality, please excuse a brief indulgence into arguments for a belief in God. This decline in spirituality has an adverse effect on iGen’ers empathy for their fellow humans. As will be seen in subsequent posts, this lack of empathy and caring has a negative effect on iGen’ers.

For many years, HM thought that the only accurate philosophical position on God was one of agnosticism. The question is what is the benefit in being an atheist, besides intellectual snobbery. Belief is a matter of faith, and one should not deny the faith of another. HM has also observed that the problem many, if not most, have with a belief in God really stems from their contempt of religion. Justified or not, there is a tendency to regard religions as hypocritical entities that trample on the beliefs of others.

Fairly recently HM has come to an argument that he finds compelling. Understand, there can be no logical proofs regarding the existence of God. Only closed mathematical or logical systems can produce proofs.

HM’s argument is based on a philosophical argument and a psychological effect.
The philosophical argument comes from the famed mathematician, Blaise Pascal. It is called Pascal’s wager. It is a philosophical argument based on cost/benefit analysis. Bear in mind that his words were different because he live in a different time. However, his fundamental argument is based on cost benefit analysis.

So what are the costs of believing in God? If he exists, then one is correct and might have taken some preparation for an afterlife. And should God not exist, one would never know that her belief was wrong as dead people are absent this capacity. However, even if wrong, one would have had the comfort of life continuing and of the possibility of finding people who had previously deceased.

But if one does not believe in God, she lives with no such comforts, and should she be wrong, perhaps some unpleasant surprises.

The psychological phenomenon is the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger Effect appears in fifteen previous healthy memory blog posts. The Dunning part of the effect comes from studies documenting that the more people think they know, the less the actually know. An example of this Dunning part of the effect can be found among physicists as the entered the twentieth century. Many thought that they knew practically all that could be known about physics. Perhaps computations could be done with some more precision, but on the whole, major matters had been figured out. But in 1905 Einstein published his special theory of relativity. And in 1915 he published his general theory of relativity. Both of these theories constituted giant advances in physics. But quantum physics had yet to appear in the twenties and with probabilistic effects and entanglement (remote effects), physics was truly revolutionized.

The Kruger part of the Dunning-Kruger effect refers to the tendency of true experts, to be aware of possible problems and tend to hedge their answers. Hence Truman’s fatal quest for a one-handed economist. When he asked an economist a question, they would typically respond on the one hand this, but on the other hand that.

And personally, HM thought he knew much more than he did when he was young. Getting a Ph.D. and a lifelong pursuit of learning has only convinced him of his own ignorance and of how much he does not know.

So as a species, we must be aware of this effect before making any unqualified statements about the existence of God.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Effortless Thinking: The God Shaped Hole in Your Brain

January 18, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Graham Lawton in the series of articles in the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.”

Lawton writes, “If God designed the human brain, he (or she) did a lousy job. Dogged by glitches and biases, requiring routine shutdown for maintenance for 8 hours a day, highly susceptible to serious malfunction, a product recall would seem to be in order. But in one respect at least, God played a blinder: our brains are almost perfectly designed to believe in God(s).

Lawton’s article is seriously flawed as he conflates God with religion. He notes that conflict, misogyny, prejudice, and terrorism all happen in the name of religion. This is true, but religions are human creations. HM finds that most criticisms of God are actually criticisms of religion. The God shaped hole in the brain that he rather thoroughly documents can be real.

Pascal made a very effective argument to believe in God called Pascal’s Wager.
The argument is put into the context of cost benefit analysis. Suppose one does not believe in God, and God exists. This could be extremely costly.

However, suppose one does believe in God, but God does not exist. This part of Pascal’s Wager is unique to HM, or so he likes to think. Then, so what? One would be dead and would never know of the mistaken belief. But during that person’s life, he had the comfort of believing in another existence.

Religions are not required for someone to believe in God. Indeed, there are many reasons to avoid them. One can develop a personal relationship with God via prayer and meditation. After all, as Mr. Lawton wrote, there is already a hole in our brains for it.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

God

May 17, 2016

The penultimate cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is “God.” The authors’ begin with Pascal’s Wager, which is a compelling argument for believing in God.  It is presented in terms of Cost Benefit analysis.  The authors’ argue that people do not form their belief in God in terms of cost/benefit analysis and continue the chapter with explanations as to why people believe in God, but that these beliefs do not constitute a proof of God’s existence.  After all these years of philosophical debate, it should be conceded that  proofs are not possible, and that belief is basically a matter of faith.

Healthymemory’s argument is that a cost/benefit analysis of the belief provides a rational basis for believing in God.  Pascal was arguing in terms of the century in which hie lived.  Healthy memory is taking the liberty of phrasing his analysis in contemporary terms.

Suppose that God does not exist and that you do not believe in God.  Although you might be proud of your hard-nosed belief, you cannot know that you are correct.  The only prospect is a possibly unpleasant surprise awaiting you after you die.

Suppose that you do believe in God and that God exists.  if you believe and you have lived in accordance with your beliefs, then death should have a pleasant outcome.  However, suppose that God does not exist.  Well you will never know because you will not exist after death to learn that you belief was incorrect.  However, during your life you will have lived with all the comforts your belief affords you.

Healthy memory is strongly of the belief that one should never be certain about anything.  All beliefs and models of the external world are probabilistic.  But even if one thinks that the probability of God existing is infinitesimally small.  You should still believe because you will enjoy the comforts of believing and will never learn that you were wrong (dead men tell no tales—even to themselves).

You might argue that this argument is specious, and that one is only fooling oneself.
Healthy memory would argue that when we are living we are constantly fooling ourselves.  There is an enormous amount of research indicating that we are more optimistic than justified by objective reality.  But this optimism is adaptive.  It causes us to persevere and to keep on trying.

Healthymemory has found that many of the difficulties people have with God are really difficulties they have with religions.   Religions are created and operated by humans.  If all religious people behaved according to the dictates of their faiths, the world would be a much better place.  But religions have been and continue to be the basis of innumerable wars.  It is quite possible, and perhaps even desirable, to believe in God and not to affiliate with any religious faith.

Healthy memory extols science and accords science for being responsible for the advancement of humankind.  Yet science provides one kind of knowledge.  There are other domains of knowledge and one is deficient if one is restricted to scientific knowledge.  That individual, in effect, becomes an intellectual runt.

The Dalai Lama has literally had a lifelong interest in science as this interest began in childhood.  He has said that were it not for his responsibilities as a religious leader, he would have been an engineer.  He has worked with a wide variety of scientists and has established a Mind and Life Institute.  Psychologist Richard Davidson has worked closely with the Dali Lama, who has provided Buddhist monks and priests in Davidson’s research on meditation.  This research has revealed notable changes in the brain during and after meditation.  Both basic and applied research  will show large advances from this research.  The emphasis is on the mind and how it can enhance lives.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Belief

April 18, 2015

Our beliefs direct our lives and how we think.  The initial part of this post comes from an American Scientist (4 April 2015, 28-33) article by Graham Lawton.

Initially our beliefs are determined by default.  Children believe what they are told.  This is fortunate, otherwise the child’s development would be retarded.  So our brains are credulous.  A brain imaging study by Sam Harris illustrated how our brain responds to belief.  People were put in a brain scanner and asked whether the believed in various written statements.   Statements that people believed in produced little characteristic brain activity, just a few flickers in regions associated with reasoning and emotional reward.  However, disbelief  produced longer and stronger activation in regions associated with deliberation and decision making.  Apparently it takes the brain longer to reach a state of disbelief.  Statements that were not believed also activated regions associated  with emotion such as pain and disgust.  These responses make sense when regarded from an evolutionary perspective.

There is also a feeling of rightness that accompanies our beliefs.  This makes evolutionary sense except in the case of delusional beliefs.  People suffering from mental illness can feel quite strongly about delusional beliefs.  And when we here a belief from a friend or acquaintance we find to be incredulous, we might ask, “Are you out of your mind?”

So a reasonable question is where does this feel in of rightness originate.  One is our evolved biology, that has already been discussed.   Another is personal biology.  The case of mental illness has already been mentioned, but there are less extreme examples that researchers have found.  For example, conservatives generally react more fearfully than liberals to frightening images as reflected in measures of arousal such as skin conductance and eye-blink rate.

Of course, the society we keep influences both what we believe and the feeling of rightness.  We tend to associate with like minded people and this has a reinforcing effect on our beliefs.

The problem with beliefs is that progress depends on the questioning of beliefs.  The development and advancement of science depended on questioning not only religious beliefs, but the adequacy of these beliefs.  Progress in the political arena depended on questioning the validity of the concepts of royalty and privileged positions.

Beliefs are a good default position.  Absent beliefs, it would be both difficult and uncomfortable to live.  Nevertheless, beliefs should be challenged when they are clearly incorrect or when they are having undesired consequences,

My personal belief about beliefs is that we manage to live on the basis of internal models we develop about the world.  But I don’t believe that any of my beliefs are certain.  They are weighted with probabilities that can change as the result of new information (data) or as the result of new thinking and reasoning.  Even my most strongly held beliefs are still hedged with some small degree of uncertainty.

A good example of this is Pascal’s argument for believing in God.  His argument was that the payoff for not believing in God could be extremely painful.  However, even if one’s belief was infinitesimally small, one should believe.  I have always found this to be one of the few philosophical arguments to be compelling.  So I believe in God.  Anyone who does believe in God has the comfort of this belief while living.  And if there is no God, one will be dead and have no means of knowing that one was wrong.

Richard Dawkins is a brilliant scientist that has made significant contributions to science.  However, he is one of the most outspoken atheists.  Recently he has admitted that he does have some uncertainty and that he is more accurately an agnostic.  However, he argues that he is far enough down on the agnosticism scale to call himself an atheist.  Here we have a stupid argument from a brilliant man.

I find that  many of the problems people have regarding the existence of God stem from religion.  It is important to keep in mind that religions are human institutions and are flawed.  Religions have done much good, but they have also done harm.  Apart from Pascal’s wager, I have a philosophical need for God.  Of course, I realize that my philosophical needs are not necessarily supported by reality.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.