A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« on: July 28, 2020, 01:35:33 am »
Many non-Christians disagree with Christian evangelism for numerous reasons. For example...
“Religious beliefs are personal and faith-based, so you shouldn’t demand people follow your religion as if it was the Only Way.”
“When missionaries go to foreign countries to evangelize, the result is often a terrible loss of native culture and traditions. Christianity is bogus anyway, so sending missionaries has more negative consequences than it’s worth.”
“Churches and non-profits shouldn’t put so much of their budgets into proselytizing for a religion that can’t be proven; that money would be much better spent to alleviate real problems like world hunger, poverty, etc.”

All of these objections are pragmatic / decision theory arguments; "You shouldn't support evangelism because it's not worth the cost."
The logic of Pascal's Wager can help analyze these objections from a cost / benefit angle.


In the original Pascal's Wager, the argument is that you should believe in God because, if you're wrong, it's no big deal, but if you're right, you've saved yourself from hell and given yourself a ticket to heaven.

There are a few objections to the original Wager:
Many gods objection -- What if some other religion is true, like Hinduism? My response is that Christianity is the most evidentiary supported religion in existence, so you are justified in following Christianity instead of some other religion.
False belief objection -- You can't just make yourself believe something because it's practical; either you think it's true or you don't. This is an interesting discussion to have; I think there are techniques to bring yourself to belief (which may or may not involve brainwashing.....)
Selfishness -- Pascal's Wager is such a selfish, worldly idea. It's like a cosmic gambling match; faith isn't supposed to be mercenary. I agree that this is a good objection, and that's why I think it's better to apply Pascal's Wager to Evangelism, rather than personal belief.



If an organization evangelizes and God is not real --
The losses are finite (They wasted time and money, they were unable to meet as many physical needs as they could have, they may have damaged cultures and traditions or caused division among family members.)

If an organization evangelizes and God is real --
The gains are infinite (Everyone they evangelized to who became a believer was saved from an eternity in hell to an eternity in paradise. All of their sorrows and suffering are no more, and there will be for them everlasting joy.)

Christians should continue to evangelize, and put their all into evangelizing, no matter what the finite costs may be, because there is a non-zero chance that such actions will lead to infinite benefits.
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1

kurros

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Re: A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« Reply #1 on: July 28, 2020, 02:44:27 am »
This is why Pascal's wager makes no sense. It is easy to get "mugged" into doing absolutely anything if people throw infinite, or even just extremely large, costs/benefits at you, if you follow this sort of naive decision process.

No matter how improbable the thing is, so long as the probability is not zero then you have to do it if the benefit would be infinite. I think it is clear that this is an absolutely nonsensical way to make decisions.

Put it this way. Say there was a lottery with a googleplex dollars reward, but only one in a billion chance to win. Should you spend your entire life savings buying tickets? I think any rational individual would say no, obviously not. So an "expected value" approach breaks down in these kind of cases.
« Last Edit: July 28, 2020, 02:49:33 am by kurros »

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Gordon Tubbs

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Re: A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« Reply #2 on: July 28, 2020, 07:26:35 am »
Suggested viewing:
Should We "Wager" on God? Cosmic Skeptic vs Liz Jackson.

Liz Jackson has recently co-published a modern critique of Pascal's Wager from a Decision Theory perspective, and has surveyed how the standard objections don't undermine the impetus to take the wager. Salvaging Pascal's Wager (see: 5.5 Pascal's Mugging Objection)

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shoyt

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Re: A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« Reply #3 on: July 28, 2020, 07:44:46 am »
Suggested viewing:
Should We "Wager" on God? Cosmic Skeptic vs Liz Jackson.

Liz Jackson has recently co-published a modern critique of Pascal's Wager from a Decision Theory perspective, and has surveyed how the standard objections don't undermine the impetus to take the wager. Salvaging Pascal's Wager (see: 5.5 Pascal's Mugging Objection)

Doxastic Involuntarism is true and mutually exclusive to arguments which suggest we choose to believe or disbelieve or reserve judgment about some proposition.

This would include this wager.

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Gordon Tubbs

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Re: A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« Reply #4 on: July 28, 2020, 07:54:55 am »
@shoyt
As not to derail this thread I would direct you to this post, sir. Let me know what you think.
Argument from Doxastic Involuntarism
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Mammal

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Re: A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« Reply #5 on: July 28, 2020, 08:24:50 am »
I can't rid myself of the feeling that there is something awfully misleading and pretentious about the common argument for Pascal's wager. It kind of reminds me of baptism, that believers get their babies baptized (for God's approval) as soon as possible just in case something were to happen to them (under God's watch). It seems ignorant of their own belief in God's omniscience at best, simply superstitious at worst,
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lancia

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Re: A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2020, 09:06:30 am »
If an organization evangelizes and God is real --
The gains are infinite (Everyone they evangelized to who became a believer was saved from an eternity in hell to an eternity in paradise. All of their sorrows and suffering are no more, and there will be for them everlasting joy.)

This claim assumes the Arminian view of salvation, a view that one may not hold.

For example, under the Calvinist view, what is done in this life by the non-elect has no bearing on their ultimate post-mortem fate. A possible reason why Arminianism emerged in the first place was that feature of Calvinism.

Then, of course, there is the Universalist view, in which, again, what is done in this life has no bearing on one's ultimate post-mortem fate, although it will affect the nature of the progression to that ultimate fate.
« Last Edit: July 28, 2020, 11:37:16 am by lancia »

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Re: A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« Reply #7 on: July 28, 2020, 10:01:34 am »
Suggested viewing:
Should We "Wager" on God? Cosmic Skeptic vs Liz Jackson.

Liz Jackson has recently co-published a modern critique of Pascal's Wager from a Decision Theory perspective, and has surveyed how the standard objections don't undermine the impetus to take the wager. Salvaging Pascal's Wager (see: 5.5 Pascal's Mugging Objection)

Thanks for the links; it's been a while since I watched the CSkeptic/Jackson debate, I'll have to watch it again. 👍🏼
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ArtD

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Re: A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« Reply #8 on: July 28, 2020, 12:25:31 pm »

Pascal lived in a society that was Roman Catholic, so the wager was 1) believe in Roman Catholicism, or 2) be an atheist.
In such a society, his wager MAY have made sense.

Today the wager is 1) be an atheist, 2) be a Roman Catholic, 3) be a Baptist, 4) be a Mormon, 5) be a Jehovah Witness, 6) ..........   N)
where N is the number of Christian sects that say if you choose the wrong Christian sect you aren't saved.

So your probability of picking the right sect is 1/N.

Are you feeling lucky?
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shoyt

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Re: A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« Reply #9 on: July 28, 2020, 12:58:24 pm »
@shoyt
As not to derail this thread I would direct you to this post, sir. Let me know what you think.
Argument from Doxastic Involuntarism

Stay with me here:

1. Doxastic involuntarism describes the normative process of belief-formation for human beings.
2. If God exists, then he would cultivate theism in human beings by way of their normative process for belief formation.
3. God has failed to cultivate theism by way of doxastic involuntarism.
4. Therefore, God does not exist.

You see why this doesn't work, yes?

First, it's an argument to negative consequence. That is, DI is true and you're only arguing I shouldn't want to think so just in case I believed God existed. I don't care if God exists. I care about what's true.

Second, there's no reason to accept (2). In fact, Ibn Rushd developed the idea of fitra in Islam, which later became the basis of Aquinas' Natural Theology, and the idea that belief and doubt is involuntary is the very foundation of John Calvin's thesis of predestination. The fact that not everyone believes doesn't attest to God failing in any sort of way. What it does do is presume a bunch of hidden assumptions, namely, the sort that think proper beliefs, particularly about God, matter to God at all. Very few in much of the world think orthodoxy matters rather than most repeating the values of practice, orthopraxy. It's also not clear why God would cultivate theism through doxa or at all. There's much more to say here, but at this point "No, just no!" will have to suffice.

(3) is obviously wrong. We can take DI to be true and that God exists and that God uses DI to cultivate theism and note that belief in a creation-interested God is almost universally held, and, throughout time.

Here's something much more simpled:

P1) If Doxastic Involuntarism were false, then we could will ourselves to believe something.
P2) But, we can't will ourselves to believe anything.
C) Doxastic Involuntarism is true.

At best, we can influence what sorts of beliefs and disbeliefs we might form in the future. We know this is possible. We do it all the time. What we can't do, and it seems research bears this out, is will ourselves to believe or doubt anything. We simply find ourselves believing, doubting, disbelieving, and reserving judgment.

Thoughts?
« Last Edit: July 28, 2020, 01:05:04 pm by shoyt »

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shoyt

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Re: A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« Reply #10 on: July 28, 2020, 01:17:54 pm »
If an organization evangelizes and God is real --
The gains are infinite (Everyone they evangelized to who became a believer was saved from an eternity in hell to an eternity in paradise. All of their sorrows and suffering are no more, and there will be for them everlasting joy.)

This claim assumes the Arminian view of salvation, a view that one may not hold.

For example, under the Calvinist view, what is done in this life by the non-elect has no bearing on their ultimate post-mortem fate. A possible reason why Arminianism emerged in the first place was that feature of Calvinism.

Then, of course, there is the Universalist view, in which, again, what is done in this life has no bearing on one's ultimate post-mortem fate, although it will affect the nature of the progression to that ultimate fate.


No, his view doesn't commit anyone to Arminianism nor does it entail it; it is a general statement any Christian might agree to because of exactly what the statement does entail. That is, that Heaven awaits those who believe and living as Christ leads to the best possible sort of life anyone can have right now.

Try not make the mistake that there are only Calvinists and Arminians.

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shoyt

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Re: A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« Reply #11 on: July 28, 2020, 01:27:53 pm »

Pascal lived in a society that was Roman Catholic, so the wager was 1) believe in Roman Catholicism, or 2) be an atheist.
In such a society, his wager MAY have made sense.

Today the wager is 1) be an atheist, 2) be a Roman Catholic, 3) be a Baptist, 4) be a Mormon, 5) be a Jehovah Witness, 6) ..........   N)
where N is the number of Christian sects that say if you choose the wrong Christian sect you aren't saved.

So your probability of picking the right sect is 1/N.

Are you feeling lucky?

Meh. The argument seems to be about belief in the divine full stop. Even if not, the argument certainly can be revived in that light. One then can simply suggest that it's better to believe than disbelieve, and then give an extensional set of reasons why it's so, whatever those may be.

It seems to me you have hidden assumptions at work. One is obviously that only one sort of Christian thinking is correct. More, that Christianity is about proper beliefs, or beliefs in particular. I personally think this is all a mistake and, historically new.

...

The ancient ideas about salvation [...] do not in themselves place us under any critique, except in so far as, in their own way, they posit the criterion of Jesus as final source of salvation. Anyone who fails to see this distinction is proposing not Jesus Christ but one particular bit of religious culture as the norm of Christian faith -- and ceases to be faith in Jesus of Nazareth [...] In him we find final salvation, well-being. This is the fundamental creed of primitive Christianity.

(Edward Schillebeeckx, ‘Jesus: An Experiment In Christology’, pg. 23.)


I just found the whole thing absolutely incredible. These doctrines seemed unproven, abstract. And to my astonishment, when I began seriously studying other traditions, I began to realize that belief -- which we make such a fuss about today -- is only a very recent religious enthusiasm that surfaced only in the West, in about the 17th century. The word "belief" itself originally meant to love, to prize, to hold dear. In the 17th century, it narrowed its focus, for reasons that I'm exploring in a book I'm writing at the moment, to include -- to mean an intellectual assent to a set of propositions, a credo. "I believe:" it did not mean, "I accept certain creedal articles of faith." It meant: "I commit myself. I engage myself." Indeed, some of the world traditions think very little of religious orthodoxy.

(Karen Armstrong, Ted Talk, https://www.ted.com/talks/karen_armstrong_makes_her_ted_prize_wish_the_charter_for_compassion/transcript?language=en @2:34)

So if religion is not about believing things, what is it about? What I've found, across the board, is that religion is about behaving differently. Instead of deciding whether or not you believe in God, first you do something. You behave in a committed way, and then you begin to understand the truths of religion. And religious doctrines are meant to be summons to action; you only understand them when you put them into practice.

(Ibid, @4:13)
« Last Edit: July 28, 2020, 01:29:59 pm by shoyt »

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Re: A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« Reply #12 on: July 28, 2020, 01:34:22 pm »

Pascal lived in a society that was Roman Catholic, so the wager was 1) believe in Roman Catholicism, or 2) be an atheist.
In such a society, his wager MAY have made sense.

Today the wager is 1) be an atheist, 2) be a Roman Catholic, 3) be a Baptist, 4) be a Mormon, 5) be a Jehovah Witness, 6) ..........   N)
where N is the number of Christian sects that say if you choose the wrong Christian sect you aren't saved.

So your probability of picking the right sect is 1/N.

Are you feeling lucky?

This is the many gods objection; the solution is to multiply the utility of choosing correctly (usually some form of infinity) times the credence you give to that worldview; if you think Islam is more likely to be true than Christianity (for example), you should wager for that.

If you think there's a 50/50 chance that Atheism is true, 1/100 for Christianity, 5/1000 for Islam, and negligible credence to everything else, your mostly logical (pragmatic) choice is Christianity, because it maximizes expected return. If you think there's a higher-probability worldview than Christianity that promises an equivalent return, go for that instead.
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Free at last, they took your life.
They could not take your pride."

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Re: A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« Reply #13 on: July 28, 2020, 01:43:03 pm »
Put it this way. Say there was a lottery with a googleplex dollars reward, but only one in a billion chance to win. Should you spend your entire life savings buying tickets? I think any rational individual would say no, obviously not. So an "expected value" approach breaks down in these kind of cases.

One issue with your analogy is that there is no consequence for not playing the lottery; this is different from Pascal's Wager, where 'not playing the lottery' means you still have to deal with the consequences of being wrong.
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They could not take your pride."

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lapwing

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Re: A pragmatic argument for Evangelism (Pascal’s Wager)
« Reply #14 on: July 28, 2020, 02:00:38 pm »
JWs a "Christian" sect - hmm?
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