Reincarnationist views on Pascal's Wager

Discussion in 'Eastern Philosophy' started by wynn, May 12, 2011.

  1. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I posted about Pascal's intentions, because I thought that they are relevant to what he intended his 'wager' to accomplish, and to why he originally proposed it. Pascal had some kind of midlife psychological crisis, and he came away from it with a strong and passionate faith in Christianity. But even he recognized that his faith wasn't conventionally based on evidence. Nevertheless, he wanted to convince his friends (and himself) that his newly-energized piety wasn't merely irrational. Hence the 'wager'. Pascal's assertion in effect was that it's entirely rational to have faith in Christianity even in the absence of evidence, if there's an infinite payoff for the faith if Christianity is true, but nothing to lose if it isn't.

    The Christian POV angle is relevant because Pascal seems to have only imagined two choices: Christianity -- take it or leave it. That's implicit in his belief that there's nothing to lose by choosing Christianity if Christianity is false. But suppose that the path to some highly desirable religious goal isn't faith in (or practice of) Christianity, but rather is to be found in some other religious tradition. In that case, mistakenly choosing Christianity would have a tremendous cost, because that error would carry with it the likelihood of missing the path that does lead to the payoff. The fact that Pascal's 'wager' seems to break down when more than one religion is considered is a classic objection to it. The difficulties of religious choice can't be avoided as easily as Pascal imagined. Introducing Indian religions such as Hinduism into the mix would seem to highlight that difficulty, unless we simultaneously withdrew the original Christianity from consideration and consider each Indian religion purely in isolation.

    The beliefs versus deeds angle is relevant because in Christianity, at least as Pascal imagined it, the crucial variable is faith. Pascal was trying to argue that even without an evidential basis, faith can be rational in terms of a wager. But the Indian karmic-rebirth theories aren't really addressing the same variable. The crucial matter for them isn't faith at all, it's merit. So the situation that was so problematic for Pascal, faith in the absence of evidence, doesn't really arise to nearly the same degree in India, because the quality of postmortem existence isn't nearly as dependent on what an individual believes, trusts or affirms. That creates a very different situation. We all know that it's possible, and in fact it's quite common, for people to behave in a very ethical manner without any religious faith at all.

    The fact that Pascal was thinking in terms of fixed eternal destinies, while the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains are thinking of an eternal wheel of rebirth, has implications for the question of how much force Pascal's line of argument retains in the Indian situation. With Pascal and his Christianity, it's all-or-nothing choice in this one Earthly life, and the payoff for choosing correctly is potentially infinite if the Christian promises are true. In the Indian case, this is just one in an infinite succession of lives. Given the number of iterations, far more numerous than grains of sand at the beach, it's likely that all possible states of rebirth are going to be occupied at some point, from the appalling life of a hell-being all the way to the luxurious life of a god in some heaven. If we see an insect walking along, we need to think: 'been there, done that'. So there isn't anything like the same kind of urgency in the reincarnationist case that Pascal so evidently felt in his own situation.

    Finally, the idea of moksha, the Indian equivalent of salvation, release from the endless cycle of rebirth (even from rebirths in heaven). I think that this religious summum-bonum is typically conceived in terms of realization. That isn't just a necessarily superficial and baseless assent to the truth of some religious doctrine on the hope that there might be some pay-off if it turns out to be true. Realization is the actual first-hand experience of the truth of the doctrine. That isn't speculative, it isn't a guess and it isn't a gamble.
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  3. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    A point that many proselytizers miss.

    There are views, though, that merit can only be made when an action is accompanied by correct understanding (or "faith").
    For example, one might never kill anyone, but unless one makes a vow not to kill anyone, no merit will be made from that non-violence.

    Notably, in the Indian systems, it is also possible to make spiritual advancement merely by seeing or being seen by a saintly person - even if one has no faith. Simply the presence of a saintly person is considered very purifying and meritorious.

    And vice versa.

    Absolutely. In the Indian systems, blind faith isn't a necessary requirement.
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  5. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    NONSENSE. Pascal assumed many things, was a member of an extremely small sect with many quite unusual beliefs, but that HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH HIS WAGER.

    The wager is quite simple - a choice between two mutually exclusive alternatives that I stated in post 9:

    "There are two alternatives:
    (1) nothing exist for you after death
    (2) a new existence exists for you after you die, with the assumption that this new existence is better, if you are moral in the current life, & worse if you are not."

    Nothng more and nothing less. You are confusing the wager with Pascal and his strange beliefs.
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  7. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    You are operating out of a specific version of Pascal's Wager - one that is a lot more general than the one originally proposed by Pascal.

    Nevertheless, the alternatives you propose require several assumptions, some already mentioned earlier in this thread.
  8. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Name two (you said "some assumptions") I have already noted that there is nothing about deeds vs. belief, or the existence or duration of heaven, in Pascal's wager, so I need you to tell me specifically what assumptions are missing in the post 9 statement of the essence of Pascal's wager.

    Of course Pascal was thinking and speaking in Christian terms, assuming that heaven did exist and was a more desirable place to spend eternity than hell, but the wager actually fits better with Hinduism than Christianity as we know Earth exists as a place for the "next life" and that there are future generation, not yet born who will live on Earth,* but we can only postulate the "next life" can exist in some postulated place for which there is no evidence it even exists.

    * I have previously asked in posts but never received a satisfying answer to the problem that a 30 or less thousand years ago there were 100,000 times less humans on earth. Where were the "souls" (or spirits, or what every you want to call them) back then that now exist in about 4 billion people who are alive today? Or turning this simple question around, where did about 25% of the souls go after the black plague reduced the Earth's population to about 75% of what it was a decade earlier?
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 8, 2011
  9. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    This has been addressed several times in various reincarnation threads, and I remember you have taken part in them.

    In short, the idea is that 1. living beings are reincarnated on many planets, not just Earth; 2. living beings are reincarnated in different species (in one lifetime, one may be a human, in another life, a dog etc.).
    This way, there is no problem with the number of living beings (souls).
  10. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    At this point, I will wait a bit for what the Hindu posters here might say.
  11. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    On (1) are "souls" exempt from speed of light limitations? If not, what if when half way to distant planet X this sun goes super nova, and all creatures of Planet X are ash? I.e is the "soul dispatcher" able to foresee the future? If so is the furture predetermined? There is no free will to change any pre-destined thing. These questions are a few of the "flaws" I see in answer (1)

    On (2) do all reincarnation religions accept you may come back as a dog or bird?
    Do those that don't assume the population of Planet X is very human like? For thoses that do not have any "back as a human" requirement go all the way down to one celled animals like bacteria?

    As there is no evidence for existance of life on any other planet, assumption (1) at least as bad, unjustified, as the Christain assumption that heave and hell exist.
  12. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    The idea is that the soul cannot be harmed or destroyed.

    Omniscience does not preclude free will.
    If someone knows what you will do in the future, this does not necessarily affect how you will act.

    There are variations in how reincarnation or rebirth is understood across different religions and schools.
    But to my knowledge, the major schools of Buddhism and Hinduism posit that a soul can be reincarnated as a human, demigod, animal, plant or demon, depending very much on the state of mind the soul is in at the time of death.
    If that state of mind is very lowly, someone who is now in the human form, may take birth as a worm; if elevated, as a demigod; or as a human, man or woman.

    This is probably the core of your contention - the idea that justified belief can and must be based only on empirical evidence.

    Like I noted earlier, to an outsider, taking up a religion or philosophy is in effect acting on Pascal's Wager.
    Ie. if a person hasn't been socialized into a religion or philosophy from early on, or if they don't have a special calling for it, that religion or philosophy might be impenetrably foreign to them, so foreign that to take it up would require an absurd leap of faith - even if the person has some theoretical, intellectual understanding of said religion or philosophy.

    I think the same problem occurs in relation to religions as well as philosophies (in the broadest sense).
    For example, if one were to seek psychological counselling, and the counselor worked with a theory or approach that is completely foreign to one, such counselling might not help much and may make the problems worse for one.
    Or imagine trying to get yourself to subscribe to a philosophy that has so far been foreign to you. For me, for example, that would be Existentialism. To me, Existentialism is as foreign and impenetrable as Christianity - even though I have some theoretical understanding of both. It would be a kind of Pascal' Wager for me to try to take up Existentialism.
  13. Mind Over Matter Registered Senior Member

    It is doubtful whether Pascal's notorious Wager should make sense to anyone. God does not punish people for invincible ignorance. If a person honestly believes atheism is true ( as many do these days ) then God certainly prefers that she should say so and live accordingly, rather than live a lie for the sake of possibly "backing the right horse".
  14. PeterJones Registered Member

    Reincarnation - it's curious to me quite a long time - then I will ... next time - a cat ... or stone ?
  15. John99 Banned Banned

    Thats nice.

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  16. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    I was not suggesting that souls can be destroyed when considering that even souls could not travel faster than light. I postulated the "destination planet" could be destroyed when you answered that there were many other planets in the universe with life forms that the souls, which no longer had bodies on Earth to inhabit in the decade following the Black Plague or Noah’s global flood, etc., could be sent to.

    To avoid this problem, I asked if you assumed that the "soul dispatcher" was able to foresee the future? He/it needs to know in advance that their sun will not go supernova, etc. when the souls headed there are only half way there.

    Although you did not clearly answer this question, you seem to be assuming the "soul dispatcher" can accurately forecast the future as you say:
    To me that seems to be pure nonsense. For example if some special intelligence knows that tomorrow I will chase a ball into the street and be killed or that tomorrow in the ice cream store I will order strawberry instead of vanilla then I have no choices but to do as fore told.
    Yes. I think you are correct here. If neither of two conflicting and mutually exclusive beliefs can be tested then there does not seem to be any way to find which is true (or perhaps both may be false). For example a pure iron rod has greater tensile strength than a pure copper rod of the same geometry at any temperature is my testable belief, but perhaps I am wrong at some temperature.

    How do you know your untestable belief is true, when others hold that their equally untestable and conflicting belief is true? –That is the typical case for many religious beliefs.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 14, 2011

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