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Pascal’s Wager exemplifies circular thinking

Editor,

Pascal’s Wager (Jim Loebbecke’s letter, May 9) is a wonderful example of circular thinking. It has been criticized by many philosophers. The Wager states that if you believe there is a god, and if there actually is a god, then you might reap great rewards. This formula is not unique to Christianity because it can justify any god or belief. The “god” could be Thor or even a sacred mountain.

Consider a parallel  example: if a person sincerely believes that the Earth is hollow and contains creatures who will someday emerge and bestow blessings to surface dwellers - and if that actually became true – then benefits might flow. 

The key words here are the ifs. Pascal’s Wager is full of “ifs.” Stated in Pascal’s Wager is the possibility that there might be a god – and there might not. Similarly, the Earth might be hollow and inhabited (or not). 

Missing is the key ingredient of the “probability” of whether the Earth is hollow. Even most Christians/theists would likely say that the probability of a hollow Earth is so low that it approaches zero. Assessing probabilities is essential to critical thinking and verifying accuracy of knowledge.

For growth to happen, questioning one’s own beliefs is exactly what is desired. But the fruit of whether a person truly is “questioning” (as compared to re-hashing a former belief) is whether the person is willing to change an opinion/belief. A true questioner is willing to modify a former belief. If not, then it is a sham, dishonest pursuit. 

The scientific process is based upon that essential willingness to modify beliefs. Without it – no growth or progress. Religious dogma promotes certainty and does not encourage “changing your mind.” In fact, religion penalizes it. 

Beyond the accumulation of facts/information/knowledge is the realm of “wisdom.” Wisdom is the ability to know what to ignore. Superstitions qualify here.

Yes, humans should examine/question their own personal beliefs whether scientific, social or religious. This requires exploring beyond the dogma of pretend certainty. There is much to discover and some to ignore. What do humans want? We want the truth.

Gene Johnson

Polson

 

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