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Pascal

This tag is associated with 4 posts

The Wheel of Time: “Knife of Dreams” and “The Gathering Storm” – A Christian Perspective

knife-of-dreamsRobert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, “The Wheel of Time,” has much to reflect upon from a Christian perspective. Here, I’ll be examining books eleven and twelve, “Knife of Dreams” and “The Gathering Storm.” These fantasy books are masterworks and deserve to be read by any interested in the genre. There are SPOILERS from both books here. Please do not share spoilers from later books for the sake of readers.

Acting Becomes Reality

In Knife of Dreams, Faile and her companions are being held captive by the Shaido Aiel. In the process, they are forced into servitude and beaten at the whims of their overlords. Faile soon realized the best strategy would be to fain timidity, but also realized the dangers of this:

[Faile] hoped that Sevanna [one of the Aiel] thought her tamed… She hoped that she was not being tamed. Pretend something too long, and it could become truth… She had to escape before [her husband] got himself killed in the attempt [to rescue her]. Before she stopped pretending. (167, cited below)

There is a similar notion built into much discussion about Christianity. Pascal, for example, after outlining his famous wager (which I defend here), noted that one may align oneself towards belief. That is, when someone begins to act as though one believes a certain way, it can turn into a reality that one believes a certain way. From a worldview perspective, then, we should always be wary of how we live our lives and what we surround ourselves with. After all, it may be that our pretending becomes reality.

Preparing for War

The upcoming “Last Battle” is the primary theme of the entire series. In Knife of Dreams and The Gathering Storm, we get our first real experiences of that upcoming war. The series has built up towards this climax, and one can feel the coming “storm” in the books to come. For our world, we know that war is a constant reality. With the reality of terrorist organizations, civil unrest, deep-seated cultural hatred, and the like, war is a constant companion. The same is true in the Wheel of Time. There is an eschatological awareness in the series of this “Last Battle,” just as Christians have an awareness of the Second Coming. In one scene, a military man, one of the great captains, Bashere, reflected on the reality of war:

“Let’s hope it really is the Last Battle. If we live through that, I don’t think we’ll ever want to see another. We will, though. There’s always another battle. I suppose that will be the case until the whole world turns Tinker.” (459)

The awareness of the coming eschaton for the Wheel of Time comes with it a bitter awareness that people of all backgrounds continue to war with each other. Perhaps, it is said, the way of the Tinker–people who have sworn off violence–is best.

In The Gathering Storm, we find a dramatic reversal of the biblical theme of coming peace (found in passages like Isaiah 2:4) which speaks of a day when swords will be beaten into plowshares. Instead, the people of the Wheel of Time must prepare for a day of chaos and war:

“take your best scythes and turn them into polearms…” [advises one farmer to another]
“What do I know about making a sword? Or about using a sword, for that matter?” [the other replied]
“You can learn… Everyone will be needed.” [The first responded] (8, cited below)

The Last Battle is a day in which the nations will unite, but they will unite for war. Again, this is in contrast to the biblical theme of the abolition of war in the eschatological hope. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming books.

Fighting the Darkness from Within

One of the most dramatic scenes in the entire series is found in The Gathering Storm as Verin, an Aes Sedai (female magic user in this series) who has seemed so loyal, reveals she is a darkfriend of the Black Ajah. However, it turns out that she is not wholly evil but rather did so, and did many evil things, in order to try to fight the Shadow from within its own ranks:

“You see, one rarely has a chance as this, to study a beast from inside… They [darkfriends] have many agents among us… Well, I thought it time that we had at least one of us among them. This is worth one woman’s life.” (836, 839)

Verin had sworn herself to evil, but did so in order to bring about great good. Her life was forfeit in order to expose wickedness within the ranks of the Aes Sedai. Her sacrifice forestalled a major weapon of the Dark One.

Thankfully, there is no need for we as Christians to go around swearing ourselves to evil. However, there is great need and sacrifice in going to communities in which Christians are persecuted and seeking to help in whatever ways we can.

Conclusion

The Wheel of Time continues to impress, both from the magisterial scope of its fiction and from the many issues of worldview it brings up. There are, of course, many, many more topics we could discuss related to the books and you may feel free to bring these up in the comments. There are many themes which resonate with the Christian worldview, but Jordan clearly borrowed from Eastern Mysticism as well as other religious traditions. This is a fantastic series to read and discuss at a worldview level.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sources

Robert Jordan, Knife of Dreams (New York: Tor, 2005).

Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, Crossroads of Twilight (New York: Tor, 2009).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “Pascal’s Wager” by Jeff Jordan

pw-jj

For some time, I’d been wanting to put some effort into studying Pascal’s Wager. I picked up Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God by Jeff Jordan in order to familiarize myself more with the philosophical grounding behind the argument. Jordan approaches the Wager through a lens of analytic philosophy and, I think, demonstrates that the argument has some force to it.

Jordan’s work has great scope. Several aspects of the Wager are brought to light.  He analyzes several different formulations of the argument, while also noting where the argument has been changed or modernized. For example, the notion that Pascal’s Wager was infinite bad vs. infinite good is a more recent innovation than Pascal’s original argument.

He studies the argument contextually to determine whether the Wager was intended as a generalized theistic proof or an argument for Christianity. Numerous objections from leading critics of the Wager are put to the test. Ultimately, a version of the Wager developed by William James is put forward as an argument that passes the philosophical muster. Jordan analyzes this argument from many angles, ultimately demonstrating that it overcomes the challenge of the “many gods” objection and provides grounds for Christian faith.

The value of Pascal’s Wager may is increased by the fact that many aspects of Jordan’s work are applicable to other arguments or areas of interest for philosophers of religion and apologists. For example, Jordan raises significant challenges to the notion that philosopher’s fictional deities may actually be counted as evidence for a “many gods” objection (75-76; 80-81). Another example is a rather interesting argument he derives from the work of James Beattie (1735-1803- Jordan notes Beattie is at times rightly accused of misrepresenting Hume’s arguments) about whether attempts to deconvert might bring about pragmatic wrongs (190-194). These and other tantalizing topics command even more interest than the book might otherwise have had.

Simply put, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God is a phenomenal, thought-provoking work that will have readers rethinking their evaluation not only of the (in)famous Wager but also of a number of related topics. Even at its steep price tag, the book is a bargain.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Pascal’s Wager: The Utility Argument Examined– I outline and defend one of the versions of Pascal’s Wager which Jordan brings up in this work. I find it to be a very interesting argument and a great addition to the apologist’s toolkit.

Source

Jeff Jordan, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God (New York: Oxford, 2006).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Pascal’s Wager: The Utility Argument Explained

pw-jj…I realized that Pascal’s Wager is a much stronger argument than I had thought.

Let’s get it out of the way: Pascal’s Wager does not have much “street cred.” It’s much-maligned as nothing more than rolling the dice, and doing so for no good reason. After all, on which deity should one wager?

Here, I’ll take a look at one formulation of Pascal’s Wager, then very briefly offer a way to perhaps circumvent the “many gods” objection. I’ll be relying heavily upon Jeff Jordan’s book, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God, in what follows.

One way to lay out the Wager may be as follows (quoted from Jordan, 23, cited below):

1. for any person S, and alternatives, a and b, available to S, if the expected utility of a exceeds that of b, S should choose a
2. believing in God carries more expected utility than does not believing
3. Therefore, one should believe in God

Now, this is a pretty straightforward argument. 3, the conclusion, follows via modus ponens. Thus, it is up to the one who wants to deny 3 to deny one of the premises. Let’s examine each in turn.

Premise 1 seems to be logical, but it has actually garnered just as many objections as the second premise. Some have argued that one should not reduce belief in God to a “gamble” or some pragmatic choice. Others have argued that one cannot simply choose to believe and argued that the Wager results in Doxastic Voluntarism–the notion that one may simply change beliefs at will. In order to combat each objection in turn, one would have to show that it may be permissible to choose pragmatically even in religion. Jordan argues to this effect at length, but for the sake of argument I think it may be enough to just say that generally, we do make choices which we think will benefit us, and this is not an objectionable path of reasoning. Moreover, the Wager does not reduce to doxastic voluntarism, for one may indeed change one’s disposition toward something, but not at will. This is a complex argument, and I think we may set it aside for now because there is nothing in Premise 1 which would demand doxastic voluntarism.

Premise 2, of course, is highly contentious as well. Some allege that belief in God prevents the joys of hedonistic living; others allege that one would not know which deity to choose; still others would argue that there could exist deities that would reward unbelief.

Again, dealing with each in turn would take quite some time, so I’ll simply offer a few comments. First, hedonistic living in one life would not outweigh the benefits of eternity with a benevolent deity. Second, the Wager may simply be used to prefer theism generally–after all, if one does not wager on any deity, there would be no possibility of infinite (or nearly limitless) expected utility from one’s wager. Third, inventing fictions to attempt to rival established religious traditions which have, presumably, been believed by our epistemic peers (to use the term of Jordan, 80-81) does not put them on par.

Now, it should be fairly clear that even an incredibly low probability for God’s existence may have much higher expected utility than unbelief, for the overall possible gain is much higher. Jordan elaborates on this and answers many objections (such as the notion that “betting” on something which is highly improbable is necessarily irrational). For now, I simply leave this statement hanging because it helps my purpose, which is to demonstrate to those interested that the Wager is worth investigating further.

Because of the above, another of the strengths of the argument may be found in its usefulness to the apologist. Pascal’s Wager, Jordan argued, may be viewed as a kind of “last ditch” argument for apologists and theism (24). After all, suppose one were to come up with an argument which convinced you that the truth of theism is quite unlikely indeed. In that case, Pascal’s Wager provides a rational reason to continue to believe in God. For, even if it is unlikely that God exists, the utility of believing that God exists has a potentially infinite reward and thus trumps the utility of not believing that God exists.

Remember, though, that this functions for any possibility of God existing that is greater than zero. It was at this point in the book that I realized that Pascal’s Wager is a much stronger argument than I had thought. Not only may it be adequate to ground theistic belief, but it also may serve as a kind of bulwark against anti-theistic arguments as well.

I have argued that Pascal’s Wager may be formulated in such a way that one should believe in God. Now there is, of course, much more nuance and many more objections to each premise. Interested readers should check out Jeff Jordan’s Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Question of the Week: Wagering Much?– In this post, I asked the question of apologists about whether or not they used Pascal’s Wager. The feedback I got was diverse and interesting. Check out the post, and let me know your own thoughts.

Source

Jeff Jordan, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God (New York: Oxford, 2006).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Counter-Counter-Apologetics 1: Redeeming Pascal’s Wager

When I first started to get into apologetics, one of the first sites I stumbled upon was Iron Chariots, a counter-apologetics site.

This site’s mission statement is “Iron Chariots is intended to provide information on apologetics and counter-apologetics. We’ll be collecting common arguments and providing responses, information and resources to help counter the glut of misinformation and poor arguments which masquerade as “evidence” for religious claims. ”

Note especially the scare quotes they use around evidence. This is a tactic atheists are very prone to using. Anything they disagree with, they put quotes around to make it look less true. Atheists are “right.” See? Fun, isn’t it? Does it do anything of value? No.

Anyway, it was sort of disturbing to see that there are those who are trying any means necessary to get around theism. I left the site a little scared, wondering if Christian Apologetics was all it is said to be. Well it is. After much more studying and forgetting completely about this site, I stumbled back upon it the other day, and decided to see what the anti-theists are saying about apologetics. Not much of value, in my opinion. And because I feel like it, I’m going to start countering their counter apologetics in a series of posts that will happen randomly interspersed with my others. These posts won’t just include arguments from this site, but will also include things like my counter for the “Argument from Atheism” (AKA “One Step Further Argument”).

This article will focus on Pascal’s Wager. Before I proceed, I should note that I absolutely do not think Pascal’s Wager is a good tool for witnessing, nor is it all that great as an argument. But it is, I think valid, and while it should not be used as a reason to believe, it does provide what, in logic, is called a dilemma for the atheists.

Pascal’s Wager is essentially as follows: God exists or He does not exist. If He does exist, there is infinite reward for believing in Him, but infinite loss for not believing in Him. If He does not exist, there is nothing to lose. “Nothing to lose, everything to gain,” is often the summing-up of this dilemma.

Iron Chariots accurately, in my opinion, points out that there isn’t nothing to lose by disbelieving. If there is no God then,

“For one thing, if you go through life believing a lie, that is a bad thing in itself. Besides that, there is more to being a believer than just saying “Okay, I believe now” and getting on with your life. Serious believers spend a lot of their time in church, and contribute a lot of money as well. There’s a reason why some towns have very affluent looking buildings for churches, and why large and elaborate cathedrals are possible: they’re funded by folks who donate a tenth of their income throughout their lives to tithing. This is surely quite a waste if the object of worship isn’t real.”

The article then goes on a rant about property taxes, persecution, etc., things which will not be discussed here because, frankly, I find these arguments ineffably dull, though I may be forced to talk about them in the future.

So yes, I concede that there is a reward for not believing if there is no God. They also accurately show that there can be finite rewards for believing in God even if He doesn’t exist, because of psychological benefits, society, etc. Unfortunately, they plug these positives into a table of good life vs. bad life instead of actually in Pascal’s Wager. So I’ll just do the work for them.

Pascal’s Wager
God Exists |      God Doesn’t Exist
Belief           ∞ +            |     Finite +
Disbelief    |  ∞ –          |      Finite +

Okay so the table isn’t working so well. I think it can be figured out. Anyway, the main argument is that there is after all, a reward for not believing if there is no God. The problem is that even if that reward outweighs the finite reward of believing in a non-existant God, that still must be weighed against the infinite negative of not believing if there is a God. The argument that there is a reward for not believing, so it is logical to not believe breaks down when you weigh the infinite negative of disbelief if God exists verses the finite positive of disbelief if God does not.

There is one final point I’d like to make. That is, that the same site continues to argue that another problem is which god to believe in. I’d like to counter that by saying that isn’t the point of Pascal’s Wager. Belief in a god is better than belief in no god, because the probability for infinite reward still increases (in that it will be 1/however many gods to choose from) verses the probability for infinite negative (which would be certain if there is a God). So Pascal’s Wager still stands. I grant that the probability increase would be very low, so some may then argue that it’s not worth giving up the finite reward of not believing in a god. The response could then be that there is still a granted finite reward in believing in a god if god doesn’t exist, and any increase in probability for infinite gain verses infinite loss would outweigh the any loss of finite reward that could be gained from disbelief. In other words, the increased probability plus the finite reward of believing in a god would outweigh the definite probability of infinite negative if there is a God combined with the finite reward of not believing in a God.

Sorry for the drawn out post, but I wanted to respond thoroughly. There is more I’d like to say, but that’s where I’ll end for now.

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