Puddleglum’s Wager
October 20, 2009 — 10:10

Author: Jeremy Pierce  Category: Afterlife Atheism & Agnosticism Existence of God Religious Belief  Comments: 41

We’ve been listening to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles on CD. I read them when I was about ten years old, and I never got around to re-reading them, so some of it is almost as if I’m experiencing them for the first time. When I got to the following scene from the Silver Chair, it struck me as a strange argument, sort of like Pascal’s Wager, but something rubbed me the wrong way about it. The main characters were in the Green Witch’s underground domain and had fallen under her influence, which was causing them to lose their belief in the above-ground world. Puddleglum the marsh-wiggle then gives the following speech:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.

What rubbed me the wrong way was that it sounded as if he didn’t care whether the world was real. He was going to believe in it anyway, because it’s more pleasant to believe in it. How can the upper world be so much better than the underground world that its mere finite value of being better would be worth believing in a lie if it’s not true?
When I raised this issue with a friend, he said, “But it’s Pascal’s Wager!” I said, “No, it’s not!” He insisted that the upper world is Aslan’s world, which I’d been thinking of as the place at the end of the world that they went to in the previous book, and the upper world was just Narnia, which is the analogue of Earth. But we were interrupted and never managed to finish the conversation.
I realized later, when teaching Pascal’s Wager, what Lewis must have been up to, and it’s actually a neat trick. If he was seeing Narnia as a placeholder for the eternal reward of Pascal’s Wager and the underworld as a placeholder for this life, then you have an interesting argument that isn’t quite Pascal’s Wager. Pascal’s Wager concedes for the sake of argument that life in this world is more pleasant if you don’t believe in God but then argues that the chance of eternal reward in heaven compensates for that in terms of rational decision theory. You shouldn’t even need 50% likelihood of God’s existence for the wager to be worth it given that the reward is infinite and the cost merely finite if you bet wrong. But Lewis’ Wager is different in exactly one way: it doesn’t make the concession. It takes the finite value of life in this world to be better if you believe in God than if you don’t. So life is finitely better if you believe in God, and the afterlife is infinitely better if it turns out there is one. Therefore, it’s a no-brainer. You might as well believe in God. If it turns out you lose the bet (i.e. God doesn’t exist), you still end up finitely better off, and if you win (i.e. God does exist) then you get an infinitely better result.
One interesting result of Puddleglum’s Wager is that it easily avoids the problem Mike Almeida raises against Pascal’s Wager. Mike’s problem (which I’m not taking a stand on at this point) relies on its being better in this life not to believe.
[cross-posted at Parableman]

The Saved and the Damned
September 20, 2009 — 14:28

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Afterlife Hell  Comments: 21

Suppose God gives to each person the greatest equal probability of being saved. It is true, suppose, that there are two, and only two, groups of people. The members of one group will all be saved and the members of the other group will all be damned. The good news is that one of the groups is twice as large as the other. God gives each person the greatest equal probability of being saved only if he saves every member of the larger group. The epistemic probability that you are among the saved is then about .67 or 2/3.
Now suppose God offers to tell everyone whether she is in the larger group or the smaller group. Would it be rational to accept this information? If everyone learns which group she is in, then the greatest equal epistemic probability that each person is saved diminishes to .5 or 1/2. God must now flip a coin to decide which group is saved, the smaller or the larger. That is the only way to give each person the greatest equal probability of being saved. What should you do?
It is a strange problem since, if we refuse the information, *many more people get saved*! It is also strange since, you are already in one or the other of those groups. The information doesn’t affect which group you’re in.

The Elusive God, Chapter 3, Sections 1-3
August 3, 2009 — 9:04

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: Afterlife Books of Interest Christian Theology  Comments: 8

We return this week to Moser’s book The Elusive God. In these three sections Moser addresses God’s intervening Spirit, the acquaintance with the power of God’s intervening Spirit, and the split between Jerusalem (philosophy) and Athens (theology). While there are a number of places in which I wanted to agree with Moser, I found the arguments scarce, the explanations often confusing, and some of the claims simply repetitive. Perhaps this is because this section marks more of a turn to theology rather than philosophy, but nonetheless I still expected more clarity.
1. Spirit
As we’ve seen to this point, Moser certainly doesn’t think it is sufficient to have propositional knowledge of God. His claim is that a perfectly loving God is going to offer a distinctive kind of purposively available evidence. A kind of evidence that has been widely overlooked by philosophers and theologians. This evidence is that divine self-revelation of God’s imparted Spirit to humans. With the imparting of God’s Spirit, humans receive the power to be transformed towards God’s moral character.
I’m far from an expert on these matters, but from the small sample of theology I’ve read it doesn’t seem to me that the imparting of God’s Spirit and it’s transformative power have been much neglected. Perhaps I’ve just been reading all the right stuff, but I doubt it. Examples like this, and the repeated kicking at natural theology, keep me thinking that I wished Moser would just make the case for his positive argument without trashing the practice of philosophy and theology along with their practitioners.
In any case, Moser makes a number of appeals to the writings of Paul in making the case for how the imparting of God’s Spirit gives us two things, (1) a new noncoercive power that is felt by the recipient and observable by others, and (2) directly self-authenticating firsthand veridical evidence of God’s reality. One thing that get’s confusing is that it often isn’t clear on the first reading who power is supposed to be evidence for. On the one hand we can have knowledge of God’s Spirit via our conscience, but we can also have knowledge via the evidence of new power. Of course both of these are also supposed to serve as evidence for others, at least if the have “eye’s to see”.
I’ve read this section about 15 times and it still isn’t clear to me what the Spirit is supposed to be. I suspect that if one didn’t grow-up Christian, or spend a good deal of time reading theological literature, one could easily get lost or confused about the Spirit. Here are a few candidates for what Moser means when he talks of Spirit:

  1. Spirit = Holy Spirit (i.e. third person of the Trinity)
  2. Spirit = God (e.g. God is Spirit and he’s imparting himself)
  3. Spirit = gift of spirit

Moser could have meant any of these, or he could have meant none. The matter is complicated by his remark that the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Jesus Christ, but when talked about this way it sounds more like team spirit. I think I want to agree, at least to some extent, on the power of the Spirit. However, I want to make sure that Moser and I are thinking of the same thing, and that simply isn’t clear to me.


Pascal’s wager and infinity
July 6, 2009 — 9:55

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Afterlife Atheism & Agnosticism Hell Religious Belief  Comments: 14

(Cross-posted to my own blog.)

Some people, I think, are still under the impression that the infinities in Pascal’s wager create trouble. Thus, there is the argument that even if you don’t believe now, you might come to believe later, and hence the expected payoff for not believing now is also infinite (discounting hell), just as the payoff for believing now. Or there is the argument that you might believe now and end up in hell, so the payoff for believing now is undefined: infinity minus infinity.

But there are mathematically rigorous ways of modeling these infinities, such as Non-Standard Analysis (NSA) or Conway’s surreal numbers. The basic idea is that we extend the field of real numbers to a larger ordered field with all of the same arithmetical operations, where the larger field contains numbers that are bigger than any standard real number (positive infinity), numbers that are bigger than zero and smaller than any positive standard real number (positive infinitesimals), etc. One works with the larger field by exactly the same rules as one works with reals. This is all perfectly rigorous.

Let’s do an example of how it works. Suppose I am choosing between Christianity, Islam and Atheism. Let C, I and A be the claims that the respective view is true. Let’s simplify by supposing I have three options: BC (believe and practice Christianity), BI (believe and practice Islam) and NR (no religious belief or practice).

Now I think about the payoff matrix. It’s going to be something like this, where the columns depend on what is true and the rows on what I do:

BC 0.9X-0.1Y 0.7X-0.3Y -a
BI 0.6X-0.4Y 0.9X-0.1Y -b
NR 0.4X-0.6Y 0.4X-0.6Y c

Here, X is the payoff of heaven and -Y is the payoff of hell, and X and Y are positive infinities. I assume that the Christian and Islamic heavens are equally nice, and that the Christian and Islamic hells are equally unpleasant. The lowercase letters a, b and c indicate finite positive numbers. How did I come up with the table? Well, I made it up. But not completely arbitrarily. For instance, BC/C (I will use that symbolism to indicate the value in the C column of the BC row) is 0.9X-0.1Y. I was thinking: if Christianity is true, and you believe and practice it, there is a 90% chance you’ll go to heaven and a 10% chance you’ll go to hell. On the other hand, BC/I is 0.7X-0.3Y, because Islam expressly accepts the possibility of salvation for Christians (at least as long as they’re not ex-Muslims, I think), but presumably the likelihood is lower than for a Muslim. BI/C is 0.6X-0.4Y, because while there are well developed Christian theological views on which a Muslim can be saved, these views are probably not an integral part of the tradition, so the BI/C expected payoff is lower than the BC/I one. The C and I columns of the tables should also include some finite numbers summands, but those aren’t going to matter. A lot of the numbers can be tweaked in various ways, and I’ve taken somewhat more “liberal” (in the etymological sense) numbers–thus, some might say that the payoff of NR/C is 0.1X-0.9Y, etc.

What should one do, now? Well, it all depends on the epistemic probabilities of C, I and A. Let’s suppose that they are: 0.1, 0.1 and 0.8, and calculate the payoffs of the three actions.

The expected payoff of BC is EBC = 0.1 (0.9X – 0.1Y) + 0.1 (0.7X – 0.3Y) + 0.8 (-a) = 0.16X – 0.04Y – 0.8a.

The expected payoff of BI is EBI = 0.15X – 0.05Y – 0.8b.

The expected payoff of NR is ENR = 0.08X – 0.12Y + 0.8c.

Now, let’s compare these. EBC – EBI = 0.01X + 0.01Y + 0.8(b-a). Since X and Y are positive infinities, and b and a are finite, EBC – EBI > 0. So, EBC > EBI. EBI – ENR = 0.07X + 0.07Y – 0.8(b+c). Again, then EBI – ENR > 0 and so EBI > ENR. Just to be sure, we can also check EBC – ENR = 0.08X + 0.08Y – 0.8(a+c) > 0 so EBC > ENR.

Therefore, our rank ordering is: EBC > EBI > ENR. It’s most prudent to become Christian, less prudent to become a Muslim and less prudent yet to have no religion. There are infinities all over the place in the calculations, but we can rigorously compare them.


Easy Universalism
January 3, 2009 — 3:46

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Afterlife Concept of God Hell  Comments: 13

Let me try out this proof of universalism in which *perfect goodness* and *perfect justice* seem to coincide. (Inspired by points made in discussion with Ric Otte and AP–neither is responsible for my use of the points).
1. For all x, no matter how morally evil x chose to be, it is *possible* that God says, after x’s death, “I commend x for having led a morally perfect life.”
2. For all x, were God to utter, after x’s death, “I commend x for having led a morally perfect life”, then x would have led a morally perfect life.
3. If God were (i) to utter, after x’s death, “I commend x for having led a morally perfect life” and (ii) to send x immediately to heaven, then it would display *perfect justice and perfect goodness*.
4. For all x, no matter how morally evil x chose to be, *God should and does say*, after x’s death, “I commend x for having led a morally perfect life” and God should and does send x immediately to heaven.
5. :. Universalism is true.


Tooley’s Main Entry – The Problem of Evil
August 4, 2008 — 14:47

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Afterlife Atheism & Agnosticism Books of Interest Existence of God  Comments: 20

Sorry for the delay in posting this, but I wanted to go over my post with my summer Philosophy of Religion class here at Rochester.
First a preview for those who have carefully read the chapter, then I’ll lay out the core argument for those who have or have not, finally I’ll detail the objections in the preview.
1. Premises (12) and (15) are more controversial than he lets on. It is hard to evaluate apart from the probability for one of God’s existence.
2. re: Premise (16). There are oddities and worries about it–including the fact that the probability judgements seem utterly inscrutable. But the assumptions about properties are not unreasonable. I do think, however, that the a posteriori probability after taking into account the frequency of the tokens is different and relevant (he considers this objection but doesn’t address it (at least not in my section).
3. (Most seriously) I don’t think the extension from one evil to many (many) evils does much. For either they don’t compound because they are not independent–due to being consequences of a common cause–or they do but not much comes from it due to the fact that if there is a defense/theodicy for one there is one for all.


A puzzle about eternal life
November 14, 2007 — 11:30

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Afterlife  Comments: 45

Suppose Jane and Bob live alone on their planet, hundreds of lightyears from any other people.  They are 20 years old, and they find themselves with a deadly disease that will suddenly and painlessly kill both of them in a year.  They pray for divine aid, and an angel comes to them with the following offer: While they will die in a year, their mental and bodily functioning, as well as that of their environment, will be sped up by a factor of seventy, so that while they will die in a year, during that year they will have lived the equivalent of seventy ordinary years of life. Since their internal clock is sped up, it will feel to them as if they lived through seventy years. Moreover, they will forget that the angel had visited them, and so they will not know that each subjective minute is only a seventieth of a minute.

Question 1: Prudentially, should Jane and Bob take up this offer?  (My intuition: Yes.)  Note that it is not just a matter of it feeling like they get seventy years of life.  They really do get seventy years' worth of learning, interacting, stewarding their environment, praying, growing emotionally, and so on.

Question 2: Are Jane and Bob as well off in this scenario as they would be in a scenario on which their disease is cured and they live for another seventy years?  (I go back and forth. My initial inclination is to say "Yes" or "Almost".)

Suppose we answer Question 2 in the affirmative.  Now modify the case.  Jane and Bob pray for eternal life.  An angel comes to them with an offer: Instead of eternal life, God will do the following for them.  During the next six months, their and their environment's speed of functioning will be increased up by a factor of two, so they will feel like they are living the equivalent of a year.  During the next three months, their and their environment's speed of functioning will be sped up another factor of two, so it'll feel like they are living the equivalent of another year during those three months.  During the next 1.5 months, we get another speedup, so it will feel like those 1.5 months were a year of life.  And so on.  And then at the end of the year they will die.  But it will have felt to them like they were living forever.

Question 3: Is this just as good as eternal life?

Question 4: Do answers to any of these questions depend on the nature of time?

Fun with Journalistic Ambiguity
April 7, 2007 — 19:42

Author: David Slakter  Category: Afterlife  Comments: 1

I came across this story earlier today, and I was nonplussed by the title: "Belief in Reincarnation Tied to Memory Errors."  After reading the story, I realized that 'belief in reincarnation' here meant belief that one had been reincarnated as some particular person, as opposed to the belief that people qua souls/atmans are reborn in different bodies commensurate with their latent karma.

It's a standard assumption in the Hindu literature with which I'm familiar that an individual is not and cannot become aware of his or her past lives–at least as long as he or she continues to have an embodied existence.  Buddhism is a bit different, but even there it is only an Arhat (one who has achieved full enlightenment) who can become aware of his past lives.  The point here, outside of the ambiguity in the article's title, is that even within the traditions I'm aware of which accept the occurence of rebirth in some form, there's still not much reason to take most people's claims about the particulars of any previous births seriously.  Even from within those traditions, one should probably put as much credence in such claims as a typical Catholic should in the divine origins of the Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich.

Swinburne Interview on Dualism
December 1, 2006 — 22:05

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Afterlife  Comments: 4

Here are some highlights:
*He seems to share with Plantinga (esp. the recent Faith and Philosophy article and some of the correspondence with PvI) the view that it’s just bloody obvious that the concepts of the mental and physical are exclusive. Me: Pro: Can anything upon which both Plantinga and Swinburne agree methodologically be wrong?! Con: a posteriori physicalists will be entirely unmoved.
*He says that Physicalists are just too enamored with the apparent success of science. That sounds about right to me. I find the Success of Science argument very unpersuasive. I think its advocates don’t pay enough attention to the reference classes in the induction.
*Explicitly endorses souls for animals. I spend a lot of time arguing for this and freaking people out that its the traditional view.
*Makes predictions like: “Scientists will discover that when the brain is in this state it gives rise to the thought that ‘today is Friday’, and when it is in that state it gives rise to the thought that ‘Russia is a big country’.”
*Does philosophical Judo: ” it is the very success of science in explaining physical events , which makes it immensely unlikely that it will be able to take the final step to explain the very different kind of events which are mental events. Souls and their mental lives of thought and sensation are so different from waves and particles that you cannot have an integrated theory which explains their interaction.”

Lynne Rudder Baker Reviews “Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?”
August 3, 2006 — 9:03

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: Afterlife  Comments: 11

Given the recent discussion of materialism and the afterlife some readers might be interested in Lynne Rudder Baker's review of Nancey Murphy's Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? is a welcome book. Nancey Murphy defends a version of physicalism for Christians. She characterizes the physicalism that she endorses as the thesis that "we are our bodies — there is no additional metaphysical element such as a mind or soul or spirit." Nevertheless, biology does not tell the whole story: We are "complex physical organisms, imbued with the legacy of thousands of years of culture, and, most importantly, blown by the Breath of God's Spirit; we are Spirited bodies." (ix) Murphy takes her main opponent to be a soul- or mind-body dualist.