Sobel on Pascalian Wagers
March 2, 2011 — 21:01

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 1

In the 13th and final chapter of his book, Sobel discusses Pascalian wagers. According to Sobel, there need not be anything wrong with the practical reasoning involved in a Pascalian wager. In addition to defending this controversial claim, Sobel must explain how, if the Pascalian reasoning is correct, he can be justified in holding on to his atheism. As the chapter unfolds, both contentions are defended as a package. In general, for reasons to be explained below, I disagree with Sobel’s approach here. However, I do agree with him on one thing: religious faith is more a matter of practical than of theoretical reason. In this post I will explain Sobel’s approach and my reasons for disagreeing with it, and in the next I will lay out my own view of the interplay of theoretical and practical reason in religious faith.
Pascal’s original wager went something like this: if you believe in God and you are right, you gain eternal bliss. If you believe in God and you are wrong, you lose little or nothing. If you don’t believe in God and you are right, you gain little or nothing. If you don’t believe in God and you are wrong, things will go very badly for you. (According to Sobel, Pascal himself regards heaven as infinitely good, but hell as only finitely bad.)
Now, the first problem we face is that we can’t just decide to believe things.For now, though, imagine we could. It seems, in Pascal’s case, that it would then be practically rational to believe in God, as long as we think that there is even the slightest (epistemic) possibility of his existence.

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