Ellis Washington and Pascal’s Wager

Buffoon Award

Once again, the blaring sirens and flashing lights of the Drool-o-tron™ summoned us to the control room, where the blinking letters of its wall display said RenewAmerica. As you know, RenewAmerica is the latest winner of the Curmudgeon’s coveted Buffoon Award, thus the jolly logo which adorns this post.

Our computer was locked into this item: On Pascal’s God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, written by Ellis Washington. Our regular readers are familiar with Ellis’ work. The best example of his thinking can be found here, Scripture Trumps Darwin, when he informed us of “the syllogism that was a foundation of Western civilization”:

If A = B, then A + B = C

In all his recent articles at RenewAmerica, Ellis has been rehashing what he finds in the Encyclopedia Britannica Great Books of the Western World. Most of his essay today is taken from that source. He devotes half of it to reciting some biographical information about Blaise Pascal.

Then he spends several more paragraphs telling us about Pascal’s Wager, which is well described in Wikipedia. Almost everyone knows about criticisms of the Wager, many summarized in that same Wikipedia article, which show it to be generally worthless (see Criticism). Although famous and often cited by the unsophisticated as convincing, the Wager is about as persuasive as a child’s jingle. (If you need a digression, your Curmudgeon once wrote about his own fanciful experience with the Wager — see The Devil’s Jockstrap.)

The last few paragraphs are where Ellis becomes entertaining. That’s when he adds his own thoughts. So we’ll skip his high school report on Pascal and focus only on the original material. Here are some excerpts from that, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

Pascal famous “wager” argument is not meant to be an irrefutable proof of God’s existence, but a “pragmatic argument” – a challenge to demonstrate it is rational and logical to be a Christian – that theism and rationalism are not mutually exclusive (as viewed in modern times especially since Darwin’s atheist evolution revolution of the 1860s-1900s).

Ah yes, Darwin’s “atheist evolution revolution.” Ellis explains:

Pascal’s wager account [sic] for the fact that if there may be a God, the believer can anticipate an “infinity of happy life,” whereas if God doesn’t exist, the unbeliever has essentially lost nothing, yet lived a meaningful and fulfilling life.

Right. What does Ellis lose if he chooses to believe, but that belief wrong? Well, he loses the use of his brain for a lifetime. If a life based on nonsense doesn’t represent a loss to Ellis, that’s okay with us. Then he changes the subject and says:

Can happiness in this life be found where there is no real choice? Ask the 11 million citizens living under the communist dictatorship of Cuba President Obama is hellbent on propping up. If Pascal lived in these times I’m certain he would ask: Where can happiness be found in a philosophical, political, economic and legal system like progressivism, evolution atheism, communism and socialism established on the cynical lie by Karl Marx?

You didn’t know that Darwin was responsible for Fidel Castro, did you? Now you know, thanks to Ellis. Let’s read on:

Pascal offers another choice, a real choice writing, “Happiness is neither without us nor within us. It is in God, both without us and within us.”

Okay. He concludes with this final bit of wisdom, and the bracketed material is in his essay:

However, the road to truth and thus to happiness is paved with many obstacles that the wise person skillfully avoids. “Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehoods so established,” Pascal writes [in the 1600s!], “that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.”

So there you are. It seems that Ellis has chosen to accept Pascal’s advice. Perhaps you will follow his example and do likewise.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

19 responses to “Ellis Washington and Pascal’s Wager

  1. Since he likes the WAGER when will he convert to a Hindu???

    As they are obviously the ONE TRUE RELIGION! How do I know? Because they are the largest number!! And xtians LLLOOOooovvvvee to go OOONNnnnnn & OOONNNnnn about how America is a xtian nation cuz they were the major group at its founding so by that argument the largest group is the correct one.

  2. Pascal’s Wager is to persuasiveness as a toupee is to a tapir.

    (Worse than useless; an impediment, in fact.)

  3. “the syllogism that was a foundation of Western civilization”. This just isn’t a syllogism. A syllogism contains a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. As an example of his “intellectual” thinking he gives himself away; he’s no such thing!

  4. I think it’s time to reveal the Curmudgeon’s Wager. It’s very simple — just jump off the edge of a high cliff. If your faith is true, you’ll be fine, and you’ll go on to live a happy life and a joyful eternity. If you’re wrong, so what? You’ll die in a few moments and you’ve lost nothing, because without faith, your life was meaningless anyway.

  5. Con-Tester’s Wager is that the number of takers of either Pascal’s or the Curmudgeon’s Wagers was, is and will remain zero. 😛

  6. Wrong, Con-Tester! There’s a cliff not far from here. I’m gonna go there right now and give it a try. I’ll be back soon — at least that’s how I’m betting.

  7. You didn’t know that Darwin was responsible for Fidel Castro, did you?

    I think he meant that “progressivism” and “evolution atheism” are based on the “lie of Karl Marx.”

    Congratulation Curm, you’re now a Marxist. Had to happen sooner or later.

  8. Although they had their moments, I think it is better overall to be a Marxist than an Abbotist and/or Costelloist.

  9. Our Curmudgeon has announced

    I think it’s time to reveal the Curmudgeon’s Wager.

    In the same neighbourhood of thinking, on a trip some years ago to the US of A I was rather startled by a number of bumper stickers reading, Honk if you love Jesus.

    I would like to produce, as a rejoinder, bumper stickers which read, Take your hands off the steering wheel and close your eyes to find out if Jesus loves you!.

    I think this concept anticipated the Curmudgeon Wager by many years…

  10. The Curmudgeon has returned from his adventure of faith. I went to the edge of the cliff and pondered the alternatives of the Curmudgeon’s Wager. And then I heard a [*Voice from Above*] which spake unto me: Verily I say unto you, don’t be an idiot!

    And so I withdrew from the edge and returned to my headquarters. I conclude that the Wager was successful. None can deny it.

  11. …if God doesn’t exist, the unbeliever has essentially lost nothing, yet lived a meaningful and fulfilling life.

    Perhaps, but he has also lived a life of ignorance. Maybe this is where the phrase “ignorance is bliss” came from.

    Ellis must live a life of great and sublime bliss.

  12. Our Curmudgeon needs to clean the wax out of his ears.

    In truth, the [*Voice from Above*]–in this instance, in fact Olivia with a megaphone–said:

    Rarely I see such woo! Man, what an idiot!

  13. “infinity of happy life,”
    A contradictio in terminis, comparable to liquid ice. Hence the rational bet is atheism.

  14. You didn’t know that Darwin was responsible for Fidel Castro, did you? Now you know, thanks to Ellis. Let’s read on:

    A hundred years ago, poor old Charlie was being blamed for the aggression of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

    “Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehoods so established,” Pascal writes [in the 1600s!], “that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. If Pascal were alive today, he’d almost certainly accept evolution, Ellis Washington would be damning him as an atheistic elitist intellectual. (You know, the kind of person fundamentalists would lock up or execute if only they could.)

  15. I like the quote from RaionalWiki: “Pascal’s wager: Believing in and searching for Kryptonite on the off chance that Superman exists and wants to kill you. ”
    Can’t say I quite understand the Devil’s Jockstrap.

  16. “…if God doesn’t exist, the unbeliever has essentially lost nothing, yet lived a meaningful and fulfilling life.”

    Nothing meaningful or fulfilling about my life when I tried to follow the religious dictates surrounding me as a youth. It was nothing but frustration and anxiety. Considering that rates of divorce and violent crime are highest in the parts of the US where people express the most fervent loyalty to religious ideals, it’s likely that many others have the same feelings.

  17. If Pascal’s wager were logically valid, the same logic would also operate in the afterlife and compel you to believe in a deities greater than God in hopes of getting even bigger rewards in an after-afterlife. Whatever rewards you get in the Christian heaven, they will be finite, so it will be possible to conceive of a better afterlife than what God gives you. (Some Christian visions of the afterlife are quite niggardly, for example the common belief that God will create a New Jerusalem that is just one mile square and all the Saved who ever lived will be crammed into it.) So after you get to the Christian heaven, you should believe in more and bigger gods than God in hopes of getting more stuff– for example, most people in the miserable Christian heaven should convert to Islam, in hopes that Allah would give them an after-afterlife where they can have lots of sex, or to Mormonism, in hopes that they would each get their own planet. Clearly, Pascal’s wager leads not to the Christian God but to polytheism: to get more stuff, you believe in more gods. If this is “rational” then polytheism is more rational than monotheism.

  18. Diogenes: “Clearly, Pascal’s wager leads not to the Christian God but to polytheism.”

    Pascal is not here to defend himself, but it would not surprise me if he said that everyone misunderstood him. But “polytheism” is s good point, which reminds me that my own wager is technically “infinithiesm.” If I do the right thing and there’s no God, I at least did the right thing (usually a case of deferred gratification which, at my age at least, pays off better than the instant variety). If there is/are “some kind” of God(s) there’s between 0 and 100% chance of some reward – or penalty if the God(s) is/are evil and what I thought was the right thing was really the wrong thing. So it all cancels, and I’m back to square one. The moral of the story is that I have only my own reason to trust as to what’s right and wrong. Not the “sales pitch” of others, and conversely I can’t expect others to take my word on what’s right and wrong without using their own reason (temporary parental “because I said so” notwithstanding). Maybe that’s the intent of “Infinigod.”

  19. Sorry, Curmy, but your wager was offered to Jesus by Satan a long way back. Or so the story goes. Mind you, he did suggest Jesus try jumping from the highest tower of the Temple, about fifteen storeys up. “Thou shalt not put thy God to the test,” said Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy. He might have added, sotto voce “On account of if He fails it, so do you,” but history does not record.