Want to Bet on the Existence of God?

There’s nothing original in today’s blog, which deals with the dilemma of whether we should believe in God or not.  godIn fact, the puzzle was formalized in the seventeenth century by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal that was termed Pascal’s Wager.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting little intellectual proposition.  God either exists or he doesn’t exist.  People have absolutely no impact on whether God exists.  However, people can choose whether or not to believe in God.  Economists can demonstrate this “believe or not believe” dilemma utilizing game theory.  In this case, the belief dilemma can be represented by the simple  2 X 2 payoff matrix below.

           BELIEVE IN GOD?
  YES  NO
GOD EXISTS Heaven Hell
GOD DOESN’T EXIST    0   0

If you believe in God you will either go to heaven or it won’t make any difference, depending on whether God exists or not.  If you don’t believe in God you will either go to Hell or it won’t make any difference, depending on whether God exists or not.  The best “payoff” is to believe in God (Heaven or nothing is a better outcome than Hell or nothing).

The solution to this game is known in economics as a Nash equilibrium.   This means that independent people faced with this particular payoff matrix will always choose the same outcome; in this case, they will all believe in God.  In fact, according to this payoff matrix all rational human beings will believe in God!  Final score:  God believers 7 billion, athiests zero!

Nevertheless, I would personally recommend a sincere belief in God rather than a “compulsory” belief decision based on a Nash Equilibrium!

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2 Responses to Want to Bet on the Existence of God?

  1. Ian says:

    I suppose if legend held that Santa Clause would only bring you presents if you believed in him then all rational people would believe in Santa as well right? I mean clearly if there exists no downside to believing in Santa Clause you should just believe in him no matter how ridiculous the idea might be. My mom used to try and get me to clean my room by telling me “Santa was watching.” Even when I was 8ish I had sense enough to know that was ridiculous and that it was just her way of trying to control me. She knew there was no good reason for me to clean my room other than that she wanted me to do it. She also knew she didn’t have the heart to spank me or punish me if I didn’t listen. So she figured if she could get me to believe that a magical being was always watching me and judging me based on everything I did then I would assume I couldn’t ever get away with anything bad, and therefore I wouldn’t do anything bad. In her mind I would listen to her at all times even when I knew she couldn’t catch me.
    This is the silly reason for belief in heaven and hell. A long long time ago before CSI, finger print analysis, DNA matching …. the likelihood that you would get away with a crime was incredibly good. Even today the solve rate for murders in the USA is only like 50%. Imagine how bad it was 2000 years ago when there was no such thing as ballistics.
    Here’s an idea…let’s just make up a magical being that can see all, knows all, and judges you whether you get caught by the authorities or not. If we can convince enough people we should be able to avoid crime altogether right? We’ll call it God, or the Argus, or Santa or something….
    Religion is like the blinders you put on a horse. The idea is that the person driving the team is smarter, more rational, and is looking out for the best interest of everyone evolved. If we were to allow one of the lessor beasts to see what was really going on they might make unpredictable decisions of their own that would endanger the whole team. By blocking them from seeing what is obviously right in front of their faces we can force them to rely on commands from the leader in order to act.
    What I find particularly hilarious about this reality is that it is republicans who are the most religious. The group of people that preaches individual liberty and goes on and on about the dangers of centralized decision making is actually the political party that is trying to convince us that the exact same thing is perfectly fine so long as the centralized decision making is coming from that magic being in the sky not whatever democrat might hold political office at this point in time.
    I’m sure sheep agree with Pascal’s wager. That’s why they always follow their Shepard. They never stop to think though….what if it’s the Shepard that is crazy?..what if it’s the stage coach driver taking us over a cliff?
    This country was founded on the idea that one crazy person acting alone was dangerous, but no where even close to as dangerous as if a crazy person got control of the government and started passing laws that affected everyone. That’s also why this is not a Christian nation. We have freedom of religion because we knew how dangerous it was for government to claim to have the backing of God for the laws they passed.
    God was one of the first and most successful ways in which men tried to usurp the free market, and yet the political party who is supposedly most in support of one more than anything is also the chief advocate of the other. The party that believes allowing bad businesses to fail makes better businesses doesn’t believe survival of the fittest(Evolution) could have gotten us here. If it wasn’t so hilarious it would make me sad.
    Pascal’s Wager was laughed at as recently as the week it came out. It’s still relevant not as a proof of god’s existence, but as the origin of game theory. It should not be used by academics or intellectuals for this purpose since circa 1662.

  2. Benjamin Sullivan says:

    I am willing to bet anyone who believes in god and believes the world will come to an end anytime soon. (the bet would be useless if we couldn’t prove it) I would like to wager anything. My life, money, possessions…you name it. Let’s see how faithful you really are! Send me an e-mail with your wager. We can make it public and go from there. Remember, you need to prove it!

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