Monday, December 3, 2007

D'Souza and Pascal's Wager

In my previous post, I praised Dinesh D'Souza's debating skills. He defends the existence of an invisible entity about as well as anyone could hope to. Nevertheless...

Unlike many apologists, D'Souza is careful not to trample on science. He concedes evolution and the big bang. He does seem to concede that at least some portions of the Bible are now irrelevant, or are purely metaphorical. He employs common sense, stating that every effect has a cause, and then defining "God" as the ultimate cause. His god is skilled at dodging metaphysical attacks. One does suspect, however, that D'Souza holds the usual array of inane beliefs, and is simply smart enough to avoid getting shot down.

D'Souza employs Pascal's wager in the debate. This is simply the notion that it's better to believe in God than disbelieve, because:

1) If God exists, you'll be infinitely rewarded for faith.
2) If God doesn't exist, believing in him has done little or no harm to your life.

Typically, this argument is refuted by asking, "which God?" If you place faith in the wrong God, you might well wind up in hell. Daniel Dennett refrained from summoning this argument...perhaps he just finds it boring.

In any case, those who invoke Pascal's wager do have a very specific vision of God. Those who "believe in" him get some kind of reward, while the others don't. These others may have performed any number of good works in their lives. They may have lived in constant awe at the beauty and complexity and vastness of nature. But they're shut out of the cosmic sweepstakes because they don't carry a particular set of beliefs. So, while D'Souza won't offer many overt hints as to the specific qualities of his god, his invocation of Pascal tips his hand.

In his incessant quest to appear "reasonable", D'Souza states that one can't know that God exists. One can simply believe. I find this bizarre. If God broadcasts himself on every TV and radio wavelength, in every language, as Lex Luthor has been known to do, we wouldn't believe...we'd know. And what does "believe in" mean anyway? Does it mean that I've managed to shut out every last doubt? (wouldn't that be "knowing"?) That I try my damndest to spread the meme? That I repeat a particular prayer a certain number of times? That I believe I believe?

D'Souza spent a good deal of time shouting, for no particular reason. I'd guess he's emulating some preacher who made a big impression at some point. Dennett seemed far more mellow, conciliatory, and cuddly. More sane, actually. Yet we're supposed to believe that there's some ineffable difference between these two men that will cause D'Souza to experience union with his maker, and Dennett to be eternally shut out.

No comments: