I think there are a couple of extreme/strawman positions here which together constitute a false dichotomy:
- people have absolutely no voluntary control over their own beliefs
- people have absolutely unlimited voluntary control over their own beliefs
Reality is somewhere between these two extremes. Our ability to voluntarily choose our own beliefs is not unlimited, but it is not non-existent either. Pascal's wager (and some other theistic arguments/positions) maybe assumes too much control, but many responses to them assume too little. And of course, this ability is not a constant, but varies depending on the person and the belief and the surrounding context. There are what William James called "live options" — cases where I am faced with two or more beliefs which are plausible for me (whether or not they be plausible for you), and I have a real and at least somewhat voluntary choice between them (at least as real as my choices in matters other than belief) — and other questions where there is only one live option for me, and my belief is determined for me by factors outside of my personal control. And what is a live option or not varies from person to person, as our situations and constitutions differ. This is part of the problem with many criticisms of Pascal's wager — just because religious belief (or specifically Christian belief) is not a live option for you, does not mean that it is not for someone else. Criticising Pascal's wager on the grounds that such belief is not possible for you is to possibly miss the point, in that maybe you are not the sort of person the argument was ever intended for—i.e. the intention behind the argument was to try to convince those already predisposed towards belief to make the leap of faith, rather than trying to convince those without such a pre-existing disposition. (Separate from this, of course, there are several other legitimate lines of objection to Pascal's wager — I am just talking about those focused on a rejection of doxastic voluntarism.) (((Zack Martin)))™ 08:19, 19 September 2011 (UTC)
- Well, duh, there will be intermediate levels but you risk falling into the Fallacy of Gray with that - you need to distinguish between what fails because of even the simplest requirement over intentional belief control. Pascal's Wager does demand total control because it requires you to fool an omniscient deity into thinking your belief is true and absolute. And if that doesn't presuppose total and absolute control over your belief system then what the hell does? Criticising it for failing to convert atheists is perfectly valid (indeed, it's the main problem with theological arguments because they're rarely aimed and convincing that the idea is right absolutely, and more aimed at reassuring existing believers that they're not wasting their time), if you say an argument only works with those predisposed to agree with it anyway, it's just a shit argument, plain and simple. In fact, the entire point of a good argument is to convince people who aren't predisposed to agree with it. Criticising Pascal's Wager on these grounds is a perfectly valid one because it highlights its weakness as an absolute argument (it almost seems like you object on contrarian grounds to be frank), or I suppose if I don't agree with you I'm not the sort of person for whom the argument was intended. It's a silly rejection of criticism. ADK...I'll burst your noseblower! 10:57, 19 September 2011 (UTC)
- You say Pascal's Wager does demand total control because it requires you to fool an omniscient deity into thinking your belief is true and absolute. — are you so sure about that? If one accepts the assumptions of the Christian worldview, and I'd say more specifically a Protestant worldview with an emphasis on sola fide, it is an interesting question of what actually constitutes "saving faith". If you ask most people of that viewpoint, many will say "saving faith" does not necessarily mean absolute certainty and absolute conviction, it does not exclude some lingering doubts. Judged against that standard, is the demand of the wager still impossible? We should remember it is Pascal's wager, and I think he mainly intended it to convince himself, and only secondarily to convince others—it only demands total control if your idea of saving faith includes requiring an absolute belief.
- Personally, I find Pascal's wager unconvincing, because I reject the quasi-Protestant (or to be more exact, Jansenist) Christian theology which it relies upon as its foundation. I don't believe in eternal punishment, or eternal reward for that matter, and I don't believe in salvation by faith either, I believe in universalism (God saves everyone in the end — which implies that everyone is already irrevocably saved, and has always been so). His argument could only possibly work for someone for whom the only two live options are his kind of faith, or some position of (relative) non-commitment (atheism or agnosticism or maybe some kind of deism). For someone like me, who has a different set of live options, it achieves nothing. But, maybe that was all it was intended to achieve? Maybe Pascal's aim was to convince himself, or others in similar situations to his own, and if the argument is utterly unconvincing to those in radically different situations, that is a bit like complaining that a hammer is worthless because you can't use it to repair your watch. (((Zack Martin)))™ 09:35, 20 September 2011 (UTC)