What is the Objectivist Position on this Philosophical Quandry?

Posted by  $  prof611 2 years, 5 months ago to Philosophy
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Here's a scenario based on a variation of Pacal's Wager [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_... ]:

An atheist lies on his deathbed. Suddenly, he calls for a priest, so he can "confess" and obtain absolution.

It seems to me that this behavior is completely logical. The man reasons as follows: If, by even an infinitessimal chance, his philosophy is mistaken, and there is a "god", he will then be able to go to "heaven". If his philosophy is correct, then he has lost nothing by "confessing".


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  • Posted by Watcher55 2 years, 5 months ago
    The problem with Pascal's Wager and its variants is they are based on an invalid restriction of the possibilities. The God claimed is an arbitrary claim: and any arbitrary claim is meaningless, partly because there are an infinite number of competing and contradictory arbitrary claims. No rational choice can be made.
    For an illustration of the problem, see The One True God: http://www.thesavvystreet.com/the-one-tr...
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    • Posted by ewv 2 years, 5 months ago
      The invalid restriction on the "possibilities" arbitrarily allowed or disallowed for consideration reveals the root of the problem: It isn't based on anything. It's completely arbitrary. There is no reason to embrace it on it a death bed or anywhere else (which the same sophistry quickly leads to).

      There is no "quandry". The "Objectivist position" on it was described long ago. It rejects the supernatural out of hand.
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  • Posted by CircuitGuy 2 years, 5 months ago
    If there's an infinitessimal chance there's a god who rewards confessing, there is an equally tiny chance that there's a god who will see the confession as sycophantic or offensive in some other way and punish the man. It's better that he live how he believes and be damned or saved for who he really is.
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    • Posted by ewv 2 years, 5 months ago
      That is one of the unlimited number of alternate, equally baseless "quandries", but very quickly illustrates what goes wrong in the argument. There are no grounds to speculate about any supposed "infinitessimal chances" for the arbitrary.
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  • Posted by  $  Zenphamy 2 years, 5 months ago
    It strikes me as similar to not walking under a ladder, avoiding a black cat that's crossing your path, and not whistling as you walk by a cemetery. If you live a life with that type of nonsense taking up space in your mind, what have you missed out on. Realizing that your death is imminent may well be the most significant opportunity of a life. Leave the nonsense out of your last moments and don't leave this life in fear.
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    • Posted by  $  2 years, 5 months ago
      "Realizing that your death is imminent may well be the most significant opportunity of a life." I don't disagree with this surmise. But the atheist need not be afraid - he's just gambling, with nothing to lose. In fact, he might even enjoy experiencing the absurdity of "confession" - rejoicing in having avoided wasting time on such nonsense until now.
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  • Posted by NoeticCoach 2 years, 5 months ago
    Do you realize that conceptually, this is actually how Christianity became popular? As he got older and was approaching the time when the end of his life was nearing, Emperor Constantine was faced with the decision of his religious beliefs. Being a follower of the the dominant religion of Mithros (the Sun God, celebrated the high holy day of the winter solstice, December 25th) but knew there was a new religion taking hold, followers of Christ (The Son of God, whose birth we now celebrate on December 25th, but would actually have been in March, since that is when the taxes and census that Joseph and Mary were in transit for were actually collected). The thing that separated the two religions the most was the Christian concept of eternal life and forgiveness for his multitude of sins. Constantine made Christianity his empires religion, gaining it the strength to become a major religious force a millennia later.
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  • Posted by Solver 2 years, 5 months ago
    It's like when all will be lost and there is nothing else to lose, taking the unlikely odds of success on a final desperate "Hail Mary" play seems, rational.
    Hell, it even won some football teams the game. Of course, the quarterback knew the goal, knew exactly how much time he had, saw where he had to throw the ball and wasn't just praying for some angel to fly out there and catch the ball and run it in for a touchdown.
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  • Posted by  $  Marty_Swinney 2 years, 5 months ago
    I see an awful lot worth commenting on in this thread, but I will be mercifully brief . . .

    It is impossible to disprove a negative and irrational to make such an attempt.

    Socrates dispatched Thracymachus' notion that justice (or right) is whatever is in the interests of the stronger party. Being a fallible human, the "stronger party" may be completely ignorant as to what, in fact, is in his interests. A feeling is factual but it is not a fact nor is it knowledge.

    Intellectual Ammunition Department, "Who is the final authority in ethics?', Objectivist Newsletter, Feb. 1965.

    Lecture 9, "The Objectivist Ethics," from Basic Principles of Objectivism taped lecture series by Nathaniel Branden (transcribed in The Vision of Ayn Rand, Branden, 2009)

    Lecture 4, The Concept of God, ibid.

    Robbie 53024, I hope you find an interest in the above.
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  • Posted by Doug_Ort 2 years, 5 months ago
    Confessing won't help anyway. I'm no expert on the Bible, but if I remember correctly there's a verse stating that in order to go to Heaven you have to believe in the Lord God with all your heart and all your soul. It seems to me that claiming to believe in order to avoid going to Hell doesn't meet that criterion.
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  • Posted by LarryHeart 2 years, 5 months ago
    When the premise is wrong, the logic falls apart.

    First God may be nothing like what pascal assumes. Second, even assuming it is correct Confession may be useless. That's a Catholic idea.

    Third. What if there is no Hell?

    Factually, I know for certain, since I am fluent in Ancient Hebrew, that the 5 books of Moses have not been interpreted properly and certainly not fully. Hell is not mentioned. God is not mentioned, only existence and the forces of nature. In fact we are cautioned NOT to imagine as most religions do. Would it not behoove the wagerer to first learn exactly what is involved and not assume.
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    • Posted by mdant 2 years, 5 months ago
      Are you being serious or sarcastic when you say you are fluent in Ancient Hebrew? If you are serious, I have two curiosity questions. First, since the people that did the translation were presumably as fluent or more so than you, why did they not interpret it correctly? Second, assuming you are correct, how does that change things? After all, most Christians I know pretty much base everything off the new testament anyway. Just curious
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      • Posted by LarryHeart 2 years, 5 months ago
        I'm being serious.

        Your presumption is incorrect. The Greeks were not fluent in Hebrew at all. They relied on the Septuagint (70 Translators) who translated the simple meaning in the format that the Greeks would understand. Mythology, Gods etc.

        Even if the translators were fluent in Hebrew, word roots have multiple meanings, abstract and concrete, including Hieroglyphic and context based. In Genesis , for instance the word Mayim - water, which did not yet exist, means the abstract liquid or dissolved state. Just as science tells us. In the heat of the initial stage of the Universe everything was mixed and dissolved and stuck together. Nothing could yet combine into molecules or even emit quanta of energy. But the ancient translators did not know that meaning yet.

        It changes things because the new testament is a summation of what Jesus taught, which came from the Books of Moses. Jesus was an Israelite. The new testament is subject to the writer's understanding and later translation errors. (A camel through the eye of a needle...actually a thick rope going through the eye of a needle. It was a saying that got lost in the translation) Even the usage of the word Lord to mean God, where the Hebrew means the owner as in "Lord of the manor".

        So an incorrect assumption can be corrected by going back to the source, the five books.

        The interpretation of the Hebrew flowers based on advances in Science and understanding. What seemed like an inscrutable "and the spirit of God hovered over the waters" becomes "and the energy that expands space expanded the outer space (face) of the the dissolved liquid state." or something similar.
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        • Posted by ewv 2 years, 5 months ago
          Re-interpreting the legends of ancient people to mean modern science they had no conception of, while using it to rationalize away their belief in mysticism is not "translation". Whether they wanted to put camels or ropes or unicorns or anything through the eye of a needle is irrelevant. Better translations can be interesting, but are secondary to the topic under discussion even when objective, let alone revisionist history in the form of science fiction.
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          • -1
            Posted by LarryHeart 2 years, 5 months ago
            Your assumptions of 'legends' is incorrect. Legends and Myths and 'mysticism' is a misinterpretation. The information is factual when translated properly. It is science not science fiction.

            How Moses could possibly have known information about the expansion of space, that we only discovered in that last two decades, should raise some questions and perhaps temper your dismissive scorn.

            The current backward Church of 'scientific' Atheism, based on the dogma of evolution without intelligence is an impediment to free scientific inquiry into the the true origins of our Universe. Evolution solely by chance and natural selection is scientifically impossible. No complex system, based on parts that have no use until all are assembled can arise by accident. Nor can the programming in the dna that controls the timing of chemical reactions result from chance mutations. Only an intelligent program towards more and more complexity explains evolution.
            So science leads to research into what constitutes this intelligence. How did it arise? Moses explains that the universe is imbued with intelligence and these forces of nature are a manifestation of the intelligence of existence which we are sheltered from inside our bubble of time/space.

            Not so mystical. Just incredible, as is the Quantum reality.
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            • Posted by ewv 2 years, 5 months ago
              "Intelligent Design" is not science and is the opposite of the science of evolution, not an explanation for evolution. Creationism versus random metaphysical chance is a false alternative misrepresenting the science. Dogmatic assertions of what can "only be" from the supernatural is not science and neither is attributing the latest pseudo-scientific fiction using terminology stolen from science to primitive pre-civilization goat herders.
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              • Posted by LarryHeart 2 years, 5 months ago
                Incorrectly Labeling what I said as Intelligent design and creationism is a convenient straw man for you to knock down to dismiss my arguments and end discussion.

                I am not arguing Religion and you are not arguing Science. In fact you have made no arguments. Only denials and denigration.

                Pre-civilization? Where do you think our civilization comes from? Our Moral and legal code, ethics, even the concept of a weekend. Goat herders? LOL
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        • Posted by mdant 2 years, 5 months ago
          Thanks...you have given me some food for thought. I have never heard some of this, like your interpretation that a camel should have actually been a thick rope (which changes it from being impossible to one of being very difficult).

          You obviously know more about this than I do but I will mention my initial reaction is to find it troubling to interpret anything through the lenses of advances in science, and culture for that matter. Even if there is no language barrier a difference in time and cultural evolution can lead to very different feelings/understanding of the exact same words. While not possible, the ideal would be to have things interpreted by someone with the exact same knowledge and culture as those typical at the time of the writing. Any additional knowledge the translator posses could potentially make the translation less accurate, while doing nothing to increase the chances of a more accurate interpretation.
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  • Posted by paturpin 2 years, 5 months ago
    No one can "prove" God exists but neither can one "disprove " the existence, its a matter of faith in the final estimation. It'll all come out in the wash as the saying goes, you have to die to find out the truth
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      Posted by Robbie53024 2 years, 5 months ago
      I've probably posted this a hundred times here, but one more won't get those who dislike it any more angry with me.

      For those who don't believe in a deity, if they are right, then those of us who do and live a moral life as specified by most major religions (leave Islam out for the moment), then at the end of said life what has been the result? We've all lived together amicably and with mutual respect. But what if the deists are correct?

      As you say, we have to die to know the truth. But what about the life before death? I argue that Objectivism does not provide the answer to the "Baddest Ass on the Block" phenomenon. Thus, the rational/logical outcome of atheism is tyranny and oppression.
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      • Posted by LetsShrug 2 years, 5 months ago
        I think you're confused about what rational self interest means. And logic.
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        • Posted by Robbie53024 2 years, 5 months ago
          Not at all. It's in my rational self-interest to be the baddest ass on the block. Prove me wrong.
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          • Posted by  $  amhunt 2 years, 5 months ago
            You are the one making the assertion here. So the burden of proof lies with you.
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            • Posted by Robbie53024 2 years, 5 months ago
              I will subjugate you to my wishes. That is in my rational self interest. I get all the benefits of your mind and labor. I'll allow you some to keep you alive to serve me longer. When you cause me more trouble than you're worth, or more resources than you return, then I'll get rid of you.

              I can show you innumerable instances in history where that has been true. There are damn few where the opposite has been true, and our own experiment in individual rights and freedom seems to be sliding back towards that situation described above.
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      • Posted by khalling 2 years, 5 months ago
        And I have probably answered this at least 10 times. Objectivism allows retalitory force. It is not a system of anarchism. Theocracies otoh see everyone as a potential tyrannous traitor. And I have no idea where oppression comes from. There is only one philosophy that has fully developed the moral justification for freedom. It 's like you refuse to read any of the philosophy. Because you mis -characterize it like this all the time
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          Posted by Robbie53024 2 years, 5 months ago
          Retaliate all you want. If I'm the BAOTB I'll defeat you. And subjugate you to my will.

          And where do you come up with "Theocracies otoh see everyone as a potential tyrannous traitor?" Nowhere do I see that in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism. I'm sure you can cite Islam and fringe groups, but not the modern major core religions.
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          • Posted by khalling 2 years, 5 months ago
            I suggest you read Capitalism The Unknown Ideal. It answers these questions well and in depth.
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              Posted by Robbie53024 2 years, 5 months ago
              As I age, I become more pragmatic (some might say more cynical). There will never be an ideal capitalist society, in my opinion. We will have periods where we can be closer to that ideal (the US from after when William Bradford straightened out the right to property in Plymouth Colony through the late 19th century being one), but we will never realize it fully. And more often than not, we will exist in an oppressive society where there is a power structure that favors one class or group over others. That's the way it has been throughout history, and increasingly is becoming again today.
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          • Posted by khalling 2 years, 5 months ago
            I 'm not going to debate with you about theocracy states. The US Constitution does not allow for that. I think it was an extremely wise decision.
            In a truly free market, competitors can easily exploit bullies. Bullies can only thrive if they are working with a corrupted govt. Or are you talking about a physical self defense? In a true free market the people will be the "biggest "
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              Posted by Robbie53024 2 years, 5 months ago
              You assume that an "ideal" situation will come about. I say that history demonstrates this is uncommon, if even practical. It just does not happen. So, in a real world, where there will be bullies, is it better to be the wolf or the sheep? Given that they sheep rarely will band together to protect themselves from the wolf.
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      • Posted by frodo_b 2 years, 5 months ago
        Objectivism does provide the answer to that phenomenon. No one has the right to initiate force on another person, but everyone has the right to use force in their defense. You would be cut off at the knees the moment you tried to become the “bad ass on the block”.

        You seem to be confusing atheism with amorality. One does not need to believe in a deity to live a moral life. If anything, living a life based on a morality given to you by an imaginary being is more likely to lead to tyranny and oppression. Want to violate someone’s rights? No problem, say your invisible friend told you to do it.
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        • Posted by Robbie53024 2 years, 5 months ago
          Not at all. I'm merely saying that my morality is to be the ruler. And once I have sufficient force (and toadies) so that I can rule, I will. I don't give a whit what moral code you live under. Nor will your moral code protect you from my oppression. I have thousands of years of history to prove me right. What do you have?
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          • Posted by frodo_b 2 years, 5 months ago
            My moral code won't protect me, but my ak-47 will. You try to be the baddest ass on a block populated by objectivists and you’ll be lucky if you’re only tarred and feathered.

            Your original premise was that atheism, and somehow by extension objectivism, would ultimately lead to tyranny. To prove that, you tell me to look at history. Yet when I do look all I see is case after case of people using a belief in some sort of supernatural being to wage their oppression.

            I understand that your morality is to be the ruler. I also understand that there are other people out there with a similar morality. That has nothing to do with atheism. That amoral subset of the population will use whatever -ism is currently popular to accrue power. **As history shows.**

            You stated “that Objectivism does not provide the answer to the ‘Baddest Ass on the Block’ phenomenon” but then argue your point from a different morality — you’re own. If you subscribed to an objectivist morality then you wouldn’t be attempting to be the baddest ass on the block to begin with.
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            • Posted by Robbie53024 2 years, 5 months ago
              Alexander the Great used religion? Attila the Hun? Or how about more recent examples: Mao, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, or Castro for just a few examples. For every religious oppressor, I can find an oppressor that disavowed religion.

              You count on your AK to protect you, but if I have a .50 cal who will win? You also assume that you will have others to back you up. What if I've already corrupted them and they support me for protection and to receive my benevolence?

              You use whatever moral code you want, that does not shackle me to the same.
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  • Posted by  $  23Skidoo 2 years, 5 months ago
    According to Scripture, if he believes that Christ is the Son of the living God and says so aloud, he will gain entrance to heaven. Even Hitler or Stalin could have done the same.... You are right, the dude is just covering his bases, just in case....
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  • Posted by Robbie53024 2 years, 5 months ago in reply to this comment.
    What have I asserted without proof? I've asked you questions and used logic and reasoning. I haven't even asserted that faith is the same, that was you.
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  • Posted by Robbie53024 2 years, 5 months ago
    He could only "win" by being sincerely remorseful and penitent. If he was merely going through the motions, that would not be sufficient.
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    • Posted by mdant 2 years, 5 months ago
      I was raised Catholic and spent 7 years in a Catholic school but I have never understood how "God" could hold it against anyone for not believing. If God is what christians believe, he/she/it would only be concerned with if the person is good. Would God be so childish and evil as to demand you believe and praise him or be eternally tortured? I think not. From my experience, believing or not believing in God is not at all telling about wether or not the person is good. And I do not mean that in just a Gulch sort of way, I mean even by christian religion standards. I say let a person cover their bases and confess if they want, or not. God nor anyone else worthy of admiration can seriously hold it against them. Oh, but of course it does not matter what you do, someone will feel they have the right to stop you. But those people are not worthy of my admiration so if God was like that I would not be praising him/her/it even if I knew he existed. Moral of the story, just be a good person and if the christian God does exist you will be rewarded even if you never set foot in a church.
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      • Posted by LetsShrug 2 years, 5 months ago
        Close to what i think too. I have a sister who says it doesn't matter how "good" you are, if you don't believe then you're not getting in. I say these are nonsensical rules. I am my own highest power.
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        • Posted by Robbie53024 2 years, 5 months ago
          There's been a lot of foolishness perpetrated over the centuries. If that were absolutely true, and believing that Christ was the savior was the only method of getting into heaven, then what about all those who died prior to Christ even being born? Or what about all those peoples around the globe who never were exposed to such knowledge even after his death (and even today, with some peoples that have been separated from the rest of humanity)?

          No, those ideas are not reasonable. Christ said that "what so ever you do unto the least of my brothers, you do unto me." Thus, living a moral life where you are compassionate to your fellow humans is all that is required (and compassionate does not mean "living for them" or being their slave, so you radical O's out there, just lay off).
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      • Posted by ewv 2 years, 5 months ago
        You don't get to decide what an unknowable God would do. Their game is already rigged to be what they say it is in the official dogma. Thinking you have to defend against it with your own game is pointless. None of it makes any sense to begin with.
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      • Posted by  $  IndianaGary 2 years, 5 months ago
        Good? By what standard?
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        • Posted by mdant 2 years, 5 months ago
          Good question. When I wrote my original statement above I realized this was a point that was not clarified. I let it go because I felt most people would instinctively know what it was referring to within the conversation and defining it precisely would have taken far more effort than I was willing to spend. However, I think I can give a loose incomplete explanation rather easily.

          If you look at the basic beliefs of most of Christianity I believe they are all pretty consistent as to what makes a person good. They may quibble about some specific items and how to handle some specific situations or how to pray, or a thousand other things. But these are all rather superficial. They agree in the core essence of what it means to be good. This includes; honesty, not stealing, no physical harm to others merely for your own advancement or pleasure, and etc.

          Islam and other religions may or may not believe in these (I do not know them well enough top say) but most people that have been raised in a Christian culture instinctively recognize these aspects of "good" even if they choose to go another direction.

          Maybe someday I will tease this definition out further. Or maybe someone has already done so and you can direct me to it. Thanks
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          • Posted by ewv 2 years, 5 months ago
            The basic beliefs of Christianity are centered on acting and thinking by commandment as an unquestionable duty, saving your soul in a mystical other world, and sacrificing to others in this one.
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