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Pascal’s wager Simplified version: Why believe in God?

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1 Pascal’s wager Simplified version: Why believe in God?
“It’s safer to be a believer than a nonbeliever. As a believer, if you’re right you go to heaven and if you’re wrong it’s no big deal. But as a nonbeliever, if you’re right it’s no big deal and if you’re wrong you go to hell” Why believe in God? ‘epistemic reasons’: reasons that concern what’s most plausible, likely to be true, backed by evidence, intellectually justified, etc. e.g., the design argument ‘prudential reasons’: reasons that concern what’s in your own best interest, what’s to your advantage, what makes your (after)life go better, etc. e.g., Pascal’s wager

2 Pascal in the Pensées Reason “Reason can decide nothing here”
Pascal thinks it’s intellectually unclear whether God exists: “I look on all sides, and I see only darkness everywhere. Nature presents to me nothing which is not matter of doubt and concern.” He mentions the “Deus absconditus” (hidden God) of Scripture (Isaiah 45:15, Vulgate). This is supposed to be part of Christianity: “[Christians] profess a religion for which they cannot give a reason”, “[Christianity] says that men are in darkness and estranged from God, that He has hidden Himself from their knowledge”

3 Pascal in the Pensées Intellectual integrity
“[A]ccording to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions”—neither theism nor atheism. So, you might think, it’s therefore inappropriate to take a position: the best response to withhold judgment on the question. That is, if there’s no intellectual basis for theism and none for atheism, then the most intellectually honest position is a kind of agnosticism. But Pascal insists that “you must wager” and that “[i]t is not optional”—you have to take a position on this issue. So there’s nothing intellectually dishonest in taking a position. You’re forced into it.

4 Pascal in the Pensées Wagering setup Wagering: reason
You can either go with theism or atheism. You have two things at stake: your reason and your will. You might gain knowledge or you might fall into error. You might gain happiness or you might fall into misery. Wagering: reason Since this is an intellectually unclear and forced choice, neither option will compromise the integrity of your reason. Wagering: happiness Go with theism: “If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing”

5 Standard payoff matrix
God No God Believe -0/+0 Disbelieve -∞ Heaven, hell, nothing lost or gained in this world

6 ‘No hell’ payoff matrix
God No God Believe -0/+0 Disbelieve Heaven, no hell, nothing lost or gained in this world

7 Pascal in the Pensées Cost of religious obedience
Pascal seems to start out with the assumption that there’s no cost to believing if God doesn’t exist (“if you lose, you lose nothing”) But later he seems to allow for the view that there is a real cost, in giving up a happy life (“I may perhaps wager too much”). In any case, since “what you stake is finite”, therefore the ‘wager’ still works.

8 ‘Cost of obedience’ payoff matrix
God No God Believe -n Disbelieve -∞ +0/-0 Heaven, hell, n = the cost in this world of religious obedience

9 Pascal in the Pensées Probabilities
Pascal seems to start with the assumption that God’s existence has a probability of 0.5 (“Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss...”) But he later allows for the view that the odds are against God’s existence, insisting that the ‘wager’ still works. Just as [0.5(∞) + 0.5(-n)] > [0.5(-∞) + 0.5(0)], so too [0.01(∞) (-n)] > [0.01(-∞) (0)] The wager still works, so long as God’s existence has a probability greater than zero, and so long as the cost of religious obedience in this world is finite.

10 Pascal in the Pensées Objection: choosing beliefs?
Pascal’s entire argument seems to rest on the assumption that beliefs can be voluntarily chosen (this view is called ‘doxastic voluntarism’). But that assumption seems false. My current belief is that cats do not lay eggs. I cannot simply choose to believe otherwise. I can raise my arm at will, but I can’t change my beliefs at will. So someone might object to Pascal, “Yes, I’m convinced that it’s to my advantage to be a believer, but I have no control over my beliefs!”

11 Pascal in the Pensées Reply: indirect control
Since your reason is not keeping you from belief, it must be your passions. So don’t bother looking at proofs and reasoning; instead, work on your passions. Imitate believers you know: “Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc.” Eventually it will influence your passions and make you into a genuine believer. In other words, even if we have no direct control over our beliefs, we still have indirect control.

12 Summary Reason can decide nothing.
You have to pick one side or the other. You stand to gain more happiness by being a believer than by being a disbeliever. This holds true even if there is a worldly cost to being a believer, and even if God’s existence is unlikely. Even if you can’t directly choose to be a believer, you can gradually gain belief by imitating believers.

13 Objections: intellectual honesty / personal integrity
Mackie on indirect control Remember that Pascal says that picking a side will not compromise (or “shock”) your reason. But Mackie thinks the indirect conversion process recommended by Pascal does just that. He writes that, “in deliberately cultivating non-rational belief, one would be suppressing one’s critical faculties”—and Pascal himself writes that the process “will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness”. This is an especially big problem if you think the odds are against God’s existence—now Pascal’s recommendations are to “deliberately... reject all rational principles of belief in uncertainty”.

14 Objections: intellectual honesty / personal integrity
Why not suspend judgment? Remember that, despite his assumptions that reason doesn’t support theism or atheism, Pascal thinks it’s still okay to pick a side because you have to pick a side. That is, he defends the intellectual integrity of picking a side by saying you can’t refuse to wager—this ‘suspension of judgment’ agnosticism isn’t a real alternative. But why isn’t it a real alternative? Maybe he thinks it’s not a legitimate alternative because such agnosticism is practically equivalent to atheism. But even if that’s true, such agnosticism still seems intellectually superior to theism and atheism (at least given Pascal’s assumptions about what reason can tell us)

15 Objections: intellectual honesty / personal integrity
Biting the bullet Pascal might retreat to the claim that it is still rational to sacrifice one’s intellectual honesty and personal integrity. After all, what’s a little dishonesty compared with eternal bliss? A very principled nonbeliever might insist that it is never okay to sacrifice one’s integrity for the sake of self-interest. But suppose you could get a trillion dollars just by getting yourself to form some trivial unjustified belief (e.g., that the trillionth digit of pi is odd)—wouldn’t that be okay? Of course, Pascal spends a lot of time emphasizing the grave importance of the question of God’s existence. It therefore doesn’t seem like something to take trivially.

16 Objections: intellectual honesty / personal integrity
Fooling God? Mackie writes that Pascal needs God to be “both stupid enough and vain enough to be pleased with self-interested flattery” Pascal could respond that, even if we find that kind of God distasteful, it’s still rational to be a believer in such a God. A more palatable response: what starts out as self-interested flattery of God will eventually develop into genuine heartfelt worship of God. That way, God might reward those who follow Pascal’s wager without being “stupid” or easily fooled.

17 Objections: The ‘many gods’ objection
Pascal’s key assumption Pascal seems to assume that there are only two possibilities: (1) God exists and rewards believers with heaven (and perhaps punishes nonbelievers with hell), and (2) God doesn’t exist and we’re all annihilated at death. He even has a nonbeliever character say, “I know only that, in leaving this world, I fall for ever either into annihilation or into the hands of an angry God, without knowing to which of these two states I shall be for ever assigned.” But this seems to overlook a lot of possibilities.

18 Objections: The ‘many gods’ objection
Other possibilities God exists, everyone goes to heaven. God exists, everyone goes to hell. God exists, only Protestant Christians go to heaven (everyone else goes to hell). God exists, only Sunni Muslims go to heaven. God exists, only people who speak Czech go to heaven. God exists, believers go to hell, nonbelievers go to heaven. God exists, everyone goes to heaven except those who follow Pascal’s wager—they go to hell.

19 ‘Reversal’ payoff matrix
God1 God2 No God Believe -∞ -n Disbelieve +0/-0 Heaven, hell, n = the cost in this world of religious obedience

20 Objections: The ‘many gods’ objection
Mackie on predestination Perhaps “people are predestined to salvation or to non-salvation—perhaps to damnation—no matter what they now decide, or try to decide, to do” If you think salvation is a matter of divine grace, and if you’re serious about avoiding Pelagianism, then you might think there’s nothing you personally can do to acquire salvation. Pascal seems to make the controversial assumption that you personally can put a strategy into effect that will probably get you saved. But if the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination is true, then that assumption cannot be made.

21 Clifford’s “The Ethics of Belief”
Famous statement “[I]t is wrong always, everywhere, and for any one, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” Famous shipwreck case People die because some shipowner stifles his doubts about his ship’s seaworthiness. Even if the ship didn’t sink, he’d still have had no right to believe on insufficient evidence. Another case: public accusations The charges turn out to be false, and the accusers are dishonored. Even though they sincerely believed the charges were true, since they got their beliefs “by listening to the voice of prejudice and passion”, they had no right to believe.

22 Belief and action Objection Short reply
Their beliefs weren’t wrong, just their actions—they should have investigated more thoroughly before they acted. Short reply You can’t separate the belief from the action like this. After all, if you’ve already got strong beliefs on a matter, it’s impossible to do a fair and unbiased investigation.

23 Longer reply Beliefs are action-guiding Beliefs are not private
Beliefs by their very nature have an influence on actions. Even a single trifling belief will have wider effects on other beliefs, as well as on our habits in accepting beliefs—eventually influencing our actions. Beliefs are not private “Our lives are guided” by the common opinions found throughout society. We have a responsibility to take care of this stock of common opinion. We owe it to the rest of humanity and to future generations to form our beliefs with evidence and testing.

24 Longer reply It’s everyone’s responsibility It’s not easy
This duty is not just for intellectuals. Even the “rustic” and the “hard-worked wife” have an influence on the stock of common opinion—so they too are ‘on the hook’. It’s not easy Feeling like we know what’s going on gives us a pleasant sense of power. And it feels bad to realize that we were wrong and lose this false sense of power. But we have to give it up, out of respect for mankind.

25 Longer reply Character/habits: credulity Character/habits: dishonesty
Unsupported belief is always bad, even when it doesn’t have the kind of bad effects you can point to. For it weakens your intellectual habits, and makes you into a credulous person. Cf. Even if stealing doesn’t hurt anyone, it makes the thief into a worse person. We don’t want to end up with a society of credulous persons, “sink[ing] back into savagery” Character/habits: dishonesty If my mind is filled with unsupported beliefs, others are more willing to lie to me, and they get into bad habits. Dishonesty spreads around alongside credulity, and we end up with a general disrespect for evidence and truth.

26 Universal skepticism? Objection Short reply
“Are we then to become universal sceptics, doubting everything, afraid always to put one foot before the other until we have personally tested the firmness of the road?” Short reply Certain matters concerning morality and the physical world have stood up to testing—they have a “practical certainty” Also, you don’t need beliefs to act. It’s quite possible to act on probabilities—after all, that’s precisely how you get evidence.

27 Longer reply: relying on testimony and tradition
It’s okay to accept testimony only when we have evidence that the reporter is honest, capable of knowing the matter, and reasonable. In particular, it’s not enough for the report to be a good person. We need reason to think that he might know what he’s talking about. Example: Even if Muhammad was a good person with excellent contributions to society, that doesn’t give Clifford any reason to trust his claims concerning the supernatural. Example: Trusting a chemist is okay on normal matters of chemistry. But not if the chemist claims to know of an atom of oxygen existing throughout all time.

28 Longer reply: relying on testimony and tradition
Tradition is good at “supply[ing] us with the means of asking questions, of testing and inquiring into things”—providing us with a framework for inquiry. It shouldn’t be taken as “a collection of cut-and-dried statements to be accepted without further inquiry”. We should accept the claims of tradition only when we have evidence that the persons responsible knew what they were talking about. He illustrates this good use of tradition with examples from “the moral and... the material world”. The “sacred tradition of humanity” consists in “questions rightly asked, in conceptions which enable us to ask further questions, and in methods of answering questions”.

29 Conclusion Moving beyond experience Summing up
Clifford also discusses what to think about “that which goes beyond our experience”. The rule is to take our experience as a guide—we make the working assumption that nature is uniform. Summing up “We may believe what goes beyond our experience only when it is inferred from that experience by the assumption that what we do not know is like what we know” “We may believe the statement of another person, when there is reasonable ground for supposing that he knows the matter of which he speaks, and that is speaking the truth as far as he knows it” “It is wrong in all cases to believe on insufficient evidence; and where it is presumption to doubt and to investigate, there is more than presumption to believe”

30 Objections to Clifford
Exaggerated consequences Most commentators seem to agree that Clifford has overstated the bad consequences of beliefs based on insufficient evidence. After all, perhaps people can hold to a limited class of such beliefs without losing all respect for evidence and all intellectual virtue. e.g., some respected scientists claim to have religious convictions based on pure faith, backed by no evidence at all And presumably lots of people can hold to wildly irrational beliefs without it having much of an influence on the rest of society. Clifford could always insist that there’s something intrinsically wrong with unjustified beliefs, but then he’d be giving up his ‘destructive social consequences’ style of argument.

31 Objections to Clifford
Foundational matters It’s hard to know how to give evidence for things like the reliability of one’s senses, or the reliability of one’s memory, or the existence of an external world, etc. Perhaps it’s okay to accept these things merely as working hypotheses, or to just take them for granted as a sort of background framework for thinking. But then why can’t we take religious beliefs (like the existence of God) for granted in the same way? (Historically, a lot of people have done just that)

32 Objections to Clifford
Foundational matters, cont’d Maybe it’s okay to accept them because they’ve stood up to testing. But the tests we use rely on things like the reliability of the senses, the existence of the external world, etc. They take for granted what we’re supposed to be testing for. Similarly, the evidence we have for saying some testimony or some tradition is reliable and trustworthy is typically taken from previous testimony and tradition. Generally, it’s hard to do tests or provide evidence without drawing on a large pre-existing stock of beliefs. So, again, it’s unclear whether we need to have evidence for all our beliefs.

33 Objections to Clifford
Children How do we get beliefs in the first place? Are we supposed to rely on evidence from day one? It seems implausible that a child would first need evidence of his mother’s reliability and trustworthiness before believing her claims about the names of things. Perhaps the child should just take her claims as working assumptions for the purposes of further testing? But if all you have to work with are working assumptions, how do you get the kind of evidence needed for justifying a belief?

34 Objections to Clifford
Religious belief Perhaps religious belief doesn’t fit Clifford’s rule because there’s no way to get evidence one way or the other. Clifford would probably say that, even when evidence is unavailable, belief without evidence has bad consequences. You might think that there are no bad consequences to religious beliefs like “God loves us and wants us to be nice”. But Clifford would argue that these beliefs will in any case reinforce bad habits across the board. So the heart of the matter might be this: Is it psychologically realistic that people can treat religious beliefs differently from their other beliefs, as a sort of isolated ‘special case’?

35 William James’s “The Will to Believe”
James criticizes Clifford’s essay, arguing that belief on insufficient evidence is sometimes okay. Distinctions, terminology: Live / dead hypothesis: A hypothesis is dead when we couldn’t bring ourselves to believe it (e.g., the mythology of ancient Greece); otherwise it’s live. Option: decision between two hypotheses Living / dead option: between two live hypotheses? Avoidable / forced option: possibility of not choosing? Momentous / trivial: significant stake, irreversible decision?

36 Psychology of human opinion
Against ‘doxastic voluntarism’ We can’t change our beliefs at will. A Pascal’s wager conversion would end up lacking “the inner soul of faith’s reality” Without “some pre-existing tendency” towards Catholicism, imitating Catholics wouldn’t bring belief. Non-intellectual influences But beliefs aren’t entirely controlled by the intellect. “[A]uthority” and “intellectual climate” make a big difference: “fear and hope, prejudice and passion, imitation and partisanship, the circumpressure of our caste and set” Our foundational beliefs (e.g., in truth itself) are just “passionate affirmation[s] of desire, in which our social system backs us up” We disbelieve “facts and theories for which we have no use”

37 Stating the thesis Evaluating our psychology James thinks it’s okay
So apparently, as a matter of fact, our beliefs are influenced by lots of non-intellectual factors. Is this a bad thing? Is it “reprehensible and pathological”? Or it is okay, to be “treat[ed] as a normal element in making up our minds”? James thinks it’s okay “Our passional nature not only lawfully may, but must, decide an option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds; for to say, under such circumstances, ‘Do not decide, but leave the question open,’ is itself a passional decision,—just like deciding yes or no,—and is attended with the same risk of losing the truth”

38 Dogmatism, absolutism, and empiricism
James is going to work with the assumption that there really is such a thing as truth. Absolutism When you get at something true, there is some sort of telltale indication that you’ve gotten it. James uses the metaphor of a bell that goes off in your head whenever you get knowledge. He thinks that most of us are absolutists at heart. Even empiricists like Clifford think they know certain things for sure. Empiricism But James is an empiricist: he thinks that there is no sure indicator of truth, and that no belief is so sure as to be beyond reinterpretation and correction. The test of a belief is not whether it comes from some infallible intellectual faculty, but whether it stands up to repeated examination.

39 Two goals Epistemology involves two goals: Ranking these goals
Gain truth Avoid error Ranking these goals Clifford thinks (according to James) that avoiding error is of supreme importance—he’d give up all chance at gaining truth rather than risk any error. Others might think gaining truth is more important. James insists that any such ranking is an “expressio[n] of our passional life”—some people are terrified of believing false things, whereas others feel like it’s no big deal. He says Clifford’s rule “is like a general informing his soldiers that it is better to keep out of battle forever than to risk a single wound”

40 Examining agnosticism
James’s strategy James is going to examine principled agnosticism in the realms of science, morality, and religion. He’s going to see whether we should be agnostics when confronted with ambiguous evidence. Science James will argue that it makes sense to be agnostic on scientific issues when the evidence is ambiguous. Morality James will argue that principled agnosticism is absurd in cases of personal relations. Religion James will argue that it’s okay to follow pro-religion passions, and that principled agnosticism is an irrational rule.

41 Science, morality Science Morality
The options in science are not momentous or forced, so principled agnosticism makes sense as a way of avoiding falsehood. It’s not like science is so urgent that we need some belief, any belief to get by. Though it’s nice to have zealous scientists pushing their theories, just as a way of encouraging scientific progress. Morality James seems to suggest that both philosophical skepticism about morality and commitment to morality are okay. With personal relations, having positive hopeful beliefs (“precursive faith”) is a good way of making these beliefs eventually come true. It would be absurd to wait for evidence as to whether someone likes me before trusting them.

42 Religion Essence of religion What if religion is true?
First, “the best things are the more eternal things” Second, “we are better off even now if we believe [the first thing] to be true” What if religion is true? The option is momentous: a “vital good” is at stake. The option is forced: being agnostic is just one more way of missing out on this vital good. Agnosticism isn’t a way of avoiding the options; it’s a way of taking a specific option: “Better risk loss of truth than chance of error”. It’s not saying the intellect is better than the passions; it’s saying that the fear of error is a better passion than the hope of gaining truth. Doesn’t “my passional need of taking the world religiously” have any say in the matter?

43 Religion, cont’d Personal religion
Now consider that (for most of us) religions present the eternal perfection as somehow ‘personal’. And the option feels like it’s being proposed to “our active good-will, as if evidence might be forever withheld from us unless we met the hypothesis half-way” Agnostics might “cut [themselves] off forever from [their] only opportunity of making the gods’ acquaintance” Principled agnosticism is irrational If all this is true, then principled agnosticism keeps us from the truth. And “a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule”

44 Religion, concluded Waiting for evidence Tolerance
James thinks it’s bizarre to say we’re required to wait for the evidence to come in. It might make sense if we were absolutists, if we thought our intellect would somehow tell us when we had knowledge. But we’re empiricists, so we don’t expect to know anything for sure. Tolerance We shouldn’t criticize each other for making our decisions one way or the other. “We ought, on the contrary, delicately and profoundly to respect one another’s mental freedom”

45 Some comments on James James’s counterexamples
Clifford gives a big universal rule: “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for any one, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” One way of understanding James is that he comes up with two kinds of counterexamples to this rule: Beliefs such that believing them helps make them come true (e.g., social relations). Beliefs such that the only way to get the relevant evidence is to believe them first (e.g., God). [I’m taking this from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article “Pragmatic Arguments for Belief in God” written by Jeff Jordan]

46 Some comments on James Optimistic practical beliefs
People have given other examples of practical beliefs that it’s okay to have (even without sufficient evidence). The world is an overall nice place. People can usually be trusted. Our efforts can make the world a better place. The problems I experience will not last my whole life. I can successfully climb up from the edge of this cliff. These beliefs make your life go much better, the line of thought goes, and so it’s okay to believe them without sufficient evidence.

47 Some comments on James Depressive realism
Some evidence in psychology indicates that happy people tend to overestimate their own abilities, reputation, etc. In contrast, people suffering from depression tend to give relatively accurate estimates. I’m told this is all extremely controversial, and I have no expertise in the matter. But perhaps it could lend support to the idea that having unjustified optimistic beliefs makes your life go better.

48 Objections to James Optimistic beliefs
It’s unclear whether you need to have optimistic beliefs in order to get the benefits James mentions. Maybe all you need is a sort of optimistic pretense where you dwell on happy outcomes. In baseball, do you need to believe “I’m going to hit a home run” or is it enough to focus on that particular outcome? Perhaps James’s arguments can’t justify religious belief, but only a sort of hopeful pretense (which arguably fits with some traditional notions of faith).

49 Objections to James Fear of false beliefs
James says Clifford is against beliefs based on insufficient evidence because Clifford suffers from a pathological fear of false beliefs. James also says that principled agnostics in general have nothing to back up their position but a fear of false beliefs. But first, that’s probably a misinterpretation of Clifford—what Clifford is worried about is the destructive consequences for society if people stop respecting truth and evidence. And second, a principled agnostic needn’t take avoiding false beliefs as the one supreme goal of epistemology—she might argue that her agnostic methods will give us the best mix of gaining true beliefs and avoiding false beliefs. That way, an agnostic might have something better than a dubious passion backing up her recommended methods.

50 Objections to James Are religious beliefs good?
James sometimes seems to assume that religious beliefs make things better. After all, he focuses on our right to believe good, nice, optimistic things. Presumably, for example, James would not defend a racist’s right to follow his racist passions and believe that certain races have genetically lower IQ’s. Now, religious beliefs like “God loves us and wants us to be nice” are hard to worry about. But when we get to more detailed, real-world religious beliefs, it’s highly controversial whether they’re good, whether they make things better.

51 Objections to James Living options
Whether an option counts as living for you will depend on lots of arbitrary factors about where you happened to be born. And whether an option is living determines whether you have the right to believe it—James doesn’t defend the voluntary adoption of beliefs that seem bizarre and incredible to the believer. It might seem irrational to deliberately allow your beliefs to be influenced by such arbitrary factors. But perhaps James thinks that you need some arbitrary cultural background or another in order to start intellectual inquiry in the first place—without it, you’d have nothing to work with Remember from the Clifford slides, I mentioned that we might need a “large pre-existing stock of beliefs”.

52 Objections to James Getting at the truth
James seems to reject any epistemic rule that might possibly cut us off from the truth. He rejects Clifford’s rule “don’t believe without sufficient evidence” because perhaps God won’t reveal himself unless you’re willing to take a leap of faith. But every epistemic rule might possibly (if things get weird enough) cut us off from the truth. Any rule of the form “never do x” might cut us off from knowing God—after all, perhaps God won’t reveal himself unless you do x. “Never knowingly believe in contradictions” “Never deliberately suppress good evidence” “Never reject evidence from a person just because you don’t like the way they look” So it looks like James would have to reject all sorts of very plausible epistemic rules.

53 Part I ‘Natural religion’ Characters:
religion based on scientific-style reasoning and observation of the natural world as opposed to ‘revealed religion’: religion based on Scripture and miracles Characters: Cleanthes: has an “accurate [careful] philosophical turn” Philo: “careless [carefree] scepticism” Demea: “rigid inflexible orthodoxy”

54 Religious education Demea’s method:
“[F]irst... learn logics, then ethics, next physics, last of all, of the nature of the Gods” Teach children the weakness of human reason before teaching them religion First, “a proper submission and self-diffidence”, and then, “ope[n] to them the greatest mysteries of religion” This protects them from the dangers of philosophy, from “that assuming arrogance of philosophy, which may lead them to reject the most established doctrines and opinions”

55 ______________________________________________________________________
Religious education Philo agrees: Ignorant and devout: The ignorant masses see the “endless disputes” of scholars and cling tighter to religion. A little learning...: Novices to philosophy get excited about reason and end up rejecting religion. Skeptical and devout: But once you learn enough, you’ll see the weakness of human reason (even in common life, even in basic physics and metaphysics), and you won’t trust reason in ‘out there’ matters of theology. ______________________________________________________________________ Both Philo and Demea say that a healthy appreciation of the weakness of human reason (which comes from mature study of philosophy) can be good for religion.

56 Skepticism: insincere and unlivable
Cleanthes is having none of it: Self-proclaimed ‘skeptics’ are insincere or maybe just joking. They rely on reason just like everyone else. Maybe you can actually be a skeptic for less than a few hours; but you can’t keep it up, and after a while, you return to the real world along with everyone else. And why go through the trouble!? The Stoics thought the truly virtuous could overcome even torture. The Pyrrhonian skeptics thought you could live your life as a skeptic. Both failed to see that, just because you can keep something up for a little while, it doesn’t mean you can keep it up your whole life.

57 Philo’s defense of skepticism
The healthy residue of skepticism Maybe you can’t keep up skepticism all the time, your whole life. But something will remain with you; you won’t forget the lessons of skepticism, and it will affect the way you think. Why to bother with skepticism Why do skeptics act like normal people? We’re humans and we can’t help it. Why go into deep skeptical philosophy? It’s interesting and pleasant and rewarding. Why philosophize? Everyone does some reasoning. And philosophy is just “regular and methodical” reasoning—no different in kind from the reasoning of common life.

58 Philo’s defense of skepticism
Going too far When we leave common life and start reasoning about stuff like eternity and God, we’ve gone too far. Reasoning about “trade, or morals, or politics, or criticism” is okay—it gets backed up by “common sense and experience”. But reasoning about God has nothing backing it up, and we don’t know whether we can trust our reason. In reasoning about common life, skeptical worries never succeed, because they get outweighed by common sense and observation. But in reasoning about God, skeptical worries are powerful, because there’s nothing to oppose them.

59 Religion and science Cleanthes responds:
Even you skeptics accept reasoning about ‘out there’ stuff—look at science! It would be crazy to reject Galileo or Newton on the general grounds that human reason is too weak and untrustworthy on such remote subjects. The ignorant masses, they reject science because they don’t understand it, and they cling to even the lowest superstition. But you skeptics are perfectly willing to accept scientific reasoning, even about very outlandish topics. So, unless you’re just inconsistent or biased, you should be willing to accept reasoning concerning God.

60 Religion and science Sincerity Obvious arguments for religion
So, again, you’re just being insincere. It’s obvious you don’t believe what you’re saying. I’ll be charitable and say you’re just joking, you’re just having a good time. Obvious arguments for religion And it’s not like the arguments for religion are really strained and weird and intricate. On the contrary, they’re perfectly obvious and natural. So reasoning about religion is actually in better shape than scientific reasoning.

61 Religion and skepticism
Cleanthes continues, addressing Demea. Early Christianity In those days, everyone railed against reason. The Church Fathers borrowed from the Academic skeptics. The Protestant Reformers bashed reason. Catholics have written skeptical tracts very recently. Enlightenment Christianity But then Locke said Christianity is based on reason. Bayle and others misused skepticism, and everyone joined Locke. And now everyone acts like ‘atheist’ and ‘skeptic’ mean the same.

62 Religion and skepticism
Philo chimes in: This looks like ‘priestcraft’ (priests manipulating people for their own gain) In the old days, only a love of reason could challenge religion. And people were more susceptible to indoctrination. So the priests bashed reason. But now people are more independent-minded and they know about other religions. So now the priests base everything on reason. Cleanthes responds: Come on, it’s only natural for people to use whatever means they have to defend their beliefs.

63 Review Philo seems to be going with some hardline version of agnosticism: Reason is incapable of showing anything one way or the other about religion. Those who think reason can prove or disprove religion are putting too much stock in reason. Trusting reason might be okay in matters of common life, but not in matters of theology. But Cleanthes thinks reason is up to the task: There are obvious arguments to establish the important doctrines of religion. These arguments are just as solid (or even more so) than scientific arguments.


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