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Blogging on Pascal’s Wager and Global Warming 8/1/2008

with one comment

Paul Krugman (New York Times, 8/1/08, Op Ed page A-23) put my position on global warming into words very well:

“While there’s a chance that we’ll act against global warming only to find that the danger was overstated, there’s also a chance that we’ll fail to act only to find that the results of inaction are catastrophic. Which risk would you rather run?”

I used to argue this point in the classroom using Pascal’s wager in the negative. The argument of the wager proper is based on probability and goes:

1. If you believe in God and there is a God, then you have eternal life.

2. If you believe in God and there is no God, then you do not have eternal life.

3. If you do not believe in God and there is God, then you do not have eternal life.

4. If you do not believe in God and there is no God, then you do not have eternal life.

Thus only your belief in God stands you the chance of receiving the eternal benefit. Pascal then argues for taking the risk and making that wager. He complicates his probability theory by his inclusion of infinites.

A wager could be seen as pretty paltry in terms of pledging your whole life on believing, having faith, and trusting God. Still like in the musical “Guys and Dolls,” a gamble was just the faith involved in taking the risk to marry a partner.

Taking the wager in the negative is like the positive one of the benefit of an infinite heaven and eternal life, because scientists say that it would take 65 million years to recover from a planetary eco-collapse.

Here’s the sentence: If we act against global warming because we believe the scientists and it is not a hoax that the human destruction of the CO2 cycle causes it, then there will be no catastrophe.

Here is the wager in shorthand:

1. If we act and it’s not a hoax and it’s not overstated, there will be no catastrophe.

2. If we act and it is a hoax and it is overstated, there will be no catastrophe.

3. If we do not act and its not a hoax and its not overstated, there will be a catastrophe.

4. If we do not act and it is a hoax and its overstated, there will be no catastrophe.

The third possibility here is the only negative infinite, because the duration of 65 million years of time would spell the end of the world as we know it. So it has to be avoided, just like belief in God has to be accepted as the only positive result of Pascal’s Wager.

Possibility 2. has the residual benefit of improving our environment, while possibility 4. has the negative one of harming our environment further. Pascal’s Wager in the negative shows that possibility 1. is the only responsible choice and possibility 3. is the height of irresponsibility. As Krugman asks, “Which risk would you rather run?”

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Written by peterkrey

August 1, 2008 at 9:53 pm

One Response

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  1. Pastor Krey,

    Did you get my e-mail response?

    Thanks,
    Greg

    Greg Emmerling

    August 2, 2008 at 12:50 am


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