Monday, March 28, 2022

Pascal's Wager and the beatific vision

To resolve the many gods and evil god objections to Pascal’s Wager, we need a way of comparing different infinite positive and negative outcomes. Technically, this is easy: we can represent these outcomes as an infinite quantity in some system like the hyperreals or vector-valued utilities, and then multiply these by probabilities, and add. The real difficulty is philosophical: how do we make probability-weighted comparisons of these infinite utilities? How does, say, a 30% chance of a Christian heaven compare to a 20% chance of a Muslim heaven? How does, say, a 30% chance of a Christian heaven compare to avoiding a 5% chance of a hell from an evil god?

I want to make a suggestion that might help get us started. On Christian orthodoxy, heavenly bliss is primarily constituted by the beatific vision—an intimate union with God where God himself comes to be directly present to consciousness, perhaps in something like the way that the qualia of ordinary acts of perception are often thought to be directly present to consciousness. How nice such an intimate union with a divine being is depends on how good the divine being is. For instance, plausibly, such a union with the kind of being who loves us enough to become incarnate and die for our sins is much better than such a union with a deity who wouldn’t or even couldn’t do that.

Gods that have morally objectionable conditions on how to get to heaven are presumably not going to be all that wonderful to spend an infinite time with—even a small chance of a beatific vision of a perfectly good God would beat a large chance of an afterlife with such a god. (Of course, some people think the Christian God’s conditions are morally objectionable.)

There is an important sense in which the beatific vision is intensively infinitely good—i.e., even a day of the beatific vision has infinite value—because the good of the beatific vision is constituted by the presence of an infinite God. Because of this, afterlives that feature something like the beatific vision may completely trump afterlives theories that do not. This may help with evil god worries, in that it is plausible that suffering we can undergo will intensively be only finitely bad. If B is the value of the beatific vision and H is the (negative) value of hell, then pB + qH will be infinitely positive as long as p > 0.

I am not saying that taking the beatific vision into account solves all the difficulties with Pascal’s wager. But it moves us forward.


Apologetics Squared said...

I made a video that also used the beatific vision to help Pascal's Wager:

Andrew Dabrowski said...

Is it always assumed that one's personality in heaven is static, one doesn't grow or change there? A heaven like that sounds like hell to me.

"Gods that have morally objectionable conditions on how to get to heaven are presumably not going to be all that wonderful to spend an infinite time with..."

Isn't the idea that once you decide which religion is optimal, you then throw yourself into it, i.e. work to persuade yourself of its Truth, so that you can be accepted into its heaven?

Personally I think Pascal's Wager is so silly as to be beyond, uh, salvation.

Alexander R Pruss said...

There are some people who think that heavenly life is unchanging. I think human bodies are a sign that change is central to who we are, so I think heavenly life involves change.

Marius Blomlie said...

I think there is a difference between heavenly life as it really is (objectively) and our experience of it (subjectively). Heaven itself is timeless, residing in a timeless God (not in a time of infinite duration, but outside time altogether). But our conscious experience of heaven will give us the impression of time, because we will experience ourself in it, and the way we experience ourself is through thoughts (which happen in succession from our local perspective).

I don't think change is central to who we are, but change is central to our own understanding and experience of who we are. God's incorporeal idea of who we are is our true essence, and this idea is eternal and unchanging (whether we have realized who we truly are or not).