Monday, February 23, 2009

Pascal's Wager, extended

Rob at Wind Rose Hotel writes about Pascal's Wager.

Let's apply it to a slightly more complex problem...

Pascal's Wager proves that it's better for you to believe in God, but which God? Each religion offers you one: the benevolent God of Christianity, the harsh, unforgiving God of Islam, the indifferent God (if any) of Taoism and Buddhism, the capricious Gods of Hinduism and Paganism...

Let's extend the reasoning of Pascal's Wager to the case where there's choice between different Gods.

Assume for simplicity the possible choices are: (i) an harsh God (who punishes you unless you believe Him and behave exactly as His Prophets say), (ii) a benevolent God (who may perhaps forgive you if you didn't sin too much or even if you didn't believe in Him -- say you'll end up in Purgatory instead of Hell), and (iii) an indifferent God (who won't neither punish nor reward you -- this case is indistinguishable from the no-God one).

Suppose you choose to believe in the indifferent God, or in no Got at all; then, if the harsh God is the true one, you'll end in Hell (-1 points), if the true God is the benevolent one, you'll probably end in Hell as well, but perhaps not always, depending on your other sins (say -0.9 points). If the true God is indifferent, you have nothing to gain. Total score: -1.9 or so.

Suppose you choose to believe in the benevolent God. Then in the harsh God case you would be punished (-1), and rewarded in the case of a benevolent God (+1). An indifferent God wouldn't care to punish you. Total score: 0

Suppose you choose to believe in the harsh God. Then, if you're right, you'll be rewarded (+1). If the true God is the benevolent one, you'd probably be punished, but perhaps not always (say -0.9 points). In the case of an indifferent God, nothing happens. Total score: 0.1 points.

To summarize, this extended Pascal's Wager confirms the findings of the original one: you'd fare better believing in a God than not believing (or believing in an indifferent one).

Moreover, the harsher the God, the more convenient it is to believe in Him.

So I imagine the best option in the real world, according to Pascal's Wager, would be to convert to Islam, and perhaps hedge the bet by avoiding behavior that's sinful for Christianity (eg. taking more than one wife).

Monday, February 9, 2009

On the Englaro case

I don't have a clear position on this case, but despite what Catholics say, I think that Mr.Englaro's position was a little more coherent than the one of the Italian government.
From what I understand, the parents' position is based on two amply-condivided principles.
The first principle is that a person has the right to refuse to be submitted to therapy. This principle is (at least implicitly) accepted by the Church. I remember reading some time ago of the case of a pregnant woman who, at risk of her own health, refused therapy that could have harmed the foetus she was carrying, and this behaviour was reported very favourably by the Catholic press. Moreover, when in a few years therapies based on embrional stem cells will become to be offered to patients, I suppose many Catholics will want to be able to refuse them as against their principles. Even Pope John Paul II is rumored to have requested to suspend therapies in the last days of his illness.
The second principle is that when patients are unable to express their will, relatives may testimony the patients' opinion. This is how consent is currently sought for in case of organ trasplant from brain-dead people, for example. This principle is also supported by the Church, that doesn't forbid organ donation.
The only aspect on which perhaps the protesters have a point is whether alimentation and hydration are or not to be considered a therapy. This is debatable, as the means by which Ms. Englaro was kept alive are everything but "natural".
Even with the new law that forces alimentation and hydration not to be interrupted, I don't think a patient in those conditions could survive for long without any other kind of medicament or drug. An immobilized person would develop infections or trombosis without continuos treatment.