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The Wager

“Let us now speak according to our natural lights.” – Blaise Pascal’

Who doesn’t, at some point, experience doubt: doubt in ourselves, in our abilities and our choices? Doubt, like stones thrown into a pond, casts ripples in our lives with even the smallest stones of doubt having far-reaching impact.

This blog post isn’t a Top 10 or Leaders Best Practices for eliminating doubt (sorry to disappoint). This is going to a be an argument in apologetic philosophy similar to Blaise Pascal’s The Wager, where all humans bet with their lives. However, we aren’t betting on the existence of God, but on you. And why, when you must wager, you and the power you possess to create the life you want is always your best bet.

The Rules:

Pascal says, “Either God is, or he is not. But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance [death] a coin is being spun that will come down heads [God] or tails [no God]. How will you wager?”

Let’s translate this into some rules for our wager.

  1. A game is being played where the odds are 1:1 and the probability is ½ (like a fair coin being flipped)
  2. Everyone must bet; it’s not optional
  3. Either you have the power to create the life you want or you don’t (i.e. You=Power or You≠Power)
    1. The same is true for all people

Determining How to Bet:

To simplify Pascal’s argument we can think about it as decision under uncertainty with the values of the following decision matrix.

God exists (G)

God does not exist (-G)

where f1, f2, are all finite positive or negative numbers

Belief (B)

+∞ (infinite gain)

f1(finite loss)

Disbelief (-B)

−∞ (infinite loss)

f2(finite gain)

The matrix makes clear betting (i.e belief) on God’s existence provides a reward or (practically) nothing, while betting against God’s existence (disbelief) gives you punishment or nothing. Pascal concluded wagering on God’s existence is the best bet.

Now let’s talk about you.

We are not outside observers of life, but participants. We are like ships that need to get home, sailing past a port that has signs on it proclaiming that it is our true home and our true happiness. The ships are our lives moving along the waters of time. (Peter Kreeft)

I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate Peter’s metaphor for our lives as ships and our living/existence as sailing to port. Let’s take the metaphor further making the bet we are considering about believing that one can or can’t helm his or her ship. Helm is the power and the action possessed that allows a person to create the life they want.

Simply,

  1. If you believe in your power to helm your ship and that power does exist, you will be rewarded with not only having sailed the life you always wanted, but piloting into your port: infinite gain
  2. If you do not believe in your power to helm your ship and that power does exist, you will be remain at sea, a ship of chance not rewarded and not in port: status quo
  3. If you believe in your power to helm your ship and that power does not exist, you will not be rewarded, but also nothing lost: the status quo
  4. If you do not believe in your power to helm your ship and that power does not exist, you will not be rewarded, but also nothing lost: the status quo.

We can think of our wager as having three premises: the first concerns the decision matrix of rewards, the second concerns the probability that you should give to the power you possess to create the life you want and the third is a maxim about rational decision-making.

Specifically:

  1. Either our power exists or our power does not exist, and you can either wager for that power or wager against that power. The utilities of the relevant possible outcomes are as follows, where f1, f2, and f3 are numbers whose values are not specified beyond the requirement that they be finite:

Power to Helm exists (H)

Power to Helm does not exists (- H)

Belief (B)

+∞

f1

Disbelief (-B)

f2

f3

  1. Rationality requires the probability that you assign to one’s power existing to be positive, and not infinitesimal.
  2. Rationality requires you to perform the act of maximum expected utility (when there is one).
  3. Conclusion 1. Rationality requires you to wager for the power to helm
  4. Conclusion 2. You should wager for the power to helm

The next time you feel the ripples of doubt, bet. Bet on you. Bet on the power you possess to create the life want. What do you have to lose?

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

Sabrina DeLay is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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