Pascal’s wager and religious diversification across children

by on November 14, 2007 at 1:38 pm in Religion | Permalink

Justin Wolfers of the Wharton Business School spoke on Pascal’s Wager, saying that if one believes in religion then the greatest risk is choosing the wrong one.  And how to hedge against such a risk?  Mr. Wolfers advises the following: Have lots of children and bring each one up under a different faith.  That way, if people don’t get into heaven themselves, at least they will have maximized the chances that one of their children will.

Here is the link.  God may hold this sort of maximizing behavior against you, but surely not against your kids…

1 caveat bettor November 14, 2007 at 1:59 pm

The eminent Prof. Wolfers has my admiration and respect, for his great thinking and publishing.

But isn’t he introducing a logical fallacy into the great thinking and work of Pascal, by trying to stake out some middle ground? How convenient that Pascal is not available for comment.

Wolfers’ proposal does nothing for the parent, and also dooms most of the family, too. Maybe he should take a page from his prediction markets advocacy, and raise his kids to seek the truth, whilst [sic] seeking the truth himself.

I’ve heard it can set people free. (first posted at Midas Oracle).

2 Noah Yetter November 14, 2007 at 2:17 pm

A fine illustration of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of religion.

3 dearieme November 14, 2007 at 2:30 pm

If you think God wouldn’t punish the children, you can’t have read the Old Testament.

4 William Newman November 14, 2007 at 2:31 pm

What kind of degenerate excuse for economics is that? Where are the covariances of the kids’ doomed immortal souls? Where is the higher-order game theoretical intractability proof? Where are the nonlinearities of utility functions under the possibility that an omnipotent God can create payoffs so large that even he can’t compare them? It sounds as though it might have involved no Greek letters at all…

5 josh November 14, 2007 at 2:37 pm

This will also maximize the number of children who burn in hell.

6 juancarlos November 14, 2007 at 3:34 pm

aCCORDING TO YHE bIBLE , BUT OLD AND NEW, your religions doesnt matter you can go to heaven even if you are pagan or atheist or agnostic.Thats why the Catholic Curch got rid if Limb

7 Kieran November 14, 2007 at 3:41 pm

Looks like juancarlos got struck down in mid-sentence there.

8 Nat Almirall November 14, 2007 at 3:57 pm

I think Bob Montgomery makes an interesting point — suppose the parent believes in Catholicism: if he raises none of his kids Catholic he either doesn’t want them to get into heaven or he’s skeptical of his own religion. If he does raise one of them Catholic, he maintains his faith but signals his skepticism of the other kids’ religion.

9 Scott O November 14, 2007 at 5:33 pm

What’s with all the outrage? Isn’t it patently obvious this is meant as a joke?

Of COURSE it’s ridiculous … it’s religion.

10 oren November 14, 2007 at 6:24 pm

It won’t work, at least not until you get to the great-great-great-grandchildren. Exodus chapter 20:

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.

11 Rob Sperry November 14, 2007 at 10:05 pm

Given that the possible number of deity scenarios is infinite, the probability of guessing the right scenario in a finite number of guesses is zero. You could try to have an infinite number of children, and have faith that the infinity of children you have is the same kind of infinity as the infinity of deities. But there is still the risk that you won’t achieve the one to one correspondence needed to ensure a child in heaven. It is important here to consider the impact of the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and its application to raising children in light Pascal’s wager which clearly leads us to†¦

12 Hei Lun Chan November 14, 2007 at 10:25 pm

Maybe juancarlos was raptured …

13 Bob Montgomery November 15, 2007 at 11:55 am

What’s with all the outrage? Isn’t it patently obvious this is meant as a joke?

What outrage are you referring to? And, sure, it’s a joke, but it’s a joke with a point and its perfectly reasonable to respond to that point.

I’m still baffled by this mythical person who believes in “religion”…do you know anyone like this? What is this? Someone who believes in rituals, the supernatural, but not in any specifics? Even the most wishy-washy “religious” people I know of have SOME specifics they hold dear, even if only that God is a “good” god. They’d probably hate to be pinned down like this, but you’ve got monotheism and a moral standard just in that phrase.

14 Gil November 16, 2007 at 12:56 pm

How can there be an MR Pascal’s Wager post without a link to Alex Tabarrok’s brilliant paper?

15 Kevin Jones November 20, 2007 at 9:08 pm

“Pascal took it seriously. He abandoned mathematics and went into seminary. Not saying he wasn’t off his rocker, but he certainly took it very seriously.”

Pascal didn’t go all pious because his discovery of the wager. That was a gambit from an (incomplete) work of apologetics. The intellectual realization that most moved him was when he realized that the god of the philosophers was not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He sewed a note marking that day into his coat lining.

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