Dale Tuggy always has great podcasts and his latest is no exception. (I said always, didn’t I?!) This week he has an interview with philosopher Michael Rota on the latter’s new book Taking Pascal’s Wager: Faith, Evidence and the Abundant Life.
I suggest you listen to the whole forty minute interview … and of course read the book too. As I offer these comments I have done the former but not, as yet, the latter. Consequently, my comments are a reaction to Rota’s description of the wager in his interview. He may well address my concerns in the book. And depending on the listener, you may believe he has provided a response to my concern in the last five or six minutes of the interview. I am not so sure.
Having laid out my caveats, I’ll now go ahead and offer my criticism based on my listen of Rota’s defense of the Pascalian wager. As Rota observes, the wager invites us to bet on Christianity, just so long as we are already positioned to consider it a live option for belief, perhaps as more likely to be true than not. In that case, and given the enormous benefits that would come with believing rightly in this matter, and the comparatively modest deficits should it turn out that Christianity is wrong, we ought to wager on Christianity.
And what does it mean to wager? As Rota observes, Pascal nowhere assumes a naive epistemic voluntarism as if we can control our beliefs like we move our arms: e.g. “Okay, I believe now!” Rather, Pascal invites us to wager by identifying with the Christian community, partaking in the Eucharist and the various other rhythms of Christian (and Catholic) life, and working our way into belief by this indirect route.
This brings me to my concern. I worry that Pascal’s wager undermines epistemic virtue. How so? Well, let’s say I conclude that it is perhaps more likely than not that Christianity is true. That’s enough to wager. However, I also have a general belief rooted in epistemic virtue that I ought always to consider my own cognitive biases, that I ought to devote substantial time to the problems with my own beliefs and to weighing the evidence for beliefs contrary to my own.
This leads to a problem, because if I pursue the former route — the route of pious immersion — I make it more likely that I shall believe, but I do so at the cost of epistemic virtue. By contrast, if I choose the latter route — the route of epistemic virtue — one could reasonably suppose that I make it less likely that I will end up with a deep conviction that Christianity is true. And thus I will make it more likely that I will harbor significant doubts and/or qualifications about the Christian convictions on which I presently believe I ought to wager.
In short, it would seem that a wager for Christianity is a wager against epistemic virtue. But if we assume we ought always to seek truth above all, is that a wager we should have to make?