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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Big Terminator Plot Hole & Pascal's Wager

Well dear readers, I'm back after a 4-month hiatus.

There's a pretty big plot hole in the Terminator saga: wouldn't a nuclear war destroy most of the world's power and IT infrastructure, thus crippling Skynet? You'd think a computer system smart enough to figure out time travel would know it'd be shooting itself in the foot by launching all those nukes. It's thoughts like these that hinder me from engaging in more productive activities.

I went a few glorious months without being annoyed with Pascal's Wager. I was thinking of writing a pamphlet that I could hand out at churches after the service. Here's what it would say:

Many times, I have been told:
"If there's no god, I lose nothing by believing. If there is a god, you lose everything by not believing." Basically, this idea says that believing in god is a safe bet. The French mathematician Blaise Pascal was the first person to put this idea in writing so it is sometimes called "Pascal's Wager."

Pascal's Wager is sensible if the only possibilities are god or no god and the only options are believe or disbelieve. Let's consider a similar situation. Suppose you are staying at a hotel. You wake up at night to find that the hotel is on fire. Your only hope of survival is to jump 60 feet into the swimming pool below. What would you do? Well, you might get hurt or even die if you jump, but you'll certainly die if you stay put. In this case, there are only two options, and only one of them offers any hope. In a situation like that, I think most people would jump. Many people see similar logic in religion. It may not be true, but it's the only hope, they think.

The problem with Pascal's Wager, though, is that there are many gods and religions to choose from. Let's look at an example of a similar situation. You are feeling very ill. You got to a doctor who says you have fatal disease A. You decide to got to another doctor who says you have fatal disease B. You go to yet another doctor who says you have fatal disease C. Which doctor do you believe? You can't follow the advice from all of them. If you pick the wrong one or don't pick the right one soon enough, you'll die. And so it is with religion. If you're a Catholic, and the Muslims turn out to be right, you're in a bit of a pickle. Similarly, you're up the creek if you're a Jew and the Baptists turn out to be right. And just about everyone is screwed if those Heaven's Gate nuts were right.

Given all the religions out there, how sure are you that you picked the right one? Whatever you're religion is, there are millions of people who will say it's wrong.

Until you figure out how to prove yours is true, kindly refrain from bothering me about religion.

I don't see how handing out a pamphlet like that would be any worse than the way various religions blanket the world with their propaganda and annoy people with their missionaries.

I hope for a world where people are less inclined to order their lives around caveman campfire stories.

In the name of the Cheeto, the Frito, and the Dorito, snackmen.