Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Camping's Apocalypse as a Perfect Pascal's Wager

Razib Khan has made an excellent point, showing how the Harold Camping debacle is an excellent (reversed) example of Pascal's Wager. For those unfamiliar, here's what believers will try on you: if you DO believe in God, the best you get is eternal reward, and the worst you get is a little wasted time. If you DON'T believe in god, and you're right, you're fine, but if you're wrong you're screwed and will burn for eternity. So why not believe? What's the harm?

The enormous error is that this assumes you have special, correct knowledge of the nature of these gods. If the Muslims are right, evangelical Christians are screwed; the punchline of this very funny Rowan Atkinson piece does a good job of getting this across.

In fact, you can go one step further. There IS harm, even without gods. We now have a real-world test. These believed in a wrathful, Rapture-causing God - just in case, just like Pascal's wager says. And they were wrong. What did they lose?

This woman almost took her own life, and the life of her kids; certainly she's lost custody of them. This man almost killed his dog. This man squandered his life savings to advertise the date. Sadly, he still trusts Camping.

Others lost money, family stability, college savings, and no doubt the respect of their communities and themselves. Because they believed, just in case.

Meanwhile, Camping continues to refuse any accountability for what happened. The only reason the outcry isn't greater is that this is exactly what we expect from a man like Camping.

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