Expected values are a useful tool when outcomes are uncertain. When different decisions have probabilities of different payouts, one can utilize expected values to understand the planned utility of making those decisions. Because outcomes of most events are uncertain, expected values can be used to determine which decisions will most likely yield a higher utility. If someone were to perform the necessary calculations to determine the expected value of two decisions and were to find out that one yielded a higher expected value than the other, it would be irrational for that person to choose the option that yielded the lower expected value.
This only applies if the beliefs you're choosing to "bet" on have relatively high prior probabilities of being accurate. A belief is only likely to have "utility" if it actually works, in reality.
For example, a belief in Islam will not result in the "payout" of a positive hereafter if [your sort of] Christianity is accurate, or if atheism is accurate. In other words, the "expected value" of having accurate beliefs is much higher than the "expected value" of having false beliefs, therefore it is in our interest to use the best methodologies we can find, to generate accurate beliefs.
In practical terms, "uncertainty" about a given belief means that you have at least some reason to think it might be accurate, but not enough evidence to be sure. If you have no reason to think it might be accurate (i.e., no evidence in its favor prior to attempting to calculate its "expected value"), it is an arbitrary claim, epistemically equivalent to meaningless jibberish. "Uncertainty" in this pragmatic sense does not apply to purely arbitrary claims, claims made without evidence, because such claims offer no legitimate reason to reject the null hypothesis. That which can be asserted without evidence, may be dismissed without evidence.
If you do not apply this epistemic principle, then you are compelled to "bet" on the "expected value" of an infinity of potential arbitrary claims ("the invisible pink unicorns of Tau Ceti III will bless you with long life and prosperity if you send kcrady money!"). Q:
Why would you make a long, convoluted, pseudo-mathematical/logical argument like this?A:
Because you don't have anything better, i.e. actual evidence
in favor of your position.
In the field of cognitive neuroscience, there is quite a lot of evidence against
the notion of an afterlife, i.e., that a human consciousness/self/"soul" or "spirit" can exist and operate after the brain and body die. It has been abundantly
demonstrated that if the brain is damaged, the consciousness is also damaged. Alzheimer's Disease is one well-known example. If Alzheimer's-related damage to, say, half of the relevant areas of the brain can cause a person to lose, say, 50% of their memories and cognitive function, how could it be that total damage to 100% of the brain (death) can result in the person regaining
100% of their memories and cognitive function? In like manner, entirely mundane physical chemicals (alcohol, DMT, LSD, THC/marijuana, ketamine, etc.) can radically
alter the experience and function of a person's consciousness.
On the hypothesis that consciousness is resident in an intangible, non-physical repository ("soul"/"spirit"), why should this be the case? Purported Evidence for Non-Physical Consciousness:
The evidence offered in favor of non-physical consciousness (AFAIK) falls primarily into two categories: NDE/OBE's ("Near-Death" and "Out of Body" Experiences) and claims of "past-life recall." NDE/OBE's do not provide any evidence in favor of "Heaven for believers and Hell for non-believers." To the contrary, the experiences (most often "Heavenly" in nature, though sometimes distressing or "Hellish" experiences occur) are belief-invariant: the nature of the experience (pleasant or unpleasant) and even the probability of having an NDE is not related to the beliefs the individual held prior to the experience.
"Past-life recall" (claims by some people to have accurate recollections of "past lives" that give them verifiable information they could not have known otherwise) also does not provide evidence in favor of "Heaven for believers and Hell for non-believers," even if one accepts that the recollections are evidence of a real phenomenon. It could arguably be interpreted as evidence in favor of reincarnation
, but that's not the hereafter belief you're trying to promote here, is it?
So, we have abundant evidence in favor of "Death's Finality," and some evidence
(in the form of unusual experiences) that could be used to argue for the existence other
hereafters (i.e., not "Heaven for believers and Hell for non-believers"), among a number of other possible interpretations.
In short, we have no actual evidence in favor of your preferred hereafter scheme. To the contrary, the only evidence for hereafters we seem to have indicates that belief
is irrelevant, and the most likely hereafter is either "Heaven" for everybody, under the auspices of a loving, non-judgmental "Light at the end of the tunnel," reincarnation, or perhaps both ("Heaven" being a way-station between incarnations). In other words: We have no actual reason to think your preferred afterlife scheme could be accurate.
Some may argue that, while expected values are useful when making decisions about what actions to take, they are not useful in choosing what to believe. These people may argue that no one chooses what to believe, but rather, develops beliefs based on their experiences.
To "expect" something is to anticipate that it will occur in reality. Apart from actual evidence in favor of a hereafter belief's validity,
we have no reason to "expect" believing it to pay off.
A case could be made that willful belief, or beliefs acquired by means of "sleight-of-mind tricks" (hypnosis, altered states of consciousness, the ritual psychodrama of magickal practice, etc.) can yield positive results in some situations. For example, the placebo effect. If one invests time, effort, and emotional energy into creating and "enchanting" a magickal talisman to "attract" prosperity and/or the interest of desirable people of one's gender preference, it could have positive effects by inducing confident behavior, body language, etc. even if there are no "magickal supernatural forces" involved.
However, this sort of thing would not apply to the case of generating one's preferred choice of afterlife. If "Heaven for believers and Hell for non-believers" does not actually exist, no amount of self-hypnosis or magickal practice will make it real for you after you die. Likewise, if it does, disbelief in it will not make it go away.
I believe this argument is inaccurate. If a person does not choose what to believe, then who does? Some may not feel that they consciously “choose” what to believe, but they are of course in control of how they interpret their experiences and how their experiences influence their beliefs. Two people may have identical experiences but may choose different beliefs based on those experiences.
Can you choose to believe, actually believe,
in the literal truth of the Santa Claus story, even if somebody offered you a billion dollars if you did (so that you have compelling motive to believe)? Assume they have a brain-scanning/lie detection device that can accurately determine if you're faking belief or not.
If beliefs are just robotic outcomes that are determined by a person’s experiences, then it opens up the door to remove accountability from all actions.
False dichotomy. Possibilities are not limited to "People can choose to sincerely believe ("bet on") absolutely anything at a whim" and "People's beliefs are robotic outcomes of their experiences."
People can also choose what to use as their basis
of forming beliefs. Unless solipsism is true, there is a reality to which beliefs may or may not correspond. If so, then not all beliefs will be of equal utility (in particular, for purposes of navigating through reality). If there is a reality, then we have very good reason to want to test
our beliefs to determine the likelihood that they conform to (and are thus useful for navigating through and operating in) reality.
I have put together the below argument to demonstrate how, regardless of potential scenarios, belief in Heaven for believers and Hell for non-believers will always yield a higher utility than belief in death resulting in the end of one’s existence.
If you're an absolutely selfish psychopath, perhaps. Notice how the language of your assertion here only assigns utility/disutility relative to one's
existence, i.e., one's own
existence. In order for your argument to be valid, a person would have to be able to experience "infinite bliss" in Heaven without having any empathy or compassion for the people experiencing endless torment in Hell, or having any revulsion for the infinite injustice of torturing billions of people (and who knows how many aliens throughout the Cosmos!) for the "crime" of guessing wrong
by failing to "bet on" one arbitrary claim out of an infinite set of possible arbitrary claims, all of which are completely bereft of evidence in their favor.
In short: In order to enjoy Heaven, you must either have to have your moral capacities stripped from you by Yahweh after you die (or not have them in the first place), or you have to be a really nasty son of a bitch.
Consider the following version of the Bodhisattva Vow:
As long as there is suffering
As long as there are sentient beings in the 6 realms
May I never attain Enlightenment
And never cross over into Nirvana
This certainly represents a vast improvement over the craven and selfish Christian goal of simply saving one's own ass, toadying before Infinite Capricious Evil
and limiting one's "compassion" to the act of trying to get other people to conform to one's own beliefs ("evangelism"). And to think how often you Christians claim the patent and trademark on all morality! Nonsense on stilts!
As a non-psychopath, I find it difficult to imagine a belief-set with a higher level of negative "expected value" than the claim you're making here, that reality is governed by Infinite, Capricious, Omnipotent Evil. The options you offer--eternally groveling before such Evil, or being eternally tortured by It--are close to equally horrifying by my calculation of "expected value." At best, toadying might seem more pleasant because you're in "Heaven," but you must eternally live in terror of making some misstep, or simply being pitched into everlasting torment for the Hell of it, by a being of such unlimited malevolence and caprice that all the people already in Hell are there because they picked the wrong numbers in the Celestial Belief Lottery.
So, by the "logic" of your own argument, I should reject Christianity.edit: moved note 2 out of quote to make it readable.