As a follow up from this discussion on a previous question I asked, I’m wondering how defenders of Pascal’s Wager/“strong” atheists who hold that the probability of God’s existence is zero justify their positions. In order to defend the Wager, many argue that the probability for God’s existence is defined and positive. Atheists, on the other hand, argue that the probability for God’s existence is either zero or infinitesimal (if there is a difference between the two). How are either of these positions justified? It seems that, in general, three strategies can be applied to argue for these conclusions:
- Bayesian strategies - Some hold that they can rationally assign any probability to God’s existence as a Bayesian prior. For the atheist, this may well be zero. For a defender of the Wager, this may be any positive value. While an interesting perspective, it is certainly does not carry any power for those who do not accept the priors, making this argument somewhat weak in my eyes.
- Deductive arguments - Atheists may argue that the very concept of God is impossible. Let us also not discuss this option - for while it is worthy of consideration, it often seems that a adjustment of definitions is all that is needed to circumvent this objection. For example, many omnipotence paradoxes are raised in objection to God. While it may be problematic on the classical definition of omnipotence, simply adding that omnipotence does not include the power to do the logically impossible is usually enough to get around the paradox. Some stronger objections, such as the problem of evil, may also be used here, but I think that this is out of the scope of this question.
- Appeals to the principle of indifference - This seems to be the strongest way to argue in favor of the Wager/atheism here. To put it simply, the principle of indifference assigns a 1/n probability to n events when no other information is available. While this seems intuitive enough, I don’t think that it can be used here. I can think of two major problems to this approach. First, is the principle justified? Wikipedia states, among other objections,
It is not trivial to justify the principle of indifference except in the simplest and most idealized of cases (an extension of the problem limited definition). Coins are not truly symmetric. Can we assign equal probabilities to each side? Can we assign equal probabilities to any real world experience?
It also seems to be a trend in the philosophical community to abandon this interpretation, and instead accept imprecise credences - an interval, rather than precise number, of rational probability assignments. For this case, an assignment of [0, 1] would certainly seem to be in order. Regardless, for the sake of argument, let us assume that the principle of indifference is valid. We run into a second problem: Bertrand’s paradox speaks to the inapplicability of the principle when the probability space is not clear - and it certainly cannot be in this context. As an example, a defender of the Wager could say that the probability of God’s existence is 1/2 - either he exists or he doesn’t, and we have no evidence to sway us in either direction. On the other hand, an atheist could argue that out of infinitely many other Gods, Pascal’s God is just a tiny subset, making the probability for it infinitesimal. One assignment does not clearly seem better than the other. It is also not clear how we can say an infinity of Pascal’s God can be less numerous than an infinity of other Gods. If we map each of these Gods to an interval in the real numbers, we certainly cannot say that one interval is more numerous than another (more about this here).
Taking all of this into account, how do atheists and defenders of Pascal’s Wager respond to these objections? Do they abandon option (3) altogether, or make some statement about the “irreducibility” of the principle of indifference, and then simply choose a probability space that seems most reasonable to them? Or do they opt for options (1) or (2) instead?