Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Argumentum Ad Consequentiam

Imagine there were two people standing at a waterfall, considering the possibility of jumping down. Both of them are hesitant to do so, but for different reasons. The first person considers it dangerous because of the possibility of rocks at the bottom which could kill her. The second person considers it dangerous because a transdimensional alien could be at the bottom where it will devour him.

Both beliefs have a finality in terms of consequences. Both beliefs if true hold disastrous, the outcome is infinitely undesirable. But what of the beliefs themselves? Is it fair to hold off from jumping on the basis of either belief? Imagine if you were to ask each of them for advice on whether to jump, would you take each statement as equal?

Now such a question is loaded with assumptions. This is of course unavoidable, and important to illustrate the point I'm trying to make. In the first example, gravity is something that most people are aware of and falling onto a hard surface is something that most of us would want to avoid. For some, the consequences would be enough to put them off jumping even if there weren't rocks there. That there could be rocks is enough.

With the other example of reasoning, how many would consider a transdimensional alien that devours humans a threat? Perhaps there are some. Perhaps they are science fiction fans who have just stumbled upon quantum mechanics, multiverse theory, xenobiology and happened to be watching Return Of The Jedi might somehow be cautious of it. But most, however, would just ignore such a reason not to jump.

From that, the problem of the appeal to consequences should be apparent. One cannot derive truth from consequences, but can derive consequences from truth. A transdimensional alien popping into our reality at the bottom of the waterfall the moment one jumps in would be a disaster consequentially, but with no reason to suspect that such an event is possible the threat is an empty one.

Pascal's Wager is useless in this respect. As an argument from consequences, it has no foundation of truth at all. And if the consequences don't match up with one's beliefs, then there's just no reason to take heed of the consequences. If one isn't already disposed to the strong possibility that Christ is lord, then Pascal's Wager doesn't follow.

If one doesn't have that predisposition to Christianity, then in order for Pascal's Wager to be effective the case must first be made that the consequences are real. Otherwise it's just like being told there's a transdimensional alien at the bottom of a waterfall. The consequences that stem if a particular belief is true depends on the if, and if the if is not established then there's no reason to consider the consequences.


Richard T said...

But you are going to burn in hell therefore you should believe in God. :D

Tomato Addict said...

I for one, welcome the opportunity to thrown myself into the maw of our transdimensional alien overlords. ;-)