Saving Pascal

Scott Adams is at it again, trying to defend Pascal’s Wager, which he defines as follows:

In a nutshell, Pascal was a dude who argued you should consider Christianity because if it’s true, the downside of not believing is eternal Hell. But if you become a Christian and there’s no God, all you’ve lost is your Sunday mornings. (Here I am simplifying.)

What follows is his response to the standard critiques of Pascal’s gambit, conveniently summarized on Wikipedia.
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Atheist Tracts

Harvey Mansfield, professor of government at Harvard, responds to the “atheist tracts” of Dawkins and Hitchens, in an article published on the Weekly Standard web site.

It is not religion that makes men fanatics; it is the power of the human desire for justice, so often partisan and perverted. That fanatical desire can be found in both religion and atheism. In the contest between religion and atheism, the strength of religion is to recognize two apparently contrary forces in the human soul: the power of injustice and the power, nonetheless, of our desire for justice. The stubborn existence of injustice reminds us that man is not God, while the demand for justice reminds us that we wish for the divine. Religion tries to join these two forces together.

The weakness of atheism, however, is to take account of only one of them, the fact of injustice in the case of Epicurean atheism or the desire for justice in our Enlightenment atheism. I conclude that philosophy today–and science too–need not only to tolerate and respect religion, but also to learn from it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it were really true that religion was nothing more than a philosophical recognition of the conflict between the desire for justice and the desire for the power that comes from injustice? Read the rest of this entry »