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October 17, 2004

Faith-- A Decision Theory Analog

I thought of an analogy for faith today that may be helpful to people who think in terms of economic models.

Imagine that you have 100 hours to devote to a project that will yield a million dollars if successful. If you devote 0 hours to the project, it will have a 10% chance of success. Spending an hour on the production side of the project, you will increase its chances of success by either 0% or 0.4%, with equal probability. Spending an hour on the marketing side of the project, you will increase its chances of success by either 0.1% or 0.2%, with equal probability.

What should you do? You should spend all 100 hours on production, for an expected 40% increase in the probability of success, compared to 15% for marketing. You should resist the temptation to "split the difference" and spend some time on production and some time on marketing. You may be wrong-- and production time may be completely useless-- but you need to make that leap of faith.

The same goes for religious faith. I have my life to spend on attaining The Good. If I just avoid thinking about Big Things, I might still succeed. If I think a little, I will realize there are certain paths which are most likely to help. Christianity has, perhaps, a 0% or a 40% chance of being correct. Atheistic hedonism has, perhaps, a 10% or 20% chance of success. I must make a decision, though, and compromise is not a sign of wisdom. Rather, I should be willing to be brave, and put my efforts where my mind directs them (and heart-- if my heart is helpful), even knowing that I cannot be sure of what is true. That, indeed, is the key reason for faith: that lack of certainty should not paralyze us, and in the case of the Big Things, reason will not take us anywhere near Certainty.

Posted by erasmuse at October 17, 2004 01:59 PM

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