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Ola Hössjer: God or no God? A mathematician's journey into religious decisions

Time: Wed 2019-04-10 15.15 - 16.15

Location: Room 15, House 5, Kräftriket, Department of Mathematics, Stockholm University 

Participating: Ola Hössjer (Department of Mathematics, Stockholm University)

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Abstract: Blaise Pascal is one of the most well known scientists of the 17th century. He made important contributions to mathematics, physics, philosophy and theology, and he also constructed the first mechanical calculator. At the end of his short life he became a Christian. He viewed this as a decision, where one is wagering against the truth, using rewards (or utilities) to describe our priorities. In my recent book "Becoming a Christian", I have modernized Pascal's Wager, using Bayesian decision theory. I argue that the decision to become a Christian or not consists of three parts: A longing for God implanted from birth (prior belief), how we interpret all the evidence we encounter in life, and our willingness to take a step in faith. I will show how the decision can be illustrated graphically, and at the end I will ask whether mathematics can help us answering the question whether we should postpone the decision (in order to collect more evidence) or not. The talk will be given at a popular mathematical level.