What is Pascal’s Wager?
Blaise Pascal was a 17th century French philosopher. He “wagered” in his work, Pensées (Thoughts), that a person should endeavor to believe in God because they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. If you gain, you gain all. If you lose, you lose nothing. Why not wager to believe?
Issues With the Wager
Why the Christian God? Pascal’s Wager seems to set-up a false choice between atheism and Christianity, as if there are no other options. There are other options and the wager fails to acknowledge this.
Pascal regressed to a “wager” because he concluded that humans cannot reason to knowledge of God. Based on this, he concluded that it is wise to wager that God does exist. However, his statement about not being able to reason to God directly contradicts the Bible.
“For his invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made. As a result, people are without excuse; since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth,” -Romans 1:18-20
Human beings can definitely reason to a limited knowledge of God. The Bible says that by studying the world around us, it’s clear that there is a Creator. To say otherwise would be to undermine a great deal of the apologetic enterprise. However, if we are to have any further knowledge of God, or knowledge of how to be saved (Rom. 1:16-17), we will have to look to special revelation – revelation from God outside of the natural order (i.e. the Bible).
A New Wager
Pascal’s Wager is often criticized for advocating for “false belief”. What I mean by false belief is the kind of belief that says, “I’m only believing this on the off-chance it’s actually true, I don’t want to go to hell.” I would agree, I don’t think this is what the Bible means by faith. However, I’m not sure this is how Pascal intended his wager to be understood. Nonetheless, we can understand the wager in a way that is actually useful.
Pascal’s Wager shouldn’t be used in this way: “Just say you believe on the off-chance it’s true.” As if you could fool God? Pascal’s Wager should be used to entice inquiry. “Look, if Christianity is true and atheism is false, you should at least look into these matters with an open-mind.” Frank Turek loves to ask, “If Christianity were true, would you believe it?” Some people will say no. But for those who would say yes, please consider the evidence. In this way, Pascal’s Wager is an invitation to the skeptic.
If Christianity is true…
- God exists.
- Heaven and Hell are real.
- Jesus is the only way to salvation.
- Every person will spend eternity with God, or apart from Him.
If Atheism is true…
- God does not exist.
- Once you die, nothing.
- The only purpose to life is whatever you make it. There is no objective purpose.
What do you have to lose? I’m not saying this is a reason to believe. I’m saying this is a reason to investigate. If you conclude that Christianity is false, you can say you gave it serious thought.
What do you make of Pascal’s Wager?