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…

  1. God exists.
  2. Heaven and Hell are real.
  3. Jesus is the only way to salvation.
  4. Every person will spend eternity with God, or apart from Him.

If Atheism is true…

  1. God does not exist.
  2. Once you die, nothing.
  3. 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?

 

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15 Replies to “What is Pascal’s Wager?”

  1. Pascal thought that God was incomprehensible, so he is talking about an assertion when he proposes belief in God, in a situation were the truth (as he sees it) is finally undecidable.
    His point is that, when faced with such situations, we often impose the theory with the greatest utility.
    And I might add, in a classical theistic scheme, there is no ‘objective’ purpose – just the purpose of a single subject, which, if you continue to take Pascal seriously, is also incomprehensible.

  2. One of the main limitations for this logic is the focus on avoiding penalties instead of the reward of knowing God. You miss the goodness of God and what He provides in Christ. Relationship. You need both, law and gospel, to appreciate God.

  3. I believe because in all my life Jesus has been my protector, I know the Holy Spirit and Father, the mystery of the Trinity is discovered once you use your faith. Trust in God and He also will always have your back. He knows better. BELEIVE is the key. Faith!! READ the Bible and it will be, once you have faith all you need to know. there is itself a religion. They don’t mind their business and want to destroy all that is Christian, why??

  4. Can you simply “decide” to believe something though? And what is that belief worth if it’s just hedging your bets? What if God is the space between belief and unbelief?

    1. Are you hinting towards the need for God to give life to the dead? That a faithless man doesn’t find faith, but rather God finds him?

  5. I subscribe to the same attitude as the lyrics to Luke Bryan’s song “People are Good” “I believe them streets of gold are worth the work/
    But I still wanna go even if they were paved in dirt”

  6. “I’m not sure this is how Pascal intended his wager to be understood.” I have thought that Pascal intended to show that each human being had to make an all-in bet on one side or the other of the wager because his or her eternal destiny depended on it. Not making the wager is not an option and hedging your bet is not possible.

  7. We cannot know the spiritual path without the help of a Godman and our search should, therefore, begin with the latter. In the Holy Gospel, it is said:
    No man cometh unto the Father, but by me. JOHN 14:6
    No man knoweth . . . who the Father is, but the Son and he to whom the Son will reveal him. LUKE IO:22
    No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him. JOHN 6: 44
    He that receiveth you receiueth me, and he that receiveth me receiueth him that sent me. MATTHEW I o : 40
    In short, the sacred books of all religions repeat the same thing; to wit, that man cannot gain salvation ex- cept through a Master of Truth

  8. Very thought provoking. As you mentioned, if we only believe in God in case he’s real, it sounds much more like we are making sure we have insurance to cover us on the off chance that God exists. While I do think that a lot of people’s experiences with God begin this way, I do think they tend to evolve into something much more. At least I should hope it would.

  9. I am appreciating the book “There is a River, The Story of Edgar Cayce.” It can help people who wonder “Does God exist?” and “What is the nature of God and what is a bigger picture of the human soul.” It is Cayce’s biography which was published near the end of his life. He was a devout Christian and seeker of the truth.

  10. I was reading a novel ‘As A God Might Be’ by Neil Griffiths which mentioned Pascal’s wager. Thanks for explaining. C S Lewis has the same thing as an analogy in ‘The Silver Chair’. The children are trapped underground and a witch tries to convince them that they only imagined the sunlight until their friend Puddleglum declares that even if the sun is just a dream, he’d rather dream than have no hope at all. Thanks for following my blog. Canach

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