Betting on Pascal’s Wager…Kind Of

by Matt Rawlings

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:24

I was an atheist raised in a Christian home.  So, I knew about heaven and hell.  When I doubted my doubts because of my failure to explain the origin of the universe or the existence of consciousness, I tried to dismiss them but it was the possibility of hell existing that perpetuated my fear of being wrong.

The great seventeenth century Christian thinker Blaise Pascal knew hundreds of years before I was born that the average skeptic wrestles with the fear of being wrong about the existence of God. Thus, Pascal wrote in his brilliant posthumously published work Pensees that a person bets or wagers with his or her life on the existence of God.

Pascal argued that, all things being equal, a person should obviously side on the existence of God for the eternal risk of atheism was greater than the  temporary pleasures of this life.  The wager is laid out in Pensees as follows:

1) “God is, or He is not.”

2) A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up.

3) According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

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4) You must wager (it is not optional).

5) Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.

6) Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.

7) But some cannot believe. They should then ‘at least learn your inability to believe…’ and ‘Endeavour then to convince’ themselves.

Pascal summarized the above as follows…

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Betting on Pascal’s Wager…Kind Of | Pastor Matt