Pascal’s Wager

This is the twentieth in a series of posts responding to a list of 20 arguments for the existence of god from this article. To be fair, the article does state that these arguments don’t make a case except when taken all together, using the metaphor of a rope, but I am analyzing them individually so I have responses when I encounter the argument later in other sources.

“Suppose you, the reader, still feel that all of these arguments are inconclusive.”

Understatement of the year. Kreeft promised 20 threads making up a rope. Thus far, not a single one of those threads contains more than one strong fiber, and most not even that.

There is another, different kind of argument left. It has come to be known as Pascal’s Wager. We mention it here and adapt it for our purposes, not because it is a proof for the existence of God, but because it can help us in our search for God in the absence of such proof.

As originally proposed by Pascal, the Wager assumes that logical reasoning by itself cannot decide for or against the existence of God; there seem to be good reasons on both sides. Now since reason cannot decide for sure, and since the question is of such importance that we must decide somehow, then we must “wager” if we cannot prove. And so we are asked: Where are you going to place your bet?

If you place it with God, you lose nothing, even if it turns out that God does not exist. But if you place it against God, and you are wrong and God does exist, you lose everything: God, eternity, heaven, infinite gain. “Let us assess the two cases: if you win, you win everything, if you lose, you lose nothing.”

I trust my readers are generally familiar with the wager in question, so I’ll leave out some of Kreeft’s explanation.

The Wager cannot—or should not—coerce belief. But it can be an incentive for us to search for God, to study and restudy the arguments that seek to show that there is Something—or Someone—who is the ultimate explanation of the universe and of my life. It could at lease motivate “The Prayer of the Skeptic”: “God, I don’t know whether you exist or not, but if you do, please show me who you are.”

Pascal says that there are three kinds of people: those who have sought God and found him, those who are seeking and have not yet found, and those who neither seek nor find. The first are reasonable and happy, the second are reasonable and unhappy, the third are both unreasonable and unhappy. If the Wager stimulates us at least to seek, then it will at least stimulate us to be reasonable. And if the promise Jesus makes is true, all who seek will find (Mt 7:7-8), and thus will be happy.

I have prayed the skeptic’s prayer. I have sought god with more effort than I have put toward any other endeavor. Yet, I have not found, and I have therefore all but given up. Did Jesus lie or does he ask of me more than I can give?

The biggest problem, other than not proving anything (although at least it does not pretend to) with this wager is that it is presented as a dichotomy when it isn’t one. What if the Christians picked the wrong god? Maybe the real god only sends atheists to heaven, and everyone else goes to hell. Maybe the real god doesn’t care what we believe but tosses anyone in hell who spends an hour or more in church each Sunday instead of volunteering to help the poor during that time. Maybe the Muslims are right and Allah is the one true god, in which case all Christians are infidels and go to hell. Maybe the Hindus are right. Maybe there is no hell. Maybe there is a god, but no afterlife, good or bad. Maybe the Egyptians are right, or the various gods argue amongst themselves over whether we deserve heaven. There’s a video that explains the idea much better (and is where I found it). In short, no matter which god we choose, we are betting against infinity; none of the bets are smart.

Perhaps even worse still is the problem that humans cannot choose to believe in a god they don’t believe in. If you do not believe me, try choosing to worship Zeus for the next hour rather than Yahweh, and I think you’ll be forced to change your mind. We can choose to perform the rituals of worship without belief, but we can’t choose to believe. If I could, I would have years ago. Do you think god prefers Christians who lie about what they believe to win a bet, or atheists who are honest?


We thus come to the end of the list. Tomorrow, I’m posting some thoughts on the list as a whole, so please stay tuned!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s