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Pascal’s Wager

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Pascal’s Wager

You Wanna Bet on it?

My kids love to climb trees. Overall, I’m okay with that, but I normally give them one very important but simple rule: You are not allowed to fall out! And whatta you know… They tend to break that one simple rule every time.

One day, one of them came running home and in a rather panicky voice he told me that his brother fell out of a very high tree. He told me that his brother was just lying on the ground and didn’t move. Now, I know that they sometimes have the tendency to exaggerate a bit. But what did I do? Exactly, I told my boy to show me the way and we both ran to his brother. I couldn’t take the change of him lying there and not getting proper help. When I arrived, I was relieved to see him smile and trying to climb again.

I took the change of going there for no good reason and loosing some time. Or maybe there was something wrong, and I could help him. But, imagine I didn’t go and found out later that he was hurt big time. That would have been a really dumb decision. No reasonable person can be or ever is in doubt in such cases. You just check up on your child!

What is the Wager?

Deciding whether to believe in God is a case like my example, argues Pascal. Blaise Pascal was a 17th century mathematician and philosophe. Pascal’s Wager or bet, is the most known part of his collection of notes known as the Pensées. With the Wager, Pascal tried to provide a compelling reason to believe in God based upon happiness and possible outcomes.

Pascal believed that God’s existence can’t be known without the Bible. He said that

if there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible […] We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is

and that

reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us […] According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.i

You might say that he didn’t really promoted apologetics based on evidence. Pascal was more the type of guy who wanted to stress the gains of belief.

The Wager basically say that if you bet on the existence of God, and He doesn’t exist, you’ve lost nothing. You could have lived your life in happiness, thinking you would go to heaven. But, if you bet on atheism, and it turned out God does exist, you’re in a pickle. The atheist also could have lived his life in happiness but that would end with the existence of God. So, what bet would be the most save one? Right, to bet on God.

Wanna Bet on it?

Many think that the Wager is a very poor argument to believe in God. Pascal, who himself was a very critical philosopher, thought it to be one of the strongest.

And honestly? I don’t think it is a good apologetical argument at all. But neither did Pascal. This Wager isn’t based on any evidence whatsoever. Many sceptics, atheists and the like hate this argument. They despise it as one of the dumbest things there is. Why is that you ask? Well, simply because many, Christians included, don’t understand why Pascal came up with this idea.

As said, Pascal wasn’t very fond about the traditional form of apologetics. He knew full well that many un-believers just don’t want to believe in a higher being.

Romans 1:18-20

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

This idea is known in the philosophical world as Doxastic Voluntarism and says that people choose their own beliefs. People have a certain amount of control over what they believe,

Pascal did not come up with this idea to enlighten to so-called intelligent people. No, he basically wanted to give a reason to believe without first having to dig through all sorts of arguments.

If you are unable to believe, it is because of your passions since reason impels you to believe and yet you cannot do so. Concentrate then not on convincing yourself by multiplying proofs of God’s existence but by diminishing your passions. You want to find faith, and you do not know the road. You want to be cured of unbelief, and you ask for the remedy: learn from those who were once bound like you and who now wager all they have.

Some atheists say that they just can’t believe. In other words, they think that ‘believing’ is something like a talent. Just like a professional football player who has that talent which not many have. You believe my words or not; you believe you are watching this video or not. It is a choice you can make. And I agree with Pascal, believing is an act.

And sure enough, just starting to believe or to admit that God exists is a good beginning to investigate more. If someone at least decided to believe that God is real he might be open for more. He might decide to finally listen and have faith.

Romans 10:17

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Agnosticism

Pascal did something very interesting with this argument. He actually showed the foolishness of agnosticism. Agnostics say they cannot know whether God exists or not. They tend to be very sceptical and do not want to commit themselves to reason. No, they think we shouldn’t bet at all but Pascal answers this by telling them that they have no choice, you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Embarked in what? In life. We are no spectators who are sitting in the stands of the stadium, watching all those poor earthlings struggling through life. No, everybody plays along, everybody needs to choose.

The agnostic view is totally unreasonable, because they too will one day face the reality of death. Simply saying that you don’t know what happens after death is one thing, but to leave the incident unquestioned is something the Bible would classify as foolishness.

Atheism

Agnosticism is an unreasonable and even an impossible viewpoint of life. Either God exists or He does not. This leaves us with only two viewpoints. Namely, atheism and theism. And as said, betting on the non-existence of God is a really dumb decision. Blaise said:

You have two things to lose: the true and the good; and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to avoid: error and wretchedness. Since you must necessarily choose, your reason is no more affronted by choosing one rather than the other. That is one point cleared up. But your happiness? Let us weigh up the gain and the loss involved in calling heads that God exists. Let us assess the two cases: if you win, you win everything: if you lose, you lose nothing. Do not hesitate then: wager that he does exist.

Problems

Reason

I do not agree with Pascal’s idea that reason cannot help us decide whether God exists. Again Romans 1:19-20

Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

Also, Jesus’ disciples used reason to preach the Gospel. Paul is known for his style of evangelising. He reasoned and argued with everyone who wanted to.

Acts 17:2

[In Thessalonica, Paul,] as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures.

Peter even calls on us to give an answer to every man that asks you about your faith.

1 Peter 3:15

but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.

Salvation

Another thing I have difficulty with, is the idea that those who bet on God are the lucky ones if He does exist—those waged on Him will enjoy unlimited happiness.

Pascal said:

If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

James 2:19 says that belief in God is not automatically evidence of salvation and a right relationship with Him.

Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

Many religions believe in the existence of God, and there are also many secular people who will tell you that they believe that there must be a God. Still the Bible is crystal clear that everlasting life can only come by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and accepting His gift of salvation that comes from His death and resurrection. In other words, the Bible clearly says that we need to believe in God to begin with, but that we also need to accept His Son as Lord and Saviour.

But, to be fair on Pascal, I am not sure he meant to say that believing in God was enough. It might well be that he assumed that someone who believes also will take the next step by accepting Christ.

Concluding

I could go on talking about all the problems that can be found in the Wager. And trust me, there are many who have done that already. I might do a video on just that. Just about all the problems and objections that have been raised by un-believers.

But for now, I think it is enough to say that the Wager isn’t all bad. Peter Kreeft ended his article with the following anecdote:

An atheist visited the great rabbi and philosopher Martin Buber and demanded that Buber prove the existence of God to him. Buber refused, and the atheist got up to leave in anger. As he left, Buber called after him, “But can you be sure there is no God?” That atheist wrote, forty years later, “I am still an atheist. But Buber’s question has haunted me every day of my life.” The Wager has just that haunting power.ii

Well, that is just it, isn’t it? Many will just walk around, acting very content with them being atheistic, but in the meantime there is this irritating feeling of ‘what if?’

The Wager can also be very handy for us as Christians. I know there are some of you who never seem to have any trouble believing what you believe, but there are Christians who struggle so now and then. Sometimes good arguments just aren’t good enough. Sometimes the overwhelming evil in this world shakes your trust. And sometimes you just keep on doing dumb things, and you struggle to do the right thing. It makes you wonder… Is it all worth it? Then the Wager can be of a great help. Is it all worth it? Well, if God exists, definitely! If God doesn’t exist… Oh well, you will not even notice it by the time you die.

What do you think, are there any benefits or objections to the Wager? Let me know in the comment section of this video below! Remember! I am mostly active on my Odysee channel. You’ll find a link to that channel in the description of this video. This platform which based on a protocol called LBRY. Videos that are uploaded through the LBRY protocol are censorship free.

In the same description you’ll find ways to support me, and I’ll place a link to the transcript of this video. I always try to make the transcript available in Dutch and English.

If you want to start your own channel on Odysee you can use my invitation in the description, and we will both receive some free LBC!

As always, thank you for watching,

God bless you and we see each other in the next video!


Footnotes

i Blaise Pascal, Pensées, (1623-1662), Trotter, W.F. (Trans.), Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids, MI, [internet] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pascal/pensees.html, accessed 13-04-2022, pp. 38-39.

ii Peter Kreeft, The Argument from Pascal’s Wager, Texas A&M Veritas Forum – 1995, [internet] https://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/pascals-wager.htm, accessed 14-04-2022.

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