On Pascal’s Wager

What is this argument? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We will get back to marriage, but I wanted to write about Pascal’s Wager since I have seen atheists debating it on a Facebook page I belong to and I don’t think I have ever written anything about it. I did make a post in the thread asking how many atheists had read the Pensees. If you don’t know, that’s the book of Pascal that contains the wager. Only one gave any indication.

Note this is not saying that one should use Pascal’s Wager, nor is it saying one should not. It’s just an attempt to clarify what is going on. Most atheists do not understand the wager.

Suppose you are one who claims that the wager doesn’t work because there are many other religions to choose from.

You do not understand the wager.

Suppose you say it doesn’t work because Pascal gives you no reason to be a Christian.

You do not understand the wager.

Whatever you might think of Pascal, by standards of even our time, Pascal was a genius. His intellect was extremely impressive and it’s a shame that he died at such a young age. It is a shame that the #1 thing that Pascal is remembered for is his wager. I think he would be disappointed if he came back today and would ask if anyone had really read the whole of the Pensees, and yes, you should.

Pascal’s wager is not a logical argument in the sense that if you follow the premises, you get to the conclusion that Christianity is true. That doesn’t mean that it’s irrational, but it is not a classical argument that you would find in someone like Aquinas. This is really an argument that is based on experience.

Pascal is talking to the person who is saying, “I’m torn really. I see that there’s evidence for Christianity and I am considering it, but I am not sure if it’s true or not.” Pascal is addressing an experiential claim then. If you are not sure, then live like it is true and see what happens. After all, what do you have to lose? If you die and find Christianity is true, you lose nothing. If you die and atheism is true, you have still lived a good life.

That part is indeed accurate. All atheists and Christians should agree that the Christian claims do have severe outcomes for us. It is at least worth looking into. If you are an atheist who is absolutely sure Christianity is bunk, the wager is not targeting you. Again, Pascal has a specific type of person in mind.

This might seem dishonest, but many of us know this principle. If you are married and don’t feel love for your spouse, live as if you love them and watch what happens. If you are in a job, live as if you have the ability to do your job well and watch what happens. We are often told that if we act a certain way, we are more inclined to feel that way as well and have the existential question answered.

Before you comment on the Wager now, ask if it’s really for you. If you aren’t the person in mind, then don’t bother. How can you better tell? Try going and reading the Pensees yourself. There’s plenty more in that book besides the Wager.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

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