The Wager

Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists. ~ Blasie Pascal

Pascal’s Wager is one of the most famous arguments in the philosophy of religion. I thought I understood it until I started studying it. Many hours of reading later, I can say with some certainty, that if salvation were based on mathematical equations, I’d be lost, literally.

I’ll attempt to summarize, minus the math. There are one of two truths in the universe, and one of two ways to live in relation to those truths. The truths are: either God exists, or He doesn’t exist. You choose how to live based on which truth you believe.

  1. If God doesn’t exist, and you live as though He doesn’t, you have no losses.
  2. If God doesn’t exist, and you live as though He does exist, you have no losses and gain the advantages of a better life.
  3. If God does exist, and you live as though He doesn’t, you lose immeasurably.
  4. If God does exist, and you live as though He does, you have no losses and gain everything.

I’m certain that those who believe #1 would take issue with #2, seeing no better life as an outcome. The argument against #4, I would think, would be that if you don’t believe, you can’t really live as if you do. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t pretend ‘just in case’.

It isn’t like smiling and or acting kindly and hoping your emotions catch up. The Wager is for higher minds than mine. I’m thankful for the gift of faith that frees me from the we have everything to gain and nothing to lose proposition.

It sounds so arrogant to say that I know – but I do know. Clearly it’s not because I’m so terrifically smart. It’s grace and only by grace that I know:

  1. God exists
  2. I’m called to live as though He does
  3. I’ve already gained everything
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About Debbie

A former counselor and public speaker, I'm grateful for many, many things - God's grace most of all!

8 responses to “The Wager”

  1. blogginbaldguy says :

    Sadly, many atheists belittle the wager and fail to truly grasp the intellectual prowess of Blaise Pascal. God was gracious to him and the Wager has endured many centuries of critique.

    • Debbie says :

      Hello blogginbaldguy!
      For some reason, Word Press spammed your comment and I just found it today. Thank you so much for sharing your insights. I did read a bit about the rebuttal when I was reading about the ‘weaknesses’ of the argument. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts here. God is gracious, indeed!
      ~ Debbie

  2. Debbie says :

    Dan – thank you for your excellent clarification – and for reading. I’m honored. I know this college professor I should have consulted instead of trying to muddle through this one on my own! ;)

  3. Dan says :

    It’s been a while since I studied Pascal’s Wager, but here’s what I remember:
    1. For Pascal, we cannot know whether or not God exists (or really, whether Christianity is true – that’s the religious background he’s referrencing), but we have to live our lives despite full knowledge of His existence or non-existence. “Living” doesn’t imply “good deeds” – I think he’s referring to faith as well. So God’s existence is ultimately unknowable for us on earth (in the way that we “know” most of the things we know) but we must believe something about that question and act on those beliefs.
    2. The Wager isn’t meant as proof for God, or even as a persuasion tool to convince others of God’s existence. Pascal’s intention, I think, is to create the opportunity for belief, to combat the criticism of his time (and ours) that it is irrational to believe in God. Pascal is saying that because of the vast importance of correctly answering the question of God’s existence (and its followup questions), then as long as the probability of God’s existence is greater than 0, the “rational” choice is belief in God. This result holds even if the probability of God’s existences is really small. Pascal is saying, to Christians and non-Christians alike, that it isn’t silly to believe in God.

    Thanks for all the thoughts! I love the blog and read it daily.

  4. bickleyhouse says :

    There are a lot of people who seem to live somewhere between 1 and 2. For the better part of their lives, they live as though they don’t believe, but every now and then they “pray” or go to church, just in case, or something happens to them that makes them think about God for a few minutes, then they’re back to their usual lifestyle. There are times that I fear that I don’t live as though I believe. Hopefully, those times are getting farther apart and more brief.

    Great post!

    Jeff

    • Debbie says :

      Jeff – I read your blog, so I have no doubt that your life is a light! Thanks for your comments – always. The ‘just in case’ scenario is so tragically sad.
      ~ Debbie

  5. mtsweat says :

    I’ll see your bet and raise you… oh, forgot where we were. Great work, and mathematical apologetics to boot. God bless.

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