The Flawed Logic in Pascal's Wager


#1

Most of us know what Pascal’s Wager is. From Wikipedia, we learn:

Pascal’s Wager (or Pascal’s Gambit) is a suggestion posed by the French philosopher, mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal that, even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.

The reason I bring up this topic is because I fear many nominal Christians cling to their Christian beliefs even though they may have serious doubts which, in effect, make it nearly impossible for them to live as a Christian should. In other words, although they’d prefer to jettison Christianity, they still give mental assent to it for fear of what happens should they outright abandon it.

What I’d like to focus on, though, is the notion that believing in Christ is a “risk-free” proposition that can only result in all good and no bad. I’ve heard and read countless people state something like the following: “Hey, if I’m wrong and there is no God, I’ll simply die and go to my grave, no worse for the wear”. But it seems as if this is a deeply flawed view of Christianity for several reasons, but the main one that troubles me is that if Christianity is indeed untrue, then who’s to say that all of us who believe wont be in deep trouble in the hereafter assuming another faith/religion is true?

In Christianity, we say that others who reject Christ will be in trouble once they die, even if they ultimately do confess Christ as Lord. If Christianity is false, and there is one true faith, what kind of punishment could followers of Christ be looking at? Anyone familiar w/ any other religion’s view on those who don’t follow their “god”?


#2

If I risk $1 and lose it, who cares? But if I risk and lose a million dollars…

The worst disaster imaginable would be losing the best thing imaginable. This best thing is the Good God, the Lord Most High. Losing him would be the worst possible thing.

I’ll risk losing the Tooth fairy, Santa and the Spaghetti Monster, but I will not risk losing the Lord Most High.

God alone knows who God is. I certainly don’t, not can any finite being. God is hidden in light impenetrable. But we can say some things with certainty. A good God would want the best for his creatures. Since he is the best, he would give himself to us in love. He would speak to us. He would come down to our level. He would save us from a meaningless and futile existence. So I look for a revealed religion in which God comes down to us, speaks to us, and gives himself to us in love, saving us from death.

If this God does not exist, we’re doomed. All we can do is love the Good God even so, and die shouting.


#3

I reckon that the wager is atheism vs. a theism. i.e. it’s saying that belief in the existence of any God is safer than believing in no God (which would just mean death is the end, nothing more to worry about).

However, I see your point, that just keeping “Christ” as a trick up your sleeve isn’t necessarily the safest option. They’d probably be better with something more pluralistic, like Ba-hi, i.e. cover as many bases as possible! :unamused:

The extended version of the wager, which Talbott talks about in his book, is even more interesting.


#4

Give me “no God” any day in preference to “just any God”. Unless God is absolutely good, sooner or later we’ll get bored, disillusioned, and finally blasted for impertinence. Only an absolutely good God could delight us eternally and justly deserve our devotion.


#5

From my perspective the wager makes no sense whatsoever as any God worthy of the capital G in his name will know that there is no genuine faith on the part of the person.


#6

Or is faith always a wager when we recognize that absolute security is a myth? That we always risk from the standpoint of absolute security?


#7

I think you are right Roofus that faith is a wager to a certain extent from the mortal’s point of view but if God really does know each and everyone’s heart then a genuine faith over a ‘faith’ for the sake of ‘just in case…’ must surely be known to him. There again if UR is true then everyone will eventually get to a genuine conversion at some point :wink:


#8

Remember Puddleglum’s wager? It was the best he could do at the time, being half-enchanted. His desperate leap of faith was only the beginning of his journey, not the end. Once he was heading up the road, his doubts began to vanish. His faith in Aslan was quite genuine by the time he got to Narnia.

Didn’t Augustine say something like: We must believe in order to know, not know in order to believe.


#9

One thing about Pascal’s Wager that is rarely kept in mind, contextually: he wasn’t advocating it as a first (much less an only) step.

He suggested the Wager in the special case of a person who has weighed everything pro and con, and still finds himself positively agnostic on the topic, unsure of which side of the case he should go with.

In that regard the special version of the Wager often applied against universalism makes most sense if the Christian has weighed the case pro and con as far as she can figure it, and is still agnostic about whether to go with universalism or not. In that case, it makes rational sense to go with the conservatively pessimistic option, against universalism, ‘just to be safe’.

Whether that decision would count as having the most trust in God, I would say not!–but in theory the Christian has considered that, too, and can’t decide which direction would count as having the most trust in God.

Deploying the Wager as a first-and-final step, however, against universalism, smacks of irrational fear-mongering. Such a move certainly has nothing to do with having a concern about what is true or false, only what is (or merely might be!) safe. And such a move amounts to the blindest mockery, if Christians who are already universalists on other grounds are exhorted to think such a trustless fear should overweigh those grounds!

Deploying the Wager as an extra incentive on top of a case against universalism, on the other hand, wouldn’t be irresponsibly irrational. I can understand that being a prudent bit of icing on the cake.


#10

As to the question of comparison with other religions (although properly speaking this doesn’t have much to do with the Wager as Pascal intended to apply it): I can’t think of any other religion offhand, aside from monotheistic ones like Judaism and Islam (polytheistic Mormon Christianity being an exception in the same direction), where dying as a Christian per se would involve any kind of serious punishment. (Dying as a Christian who has done evil things, yes; but being a Christian in itself wouldn’t count.)

Buddhist philosophy (in some variants, religious or otherwise) might come closest. Those who do not attain enlightenment (and that would count being a Christian) are doomed to reincarnate into the cycle of suffering instead of being recovered back into the nirvanic bliss of ultimate personal nothingness–which roughly speaking amounts to unity with God. (Some Hindus and Brahmans have a similar belief, but in their case it has to do more with ethical karma than with Buddhist renunciation of desire. The point being that being a Buddhist has a lot to do with properly renouncing desire, while anyone can accrue or pay off ethical karma.)


#11

Pascal’s wager seems to react to the worst risk automatically, no? If there was a religion that pronounced severe penalties for a certain act, the person convinced by such an argument would always avoid said act.


#12

The way I’ve heard the wager expressed is as follows:

Christian to Atheist:

If you’re right and I’m wrong, then we will both be unaware of anything after death.
If I’m right and you’re wrong, then I will enjoy eternal bliss, but you will suffer eternal punishment.
So why take a chance? Become a believer (just in case I’m right), and avoid the risk of going to hell. If you’re right, it won’t do you any harm.


#13

BUT - you can’t just decide to become a believer for that reason - because you’d still not ‘really’ believe deep down in your heart. I prefer to remain honest and say ‘no… I just can’t see that it’s true’ and I’m sure any God would prefer that as well.


#14

As I see it, the only “flaw” here is that this so called ‘argument’ is asked to bear far more weight that it was ever intended to. That is not the flaw of the argument; it is ours.

Never intended as an argument for belief, I think it was an argument why belief should be considered an acceptable (and rational) pathway. As I’ve seen this, Pascal offered this explanation up in the face of those who badgered him to be “smarter” and to better reflect the prevailing intellectual dogma of the day. (that God was not necessary) It was, in effect, his attempt to get his friends who ridiculed his belief off his back.

Thus, it was offered not as a logical reason TO believe; rather it was a rational approach to consider the implications if his critics were wrong. “Leave me alone! If you are right and I’m wrong, so what. But it I’M right and you’re wrong, your loss, and my gain, are enormous!”

In that narrow context, the logic of pascals wager is not flawed, but brilliant it seems to me. As I’ve seen it, Pascal was suffering ridicule at the hands of his friends who wondered at his belief and mocked him for it. The “wager” then was merely an attempt to get them off his back and to consider the whole paradigm from each perspective. If Pascal was right, they were far more wrong than they realized. But if they were right, no big deal…

JeffA is of course quite correct; a God worth His salt could easily discern those who from sinister and selfish motives played it “smart” by picking God. But this misses a major, and magnificent point.

Recall our very intense father in Mark 9;24 who cries “Lord, I believe! Help my UNbelief!” This underlines for me the beautiful fact that we contain this unique capacity for both belief AND unbelief. It’s not one or the other; it’s both!

We see then this splendid father who, against what he must have seen as the predominant evidence, WANTED to believe. He saw some hope and vision, but it was far from adequate, so he thus belonged in both camps. Believer AND unbeliever. That’s great isn’t it??!!

And with all respect and apologies to my friend JeffA, this is the precise category in which HE belongs it seems. WERE he to see the precise evidence he felt necessary, I have zero doubt he would be convinced in a heartbeat and forever. In the meantime, the skepticism of JeffA towards contrived and self-preserving “belief” for the mere purpose of avoiding “hell” is a skepticism I hope we ALL can share.

Pascals wager is in no way a proof or reason TO believe; true belief comes not from the instinct of self-preservation, but from being overwhelmed by the LOVE of the Father. My God! It’s True! I am Loved by an unfathomable God who will stop at nothing to win me back to trusting Him! Bowing to worship in order to save our own skins, versus bowing to worship in adoration of the God who came to live in our midst in His Son, the Christ, are very very different things. Pascals wager does NOT confuse those things at all is my view; it is we who confuse them.

That’s sorta my take here…

TotalVictory
Bobx3


#15

Good post TV - I’ve never thought of it that way before.


#16

Tony Campolo said in a podcast, something like this: when discussing the Christ’s Way: we are Christians to a point and we are to go to that point and take another step!