Blaise Pascal by Augustin Pajou, Wikipedia
Would you love to share the Gospel message with someone, particularly the gospel in creation, but they won’t give you the time of day? They feel it unnecessary or unimportant to spend the time discussing the topic? Try getting them to consider Pascal’s Wager.
Blaise Pascal1 is the 17th century scientist and Christian who was recognized in having the unit of pressure named after him, the pascal.2 Atmospheric pressure in weather reports is often reported in kilopascals. Blaise, as with many thinkers of his era, was also a philosopher and theologian. Pascal’s Wager, which he used as a ‘proof’ of God,3 is often used when illustrating decision theory,4 particularly minimizing your losses. While Pascal’s Wager really doesn’t even come close to ‘proving God’, it can be useful to get someone to consider the importance of investigating the reality of the Creator’s existence.
So what is Pascal’s Wager? Pascal proposed that there are one of two truths in the universe, and one of two ways to live in relation to those truths.
The Truths: Either God exists, or God doesn’t exist.
The ways to live: You can live as if God exists, or you can live as if God doesn’t exist.
Combining these we have the following conclusions:
- If God doesn’t exist, and you live as though He doesn’t exist, you have no losses.5
- If God doesn’t exist, and you live as though He does, you have no losses but gain the advantages of a better life.
- If God does exist, and you live as though He doesn’t, you lose big time.
- If God does exist, and you live as though He does, you have no losses and gain everything.
Now living as though God exists involves far more than just acknowledging that He exists (‘even the demons believe and tremble’ James 2:19). It must involve a recognition of the need for God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. By using Pascal’s Wager you can help your friend see that they are gambling with their eternal life. If they really want to minimize their losses, it is worth their while to give you the time to share with them about the reality of the Creator-God and the need to be saved from sin’s consequences in the coming judgment.
References and notes
- Lamont, A., Great creation scientist, Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) Creation 20(1):38–39, 1997; <creation.com/pascal>. Return to text.
- One pascal (Pa) is equivalent to a force of one newton (N) applied to an area of 1m2. Return to text.
- Stumpf, S. E., Socrates to Sartre: A History of Philosophy, 6th edition, McGraw Hill, Sydney, 1999. Return to text.
- For instance: Jeffrey, R.C., The Logic of Decision, 2nd edition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1990. Return to text.
- Actually, living life as if God does not exist, and so lacking moral absolutes, causes huge loss. See Cardno, S., The creation basis for morality, Creation 24(3):44–47, 2002 and <creation.com/morality>. Return to text.
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Pascal's wager is invalid because...
Some critics argue that Pascal's Wager could only ever be an argument for feigning belief, which is dishonest. In addition, it is absurd to think that God, being just and omniscient, would not be able to see through this deceptive strategy on the part of the "believer", thus nullifying the benefits of the wager.
Since there have been many religions throughout history, and therefore many conceptions of God (or gods), some assert that all of them need to be factored into the wager, in an argument known as the argument from inconsistent revelations. This, its proponents argue, would lead to a high probability of believing in "the wrong god", which, they claim, eliminates the mathematical advantage Pascal claimed with his Wager.
Clearly, Pascal was not about pretending and nor was the author of the article: "Now living as though God exists involves far more than just acknowledging that He exists ('even the demons believe and tremble' James 2:19). It must involve a recognition of the need for God's forgiveness in Jesus Christ."
Indeed God does read the motives of people, so there is no possibility of feigning faith (Luke 16:15).
As for other religions, the argument would only have merit if all religions were equal and there was none that stood out as being likely to be true. And this is not the case either. As the famous ex-atheist Antony Flew said, after recognizing that there must be a divine designer, "I think that the Christian religion is the one religion that most clearly deserves to be honoured and respected whether or not its claim to be a divine revelation is true. There is nothing like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul. ... If you're wanting Omnipotence to set up a religion, this is the one to beat."
However, as far as we know, Flew never professed faith in Christ, so his respect for Christianity would have not been effective for his salvation.
When I was an atheist I observed a true christian closely and I thought to myself - that even though there was not a god a person would still be better off if he was a christian because the one I observed was morally so much better than me.
Unfortunately not all who name Christ as their Saviour and Lord honour Him in the way your friend did. Thankfully, Jesus calls us to follow the shepherd rather than the sheep.
However, it is not possible to be a Christian without believing in God because to follow Christ is to submit to his teaching, which included 'front and centre' that God exists and that Jesus was God revealed to us in human form.
Losing nothing and gaining everything is not only a reassuring and comfortable thought, it is a logical one too.
It is not true that you “lose nothing” if you live as though God exists. You “lose” all the behaviours proscribed by God. The Christian is more restricted, by the direction of God, than the atheist.