Pascal’s Wager: A brief study

Kreeft informs us at the outset that Pascal’s Wager is not a proof that God exists but rather an attempt to “prove that it is eminently reasonable for anyone to ‘bet’ on God, to hope that God is, to invest his life in God.” p. 291.

Order. I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than of being mistaken in believing it to be true. (387, p. 292).

Kreeft rightly identifies this as the Wager in a “nutshell”. The Wager is on whether to believe in God or not. Belief in God is choosing the better option because in this belief there is nothing to lose and possible infinite gain. Disbelief in God has nothing to gain, in that if the disbeliever is right there is no reward, however there is a possible infinite loss.

For Pascal there are certain presuppositions before he makes the Wager; the infinite destiny (namely heaven and hell) is linked to belief in God. However, rather than say that Pascal is proposing that simple belief in God can leads to heaven, it is better understood that for Pascal the Wager is simply seeing the reasonableness of theism visa vi the foolishness of atheism.

Now to the wager itself.

Pascal first establishes the greatness of God. Within this he shows that it is reasonable to believe in a God, even if we don’t understand his nature. For this he uses the analogy of the number ∝ infinity. All this to say that “if there is a God, he is infinitely beyond our comprehension…” (418, p. 293). Thus excusing Christians from having to give “rational grounds for their faith” (ibid.).

Next the problem is stated: “Either God is or he is not.” And Pascal asserts straight away that reason cannot give the answer. This firstly to say that those who believe in God should not be condemned.

Then he answers the agnostic (fence sitter) by saying that this decision must be taken, “you must wager” because there is “no choice, you are already committed.” (418, p. 294). Kreeft explains this by saying that there is no choice about whether you can choose or not because humanity is already on the journey; we are already on the sea (p. 299).

The Wager is also not based on whether the options are true or not, we cannot prove that God exists through reason or even this wager, but we can determine the effect for us (happiness and life). And the effect of winning this wager, which is clearly when one believes in God, is infinitely greater than the finitude of a loss. Which is also to say that if we believe there is a God and there isn’t, there is no loss. But if we don’t believe in God and there is, then how great the loss!

So Pascal says that in belief in God there is nothing to lose. In fact, it is actually rewarding even in this life: “Now what harm will come to you from choosing this course? You will be faithful, honest, humble, grateful, full of good works, a sincere, true friend…” And the cost? “It is true you will not enjoy noxious pleasures, glory and good living, but will you not have others?” (Ibid., p. 295). Ultimately, to bet on God is reasonable.


2 Responses to “Pascal’s Wager: A brief study”

  1. 1 HanseaticEd April 30, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    My remarks, which you have linked to, and which I made quite a long time ago, seek to summarize Pascal’s wager as you have done, but in the context of showing how they have helped me. I hope your readers find them relevant.

  2. 2 Scepticon May 1, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    It is curious that my entry on Pascal’s Wager, in one of the auto-generated links, is the only one that is critical of the concept. I think that those who already believe will find the logic of the wager appealing but the unbelievers will see it as eminently unconvincing.

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Passage for this Season

Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

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