Pascal’s Wager

The Wager Stated:

A. Either God exists or He does not, and either you choose to believe Him or you do not.
B. When you combine these two truths, there are only four logical possibilities.

  1. You believe in God, and He exists.
  2. You believe in God and He does not exist.
  3. You don’t believe in God, and He exists.
  4. You don’t believe in God, and He does not exist.
    C. If you believe in God, and you’re right, you will enjoy unimaginable happiness forever.
    D. If you believe in God, and you’re wrong, you will never know you were wrong. When you die, you will simply cease to exist.
    E. If you don’t believe in God, and you are wrong, you will suffer eternal damnation.
    F. If you don’t believe in God, and you are right, you will never know you were right. When you die, you will simply cease to exist. Further, you will not even have the satisfaction of knowing that you were right.
    G. These are the only four reasonable outcomes. You will be in one of these four situations after death.
    H. At present, you have partial control over the outcome.
    I. You cannot abstain from choosing.
    J. The believer has everything to gain and nothing to lose. The non-believer has everything to lose and nothing to gain by not believing.
    K. Not believing is the most foolish option.
    L. Therefore, believing in God is the safest course of action.

Can one extend a similar wager to a punishing God vs a merciful God as well?

How would one choose the correct interpretation of God to believe in? (trinitarian vs non-trinitarian for example)

That is a separate discussion. :yup:

Good question. Roman and Greek pagans had more than three gods. Wasn’t the safest path for them to believe in as many as they could?

It is as if Pascal sets him/herself up as God in this “wager” doesn’t it?

:confused:

The arguments in favor of Christianity v. pagan religions are outside the scope of Pascal’s Wager.

How so? It seems to me that Pascal merely sets himself up as human.

Pascal objectively establishes the situation that is faced by everyone.

  1. We will die; therefore, we must make a wager. Not wagering is not an option.
  2. What happens thereafter depends upon two things:
    a. Does God exist?
    b. Do I believe in Him?

Maybe but since Pascal was a mathematician, I’m sure he might have considered all the possible states of deity, not only its existence.

And a strong defender of the scientific method.

Which begs the question:

What is the empirical or measurable evidence to form the premise? Like what is Pascal point of originating the premise?

I’ve heard of the wager but not of its origin and detailed formulation.

C does not logically follow from B. There is a missing lemma: “God will grant unimaginable happiness forever to people who believe in God.”

D. If you believe in God, and you’re wrong, you will never know you were wrong. When you die, you will simply cease to exist.
E. If you don’t believe in God, and you are wrong, you will suffer eternal damnation.

E is the other side of C, and also has a missing lemma: “God will inflict eternal damnation upon people who don’t believe in God.”

J. The believer has everything to gain and nothing to lose. The non-believer has everything to lose and nothing to gain by not believing.

J is false, because a considerable amount of freedom is lost by believing. This begins with the freedom to believe that there may be a God or that there may not be gods, and extends to all of the actions proscribed by any such God. While some might consider that such freedom is only harmful if acted upon, it is nonetheless freedom, and it is lost.

This further raises the question of how the will of God is known, and whether the actions which God allegedly proscribes are truly forbidden by God, or only by the priesthood.

Believers may also lose their material property, their health (through various forms of stress resulting from their beliefs), and even their lives as a result of their belief. The claim that the cost/benefit ratio of eternal damnation/life utterly eclipses such concerns does not stop them from being losses, and leads to some peculiar calculus of present-versus-enduring concerns.

K. Not believing is the most foolish option.
L. Therefore, believing in God is the safest course of action.

These assume proof of the missing lemmas.

Pascal’s Wager assumes a lot without explicitly including it in the argument itself. This is one of the reasons why it is so unconvincing to people outside of the Church.

Though Pascal is correct, the problem I have always had with applying his wager in practice is that it could be modified for all kinds of things, like purple toed space aliens who demand that you paint your toes purple or suffer torture. Should I go out and buy some purple nail polish just in case? They either exist or they don’t, and according to the wager I’m better off living as if they do.

One might say that his wager is only meant to be a good place to start for someone who lacks faith, but I can’t see what it is a start to. After accepting the wager, you’d have to investigate which beliefs about God or gods make the most sense, and if you’re doing that, you might as well just begin there anyway. Even for someone who needs a reason to investigate there are more convincing ways to get there IMO.

The items listed as A through L were not part of Pascal’s original work, Pensees, which reads as follows:

If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is…

…“God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”

Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

“That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much.” Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite.

Fair enough. However, we are prudent enough to accept small losses when we purchase health insurance or go for a jog in order to acquire more desirable things such as protection from large hospital bills or improved health.

Since the happiness of the Beatific Vision is infinite, the loss due to the sacrifices required of believers is insignificant - even if it is not zero.

A lot of holes have been poked in PW over the years.

One is that there are massive assumptions about the nature of God (an aside here is that there is General Revelation, so we do know something) as a basis for the thing, but the PW is designed to be self-contained. For example, what if you assume God HATES those who believe in him? Then it’s safer not to, and the whole thing falls apart. You are assuming a good and rational God who likes it when people believe in him and rewards them. What if his idea of a reward is something you would never desire, like hell?

Many folks think that is true but whether it is actually the case is less certain.

One is that there are massive assumptions about the nature of God (an aside here is that there is General Revelation, so we do know something) as a basis for the thing, but the PW is designed to be self-contained. For example, what if you assume God HATES those who believe in him? Then it’s safer not to, and the whole thing falls apart. You are assuming a good and rational God who likes it when people believe in him and rewards them. What if his idea of a reward is something you would never desire, like hell?

Pascal’s Wager is not intended as a stand-alone argument in support of theism or Christianity.

Other arguments would be used to establish the nature of God and the fundamental truths of Christianity, first.

You forgot to state that if you don’t believe in God, you can do whatever the heck you like as long as no one finds out!

A life of materialistic gluttony and immoderation in all things.

.

Which, some would argue, is actually supportive of the life of a believer.

What if what God loves seems like hell to some people?

peace
steve

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.