Blaise Pascal

“IT’S ALL A GAMBLE”

Blaise Pascal 1623-1662

Blaise Pascal was born in France in 1623 and by the age of 16 was one of the leading mathematicians of his day. Pascal chose to think about whether or not God exists in terms of the “best bet”. Calvin comes to a similar decision about Santa in the comic below:

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Calvin bets that there is no downside to believing in Santa. Calvin’s wager looks like this:

Believing in Santa = Presents

Not believing in Santa = No presents

——

Pascal applied his brain to the problem of whether you should believe in God, or not. He came to the conclusion that you could neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, therefore you had to decide whether or not to seek God, to behave as though God existed, or not.

Pascal’s Wager looks like this:

God Exists

God doesn’t exist

Bet on God existing

Gain all

Nothing changes

Bet against God existing Misery

Nothing changes

For Pascal there are only two choices because to not choose was to behave as though there was no God.

Pascal said that if you thought about it, the only way to win in this wager was to believe (or to act as though you believed, by seeking God). The benefits to believing in this life was the comfort of knowing that “the journey of life” had a driver. The benefits after this life is the promise of heaven.

Alternatively, you could choose to behave as though God does not exist in this life, you lose the benefits of believing the “journey of life” has a driver. In the next life if there is a God then you have to face that God’s judgement and risk the consequences of that choice.

If there is in fact no God after all, as a non-believer you don’t even have the benefits of being right, because if there is no God then the journey ends in the grave anyway.

For Pascal, there is only one sensible choice to make: to live in this world as though God exists, for unlike betting against God, you lose nothing if you are wrong and gain everything if you are right!

Questions to consider:

  1. Explain why Blaise Pascal thought that making a decision about God’s existence can only be a gamble?
  2. Pascal said that no human being could escape gambling on God’s existence. Why? Do you agree? Give reasons for your answer.
  3. Pascal believed that there was a “best bet” in this wager. What was it and why did he believe that? Give reasons for your answer.
  4. Pascal seems to believe that you can choose to believe what you want. Can you?

Issues with Pascal or Why gambling might not be the answer.

Many people agree with Pascal that human beings will never be able to prove the existence of God, or to disprove the existence of God, but disagree with his conclusion that the only sensible answer is to believe, or to behave as though you believe by Seeking God and being open to God’s influence.

Those people would argue (both those who believe and those who don’t) that the only way forward is to not focus on the selfish outcome of winning or losing but on seeking the truth, no matter what form that truth might take.

Another way of looking at it is to refer to Homer Simpson:

Homer and Pascal

More Questions to consider:

  1. What might a committed Christian think of someone pretending to believe in God – “just in case”?
  2. What does Homer Simpson think might be the downside to Pascal’s Wager? Does it matter, because we all might have made the wrong choice?
  3. Pascal believes that we are happier (better off) in this life believing that someone is “driving the train” or is in charge of “the journey of life”. What doyouthink about that? In many ways the wager is based in the theory that life is better if you believe in an external power.

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