Pascal’s Wager Explained

Pascal’s Wager is a philosophical argument presented by seventeenth-century French philosopher and scientist, Blaise Pascal. Basically, its point is that we wager our lives that God exists or not.

Pascal opines that a rational person should live as though God does exist and seek to believe in God. Pascal was a Christian so he is specifically referring to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the philosopher’s God of presuming a cause (a Creator) for an effect (the creation.) Pascal postulates that if God does not exist, a believer will limit himself to some extent by paying homage to a power that doesn’t exist and thus will experience a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.) in living out his life. Whereas, if God does exist a believer stands to inherit infinite gain in his or her salvation in Heaven and avoid the infinite loss of eternity in Hell. So then, what does Pascal’s Wager mean to us? British author C. S. Lewis explains the wager this way in his classic, Mere Christianity.

“Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promises…Now there are two wrong ways of dealing with this fact, and one right way:  (1). The Fool’s Way…he puts the blame on the things themselves. He goes on all his life thinks that if only he tried another woman, or holiday, or whatever, then this time he would really catch the mysterious something. (2). The Way of the Disillusioned “Sensible” Man…He soon decides that the whole thing was moonshine. And so he represses the part of himself which used to cry for the moon. (3). The Christian way…The Christian says (and here is the argument): Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger,  well there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim, well there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire, well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Probability is what Pascal’s Wager is all about.

The fool pursues materialism to fill the void in his life; he will never achieve this goal. Money can’t buy us love or anything else of such value. The “sensible” man believes life is absurd so why try to find any meaning in it other than what meaning we can give to it? He tries to ignore God, but he cannot effectively ignore him because, as Lewis once said, “He is all around us.” Pascal tells us both of these people lead lives of despair.

Both the fool and the “sensible” man are making the wrong bet by turning their back on the strong clue God has given us as we observe his creation and become aware of what he has laid on our hearts. The Christian believes through faith that God is personal and is not some sadistic creator who implants a desire for him in our hearts without giving us the means to connect with him.  Most sane people know they should never bet against the house; they will inevitably lose.  That’s Pascal’s wager.

 

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