Recently John Armstrong has written three articles extolling the virtual of Pacal’s Wager as an apologetic tool for “defending the ultimate reality of Christ and the truth”. The articles can be found here:

Pascal: “The Wager” and the Modern Context

Pascal’s Wager: Not the Proof of God but the Way of Wisdom

The Criticism of Pascal’s Apologetics

Briefly Pascal’s Wager “is a suggestion posed by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should “wager” as though God exists, because so living has everything to gain, and nothing to lose” (From Wiki on Pascal’s Wager). I am really amazed, in this day and age, that anyone can take this wager seriously as an apologetic tool. While on the surface it may seem like a compelling argument, there are huge problems with the “wager”. I would like to examine just two of those problems.

The first problem is relatively obvious and one in which Pascal attempted to deal with, that of faith and belief, neither of which can be manufactured. If god only cares about simply acknowledging his existence then Pascal’s Wager might hold some force, but if god wants any type of commitment this is not something that can be “wagered”. In a recent book, Ronald J. Sider said: Slick evangelical marketers have offered eternal salvation as a free gift if you just say yes to a simple formula: “‘God loves you, humankind blew the relationship, but He has a plan for your life; just saying the magic words triggers the contract’ was what we told people:’ The response? “Boomers studied the offer and realized it was a no-lose proposition: eternal security at nothing down, no future payments, just simple verbal assent. The deal specified nothing about life change “‘ Why not accept a no-cost fire insurance policy? The result, Barna sadly notes, is “born-again” people living just like everybody else.” (Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, The: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?, Kindle Edition, location 395-99). Pascal’s Wager has often been used as cheap fire insurance. If there is a god, one would think this isn’t the type of believer he wants. If he wants real belief and real commitment, that is something that you can’t force and can’t compel yourself to do, hence the wager falls apart or at best can be used to start one thinking about the problem.

A more serious problem with Pascal’s Wager is that it is “Christ” centric. It assumes “Christ” or nothing and, as such, it ignores all other concepts of god. It assumes, a priori, that “Christ” is the correct god and there are no other choices. However, if you come to Pascal’s Wager without this bias then the next question has to be “which god”? There are 1,000s of religions with 1,000s of gods. Which god do you throw your lot or wage in with? (Here is a list of just some of the religions of the world.) The “Christ” god, isn’t compatible with most of these religions. How do you know that he is the correct god? And even if you decide on “Christ” as the correct god, which “Christ” are you going to bet on? There are from 34,000 to 38, 000 Christian denominations, many of which have incompatible notions of Christ. Do you pick your god based on how horrible their hell is? Maybe then Islam should be your choice. It has arguably, the worst hell (Islam’s Hell). Or maybe you should pick the “Christ” that doesn’t require a commitment so all you have to do is say a simple prayer? Maybe there isn’t one god but several? Do you have to throw your lot in with all of them?

It’s all so confusing because it isn’t an either or choice. You are simply making a guess as to which of the tens of thousands religions and denominations is the correct one. One person’s completely “rational” and “reasonable” god is another person’s obviously foolish and incorrect god. If god cares at all about truth, you better choose wisely. Make an incorrect pick and you’re toast! I’ll throw my wager in with non-belief. At least non-belief fits the evidence.

3 Comments

  1. Another flaw in the wager is in the “nothing to lose” side of the equation. What do you give up if you wager that there is a god? You give up time -perhaps every Sunday morning, or prayer time 5 times a day, and other countless hours infusing your brain with absurd superstition. That is time you cannot get back, and is sacrificed for no gain. You give up on finding the real truth to life’s mysteries, which religion pretends to reveal. Instead of leading a valuable life based on reality, you squander this life trying to make ready for the imagined afterlife. The only think you have to lose, is time, sanity, and value to life. Never bet if there is no payout.

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  2. So true. I don’t even want to think about how much time I wasted attending church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night and for any type of special church function. Not to mention the time wasted reading the bible over and over and over again…

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  3. Poor Pascal’s bigger mistake was thinking God cannot be proved through reason. Picking on him from our vantage point is so much easier than going after a heavyweight like Aquinas.

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