Quick Introduction to Pascal’s Wager

It’s not uncommon for people who reject Pascal’s Wager to also have a misunderstanding of it. Pascal in speaking of his argument, wrote that “if men are capable of any truth, this is it” [1]. He spoke very highly of it, even though Pascal was a notably skeptical philosopher. Pascal once made the notable statement:

Either God is, or he is not. But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun that will come down heads or tails. How will you wager? [2]

The particular reason as to why Pascal says, “[r]eason cannot decide this question”, is because the argument is initially intended for skeptics. Thus, at this “infinite distance” (death) a coin is being spun: heads (God) or tails (no God).

However, the two contradictory options (i.e., God or no God) excludes the possibility of agnosticism. Has Pascal made a mistake of assumption? No, he rather gives attention as to the position of the agnostic:; particularly, that he does not wish to wager at all. “But you must wager,” says Pascal. “There is no choice. You are already committed.” Thus, Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft writes:

We are not observers of life, but participants. We are like ships that need to go home, sailing past a port that has signs on it proclaiming that it is your true home and our true happiness. The ships are our own lives and the signs on the port say “God.” [3]

However, the agnostic respectively says that he wishes not to pull into that port (believe) or turn away from it (disbelieve), but rather stay anchored at a reasonable distance. Why is his attitude thence unreasonable? To quote Kreeft, “Because we are moving.” This simply means that the at-bottom function of Pascal’s Wager is the reality of death: happiness being the theoretical formula that he uses in order to demonstrate his wager; although justice, for example, could also be a substitute. Pascal simply uses happiness as his motivator since we desire it all of the time.

However, to make some conclusive thoughts: Pascal never meant to use this wager so as to coerce religious or theistic belief. It served a function more so in the development of a skeptics consideration of theistic belief, or maybe more so in his absence of theistic belief. The wager is mostly a psychological apologetic, and is also mostly an extension of his work in probability calculus. In another essay on Pascal’s Wager Peter Kreeft stresses this point:

The Wager cannot – or should not – coerce belief. But it can be an incentive for us to search for God, to study and restudy the arguments that seek to show that there is Something  -or Someone – who is the ultimate explanation of the universe and of my life. It could at lease motivate “The Prayer of the Skeptic”: “God, I don’t know whether you exist or not, but if you do, please show me who you are.” [4]

_______________

Notes:

  • [1] quoted from Peter Kreeft, The Argument from Pascal’s Wager (Calvin.edu) PDF available
  • [2] Ibid., p. 2
  • [3] Ibid., p. 2
  • [4] See Peter Kreeft, Twenty Arguments for the Existence of God at http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#20
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s