Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Terminology Tuesday: Wager Argument

Wager Argument: An argument developed by Blaise Pascal that urges an unbeliever to attempt to develop faith in God even if the evidence for God’s existence is not decisive. Pascal compared belief and unbelief in God to a wager and pointed the potential gains and losses each bet holds. If some bet on God and are wrong, they will lose only the paltry pleasure from some sins in this life that they might have enjoyed. If others bet on God and are right, however they stand to gain eternal bliss. The potential gains and losses are thus staggeringly disproportionate, and Pascal urged the unbeliever to pray, attend Mass and do whatever else may be necessary to develop faith.1

1. C.Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 122.


  1. greatcloud September 23, 2009

    That last part is very interesting: Live as if you were a Christian to find out what it's really like. I think that's pretty good advice for those who are curious about Christianity. I can't think of a better way to understand something than to experience it.

  2. Jonathan West September 23, 2009

    The weakness of the argument is apparent if you consider what would happen if you take the Christian way and it turns out that God is the Muslim kind and expected you to make a pilgrimage to Mecca in your lifetime. You're going to be in deep trouble after you die because you chose the wrong beliefs.

    Pascal's Wager is only valid if there is only one religion, one conception of God and one acknowledged route to grace. But there aren't. Even within Christianity there are something like 20,000 distinct denominations, all of which disagree with each other to a lesser or greater extent about such things, and that is even before you consider other religions. The chance of you choosing exactly the right one in the absence of evidence on which to base your choice is vanishingly small.

  3. Brian September 26, 2009


    It seems to me that the main thing this line of reasoning is trying to show the skeptic is that it is foolish to "bet" their eternity on the idea that God does not exist.

    What about this scripture, Isaiah 1:18-20, where God reasons with the sinner? Is not God appealing to the sinner for "what's in it for them"? Should they not repent because they don't want to be selfish?

  4. jazzycat September 26, 2009

    Isn't this whole argument nonsense from a reformed theology perspective, since faith comes from God and not human decision, let alone a human decision based on a view of whats in it for me!

  5. Brian September 26, 2009


    By the way, I love the profile pic. : )

  6. Carolyn September 26, 2009

    Just came across this quote from Albert Camus, which I think supports the Pascal line of reasoning very well:

    "I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is"

  7. Not anonymous December 19, 2012

    Pascal's Wager really needs to be read in context of all the other Pensees to be fully understood. The main thing he is essentially after is that the claims of what is at stake with Christianity are very high, and the religion is not just coming out of a vacuum but has a basis that is at the very least worth looking into. Considering all that, a person should be compelled to look very seriously into the claims of Christianity, considering its background/basis and how high the stakes are.

  8. Ex N1hilo December 19, 2012

    There are a number of problems with Pascal's Wager. First off, where do we get the idea that "betting on God" will result in eternal bliss? Neither Jesus, nor the Apostles, nor any of the Prophets ever taught such a thing.

    Is "betting on God" the same as obeying the command to repent and believe the Gospel? If not, then it's a foolish and vain bet. A bet that will leave the gambler worse off than he would be had he never made it.

    As Paul has written in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19:

    And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (ESV)

    Rather, we should eat drink and be merry, if the Gospel is not true. Accordingly, it is not wise to "play the Christian" unless one is convinced that Jesus is the truth and the Gospel is a historical fact.

  9. Ex N1hilo December 19, 2012

    Not anonymous,

    What you say makes a lot of sense. If that's what Pascal was getting at, there may be something to his wager. But that's not how I usually hear it presented.

    I hear, "Take a chance on God. If He does exist, you'll hit the jackpot." That presentation has nothing to do with Christianity. Salvation is not a game. And God will not be mocked by having it presented as one.

  10. MWithers December 19, 2012

    If Christianity is true,
    and if seeking God will result in finding Him,
    Then, Pascal's wager is a call to seek a God who will be found.
    It is not a call to a deathbed confession of (non-existent) faith, nor a call to "playing the Christian". Instead, it is a call to wager your life, that you cannot keep, on eternity, which you cannot lose.

  11. MaryLou December 19, 2012

    I recall Ken Samples and his friends talking about this in one of his Straight Thinking Podcasts. He noted that he didn't think Pascal intended his wager to be something that would convince people that God existed, only that it would be a great starting point for dialogue.

    I think he's right. After all, look at the conversation it has started here!

  12. dgfisch December 19, 2012

    One variant of the wager argument is the Isaiah 9: 8-10 hypothesis, which argues that a secular nation that turns its back on the Lord risks the ending of God's blessing on that nation. It doesn't explain the rise and fall of pagan nations and empires (other than the abandonment of traditional mores as the corrosive factor in a people's decline).

    According to Phil Fernandes' SEVEN GREAT APOLOGISTS (a cherished prize from Apologetics 315; thanks Brian!), Pascal's Wager is not a fundemental proof of God's existence, but rather an invitation to understand the rationality of exploring the God concept. It really is an inquiry into the life worth living than an explanation for salvation.

  13. Anonymous December 20, 2012

    The way I see it, the Wager "argument" is not really an argument. It's something that you present at the end of a cumulative case, as a way of saying that you do not lose anything by believing.

    Also, does anyone know if there is a good introduction to modal logic online? It just seems like people, both theists and atheists, go back and forth about the Modal Ontological Arguments without fully understanding the background logic and structure.

  14. MaryLou December 21, 2012

    Did a quick online search for modal logic and found these: