Should we base our belief in God on a blind bet or a hopeful gamble? In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul assesses the idea known as Pascal’s Wager.
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Blaise Pascal mused on this business and came up with what is called now, in the history of theoretical thought, Pascal’s Wager. The wager goes something like this. If a person bets his or her life that there is a God and lives in light of that bet—refrains from unrestricted evil, seeks to live sacrificially, seeks to forego some of the pleasures that are offered by the world—if that person dies and there is no God, in the final analysis, that person really hasn’t lost anything because that person has enjoyed a better life. Whereas the person who bets that there is no God and lives their life accordingly—by a wanton lack of moral restraint, indulging their own pleasures, following after their own lusts, living as a self-centered individual—and then that person dies and finds out that there really is a God, that person’s in big trouble. That person is now facing the consequences of the eternal judgment of God. So, in a sense what Pascal is saying to the agnostic or to the skeptic is that if you don’t know if God exists, if you’re not sure that He really is there and is the One who will judge you at the end of your days, in the midst of your uncertainty, the best bet that you can make—the sensible bet that you can make—is to protect your downside, minimize your risks, and maximize the upside, and the practical and intelligent thing to do would be to bet that God is there and is true. Again, if your bet is wrong and you lose, you haven’t lost anything. If you bet that He isn’t there and He is, you’ve lost everything. Now, a lot of attention has been given to this particular wager, and people have sought to poke holes in it. The first thing I want to say in defense of Pascal is, as I said earlier, The Pensées, the book that was published after his death, of his reflections, were just that. They were isolated reflections, not a fully developed systematic study of this sort of thing. And he’s thinking on his feet, as it were, and thinks about this and says, “What if I’m wrong or what if I’m right?” Some people say, “Wait a minute. Is this a sound argument for the existence of God?” Well, if you look at it as an argument for the existence of God in the theoretical sense, I think the answer can only be no, it’s not a sound argument for the existence of God. It’s more existentially oriented in that regard, even though Pascal lived before the advent of existentialism. There were many modern existentialists who looked back to Pascal as one who anticipated the thinking of a man like Kierkegaard, for example, who called human beings to be passionately engaged in the subjective aspects of human existence, walking by faith, living by faith, living on the edge of risk, trusting God in the darkness, as it were. And Pascal, being the same kind of man of passion as Kierkegaard at a later time, is thinking in these categories.