November 11, 2018

How Does Pascal's Wager Lead One To Christianity?

Blaise Pascal first explained his wager in Pen...
Blaise Pascal first explained his wager in Pensées (1669) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many Christians like Pascal's Wager and are quick to pull it out when debating atheists. In popularity, it seems to be right up there with appeals to design and just a bit behind whatever sone would like to call creaming, "Then why are there still monkeys?" at the top of one's lungs. While reading a post at Spanish Inquisitor, I found myself wondering what Pascal's odd bit of philosophical gambling has to do with Christianity.

The wager has undeniable relevance to theism in general, as it seems intended as an effort to convince nonbelievers to give god belief a try. But how is it an argument for Christianity? Even if one argues that the "god" to which Pascal refers is one of the gods in which Christians claim to believe, it is not clear that this must be the case. If one follows the idea of the wager, I see nothing that would lead one to Christianity as opposed to Islam or some other religion.

Pascal expressed this famous bit of apologetics as follows:
If you erroneously believe in God, you lose nothing (assuming that death is the absolute end), whereas if you correctly believe in God, you gain everything (eternal bliss). But if you correctly disbelieve in God, you gain nothing (death ends all), whereas if you erroneously disbelieve in God, you lose everything (eternal damnation).
Some Christians claim that they find this compelling even though it seems like an incredibly poor reason to believe anything. But how is this supposed to lead one to Christianity? Couldn't the same argument be made for any religion? See what happens if you simply add the word "some" right before every appearance of "God." Now we have a case for theism but not Christianity. Now try replacing "God" with "Allah." Now we have a case for Islam.

Of course, nonbelievers do not find anything about the wager convincing and tend to highlight how it fails as an argument for any sort of theism. But it would seem that another interesting tactic would simply be to ask the Christian using the wager how it justifies the Christian god as opposed to some other god. It is not like there aren't plenty of gods from which one might choose.

This post originally appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2007. It was edited and expanded in 2018.