Blaise Pascal was an extremely influential mathematician, philosopher, and theologian. Pascal made huge contributions in the fields of math and science. He developed the mathematics of probability, studied the nature of vacuums, and worked on barometric pressure and its relation to vacuums. Later on in his life, he converted to the Christian faith after turmoil occurred in his life. After his conversion he got deeply interested in theology and wrote a defense of the Christian faith in a work entitled Pensées (102). Pascal believed that God could not be proven with arguments or reason but he did not exclude the use of reason completely. He says that humans are “incapable of knowing either what He is or whether He is” (104). Later on, Pascal forwards a wager for belief in God. He says that everyone must wager on God existence or nonexistence and consider the pros and cons of where one places their wager.
The wager goes like this:
1. If God exists, the believer has everything to gain but the unbeliever has everything to lose.
2. If God does not exist, the believer loses little and the unbeliever has gained nothing.
3. Therefore, place a wager on God’s existence because one will gain more if God exists.
This concept is quite interesting and thought provoking. But there are very many problems with this idea. These problems are both philosophical and theological.
The first problem with this is the wager itself. God never wants the believer’s faith to be some wager based on selfish gains of eternal joy and happiness. One should believe and worship God because He is real, because He demands it, and because it glorifies His name.
Secondly, the wager only gives two real ideologies to wager on — Christianity or atheism. Pascal does not take into account other false religions or worldviews that people could also wager on. This seems to commit the false dilemma fallacy. This fallacy sets up two positions and does not look for any alternatives to the two positions. It goes like this: position X is false, therefore position Y is true. But it is possible that position Z could be true but this position is excluded from the argument.
Thirdly, why must the believer even consider this wager? Pascal’s presupposition that God cannot really be known is false. Christians know God and worship and pray to Him. Also, there are reasons and proofs for why Christians believe in Jesus Christ. Pascal’s theological epistemology is too simplified and comes off as being incredibly ignorant. His fideism is completely unwarranted. His attack on reason to preserve the role of faith is honorable but destroys any real foundation for the Christian faith whatsoever. Reasons can be found in natural theology and in evidence for the Gospels. If reasons do not exist or if they do but cannot be proved or shown to the skeptic, then how does Christianity stand out as being true amongst other ideologies?
Kolak, Daniel, and Garrett Thomson. The Longman Standard History of Modern Philosophy. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Longman, 2006. Print.