Appeared in Summer 2001, Vol. XXVI, No. 2
“I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out Christianity is true than of being mistaken in believing it to be true.” -Pascal
Pascal’s wager is not a proof of God’s existence; it is rather an encouragement to believe, a simple demonstration of the reasonableness of belief, whose main point is: “you have little to lose and everything to gain.” Its main outlines are captured in the figure below:
PASCAL’S WAGER God is God is not Believe heaven embarrassment Do not believe hell not fooled
Somewhere out beyond our perceptions a coin is tossed. If it comes up heads, God exists; tails, God does not exist. You must place your bet on one of two options: “believe” or “don’t believe.” If you bet on belief, and God exists, you gain eternal life, a prize of infinite value. If you bet on belief and God does not exist, you gain nothing and lose nothing–you may perhaps feel some slight embarrassment in the instant between death and the void. If you place your bet on “don’t believe,” and God exists, you suffer the loss of eternal life–Pascal emphasized the loss of eternal happiness instead of the suffering of eternal damnation. If you don’t believe and God does not exist, you lose nothing, and are perhaps freer to pursue your pleasures in this life.
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