Last February I read a blog post on “Pascal’s Wager” that I thought missed the main point and purpose of his wager. I then decided to do a google search and found that mis-understanding, and then mis-representing Pascal’s Wager seemed to be a favorite pastime of skeptics and atheists. I further studied the wager myself, and decided to post a comment on the blog (which is the body of this post) as an attempt to “rehabilitate” Pascal and his Wager to some extent. I find it extremely ironic that It seems necessary to defend a genius like Pascal, and my theory is that his detractors I found have possibly been mainly reading “reviews” by others like themselves, rather than reading Pascal himself.
I titled this post “Pascal’s Wager” was not to promote a “game of chance” – It was to promote “playing by the rules” because I believe that the purpose of the wager was not merely to induce people to play a rationalistic game of chance with their eternal destiny at stake, but mainly to induce them to seek to find God himself according to the method or rules that God has set up and which govern the way “the game” of Christianity must be played.
My blog comment:
Hello – I’m glad that people are still thinking about Pascal’s wager! You wrote that “Pascal’s Wager is an attempt to rationalize whether or not one should believe in God” which I agree in a sense is true, but I believe it is much more than that. I think the key to understanding Pascal and the wager is to ask if he was merely presenting a “rational argument.” The reason this is a key question is because of two things I believe were true of Pascal and the wager:
- To “wager” did not mean to seek God through reason
- Pascal did not believe that anyone could find God through reason
It is important to note that the context of the whole “wager” is Christianity. For Pascal the only God was the God of the Bible. Therefore his wager was only concerned with a person coming to believe in Christianity or not. Other religions are therefore irrelevant to his “odds.” Since the faith in question was Christianity, Pascal believed that it could only be judged as false if what it claimed was false. He thought that Christianity did not claim that God could be found merely through human reason. In Pensee 194 he addresses this in great detail, saying
“…He has hidden Himself from their knowledge, that this is in fact the name which He gives Himself in the Scriptures, Deus absconditus”.
Pascal clearly believed that men “in darkness and estranged from God” could not find Him through their reason alone.
Unless Pascal was unbelievably inconsistent, which is doubtful, it would logically not follow that the purpose of his “wager” was to induce men to seek him by the means of reason. The key to the “wager” then is to understand how one would actually “wager.” In the wager he says:
“Endeavour, then, to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions…Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.”
I wish that Pascal had said what I think he meant here in the way that he said it in Pensee 194, where he said more clearly:
“…that God has set up in the Church visible signs to make Himself known to those who would seek him sincerely, and that He has nevertheless so disguised them that He will only be perceived by those who seek Him with all their heart”.
Pascal’s wager can only be understood in light of his entire view of the means by which men come to believe in God. These views of his are plainly seen in his famous statements from the “night of fire” where he learned that God was “not the God of the philosophers” and that “he is only found by the ways taught in the gospels”; and in his famous Pensee 277:
“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know…the heart naturally loves the Universal Being, and also itself naturally according as it gives itself to them; and it hardens itself against one or the other at its will.”
For Pascal, to “wager” was distinctly a verb that implied a sincere, serious, and sustained search for the God of the Bible in the ways taught by the gospel. One cannot “wager” if the term remains merely a noun. Pensee 194 is the key to the “wager” and says many similar things. He says,
“The immortality of the soul is a matter which is of so great consequence to us, and which touches us so profoundly, that we must have lost all feeling to be indifferent as to knowing what it is. All our actions and thoughts must take such different courses, according as there are or are not eternal joys to hope for…”.
This is the theoretical context from which Pascal presents the “wager.” And if one wants to “wager” in the full Pascalian sense, that would entail reading scripture, praying, seeking to be repentant; going to Church, etc.
In Pensee 194 Pascal was concerned that if men attack Christianity,
“let them at least learn what is the religion they attack.”
I think the same could be said regarding attacking Pascal. I think that if someone really wants to understand Pascal they need to read more than Pensee 233. I did a google search on the wager and probably 75% of what I found by obviously brilliant and mathematical minds, was that they understand Pascal and the wager in the context of rationalism. It seems that they don’t know that Pascal can only be understood in the context of fideism.
It’s ironic that Pascal, who has been called “the first modern Christian,” and a “proto-existentialist,” has not been appreciated for what he essentially was, a man that wanted men to reason holistically as men with bodies, hearts, wills, intellects; and not merely as machines of “pure reason.” It took philosophy 200 years to catch up to him, but by that time he was mostly forgotten to them regarding his best instincts, namely that man was a creature with a heart that had its own “reasons.”
I apologize for this lengthy comment, and especially if I have mis-understood you in any way! If you would like to come visit my blog and make some long comments there!
Bryan @ manifestpropensity
To the reader:
I try to keep these posts as short as possible, while knowing that their content has probably provoked some thoughts, questions, implications, or critiques. Therefore, any of these from the reader are greatly appreciated in order to “fill out” these posts. Many thanks in advance!
Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.