“Pascal’s Wager is open to objections: (1) It isn’t based on evidence; (2) Christianity and skepticism aren’t the only two options we can choose; and (3) how do you know that God won’t perversely decide to put you in hell for placing your faith in him?”
None of these objections overturn Paschal’s Wager.
First, as we observe elsewhere (see Day 318), Pascal’s Wager is designed to deal with situations where an individual feels unable to make a decision based on evidence, yet where a decision must be made because not to choose would be to accept one position by default. If an individual has convincing evidence, then the decision can be made on that basis, but if he does not have convincing evidence then—since the decision must be made—it is rational to decide based on practical reason.
Second, as classically formulated, Pascal’s Wager is only meant to decide between Christianity and skepticism. There are other religious positions, but for many people in the west, Christianity and skepticism are the two “live” options (i.e., the only options they feel torn between), and the Wager is legitimate and useful for those in that situation.
The Wager can be reformulated for other situations. For example, if a person is torn between Christianity and Hinduism, one could point out that wagering on Christianity is preferable, because on the Christian view one’s fate is decided at death (Heb. 9:27), whereas if Hinduism were true, one would receive multiple additional chances through reincarnation.
Third, the idea God would perversely condemn those who place their faith in him to hell is not the Christian view but an evil-deity view. It is a third position, besides Christianity and standard skepticism. We are therefore discussing a different situation than the one the Wager is designed to apply to.
Further, one can always propose that the world is inherently perverse and, despite the evidence, one will suffer horribly for doing what reason suggests. One can suggest that will happen to a Christian who does the reasonable thing and to a skeptic who does the reasonable thing. If the latter is entitled to assume that the world isn’t inherently perverse, then so is the former.
For further discussion, see the philosopher William James’s essay “The Will to Believe” (available online).