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Pascal’s Wager

Jimmy Akin

DAY 318


“I am unable to decide between Christianity and skepticism, and it doesn’t help to review the evidence. My dilemma seems insoluble.”


In his Pensées, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal proposed a practical solution that became known as Pascal’s Wager.

He proposed that, if evidential reasoning cannot settle the question for a particular person, then practical reasoning may (see Day 336).

Pascal’s Wager can be put different ways (in fact, Pascal himself put it more than one way), but here we will follow his main presentation of it.

He compared the decision of whether to believe, in the absence of convincing evidence one way or the other, to tossing a coin and not knowing whether it will come up heads or tails. Though one does not know which will come up, it can be rational in some situations to bet one way or the other. Indeed, the rules of the game may require one to wager.

This is similar to the situation of a person deciding between Christianity and skepticism (understood as agnosticism or atheism). If these are the two positions a person is torn between, he must either choose one or the other, either Christianity (faith) or skepticism (non-faith). There is no third position, given these options.

If he can’t make the decision based on evidence concerning which is true, then it is rational for him to solve the dilemma by asking which wager will benefit him more.

Pascal proposes that, in terms of this life, the rational choice is to accept faith, because faith produces a net benefit in this life. One will incur a cost in that one will live by the Christian moral code and deny oneself certain pleasures, but these will be more than offset by the benefits in this life of believing (see Day 283).

He similarly proposes that, in terms of the next life, the rational choice is also to accept faith. If it turns out that Christianity is true then one will gain the infinite happiness of heaven, while if it turns out that Christianity is not true one will lose nothing as there would be no afterlife.

Therefore, both in terms of this life and the next, the rational choice is to embrace faith rather than skepticism.

For more, see Day 319.

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