This is my response to your comment under my post, "What I believe about Creation, Evolution and Design" and in particular to
[Above (click to enlarge): Diagram of my version of Pascal's Wager.]
"Pascal's Wager My simplified form of Pascal's Wager that I employed in debates with atheists is:Neither the atheist, nor the Christian, can absolutely prove that his position is true. Nevertheless the consequences for either the atheist or the Christian being right (or wrong) is clear. If atheism is true, then both the atheist and Christian will die and neither will know that the atheist was right. On the other hand, if Christianity is true, then the atheist and Christian will die (or Jesus will return) and both will know that the Christian was right. Moreover, if the atheist was right, he would have gained nothing and the Christian would have lost nothing (I personally have had a great life since becoming a Christian in 1967). But if the Christian was right, the atheist would have lost everything and the Christian would have gained everything!"
----- Original Message -----
From: james roy
To: Stephen E. Jones
Sent: Sunday, January 10, 2010 7:04 AM
Subject: [CreationEvolutionDesign] New comment on What I believe about Creation, Evolution and Desig....
No. Pascal was a genius, being a "mathematician, physicist, and religious philosopher. ... a child prodigy who ... was a mathematician of the first order":
"Blaise Pascal [1623-1662] ... was a French mathematician, physicist, and religious philosopher. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a civil servant. Pascal's earliest work was in the natural and applied sciences where he made important contributions to the construction of mechanical calculators, the study of fluids, and clarified the concepts of pressure and vacuum .... Pascal also wrote in defense of the scientific method. Pascal was a mathematician of the first order. He helped create two major new areas of research. He wrote a significant treatise on the subject of projective geometry at the age of sixteen, and later corresponded with Pierre de Fermat on probability theory, strongly influencing the development of modern economics and social science." ("Blaise Pascal," Wikipedia, 23 January 2010).
Indeed according to this site, Pascal is in the top 10 of all known geniuses, with an estimated IQ of 195:
"6. Blaise Pascal IQ: 195 Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician, physicist, religious philosopher, and master of prose. He laid the foundation for the modern theory of probabilities, formulated what came to be known as Pascal's law of pressure, and propagated a religious doctrine that taught the experience of God through the heart rather than through reason. The establishment of his principle of intuitionism had an impact on such later philosophers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Henri Bergson and also on the Existentialists." ("Top 10 Geniuses," Listverse, October 6, 2007)
And, as Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft points out, of all the arguments for believing in the existence of God, Pascal thought his Wager was the strongest:
"Most philosophers think Pascal's Wager is the weakest of all arguments for believing in the existence of God. Pascal thought it was the strongest. After finishing the argument in his Pensees, he wrote, `This is conclusive, and if men are capable of any truth, this is it.' That is the only time Pascal ever wrote a sentence like that, for he was one of the most sceptical philosophers who ever wrote." (Kreeft, P., "Argument from Pascal's Wager," in Kreeft, P., "Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics," Ignatius Press: San Francisco CA, 1988.)
I myself debated my version of Pascal's Wager against atheists on creation/evolution/design Internet discussion groups open to all-comers between (1993-2005) and no atheist ever refuted my arguments. Here they are again, point-by-point (with updates):
1. Neither the atheist, nor the Christian, can absolutely prove that his position is true.
2. Nevertheless the consequences for either the atheist or the Christian being right (or wrong) is clear.
3. If atheism is true, then both the atheist and Christian will die and neither will know that the atheist was right.
4. On the other hand, if Christianity is true, then the atheist and Christian will die (or Jesus will return) and both will know that the Christian was right.
5. Moreover, if the atheist was right, he would have gained nothing and the Christian would have lost nothing.
6. But if the Christian was right, the atheist would have lost everything and the Christian would have gained everything!"
Each of the above 6 points of my Pascal's Wager argument are patently true, given historic Christian Biblical teaching, e.g. as set forth in major creeds like the Westminster Confession of Faith:
"SECTION II.-The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of his mercy in the eternal salvation of the elect, and of his justice in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fulness of joy and refreshing which shall come from the presence of the Lord; but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. [Matt. xxv. 31-40; Rom. ii. 5, 6; ix. 22, 23. Matt. xxv. 21; Acts iii. 19; 2 Thess. i. 7-10]" (Hodge, A.A., 1869, "The Confession of Faith: A Handbook of Christian Doctrine Expounding The Westminster Confession," Banner of Truth: Edinburgh, 1958, Reprinted, 1983, p.389. Emphasis original).
that if Christianity is true, then Christians ("the righteous") will "go into everlasting life, and receive that fulness of joy and refreshing which shall come from the presence of the Lord" and non-Christians ("the wicked") will "be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord."
>Basically what it says is that if you believe in God, the worst you can expect is the same as the unbeliever, but the best you can expect is eternal life. However, if you don't believe in God, the best you can expect is nothing, but the worst you can expect is eternal damnation. So therefore it's safest to believe in God.
No. Between the atheist and the Christian it is not a case of "the worst you can expect " and "the best you can expect." If Christianity is true, then according to historic Biblical Christianity (see above), Christians will receive "eternal life" and "the unbeliever" will receive "eternal damnation."
Former atheist turned Christian Patrick Glynn confirms this: "If we bet against God, and revelation proves to be true, we will suffer eternal torment. If we bet for God, and revelation proves to have been an illusion, we lose nothing":
"Responding to the first generation of modern atheistic rationalists in the seventeenth century, the mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal offered an interesting `thought experiment' concerning religious belief. He conceived of the issue as a bet or wager. His reasoning was as follows: Revelation teaches that God rewards faithful believers with eternal happiness and that those who reject God suffer eternal torment after death. There is no way for reason, Pascal conceded to his contemporaries, to know whether revelation's claim is true. But we may consider our life as a wager (one that, in the nature of things, we can't avoid). If we bet against God, and revelation proves to be true, we will suffer eternal torment. If we bet for God, and revelation proves to have been an illusion, we lose nothing, for we shall cease to exist at death in any case." (Glynn, P., 1997, "God: The Evidence: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World," Forum: Rocklin CA, pp.76-77).
>But how is it possible to believe in something based on its potential benefits?
We all do! We all make decisions every day based on the "potential benefits" of a thing or a course of action, weighed against its potential costs. And where the potential benefits are great and the costs low, e.g. "spend a dollar on the good chance of winning a million" then "No reasonable person can be or ever is in doubt in such cases." But "deciding whether to believe in God is a case like these, argues Pascal", :
"Suppose someone terribly precious to you lay dying, and the doctor offered to try a new `miracle drug' that he could not guarantee but that seemed to have a 50-50 chance of saving your beloved friend's life. Would it be reasonable to try it, even if it cost a little money? And suppose it were free- wouldn't it be utterly reasonable to try it and unreasonable not to? Suppose you hear reports that your house is on fire and your children are inside. You do not know whether the reports are true or false. What is the reasonable thing to do-to ignore them or to take the time to run home or at least phone home just in case the reports are true? Suppose a winning sweepstakes ticket is worth a million dollars, and there are only two tickets left. You know that one of them is the winning ticket, while the other is worth nothing, and you are allowed to buy only one of the two tickets, at random. Would it be a good investment to spend a dollar on the good chance of winning a million? No reasonable person can be or ever is in doubt in such cases. But deciding whether to believe in God is a case like these, argues Pascal. It is therefore the height of folly not to `bet' on God, even if you have no certainty, no proof, no guarantee that your bet will win. Atheism is a terrible bet. It gives you no chance of winning the prize." (Kreeft, P., "Argument from Pascal's Wager," in Kreeft, 1988).
>Belief comes out of an interpretation of evidence, and if it employs pro/con lists, those lists can only be used to establish the relative evidential merits of each possibility.
This misunderstands the background and specific purpose of Pascal's Wager, i.e. it accepts, for the sake of argument, the sceptics' attitude of his day that had lost "confidence in reason to prove God's existence" and so"The Wager appeals not to a high ideal ... but to a low one: the instinct for self-preservation, the desire to be happy and not unhappy":
"To understand Pascal's Wager you have to understand the background of the argument. Pascal lived in a time of great scepticism. Medieval philosophy was dead, and medieval theology was being ignored or sneered at by the new intellectuals of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. Montaigne, the great sceptical essayist, was the most popular writer of the day. The classic arguments for the existence of God were no longer popularly believed. What could the Christian apologist say to the sceptical mind of this age? Suppose such a typical mind lacked both the gift of faith and the confidence in reason to prove God's existence; could there be a third ladder out of the pit of unbelief into the light of belief? Pascal's Wager claims to be that third ladder. Pascal well knew that it was a low ladder. If you believe in God only as a bet, that is certainly not a deep, mature, or adequate faith. But it is something, it is a start, it is enough to dam the tide of atheism. The Wager appeals not to a high ideal, like faith, hope, love, or proof, but to a low one: the instinct for self-preservation, the desire to be happy and not unhappy. But on that low natural level, it has tremendous force. " (Kreeft, 1988).
That is, "Pascal prefaces his argument with" the sceptic's position that, "Either God is, or he is not. ... Reason cannot decide this question":
"Thus Pascal prefaces his argument with the words, `Let us now speak according to our natural lights.' Imagine you are playing a game for two prizes. You wager blue chips to win blue prizes and red chips to win red prizes. The blue chips are your mind, your reason, and the blue prize is the truth about God's existence. The red chips are your will, your desires, and the red prize is heavenly happiness. Everyone wants both prizes, truth and happiness. Now suppose there is no way of calculating how to play the blue chips. Suppose your reason cannot win you the truth. In that case, you can still calculate how to play the red chips. Believe in God not because your reason can prove with certainty that it is true that God exists but because your will seeks happiness, and God is your only chance of attaining happiness eternally. Pascal says, `Either God is, or he is not. But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. [Remember that Pascal's Wager is an argument for sceptics.] Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance [death] a coin is being spun that will come down heads [God] or tails [no God]. How will you wager?' (Kreeft, 1988).
Elsewhere in his Pensees Pascal gave good reasons for believing that Christianity is true:
"To bring some men to the point of faith, Pascal knew that it was necessary to remind them of the odds that are at stake. Hence his celebrated wager, Turnell, M., transl., "Pascal's Pensees," Harvill Press, London, 1962, pp. 200 ff.] in which he challenges men to gamble their lives on the possibility that Christianity might be true. We cannot see God. We cannot prove the truth of the gospel to exclude every possible doubt. We can only find out the truth of Christianity by risking our whole lives on it. ... Sometimes Pascal's teaching is classified as voluntarism, the implication being that he sets greater store by the will than by the intellect. It is even represented as a kind of self-inflicted brain-washing, in which the will to believe is allowed to banish all intellectual considerations. But this is a caricature. It neglects to mention that the idea of the wager was addressed to the sporting men of the day, reminding them of a greater game played at infinitely greater odds. It does not take into account the fact that Pascal devoted a great deal of energy to rational argument. [Turnell, M., transl., "Pascal's Pensees," Harvill Press, London, 1962, pp.231ff, 281ff., 291]" (Brown, C. , 1969, "Philosophy and the Christian Faith," Tyndale Press: London, pp.59-60).
But the problem with atheists is that they are so prejudiced against the existence of the Christian God to whom they will have "to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds, and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil":
"OF THE LAST JUDGMENT. SECTION I.-God hath appointed a day wherein he will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ, [Acts xvii. 31] to whom all power and judgment is given of tho Father, [John v. 22, 27] In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, [1 Cor. vi. 3; Jude 6; 2 Pet. ii. 4] but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds, and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil. [2 Cor. v. 10; Eccles. xii. 14; Rom. ii. 16; xiv. 10, 12; Matt. xii. 36, 37]" (Hodge, 1869, p.389. Emphasis original).
that what the atheists include in their their "pro/con lists," before they even get to the "interpretation of evidence," ensures that atheism always `wins'.
For example, the evidence is overwhelming that "The Shroud of Turin is the Burial Sheet of Jesus!" and bears the image of His crucified and resurrected body! But atheists just reject that possibility out of hand, and chose instead the best of the remaining atheistic alternatives. This has become such an ingrained habit of thought that atheists in my experience do this automatically without even being aware of the fallaciousness of their circular reasoning.
Your own "Pascal's Wager is a completely pointless argument, and is easily rebutted by any thinking atheist" is a typical example of how atheists are so prejudiced against the existence of the Christian God that they rule out in advance as "completely pointless" any evidence for His existence. Therefore what remains as evidence in the atheists' "pro/con lists" makes it a foregone conclusion that the atheists' "interpretation of [that] evidence" is that for them atheism is true.
>If anyone thinks that God will reward a belief in him that is based on the 'best possible outcome', then they're playing God for a fool.
No. The Bible says that God will reward belief in Jesus with eternal life:
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
There are no stated pre-conditions of the reasons for that belief, i.e. fear of Hell, or desire of Heaven, or love of God, etc. And as Kreeft says above:
"If you believe in God only as a bet, it is certainly not a deep, mature, or adequate faith. But it is something, it is a start."
Another Christian philosopher, Nicolas Rescher also makes the point that Pascal's Wager argument is only a first step:
"The Wager Argument as a First Step No doubt God must be expected to have a value framework akin to the human in this regard; at any rate, he, like us, would prefer to be loved for himself alone rather than for strictly prudential motives. Still, the journey toward disinterested love must make a start someplace. A human lover would certainly rather have that love reciprocated for his wealth or beaux yeux than not reciprocated at all. Wisely he recognizes that the love which begins in crass considerations of personal advantage, social conformity, or parental pressure may in time be purified by habit and the natural evolution of shared concerns into genuine communion and true affection." (Rescher, N., "Pascal's Wager: A Study of Practical Reasoning in Philosophical Theology," University of Notre Dame Press: Notre Dame IA, 1985, p.121. Emphasis original).
>And if God sees and hears all, there's a good chance he's smarter than that.
A God who "sees and hears all" would also be able to see into an atheists' heart and know what the real motive behind that atheist's high-sounding reasons why God (who the atheist doesn't believe exists) would not "reward a belief in him that is based on the 'best possible outcome'."
The bottom line is that you have wagered everything on what you consider to be "a good chance" that the Christian God doesn't exist. But " the atheist ... If, after death, he should find out that there is a God, his loss has been irreparable ... death has opened the door to an ultimate and eternal lostness. ... It is an all-or-nothing gamble of himself, thrust into the slot machine of life. It is a faith beyond the scope of reason":
"But that is not all that is lost for the atheist. One other aspect must be stated: if the atheist is wrong, there is no recovery of that which he has lost. This was precisely Pascal's wager: Should a man be in error in supposing the Christian religion to be true, he could not be a loser by mistake. But how irreparable is his loss, and how inescapable is his danger should he err in supposing it to be false. [Pascal, Pensees] ... Pascal ... had everything the Christian faith promised to him, including the climactic hope beyond the grave. Should, however, death be the end, he did not sense any loss, for contentment in life was still his. .... The atheist, on the other hand, having rejected God ... If, after death, he should find out that there is a God, his loss has been irreparable; for not only did contentment and peace elude him in this life, but death has opened the door to an ultimate and eternal lostness. All judgments bring with them a margin of error. But no judgment ought to carry with it the potential for so irretrievable a loss that every possible gain is unworthy of merit. The atheist makes precisely such a hazardous judgment. It is an all-or-nothing gamble of himself, thrust into the slot machine of life. It is a faith beyond the scope of reason. The atheist risks everything for the present and the future, on the basis of a belief that he is uncaused by any intelligent being. Man just happens to be here. He is willing to live and die in that belief-a very high price to pay for conjecture." (Zacharias, R.K., 1990, "A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism," Baker: Grand Rapids MI, Third printing, 1994, pp.165-166).
The fact is, as Pascal realised, it is not the lack of "reason" that prevents an atheist from becoming a Christian, but the atheist's "passions" supported by his atheistic lifestyle. Pascal's practical advice to the atheist is to not "Concentrate ... on .... proofs of God's existence but ... diminishing your passions." And one practical way to do that is for the atheist to change their atheistic lifestyle and start behaving "just as if they did believe":
"Because the whole argument moves on the practical rather than the theoretical level, it is fitting that Pascal next imagines the listener offering the practical objection that he just cannot bring himself to believe. Pascal then answers the objection with stunningly practical psychology, with the suggestion that the prospective convert `act into' his belief if he cannot yet `act out' of it. If you are unable to believe, it is because of your passions since reason impels you to believe and yet you cannot do so. Concentrate then not on convincing yourself by multiplying proofs of God's existence but by diminishing your passions. You want to find faith, and you do not know the road. You want to be cured of unbelief, and you ask for the remedy: learn from those who were once bound like you and who now wager all they have... . They behaved just as if they did believe. .... living the Faith can be a way of getting the Faith... As Pascal says: `That will make you believe quite naturally and will make you more docile.' `But that is what I am afraid of.' `But why? What have you to lose?" (Kreeft, 1988)
For example an atheist could do what I, a former atheist, did 40+ years ago. Start going to church, make friends of Christian people, join in singing Christian hymns, listen to the Bible being preached. In short meet God half-way. The Bible promises that if you "Come near to God ... he will come near to you" (James 4:8)
Millions of Christians down through the ages (including me), have tried coming near to God and found that His promise is true that He will then come near to you. But if you are not willing to meet God halfway, then He will never meet you half-way. Then if Christianity is true (as Daniel's prophecy of the 70 weeks and The Shroud of Turin prove beyond reasonable doubt that it is) and you are still a non-Christian when you die, then you will find out, too late, that you bet your life on a losing `horse' and lost everything:
"Pascal states the argument this way: `You have two things to lose: the true and the good; and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to avoid: error and wretchedness. Since you must necessarily choose, your reason is no more affronted by choosing one rather than the other. That is one point cleared up. But your happiness? Let us weigh up the gain and the loss involved in calling heads that God exists. Let us assess the two cases: if you win, you win everything: if you lose, you lose nothing. Do not hesitate then: wager that he does exist. If God does not exist, it does not matter how you wager, for there is nothing to win after death and nothing to lose after death. But if God does exist, your only chance of winning eternal happiness is to believe, and your only chance of losing it is to refuse to believe.' As Pascal says, `I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than of being mistaken in believing it to be true.' If you believe too much, you neither win nor lose eternal happiness. But if you believe too little, you risk losing everything.'" (Kreeft, 1988).
Your wager-your consequences.