Random Additional Thoughts on Pascal’s Wager

There can be both selfish and unselfish reasons for wanting to be good and wanting to be godly.  They are not inconsistent and may not even be that distinct.


Faith and love can both be cultivated.  Whether we’re considering when they’re beginning or when they’re already extant, it’s romantic but foolish to think otherwise.


Jeremy Pierce (link:  http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/2009/10/20/puddleglum/ ) explains why “Puddleglum’s Wager” is best understood as an argument that, in this world, belief makes us happier than unbelief.  Here’s what Puddleglum, a character in C.S.. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles, says in response to those in the underground domain who don’t believe in the above-ground world:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things — trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself.  Suppose we have.  Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.  Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world.  Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one.  And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it.  We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right.  But four babies playing a game can make a play-world that licks your real world hollow.  That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world.  I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it.  I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.  So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spending our lives looking for Overland.  Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.


Speaking of C.S. Lewis and Pascal’s Wager:  I found pages 35-36 of Readings for Meditation and Prayer, selected from “The Weight of Glory” in Screwtape Proposes a Toast, to be “reassuring re Pascal’s Wager, though not mentioned per se”).


Thoughts on using Pascal’s Wager at the “end” instead of the “beginning”:  Instead of starting with the question whether any God exists, one could jump to looking at the historical evidence that Jesus is the Son of God; if you believe that there is a good chance that this is so, you can then ask, “Well, should I believe this or not?  I must decide whether to believe it or not, since on that decision will hinge how I lead my life.  And the costs of wrongly not believing are much greater than the costs of wrongly believing.”  This form of the Wager gets the job done, too.

Of course, this strategy requires that the person be persuaded that the historical evidence is pretty good, and that requires some groundwork.  So, for someone who lacks this groundwork, an initial approach like my essay (elsewhere on this site) “Why I Am a Christian (and You Should Be, Too) … in 600 Words” is probably better — that is, for someone who lacks much knowledge of the historical evidence.

Actually, couldn’t one use Pascal’s Wager at both the beginning and the end?  That is, it can be used to draw an unbeliever into beginning to think about the whole God thing and to begin cultivating his faith — and, once he has done that and has become familiar with some of the historical evidence,  inter alia, it can be appealed to again.  I don’t think this is double-counting, since it is being used consecutively rather than concurrently.


Thoughts on, What if God exists, but He is indifferent to how we behave?:  This is a possibility that I treat very perfunctorily in my “600 Words” essay.  And, well, such a scenario is certainly possible, and some of the arguments in favor of God do not rule this out (though others do).

One could treat this as just another “bad” possibility under Pascal’s wager — that is, what counts as a positive outcome is only a God who both exists and cares.

Or one could treat this as a third possibility that really vindicates neither side and should just be taken off the table.  Cf. a God who exists, and cares, but is completely inscrutable when it comes to what He wants us to do.  (At some point, though, the requirement of a really specific God becomes silly, right?)

And there is also this additional, pro-Pascal argument:  It seems unlikely that God would have created this world and also be indifferent to our behavior in it. It is certainly riskier to engage in immoral behavior if God exists — even if we aren’t sure (a) exactly what He wants us to do or (b) if He cares at all — than if God doesn’t exist.  The immoralist will gulp if he sees a God of any kind.  We need to figure out what, if anything, He wants us to do if He exists.

Look at it this way (this goes more to the inscrutable God than one who is affirmatively indifferent):  If the heavens open up and reveal a bearded man peering down at us, wouldn’t the reaction of a Christian be, “Ha!  I thought so!”  And what immoralist would say this?:   “Don’t panic, fellow immoralists!  Ignore that man in the sky — He may not care what we are doing, even though He created the world and does indeed exist.”


One should consider briefly each quadrant of Pascal’s wager — see my post on this site, “Pasquale in the Alley” — taking special care to think about the positive results from choosing to believe.

In the first quadrant, you choose to believe and it turns out that indeed God exists.  Nothing complicated here:  You’ve made an infinitely good decision.

In the second quadrant, you choose not to believe and alas it turns out that God does exist.  Again, nothing complicated:  You’ve made an infinitely bad decision.

It’s in the third and fourth quadrants that things get interesting.  There’s no afterlife to consider now, just this life here on earth.  (I thought of bifurcating each quadrant into this life and the afterlife, but then thought better of it:  For the third and fourth quadrants, presumably there is no afterlife; and for the first and second quadrants, the infinite difference in the respective afterlives is obvious, and the respective lives on earth will be analyzed no differently than in the third and fourth quadrants.). And, when you really think about it, it’s not at all clear that those leading godless lives are happier now than those leading godly ones.

I plan to write a separate post on “Who’s Happier on Earth — Believers or Nonbelievers?”  For now I’ll just note the obvious:  If believers are happier on this earth, and infinitely happier in the afterlife, then one should believe; if it’s a close call whose happier on earth, but believers are infinitely happier in the afterlife, then one should still believe.  Either way, this should not be a hard call.