Pascal's Wager Log Out | Topics | Search
Moderators | Edit Profile

Former Adventist Fellowship Forum » DISCUSSION » Pascal's Wager « Previous Next »

  Thread Last Poster Posts Pages Last Post
  Start New Thread        

Author Message
Registered user
Username: Chris

Post Number: 1859
Registered: 7-2003

Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 - 11:48 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I just read a Christianity Today article dealing with Pascal's Wager. I am toying with the idea of blogging on this, but I'm not sure if my thoughts are fleshed out (or even interesting) enough to bother with it. I thought I might try it out on my friends here first and see if there is any discussion.

Pascal's Wager basically says that while you may not be able to know for sure if Christianity is true, if you have to bet, then it's safer to throw your lot in with Christianity because you have much to gain and relatively little to lose. If Christianity is true and you accept it, then you will go to Heaven. If it's not true, then at the worst you've lived a virtuous life that has many benefits and is fulfilling in many ways. On the other hand, if Christianity is true and you reject it, then you go to Hell. So, the safest bet is to accept Christianity.

If you've ever played serious poker (the kind that involves math and not "gut" instinct), then you know that making a wager involves calculating "pot odds". This is a mathematical calculation that compares your calculated odds of winning (I.e. Drawing the card you need), the amount of money you need to put into the pot to stay in the hand, and the amount of money you could potentially get out of the pot. In other words, given the stakes and the odds, is it worth it to invest in the pot. This is essentially Pascal's Wager: The stakes are high, there's a reasonable chance of winning, and what you have to put into the pot to stay in is modest.

Here's my issue with this classic evangelistic argument: It works equally well for keeping people in cults. Think about it: I'm willing to bet that the majority of conversations you've had with SDA friends, families, and leaders trying to convince you to change your mind used some modified version of Pascal's Wager. It goes like this:

"How can you be so sure Adventism is wrong? Your parents disagree, your grand parents disagree, our best scholars disagree, Dr. Jones disagrees, this book disagrees, everyone you know disagrees. It's fine to have doubts sometimes, but why would you leave? Just think of the consequences if you're wrong. If Adventism is right, then you're walking away from God's remnant Church, your walking away from God, your walking away from Truth, your walking away from friends & family, and your walking away from God. Why would you risk all that? For what? Do you think you're going to find something better out there? Every church has problems. Even if Adventism were wrong on some things, why is it so bad? You have community here, you have people who love you, you have a good Christian lifestyle. What's so bad about that? Hey, Adventists even live longer thanks to our health message. What do you gain by walking away? You have very little to gain and everything to lose. It just doesn't make sense."

I have a problem with setting aside the quest for that which corresponds to reality, in favor of a wager that calculates what might be safest and bring me the best potential gains. If I fully embraced the logic and philosophy of Pascal's Wager, I might very well still be an Adventist today. The SDA argument regarding the stakes involved isn't completely wrong. If they're right, then we (formers) are all in a lot of trouble. We did take a risk....or as I prefer.....stepped out in faith. When I left Adventism, it wasn't based on the pot odds, it was an act of obedience that in many ways didn't make sense. I was terrified and indeed lost much, but it was the right thing to do.

Personally, I don't think a wager based on relative potential for gain is a good enough reason to embrace Chrisianity. I for one never ever want to embrace anything ever again that doesn't correspond to reality. If Christianity is not reality, then I think we should keep looking for that which is. Fortunately, I think there are many, many, very strong reasons to be assured that Christianity does in fact reflect reality, but that is the subject of another post.

Let me know what you think.
Registered user
Username: Butterfly_poette

Post Number: 433
Registered: 5-2011

Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 - 12:05 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Adventism has so many rules that they are difficult to live by. In Christianity, there aren't many rules. The rules that are there are for our best. Christianity doesn't ruin lives, but Adventism does.
Registered user
Username: Chris

Post Number: 1860
Registered: 7-2003

Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 - 12:28 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

If the number of rules and the general effect upon life are the main issues, then perhaps Pascal's Wager would be just as, or nearly as, valid for Buddhism.

You're approaching Pascal's Wager from the standpoint of already believing that Christianity is true, but that's not necessarily how it is typically used. It is often seen as an evangelistic argument. However, the typical unbeliever would not necessarily agree that the rules of Christianity are for our best and would probably see some of them as onerous in comparison to say, Budhism or some other belief system that offers meaning and peace of mind.

My point here, is that I don't think the central issue is whether or not something is a good bet or even what it cost us (in terms of lifestyle, rules, etc). I think the main question is, "What corresponds to reality?" Or put another way, "What is true?" My problem with Pascal's Wager is that it is not terribly concerned with what is true, but is more concerned with what is most advantageous with the least risk.
Registered user
Username: Lettlander

Post Number: 60
Registered: 8-2015
Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 - 1:07 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I have not read much anything of Pascal, beyond a few of his Pensées, in addition to his very powerful conversion story. When they examined Pascal's coat after he had died, they discovered that he had sown a scrap of writing into it which read as follows:

"Year of grace 1654, Monday 23 November, feast of St. Clement . . . from about half past ten at night to about half an hour after midnight, FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars. Certitude, heartfelt joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ. God of Jesus Christ. "My God and your God." . . . Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy. . . Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. May I never be separated from him."

Wow. No wonder Pascal was not viewed with favor by other Catholics. This is why I have always thought that his reasoning behind the wager has either been misunderstood or has added nuance. I don't think that Pascal's wager, as popularly understood, is a good evangelistic argument.

Registered user
Username: Jdpascal

Post Number: 384
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 - 3:10 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Yep, my forum name has a loose connection to that wager.

It also had a closer connection to another of pascals contributions to the world that I drew upon as a hydraulic systems technician and technical instructor - in part for an agricultural company whose initials form the first two letters.

I once heard Morris Venden use the same reasoning in a sermon on "the Sabbath". His final caveat was that he could condemn God if God did not enforce the Sabbath requirement in the judgement at his second coming.

I also saw the same analogy in one of Venden's paperback books but I have not been able to locate it In my stored away collection of Adventism.

I would love to be able to reproduce it Word for Word and post it in Seventh-day Adventist discussion forum's.
Registered user
Username: Colleentinker

Post Number: 15378
Registered: 12-2003

Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 - 7:57 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Interesting details, Kaspars. Chris, I agree with you. Ultimately only "reality" means anything. While the wager (as popularly stated, as Kaspars put it) has a certain logic, it is not a convincing argument for making a decision that costs one's life from then on.

Reality is what matters. Anything short of reality is a self-deception, it seems to me. In fact, the deconstructionist relativity that has permeated education and philosophy is producing weak people with no bottom-line commitment except self-gratification. I realize I may be overstating a bit, but I'm offended at the popular push to avoid distinctions and to urge everyone to "get along" based on whatever they have in common.

Reality exists, whether or not people want to know it, and reality will ultimately have the last word. God will do what God has promised to do, and according to Romans 1, He gives us humans over to our depravity when we suppress the knowledge of Him—of reality—by our wickedness. Even if our wickedness is a refusal to take God's word seriously and to question our beliefs against it, it is coming from our depraved hearts.

God says (Romans 1 again) that He has given evidence of His divine nature and eternal power in what has been made, so all men are without excuse. If we refuse to desire and know what is Real and True, we suppress God's revelation of Himself.

While "the wager" is philosophically interesting, ultimately it doesn't move me. Only Reality is worth pursuing with all of my life.

Registered user
Username: River

Post Number: 8213
Registered: 9-2006

Posted on Monday, June 06, 2016 - 10:32 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I think Pascals wager is probably a wrong argument to use in evangelism. May not be a useless argument,but as far as I know Jesus didn't tell us to wager, or to introduce a wager. What he did tell us is this:John 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

Is there any substitute for pointing to the cross?

In fact, when talking to an unconverted person I doubt if they can hear anything but the basic gospel of Jesus death, burial, and resurrection to save a lost world.

When we give them that truth, there is no wager to it, it is the reality of it. The cross takes the pressure off one who might seem forced to gamble with his eternal soul and spirit and gives him one choice, and that is to simply say, "Yes Lord, I believe."
Registered user
Username: Colleentinker

Post Number: 15394
Registered: 12-2003

Posted on Tuesday, June 07, 2016 - 7:44 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I can understand using the wager with certain people in certain circumstances, but in general, River, I believe the gospel is what they need to hear. People from an Adventist background need to understand that they are utterly unable to cease from sin or to please God without His intervention. They need to know they sin because they are sinners—they are not sinners because they sin.

Only the cross provides an answer to this dilemma.

Registered user
Username: Sallyb

Post Number: 2
Registered: 4-2013
Posted on Friday, June 10, 2016 - 9:36 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Re: Pascal, it seems what I left Adventism for was the reality of my relationship with Christ, not existentialism and doubt. Christ's disciples loved Him and this is what He and the Father want is our "love", not playing the odds.

What I find objectionable with Adventism is what happened in 1844 how the Great Disappointment was mutated into into Jesus going into the Holy Place, no He didn't go into the right holy place. How sad we have such an inept savior!! It really is insulting to Christ. How about those who believed what was written in Hebrews which the 1st century church believed, that Christ offered His blood already as stated in Hebrews 9:12, alas, up till some girl hit in the head with a rock came along, not even the apostles got it right. Unless the payment, the blood was applied to the right place, no, God waited just to deny salvation because He wouldn't let Jesus stumble into the right place??? This is the God/man who healed the one born blind? He is the light, the one who is the Creator. If this was not the same sort of thing which the serpent did in Eden, the same as what Muhammad said to undercut and undermine faith in Jesus, how much more blatant can it be?

Jesus paid it all, He rose because of our justification. If the Investigative Judgment was going to take that long, Jesus would still be in the grave. If His blood is not effective at saving us, how are we who are sinners to have any hope?

It is clear someone is lying here and it is Ellen G. White or Jesus Christ. I go with the one who opened blind eyes, not the one who cloaked her works in Masonic symbolism.
Registered user
Username: Terryohare

Post Number: 17
Registered: 2-2012

Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2016 - 5:38 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

A theologian or Christian philosopher would have more to say about this, of course. I notice that Pascal’s Wager does begin with the presupposition that there is a God to whom we are accountable, and that there is a world beyond the one in which we live. It further acknowledges that our choices here have eternal consequences. I may have used this in witnessing attempts long ago. I image now that some cautious souls might have lingered in Christian circles long enough to actually hear more truth, but those of a more intellectual bent might have dismissed the argument all together.
Pascal's Wager, it seems to me, essentially reduces the claims of Christianity to be unknowable and the way to please this unknowable God is works-related. This is why this "wager" is applicable to other religious systems with their respective truth-claims and definable ethic. The "wager" implies that living a moral life now ensures a reward in the after-life, rather than belief in and personalization of the historical events in the Bible. Thus, it is not based on an appeal to truth, which the NT writers asserted was the basis of their belief as those who were eyewitnesses of the events they described. While Pascal was likely a greater thinker than me, it is certainly possible that he came up with an idea that sounded good on the surface, but was really fatally flawed.
Registered user
Username: Chris

Post Number: 1865
Registered: 7-2003

Posted on Monday, June 13, 2016 - 3:59 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Interesting thoughts, Terry. I hadn't thought about it in quite that way.
Registered user
Username: Terryohare

Post Number: 18
Registered: 2-2012

Posted on Sunday, September 04, 2016 - 3:44 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

While scanning web pages on another topic, I came across this on (first time at this site). Just another perspective on the wager.
"I think it might be a little presumptuous to say, “God doesn’t exist.” I’m sure you’ve heard that before. I know the burden of proof is on the Theist, but in a way it’s also on the Atheist as Atheists cannot prove God isn’t real. I’m sure you’ve also heard that before. Just nonsensical Theist fog. My beef with Atheism is this: My worst case scenario is your best case scenario. When I die and you’re right nothing happens. When you die and you’re wrong everything is lost. Pascal famously stated, “God is a reasonable bet; it is worthwhile to assume God exists. If he does then we all win; if he does not we lose nothing.” The truth is religion is far from perfect. Then again, so is science and the concept of reason. Who can make heads or tails of dark matter? And who’s reason should we adhere to?"

Add Your Message Here
Username: Posting Information:
This is a private posting area. Only registered users and moderators may post messages here.
Options: Enable HTML code in message
Automatically activate URLs in message

Topics | Last Day | Last Week | Tree View | Search | Help/Instructions | Program Credits Administration