What is Wrong with Pascal's Wager?
by Rich Deem

Introduction

Pascal's Wager?

You will often find Pascal's wager as an apologetic for belief in Christianity. The problem is that the wager claims to save one from judgment, when, according to biblical Christianity, it does no such thing...

Rich Deem

Pascal's wager was originally put forth by Blaise Pascal, a 17th century philosopher and mathematician. According to the wager, God may or may not exist. If God does exist and you choose to believe in God, then your reward is very high (eternal life in heaven). However, if you do not believe in God, your penalty is very high (eternal punishment in hell). If God does not exist, and you do believe in God, you lose nothing. If you do not believe in a God who does not exist, you gain nothing. If there is an equal chance that God exists or does not exist, then the best wager is to choose the one that has the best payoff (God does exist).

What's wrong with the wager?

On the surface, Pascal's wager seems like a no-brainer. One should believe because in believing you either lose nothing or gain everything. However, the unstated assumption in the wager is that belief in God guarantees one a place in heaven. With regard to Christianity, the assumption is false. Belief in God, in and of itself, is not sufficient to ensure entry into heaven, since the demons also believe, but are condemned:

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19)

The reasons that the demons shudder at the thought of God is that they know that they are destined for hell.1 Why don't they repent and come back to God? God has set different criteria for salvation for angels (including the demons, who are fallen angels2). Whereas those who have never seen God directly can come to sincere faith at any time in their lives,3 those who have direct evidence of God's existence are condemned by any act of disobedience.4 The Bible says that one third of the angels followed Satan into rebellion1 and are already eternally condemned.4 You should be glad that you have never seen God directly!

An intellectual belief that God exists is not enough, since judgment is based upon what is in one's heart.5 Pretending to believe or going through the motions of some church service is not going to be looked upon very favorably by God.6 In fact, Jesus said that many would do all those religious things, but still be condemned:

"Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'" (Matthew 7:22-23)

Heaven and God's existence

The Apostle Paul also indirectly commented on Pascal's wager 16 centuries before Blaise Pascal lived. Paul said that our faith is dependent upon the resurrection of Jesus:

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. (1 Corinthians 15:12-15)

So, Paul was saying that everything hangs on the resurrection. If Jesus was not resurrected, the Christian's testimony is false and our faith is in vain. Not only that, but if the resurrection isn't true, then forgiveness of sin is false and all people are destined to die forever:

and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)

Even the idea that people lose nothing by belief in a false premise is rebutted by Paul, who says that if we have hope only in this life then we are most to be pitied. Basing one's life on a lie is not going to result in any kind of Christian joy or spiritual good works.

Jesus' wager

Actually, Jesus never made a wager, but He did tell people how to get to heaven. In fact, He claimed to be the way to heaven:

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me." (John 14:6)

Jesus had a very interesting exchange with Nicodemus, one of the leaders of the Pharisees (the Jews' religious ruling group).7 In this conversation, Jesus told him that he had to be born again (which is where the term "born again Christian" comes from). He explained that being born again was accomplished by believing in Him:

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." (John 3:16-21)

Conclusion Top of page

The problem with Pascal's wager is that the assumption that belief in God is sufficient to get one into heaven is false. Demons believe and are condemned. An intellectual belief simply in God's existence is not sufficient for entry into heaven. One must agree with God and accept His terms for salvation. After all, heaven is a place where we voluntarily give up our "right" to sin, to spend eternity with the Holy One, who will turn us into perfect creatures8 because of our commitments made on earth. However, if you are living your life based upon pretending to believe in God to escape from hell, this is not a good wager, since God will not accept pretense as a substitute for true faith.



References Top of page

  1. "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; (Matthew 25:41)
  2. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:9)
  3. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
  4. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; (2 Peter 2:4)
    And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10)
    Angels are not covered under the gospel:
    It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:12)
  5. Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Assuredly, he will not be unpunished. (Proverbs 16:5)
    "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man." (Matthew 15:18)
  6. But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, Who tries the feelings and the heart... (Jeremiah 11:20)
    But Thou knowest me, O LORD; Thou seest me; And Thou dost examine my heart's attitude toward Thee... (Jeremiah 12:3)
    All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the LORD weighs the motives. (Proverbs 16:2)
    Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5)
    And I will kill her children with pestilence; and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. (Revelation 2:23)
  7. Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; (John 3:1)
    this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." (John 3:2)
    Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)
    Nicodemus *said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" (John 3:4)
    Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
    "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6)
    "Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' (John 3:7)
    "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)
    Nicodemus said to Him, "How can these things be?" (John 3:9)
    Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? (John 3:10)
    "Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. (John 3:11)
    "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? (John 3:12)
    "No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. (John 3:13)
    "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; (John 3:14)
    so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. (John 3:15)
    "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
    "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:17)
    "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)
    "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)
    "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:20)
    "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." (John 3:21)
  8. to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, (Hebrews 12:23)

http://godandscience.org/apologetics/pascals_wager.html
Last Modified April 29, 2011

 

Rich's Blog