Einstein famously said: “God does not play dice with the universe.” Centuries earlier the christian philosopher Blaise Pascal similarly ruminated on God’s connection to gambling. Pascal’s Wager simply put says:
- If you believe in God and God does exist, you will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven: thus an infinite gain.
- If you do not believe in God and God does exist, you will be condemned to remain in hell forever: thus an infinite loss.
- If you believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded: thus a finite loss.
- If you do not believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded, but you have lived your own life: thus a finite gain.
|God exists||God does not exist|
|Believe in God||Infinite gain in heaven||Insignificant loss|
|Disbelieve in God||Infinite loss in hell||Insignificant gain|
(Above is from From Rationalwiki.org)
Pascal (1623 – 1662) was reacting primarily to the essays of Montaigne, the most popular skeptic of the day. Medieval theology was by then fading almost entirely from vogue, crushed on the shoals of the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. For the religious set the trend was certainly in the wrong direction. In response Pascal crafted an apologetic for Christianity which is basically an exercise in managing on the margins of reason. Based on probability theory and game theory his Wager attempted to show that it is a no-brainer for someone to believe that God exists, even though this cannot be proved or disproved through reason. If one is willing to “bet” on the existence of God, even without certainty or proof, with no guarantee of winning the bet, that option still far outweighs the alternative with regard to potential gains. Makes sense…
But this assumes that God has taken the bet. After all, the Wager appeals to a base, some would say biological, instinct for self-preservation rather than to an ideal faith in some cosmic omniscient being. In fact, if God does exist, and is indeed a gambler, might not a person who is willing to take a big risk for his/her belief (or disbelief as the case may be) rate higher in God’s estimation than one who is just defaulting to the safest position to cover his bet (or rear-end)? Should one spend a lifetime collecting silver bullets on the off chance that there are werewolves bent on killing him? Or take a risk and ignore the wager? The answer: who knows?