Pascal’s Wager Arguments

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a French philosopher, mathematician, scientist and author.

Blaise Pascal

Pascal wrote as follows:

1) I should be much more frightened of being wrong and finding out that Christian religion was true than of not being wrong in believing it to be true (Pensees 6)

2) According to the odds, you must take the trouble to seek the truth, because if you die without worshipping the true principle you are lost. “But”, you say, “if he had wanted me to adore him, he would have left some signs of his will.”

3) There are only three kinds of people: those who serve God having found him; others who spend their time seeking him who have not found him, and the rest who live without seeking him nor having found them. The first are reasonable and happy, the last are lunatic and unhappy, those in the middle are unhappy and reasonable (Pensees 192)

4) “God is or He is not”. But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here…A game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions. Do not then reprove for error those who had made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”

Dr Ravi Zacharias

Yes, but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and the two things at stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then, without hesitation, that He is.” (Pensees 680)

Dr Ravi Zacharias points out that this is not proof for the existence of God but rather,

“The argument is directed at the sort of person who, not being convinced of the proofs of religion, and still less by the arguments of atheists, remains suspended between a state of faith and one of unbelief.”

Ravi Zacharias says that the atheist ruling out the possibility of their being a God is really the one that is taking the step of faith:

“All judgements bring with them a margin of error. But no judgement 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 judgement. 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.”

Pascal says that the HEART must be engaged as well as the head.

Williams writes: "Pascal is not proposing that apologetics should be carried out by making belief appealing at the detriment of reason. He is pointing out that apologetics must be addressed to the whole person, heart and mind, and that the mind will never convince the heart until the heart loves truth more than it loves its own rebellion against its maker.”

Therefore the “passions” are the obstacle to belief in God, according to Pascal.

Williams writes: “If we find ourselves wishing that we could believe in God, and we lack conclusive evidence either for or against his existence, it seems rational to give ourselves the best possible chance of coming to believe. We can attempt to do this by praying, going to church, listening to appropriate music, watching films with a Christian theme, spending time with believers, reading the Bible and books written by believers.”

Is this “brainwashing”?

The Moral Reformulation of Pascal’s Wager

Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli have thought this up
“If there is a God of infinite goodness, and he justly deserves my allegiance and faith, I risk doing the greatest injustice by not acknowledging him.”

Williams writes “This version of the wager does indeed appear to be morally superior. If God as traditionally conceived within Christian theism exists, then we ought to worship Him. If there is the slightest possibility that God exists, then it would seem that our minimal moral duty would be to demonstrate a willingness to render what we genuinely intend to be acceptable worship to our creator, to put a reasonable amount of effort into seeking to know Him through prayer, looking with an open mind at purported revelation, engaging with arguments for His existence, and so on."

In other words – seek to find him if you think there is the remotest possibility that he might be there.


This has close parallels with Design arguments – indeed it is really another form of a Design argument


A teleological argument, or argument from design, is an argument for the
existence of God or a creator based on perceived evidence of order, purpose, design and/or direction in nature. The word "teleological" is derived from the Greek word telos, meaning end or purpose. Teleology is the supposition that there is purpose or directive principle in the works and processes of nature.
The argument

Although there are variations, the basic argument can be stated as follows:
X is too (complex, orderly, adaptive, apparently purposeful, and/or beautiful) to have occurred randomly or accidentally.
Therefore, X must have been created by a (sentient, intelligent, wise, and/or purposeful) being.
God is that (sentient, intelligent, wise, and/or purposeful) being.
Therefore, God exists.
X usually stands for the universe; the
evolution process; humankind; a given animal species; or a particular organ like the eye or capability like language in humans. X may also stand for the fundamental constants of the universe like physical constants and physical law.
Williams writes
“The fine- tuning” of the laws which allows life to exist is called the “anthropic pinciple”. This says that if you were to select a set of values for physical laws at random from all the possible variations, the likelihood of making a selection which would result in anything as complex as life is extremely small. “Don N Page of the Instititute for Advanced Study in Princetown, NJ, recently calculated the odds against the formation of our universe and the figure was one on 10,000,000,000 to the power of 123, a number so large that to call it astronomical would be to engage in a wild understatement.”

In the formation of the universe, the balance on matter to anti-matter had to be accurate to one part in ten billion for the universe to arise.
If nuclei were bound together slightly more weakly or slightly more strongly, the universe would lack a chemistry. If the electric force were slightly stronger than it is, evolution would not reach organisms before the sun went out. If it were only slightly less, stars would not have planets, and life would be unknown.
Entropy has been increasing ever since the Big Bang, which means that the early moments of the universe must have been a time of extremely low entropy when the state of the universe was extremely highly ordered. The Oxford mathematics professor Roger Penrose has considered the entropy of the early universe and just how special it had to be. He estimates that of all the possible early universes, it had to be special to the tune of one part in 10 to the power of 123.


Richard Swinburne tells a story that illustrates why it is rational to look for an explanation of the way the world is. Suppose, he says, that a lunatic kidnaps someone and locks them in a room with a card shuffling machine. The machine shuffles ten packs of cards, draws on card from each pack, and then exhibits all ten cards. The kidnapper tells his victim that the machine will soon go to work and make a draw. Unless the draw consists of an ace of hearts from every pack, the machine will simultaneously explode, killing the victim. As a result of this explosion, the victim will not see which cards the machine drew, unless they are all the ace of hearts. The kidnapper leaves and the machine makes its draw. To the victim’s relief, it draws ten aces of hearts cards, and doesn’t explode. The victim naturally believes that there must be some explanation for his amazing good luck. Perhaps the machine was rigged to pick the cards it did and this has all been some fantastic practical joke. However, the kidnapper returns and pours cold-water on this suggestion. He says that it is not at all surprising that the machine drew the only safe selection of cards, for the victim would not be alive to see any other draw. That draw is a precondition of the victim seeing any draw at all. However, the kidnapper is clearly wrong.

It is the unlikeliness of those cards being drawn which is the issue – not the fact that the kidnapped person was around to witness this amazing draw.
“There is indeed something extraordinary in need of explanation in ten aces of hearts being drawn. The fact that this peculiar order is a necessary condition of the draw being perceived at all makes what is perceived no less extraordinary and in need of explanation. The theist’s starting-point is not that we perceive order rather than disorder, but that order rather than disorder is there.”

Williams writes: “Take this book. How did all that ink come to be arranged in words in a meaningful order on sheets of paper bound together in sequence between covers? Here are two possible explanations 1) An author wrote the book and a publisher had a printing press mass-produce it for sale 2) A terrorist caused an explosion in a printing press, and this explosion caused ink and paper to fly about the place, and the ink just happened to fall on the paper in the form of words, and the paper just happened to flutter down together in an order that made sense of the words, and the sequenced sheets of paper landed in an appropriate cover and glue was fortuitously in the right place at the right time to stick the sheets into the covers. Which explanation would you choose? Both are logically possible.”


Swinburne writes

“To postulate a trillion other universes, rather than one God in order to explain the orderliness of the universe, seems the height of irrationality….for the postulation of God is the postulation of one entity of a simple kind…The postulation of the actual existence of an infinite number of worlds, between them exhausting all the logical possibilities…is to postulate complexities beyond rational belief.”

John Polkinghorne says

“The many universes explanation of anthropic fine tuning is metaphysical in character, depending upon an appeal to the existence of worlds of whose being we can have no direct, scientifically motivated knowledge. It is a metaphysical guess that might be there.”

Williams adds

“It doesn’t really help to say that given enough time, or enough different universes, or both, the evolution of life was bound to happen, and that this therefore explains why we exist. It doesn’t help because it isn’t true. It is wrong to think that, given enough chances, every possible world must exist or come into existence eventually. Of course it is possible, but it isn’t logically necessary by any stretch of the imagination.
Even if there was an infinity of universes it would not be inevitable that this or any other one should be among them. All one can say is that as the number of universes proceeds towards infinity the probability of a difference between the actual distribution and the probably one diminishes to zero…Infinitely many orderings may never yield the significant ordering.
Think of it like this: if you shuffle pages number 1 to 1000 over and over infinitely many times, then the chances of not getting the pages into the order 1 to 1000 falls. However, there is no guarantee that the pages will ever appear in the order 1 to 1000.

Swinburne adds
“The very success of science in showing us how deeply ordered the natural world is provides strong grounds for believing that there is an even deeper cause of that order.”

Williams concludes:

If many or all possible universes exist, and if there is a possible universe which is created by God, then, far from doing away with God, the hypothesis that many or all possible universes exist opens up at least the possibility, and perhaps the certainty, that God exists! Unless the very concept of “God” or of a “Universe created by God” is incoherent, it is a logical possibility that a universe created by God exists.”