I’ve been pretty troubled lately. Here’s a thought I’ve been playing around with in regards to some of the existential questions that many unbelievers can ask about Christianity.
A groundbreaking development in the philosophy of religion was an existential “argument” for belief in God formed by Blaise Pascal in the 17th century. It’s called Pascal’s Wager. If your already familiar with the argument then feel free to jump down to my own notes on it below. If you’re not then hopefully the following will help.
The full explanation and defense of it can get quite complicated as it introduced probability theory and requires some background knowledge in decision theory, but nonetheless I believe it is important for the apologists to be familiar with this important possible justification for why one should believe in God.
Here is one formulation of the argument simplified (in a way my non mathematical brain can understand it):
1. If it is impossible for a person to believe with certainty that God exists, then that person should believe in God anyway—“just in case” He does exist.
2. If it turns out that God does exist, the believer “wins” the wager by receiving an eternal reward.
3. If it turns out that God does not exist, the person who believes has lost nothing (except perhaps some temporal pleasures, the loss of which would be outweighed by the emotional difficulties of unbelief).
4. If God does not exist, and a person does not believe, then he may gain some temporal pleasures.
The conclusion that should be reached then is that the “believer” is the only one that truly wins the wager. There is really no way for him to lose which would affect his life with that much significance. Pretty interesting huh? If you’d like to take a look at some more technical explanations and formulations of it then I’d encourage you to look at it here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager/ I’ve even formulated my own variation of the argument which I find, personally, to be quite satisfying. Perhaps I will find a way to write it out later…but for now it shall remain in my head 😛
Nonetheless, I am not convinced that Pascal’s Wager is an argument that the Christian apologist should be using and want to give a word of caution to those that are. My main problem with using the Wager as an answer to any question on why should one live as a Christian for existential reasons is because the Wager leaves us with a possible chance that the Christian could be wrong. The reasoning goes even if there is no God in reality one should still live their life as if there is, just in case there turns out to be one. This appears to me to run contrary to the way the New Testament authors describe the Christian life.
In regards to Jesus dying on the cross for our sins Acts 2:36 says we can “know assuredly”. Luke 1:4 says that the reason he wrote the account for Theophilus was so that he could have “certainty” of what happened in the life of Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 1:5 says that the Gospel came to the church not only by word but “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction”. In Colossians 2:2 Paul says that the struggle Christians are having can be dealt with by encouraging them to realize that “all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ”. For time’s sake I will not continue but the verses could be multiplied exponentially. Consider the following verses as well: Hebrews 6:11, Romans 4:19-21, Hebrews 10:22, Ephesians 3, Proverbs 14:26, Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 22:17-21 and Romans 8:16.
Therefore, it seems to me, for a Christian to tell others that they should live their life as a Christian and hold to belief in “God’ anyway because it would make a better “wager” would be to ignore what the Bible explicitly commands us to rest out assurance in! We are not to hold to faith in God by mere “probability” that the benefit of believing in him outweighs the consequences if we are wrong. The Bible not only tells us to live with “certainty” and “full assurance” but it even goes a step farther to say that if we are wrong then we are the most to be pitied!
1 Corinthians 15 is an incredible chapter that every Stoa apologist should be well familiar with in regards to its usefulness for Category 5, but I think it really takes a powerful perspective when it is set against the background of Pascal’s Wager.
Consider Paul’s argument in verses 14-19. He says “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
I see two arguments against almost any version of Pascal’s Wager here. The first is that if Christ has not been raised then the Christian is actually deceiving other people and therefore misrepresenting whatever “true” God may exist. That is, if we are arguing for the God of the Bible….if your when you present the Wager then I don’t know why you’d use it in the first place. Secondly, and most persuasively, is Paul’s statement that if we are wrong it is not that we have somehow “lived a fulfilling life that was worth pursuing”. Au contraire! We are to be pitied, for our entire faith is in vain and we are still in our sins! There is NO reason to present an apologetic argument where on one hand you try to present the unbeliever with the guilt of their sin and then on the other argue that they should still believe in a “god” even if there is no way to really be sure because it leads to a better probability. If the Christian is wrong in their claim that Christ rose from the dead because of the power of God then we, of all people, should experience the most sorrow and guilt in this life. Praise God that is not the case.
Hopefully that helps give a little perspective on my thoughts about using Pascal’s Wager in an apologetic speech. It’s important to understand the argument and I fully recognize I didn’t take the time to flesh it out so please look into it more elsewhere. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that one should not utilize it in their speech because of the biblical requirements demanded of the apologist. We are to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:5) and in doing so we shall “take every thought captive to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). May these words be the foremost of our thoughts when we defend His word in the public arena.