Pascal’s Wager is a Bad Bet

2045 reads

There are 8 Comments

Wayne Wilson's picture

Having read through Pascal's wonderful and profound Pensees many times over the years, I am always a bit sad to see his apologetic reduced to his "wager", which was not the center, nor the most significant part of his defense of the Faith.  In the Pensees, his apologetic thinking is quite wide-ranging. But for me the weight of Pascal's apologetic, which I have deeply incorporated into my own thinking and which helped bring me to the Lord, is his version of the anthropological argument ---- the greatness and wretchedness of man.  It is as simple as it is profound, and still gets people's attention today. It certainly got mine.

The "wager" was rather narrowly aimed at the aristocratic, spiritually dull gentlemen he knew so well who were consumed with gambling.  As James Connor puts it, the wager was not evangelization, but pre-evangelization, aimed at "those people who had been brought up in the faith but could not get beyond their immediate desires."

Aaron Blumer's picture


Thanks for that, Wayne. You've got me wanting to read Pascal.

As Paul shows in Acts, you can't really reason people into conversion but that doesn't mean you can't use reason with goal of bringing people to conversion. (Acts 18:4)

Charlie's picture

Adding to what Wayne said, this offer misreads the context of the wager. Pascal was addressing those who felt themselves unable to believe wholly what they were told, or unable to make sense of Christianity. He knows that you can't believe in God hypothetically. His advice was to do something: attend church, put some holy water on their forehead, make the sign of the cross. Some Protestants would find that hypocritical, but Pascal was banking on the connection between soul and body. That is, if people gave Christianity a chance, even in these relatively insignificant ways, they may end up finding out that it really is meaningful. We Protestants do something similar. We don't always hit a complete stranger over the head with a start-to-finish gospel presentation. We invite a neighbor to church. We hold a Bible study for seekers. We bring a friend to a Christmas music concert. Through participation and exposure, seemingly unintelligible God-talk becomes, at least for some people, convincing.

My Blog:

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

CPHurst's picture

Aaron, you bring up a good point that Koukl brings out in his book Tactics. He corrects ones thinking on what an argument is and what it means to argue. He rightly argues that while we cannot argue people into the kingdom the Holy Spirit uses many things through which to bring people to conversion and good argumentation is one of them. The book is a must read for intro to apologetics.

Wayne Wilson's picture


Having read you for some time I think you would enjoy Pascal.  It's all nuggets of thought and wisdom, however.  What is rather amazing about Pascal is that his great apologetic work was just barely getting started when he died.  All we have are his notes.  It says something about a man when just his notes sit among the Great Books of the Western World.

Huw's picture

A man who by reason concludes that God ‘exists’ is displaying the manifestation of the general revelation that God has given to all. It has no bearing on salvation and in and of itself simply renders the sinner guilty or ‘without excuse’’.
A man can only view salvation from where he stands. If he stands in Adam then he has no truthful view. If He stands in the Last Adam then he has a clear view.


How a man is brought to salvation will have a bearing on how he explains salvation to others. If by grace the man will defend grace. If by works or reason then he will use these as an example for others to follow.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Some of these categories overlap. Nobody comes to salvation "by works," and all come "by grace," ... of these, all also come by at least some reason.

("If I repent and believe, I will be saved. Therefore I repent and believe" and the like)

Huw's picture

I'm sorry that I didn't clarify. By 'If by works or reason then he will use these as an example for others to follow''

I meant the person has not received grace and therefore is relying on works by which no man is saved. But because the person thinks they are saved they will try and convince others to 'do' what they have done. 


Repentance is a grace and there is no possible way or means by which a person can summon up repentance from within.