Pascal’s Wager Argument

pascal's wager argument

The Basic Line of Reasoning behind the Problem of Evil

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The problem of evil emanates from the need to reconcile the existence of a benevolent and all-powerful being with the existence of evil or the negative situations that exist in the world. This phenomenon leads to the existence of theodicy. Philosophers question whether a perfectly benevolent and all-powerful Being/God would permit or fail to stop the prevalence of evil. A theodicy refers to an elaboration concerning the reasons why God would permit evil to proliferate in the world.

Philosophers arguing from the perspective of evil perpetrate the notion that God does not exist from the evidence of existence of evil. For instance, if an all-powerful and benevolent Being existed, he would be God. Secondly, an all-powerful and faultless Being would not permit unnecessary evil. Thirdly, philosophers perceive a big deal of excessive evil happening and therefore conclude that God does not exist. Some of the responses posed owing to the above-mentioned facts include the basis for morality and assertion of the goodness of God.

Philosophers may use the same tenets that support or explain the correspondence between the functioning of the world and the goodness of God to elaborate how the actual world is consistent with the reality of a God whose nature is evil. Therefore, if theism holds true, it must follow that there exist good reasons for why God permits the evil that he could extinguish given that He is omnipotent. The reasons provided by theists for believing in the existence of God and evil remain inadequate. Additionally, all reasons provided by theists also propagate the notion that God is evil therefore, establishing that theism is false. Pascal’s Wager attempts to provide a rationality that supports the existence of God and the basis of morality owing to the problem of evil.

How Pascal’s Wager Establishes the Existence of God

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Pascal makes claims that prove the existence of God. His arguments emanate from the Cosmological argument and the Ontological argument for God. The cosmological argument presupposes that a regress of causes is impossible for existence and therefore existence must include a non-contingent being. An ontological argument presupposes that God exists in mind and in reality. Pascal utilizes rationality to convince philosophers why they ought to believe in God. Initially, Pascal bases his argument for why philosophers should believe in the existence of God using failures in the Ontological and Cosmological arguments.

To prove the existence of God, Pascal discredits the use of reason. According to Pascal, ‘reason is ill equipped to prove God’s existence owing to the fact that people are separated from Him by an infinite gulf (Pascal 2).’ The infinite gulf comprises of two choices that reason cannot definitively determine which is true. Pascal cautions against the error in judging individuals who have made their choice in the infinite gulf as they do not possess the knowledge to judge. Owing to this foundation, Pascal presents the wager that propels philosophers to join the game after laying the bet.

Pascal puts forward the argument that given that the probability of the existence of God is greater than zero, we can infer than the expected value of belief in the existence of God (a benevolent being) is infinite. According to Pascal, ‘philosophers have two things to lose including the true and the good; and things to risk including the reason, will, knowledge and happiness (Pascal 2).’ It is each persons’ imperative to shun from erroneous ways and unhappiness. His reason for such a conclusion is that the costs and benefits associated with a belief or disbelief in God is finite. Pascal puts forward elaborate statements to support the rationality behind the assumption that philosophers ought to believe in the existence of God.

First, the probability that God exists is finite and positive and therefore, people who believe in his existence ought to receive infinite rewards. On the other hand, if an individual believes in his existence and God, (the Benevolent Being) does not exist; they can only face a finite loss. According to Pascal, ‘if you win, you win everything; and if you lose, you lose nothing and therefore He exists (2).’ Pascal infers that based on these statement, philosophers would attain infinite expected utility from a belief that God exists. Conversely, if an individual did not believe in God and He exists, they would suffer an infinite loss. Additionally, if one disbelieved the existence of God, they would win only a finite gain. To support this claims Pascal declares that, ‘if an individual had an infinite number of opportunities in which one presented the chance to win; the individual would stake one to win two. The individual would be unwise in denying themselves the chance to play one life in a situation where  it would guarantee an infinitely happy life (2)’. In conclusion, disbelieving God’s existence results in infinite negative expected utility and the belief in God breeds much higher expected utility. Pascal’s wager urges philosophers to do that which brings higher expected utility.

Relationship between the problem of Evil and Pascal’s Wager

The problem of evil propels the argument that evil cannot exist if a benevolent and all-powerful God exists. Pascal’s wager instigates the rationality that philosophers should believe in the existence of God owing to costs and benefits. Therefore, Pascal’s wager promotes the tenets of doing good and shunning from evil. Pascal elaborates on this by stating that, ‘a man required to play must relinquish reason to preserve his life, as opposed to risking it for infinite gain which has a high chance of occurring as loss of nothing (2).’ To arrive at this conclusion, consider that doing evil equates to the belief in non-existence of God and that doing good equates to a belief in the existence of God. To support this analogy, Pascal says, ‘but his justice done upon the reprobate is not as vast as, and should be less than, His mercy shown towards the elect (Pascal 343).’ This extract from Pascal’s Wager demonstrates a clear distinction on how God delivers justice and mercy to the reprobate and the elect respectively. Therefore, doing good and believing in God’s existence brings about higher expected utility. Additionally, disbelieving in God’s existence and therefore doing evil results in infinite negative expected utility. Philosophers should do that which brings about higher expected utility.

Pascal’s wager provides a satisfying response to the problem of evil because he uses rationality that augments the need to make a choice between belief and disbelief. Pascal provides a prudential reason for believing in God’s existence based on the costs and benefits elaborated above when he says that, ‘there is infinity between the certainty of winning and the certainty of losing and the uncertainty of winning is proportional to the certainty of what an individual risks (3).’ The reasoning behind Pascal’s wager satisfies the problem of evil owing to a number of reasons. First, an infinite gulf separates the finite from the infinite. Therefore, the finite cannot comprehend the infinite, as people do not possess the tools required to understand infinity nor God. The phenomena where the finite remains separated from the infinite provide an explanation for the existence of God and evil given than evil is finite. In conclusion, God allows evil to exist because evil is finite and He is infinite.

Pascal’s Wager Essay

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Blaise Pascal, Pens´ees (trans. John Warrington), London: Dent (Everyman’s Library No. 874) 1932.