Pascal’s Wager Revisited

S M Chen
5 min readMay 21, 2020

“Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.”

  • Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)

Blaise Pascal was a 17th century French mathematician, physicist and philosopher. He contributed to all 3 fields despite a relatively short life (died at 39).

His Wager was the formulation, set out in his posthumously published “Pensées,” of a construct to deal with perhaps the most important question any of us face: is there a God (particularly as understood by Christians)? If so, should we choose to believe in such a Being and act accordingly?

Everyone must choose; not choosing is not an option.

Science cannot prove whether such a Being exists.

But neither can it disprove such.

As American astronomer Carl Sagan commented, in different context, “Absence of proof is not proof of absence.”

So here is Pascal’s Wager (one does not have to be a betting person or probability theorist to see the elegance of this matrix):

Examination of this construct shows that the bettor (which is every person ever born) only breaks even in the event that there is no god, as depicted in the lower/southern portion of the diagram. Otherwise, gain (reward) or loss are infinite and forever.

In the event there is a God — a superior Being, however you understand Him/Her/It to be, Intelligent Design or equivalent — either upper quadrant of the matrix applies. For the believer, there is the hope of an afterlife, a Good Place. It will be everlasting. For the unbeliever, another Place awaits. For the sake of simplicity, its suffering is depicted as infinite. There is no 2nd chance.

Even if a person maintains there to be a miniscule possibility/probability of there being a God, prudence may dictate choosing to act as if such a God exists. This might be termed low-probability, high-stakes.

A believer might argue that the probability is not low, but agree that the stakes are indeed high.