Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Although I got to thinking about Pascal's Wager as a result of a couple hilarious interchanges where "Paschal" got spelled "Pascal", it was a good reminder of the concept and a good time to think about the famous mathematician/scientist Blaise Pascal and his own conversion.

For those of you not familiar with Pascal's Wager, it basically goes like this:

Even though the existence of God cannot be determined by reason, one should wager on the side that God exists, because living in such a way has everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Blaise Pascal is a good link for me to remind me that, yes, I can still have a logical and scientific mind, believe what science tells me, and still remain a person deeply rooted in faith.

Pascal suffered from a variety of weird neurological and gastrointestinal complaints. (One now wonders if in his research, studying barometric pressure, he might have suffered from mercury poisoning. Other findings at his autopsy suggested that at least by the time of his death, he might have had stomach cancer or gastrointestinal tuberculosis.) Additionally, he experienced a religious conversion when the horses pulling a carriage he was riding in spooked and leaped over the side of a bridge and the carriage almost went in the river after them. (Luckily, the traces broke and only the horses plunged to their death, leaving the carriage half-over the bridge.) As a result, he experienced a vision.

This created a bit of a problem for him, being a man of science and reason, and he wrote extensively in an attempt to reconcile himself to the fact that faith is not something that can be proved by the scientific method. (He was one of the first proponents of the scientific method.) He describes his wager in this way:

If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is....

..."God is, or He is not." But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance 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 have 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."

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 two things to 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.

"That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much." Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite.

It was during the time he was writing his Pensees that he came up with the famous "Pascal's Wager."

I think about Pascal's Wager now and then, mostly in my moments of doubt. Like Pascal, it is a comfort to me that to believe his wager means that even if I turned out to be wrong about all this spirituality stuff of mine, that I have tried to live in a way that betters others and the world. It's certainly a better wager than my twice-weekly Powerball ticket!



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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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