I’m currently reading a series of e-books called Top Down to Jesus by Robert Kurland, a scientist and blogger at Reflections of a Catholic Scientist. Book 1 is called Pascal Was Right! This first installment contains Robert’s road to faith, his ties to Judaism as well as insights about his moral choices as a Catholic. He also explores Pascal’s Wager in terms of contemporary decision making involving the gains and losses for scenarios in which probabilities are known (like flipping a coin), or not known (like how much will I earn in the stock market today). I highly recommend the series; especially for analytical types who make a serious effort to be impartial. Please note that being analytical and being impartial don’t necessarily go together.
The discussion in the book on Pascal’s Wager reminded me why I’m not a big fan of it. In my own words, the wager basically goes like this: one should believe or behave as if God exists, since the reward if true is infinite (heaven) and the punishment of believing and acting otherwise is also infinite (hell). On the flip side, if it is not true, you can still have a good life and, of course, you will eventually die either way.
The wager seems to imply that we can “fake it until we make it”, but God knows our hearts. Also, by what authority does Pascal declare what will get us to heaven or not? Is intellectual belief enough? The demons do as much. Is it by our works alone? Not according to Catholic teaching (see CCC paras. 1996, 2005). Is it by faith alone? Not according to the Bible (see James 2:24). Do we simply declare Jesus our Lord and personal savior and ask Him to come into our hearts? Is that in the Bible? It’s not. I have not read Pascal’s original writings in detail, but I find it interesting that the wager does not mention Jesus in any of the iterations I’ve seen. All this gets into the big topic of Christian Justification, which I think is too broad a subject to be handled by a bet.
Although I’m not a big fan of Pascal’s Wager as an evangelization tool, I do wholeheartedly agree with Robert’s final assessment of it, provided one were to accept the wager and then sincerely, prayerfully and diligently deal with difficult questions like the ones above.
“One can start off along the road to faith and believe using reason as a road map; the deeper, in-the-heart faith which is the destination will come with God’s grace. And thus the subtitle of this book.”1
Perhaps Pascal was right after all!
1. Robert J. Kurland, Top Down to Jesus Book 1, Pascal Was Right! (Robert J. Kurland, 2016), e-book, Kindle location 400.