Perfect Chaos

The Blog of Author Steven Colborne

Pascal’s Wager Discussed

Christianity might seem strange to some, particularly to those who haven’t had a revelation of the reality of God. But when we come to understand the Christian worldview, and how it relates to every human being, we are all forced to consider seriously the idea of salvation and whether ignoring what the Bible says about life after death is really an option.

Such was the conclusion that 17th century French theologian Blaise Pascal arrived at, and which motivated him to compose what subsequently became known as Pascal’s Wager.

Pascal’s argument can be summarised as follows:

  1. If you believe in God and God does exist, you will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven: thus an infinite gain.
  2. If you do not believe in God and God does exist, you will be condemned to remain in hell forever: thus an infinite loss.
  3. If you believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded: thus an insignificant loss.
  4. If you do not believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded, but you have lived your own life: thus an insignificant gain.

The conclusion that can be drawn from the above statements is that when the odds are weighed, it is most rational to believe in God, and to live accordingly.

Problems with the Wager

There are several problems with the Wager that immediately come to mind. Firstly, the problem of different religions believing in different gods. Choosing to obey the Muslim god would lead to a completely different life than if one chose to obey the Christian god. Even if we agree with Pascal’s argument, we are still faced with the question: Which god do I follow?

Alongside this problem there is also the fact that faith isn’t a momentary decision, but rather a lifelong commitment. I would argue that even if one reaches the conclusion that the rational position is to believe in the Christian God, it’s very difficult (perhaps impossible) to live a committed religious life, unless one’s faith is genuine and springs from knowledge of God’s existence rather than a mere intellectual decision.

The Possibility of Going to Hell

There’s no doubt in my mind that the existence of hell is a logical possibility. I have experienced moments of horrible suffering in my life, and it’s obvious to me that if God can make me suffer terribly in one moment, He could do so for eternity, if that were his will.

But would God really be so cruel? As I ponder my life experience, and the lives of others, I see that although people do suffer, and sometimes terribly, that suffering is always under control, and ultimately limited. It seems to me that God eventually liberates people from suffering, either by healing them, restoring their peace, or ending their lives. Of course, I have no idea what people experience in the afterlife, but I have a hope (and it is only a hope) that God ultimately shows mercy to all sentient beings.

Divine Judgment and Free Will

The whole area of divine judgment is one I have considered deeply, and my personal view is that if God is in control of our lives, as I believe He is, then judgment is a peculiar concept. If there is a day of judgment, God will be judging His creatures for actions that have unfolded in accordance with His sovereign will, which seems strange. There is not space here to examine this problem in depth, but I have done so in my essay An Almighty Predicament, which looks at key arguments for and against Christianity, and which you can access here.


While I feel the force of the argument presented in Pascal’s Wager, I cannot be wholly dedicated to Christianity while there are certain areas of Christian doctrine that don’t make logical sense to me. To suppress these areas is in my experience incredibly difficult, as whenever I am immersed in Christian living the doubts and problems I have with Christian doctrine come to the surface of my mind and make it virtually impossible to be wholly dedicated to the faith.

It’s not a matter of backsliding, and I want to make that clear. It’s not about falling into sin, or wanting to choose an easy life. I would rather lead a difficult life and avoid hell, of course. But I have a (God-given?) concern and passion for truth, and I find that however much I fear God, and fear hell, I am not able to come to terms with the inconsistencies in Christian doctrine that cause me to draw back from the faith.

Are you convinced by Pascal’s Wager? Feel free to leave a comment below with your thoughts.

23 responses to “Pascal’s Wager Discussed”

  1. Good blog, Steven. Regarding Pascal’s Wager, I agree with your final paragraph on that particular issue (the paragraph which precedes “The Possibility of Going to Hell”). I agree that Pascal’s Wager often hinges on an intellectual-only acceptance of God, and this is simply not enough to sustain a lifestyle of “faith” living. Well said on your part.

    Regarding the remainder of blog, as I mentioned before, I don’t struggle with these things, but am certainly praying that God will give you the clarity you are seeking.

    Keep plugging away, Steven, and keep posting these types of blogs. I think they are important because they challenge the faith of believers and unbelievers alike. Looking forward to the next one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, David! I will keep plugging away, although I often feel as though many of my posts echo the same sentiment, only from a lot of different angles. I suppose that’s okay, unless my posts starts to become too repetitive, then I might have to think again.

      I don’t think I’ll be writing about the God’s sovereignty vs free will problem forever, but we’ll see! It is rather important to my worldview at this point in time.

      Thanks for being so encouraging, it really is appreciated.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. The key is what you wrote, “It is rather important to my worldview at this point in time.” Perhaps a way to present it differently is to offer some kind of everyday-life example.

        For instance (and I would find this interesting), in what practical way does God’s sovereignty hamper or negate (I believe this is your view) your free will? Does this make sense? I think giving a practical example will help people get a better idea of what you are trying to express.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, I certainly think practical examples can be helpful. One of the reasons why I point people to my essay is because it gives more practical examples. For instance when Christians say “God planted me in a great church” it implies God is in control of our lives, but that contradicts with when Christians say “I walked away from church” which they would argue was not God’s will, but done freely.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Perhaps do both … keep referring to your essay, but for those who are time constrained, perhaps “lifting” an example from the essay and inserting into a particular blog would help.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. That’s a really good idea. I will work on trying to write posts with some clear and everyday examples of the problem (I think I may already have done before you were a follower! But it can’t do any harm to write more). Thank you for the suggestion 🙂

              Liked by 2 people

  2. No, I am not convinced by Pascal’s Wager :):) I had never even heard of it until I read your post here. Based on what you presented here, the flaw begins in #3 “If you believe in God and God does not exist” is where he lost me :):):) I never knew there were so many theories about God until I started blogging. I appreciate you sharing, as I love to read and learn new things. I don’t have to agree but it doesn’t mean I don’t like to see what others believe. God bless you Steven :):)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Margaret! I’m just the same, I’m fascinated by other peoples’ perspectives, and that’s one of the things I love about blogging. I’m always learning something new. God bless you too!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m new here to your page. Sorry if this has been gone over before. Have you read the Bible? Thanks, Mandy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mandy! Welcome!

      I have indeed read the Bible, cover to cover, more than once. May I suggest reading my ‘About’ page if you haven’t already? That’s a good place to start if you’re interested in a brief overview of my background and beliefs.

      Thank you for your comment. Peace and blessings, Steven


      1. Aha, ok thanks.


  4. Hi Steven. I had a question about one of your statements.

    “I cannot be wholly dedicated to Christianity while there are certain areas of Christian doctrine that don’t make logical sense to me.”

    Do you see dedication to Christianity as adhering to doctrines, or are you talking about a particular Christian sect or denomination? I’m not sure I’m understanding what you’re saying here. Thanks!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Mel,

      I believe there are certain doctrines fundamental to Christianity – without believing in them you can’t really call yourself a Christian. I suppose a belief in free will would be one of them.

      Hope that answers your question!

      Best wishes,


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay. That answers my question. But I don’t believe free will was ever a central tenet of the faith, historically. The central tenets for being a Christian were always Christ-centered. But I can understand if that particular issue causes you problems personally. There’s been disagreement about it between believers since the beginning. Probably won’t solve it in our lifetime either. 🙂

        Blessings to you.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. The reason I place so much importance on the problem of free will is because it affects other central Christian ideas like sin, judgment, the fall of man, etc. If we don’t have free will (I personally believe all will is God’s will), then it’s hard to make sense of the Christian worldview.

          Blessings to you as well!

          Liked by 2 people

          1. That would be quite the conundrum!

            Liked by 1 person

          2. I’ve been following some of your posts here. It’s been probably a month ago that I commented in regards to the classical philosophical support of free will. Your comment, in response to Mel’s, reminded me of a description of free will in a fairly new introductory book on Catholicism written by Thomas Joseph White O.P. by the title The Light of Christ. In regards to describing “contingently free” beings, he says, ” The Freedom of creatures and the creative power of God are not rivals with one another.”

            I think from some previous post you tend to believe that it’s not a logical proposition as God’s will and human will would not be compatible.

            White goes on, ” Angels and humans beings are truly free to will this or that, to love and choose this or that, because they are created and sustained in being by God’s loving freedom. Our created freedom is a participation in the freedom of God, one that becomes more perfect the more God’s creative power is present not one that is eclipsed or destroyed by the presence of the action of God. Free actions are not entirely ours or entirely God’s. They stem entirely from God and entirely from us simultaneously, as God gives us to exist as the free and autonomous creatures that we are.”

            Of course, there’s more White explains on the topic, but thought this portion would be sufficient for conversation. I think it’s important to note that from much of what I’ve read White is a Thomist philosopher and his assertion on free will is much in line with one of the central themes of Thomist philosophy that is God is existence, that He sustains creation much like an essential gear rather than one who tips over dominoes.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I also think one has to have a grasp of the Thomist idea of God outside of time. For example, in another thread up above, you say, ” For instance when Christians say “God planted me in a great church” it implies God is in control of our lives, but that contradicts with when Christians say “I walked away from church” which they would argue was not God’s will, but done freely.”

              In my opinion, this also blurs into the theological problem of evil. White says that a decision is both ours and God’s in short. So, In your first example, there would no issue with “God planted me in a great church.” However, what many would take issue with is the second clause, “I walked away from the church.” Why, or even how, would this be allowed if God also makes the decision?” Naturally, this dives into being outside of time, which is creation of God, as well as the omnipotence of God, in which if God creates us he allows are free actions to exist, but our existence may serve to allow God to forge a greater good by one walking away from church.

              The issue that may stem here is God’s omniscience in regards to decision that we make and that if he has full knowledge, allows us to exist and act, then as the Divine Sovereign, we’re not free in action but allowed to act. William Lane Craig objects, and many more objections against free will, by asserting, “seems to be that we cannot call ourselves “agents” unless we have autonomous freedom. An agent, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, can be defined as “a means by which something is done or caused; instrument”. If God uses us as we use instruments, as we claim, how then are we not agents? Further, why should it matter if we can refer to one another as “agents”? The scriptures do not in any place insist that all men are “agents”, or that we must refer to each other as such. To make this term a definitive piece of Christian doctrine is simply arbitrary. However, the (perhaps sarcastic?) comparison of a human being to an instrument such as a stick is apt, as that is the exact comparison (among others) that God Himself makes in Isaiah 10:12-15.”

              By your example provided, Craig illustrates, also with White’s explanation of simultaneous will of God and Man, that it appears as an instrument one can be moved to Church and act away from it in accordance to his or her own will.

              Liked by 1 person

  5. Thankfully, the Lord is is big and strong enough to handle our doubts – big or small. I’m not saying that you will find the specific answers that you seek (again, I direct you to the book of Job), but the fact that you continue to struggle with matters of faith proves that you are not indifferent to them – quite the opposite!

    I believe that perspective is key here. As long as we try to define or explain an infinite God through the lens of finite, human knowledge, then we will not succeed. We cannot define or explain the Lord; whatever knowledge we have of Him comes through revelation from the Holy Spirit and through His Word.

    We cannot constrain God to fit reason, logic, or philosophy. God cannot be fit into any sort of box or human-designed intellectual constructs. He simply exists beyond such things.

    May I offer a gentle suggestion? Give your mind – and heart – a bit of a sabbath, and instead choose to focus your attention on the God-given things that bring you joy and peace (your music, for instance, or perhaps being out in nature – a pasttime that you have previously mentioned). Simply enjoy these activities – no need to be on the alert to “look for God” 24/7 – rest in them.

    Finally, if you haven’t done so in awhile (I need to read the books again!), consider reading through the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. Again, not looking for God per se, but simply enjoying the experience and noting how the story strikes you. In all things, keep your expectations grounded – seeking peace, joy, and gratitude.

    This is my prayer for you, my friend. 💛

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your concern and suggestions, my friend 🙂

      It’s not so much that I have doubts, more that I have convictions that aren’t in line with the Christian worldview. I think that all spiritual people ask questions about God, perhaps yourself included. I mean, have you never considered questions like ‘Is Jesus God?’ or ‘Is God real?’. The arguments I make in my blog posts just expand upon these, and while we may not be able to understand everything about God in this lifetime I believe He does reveal certain truths to those who honestly seek. I believe there is a place for theology.

      I haven’t actually read the Chronicles of Narnia, but I have read Mere Christianity and I have The Screwtape Letters sat on my bookshelf waiting to be read! I do like to get outside and enjoy nature, and I by no means spend all my time pondering the nature of God (although perhaps more than some people!) but it is one of the main focuses of this blog.

      Today has been a grey, cloudy, and rainy day in London so not much opportunity to get out for a walk, although my new blog promotion method means I have been enjoying a lot of fresh air and exercise in recent days!

      Thanks again and God bless!


      Liked by 1 person

  6. When it comes to pragmatic justifications for belief in God, I find William James’ case to be more convincing than Pascal’s case.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the tip, I’ll investigate!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. […] There are many other problems with Pascal’s Wager, and you are probably aware of some of the objections. I, for one, just don’t buy what Pascal is trying to sell. At best, we might agree that there are some benefits to believing that God exists, but that isn’t granting much. The lesson here is that we can’t ignore the question of evidence* when it comes to God’s existence. And, if we can’t ignore the evidence, then what use does Pascal’s Wager have? [1]. […]


Steven Colborne

About Me

Hello, I’m Steven and I’m a philosopher and author based in London. My main purpose as a writer is to encourage discussion about God. I write about a wide variety of subjects related to philosophical theology, including divine sovereignty, the nature of God, suffering, interfaith dialogue and more. My mantra: Truth heals.

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