Belief as an insurance

I have no problem whatsoever with people who believe in God, and nor do I have any issues with people who don’t. I also don’t have anything against agnostics.

I do, however, have a problem with people who believe in God as an insurance.

You know, just in case.

a simple table describing Pascal's wager simply

But I don’t blame them either: they are just following the logic behind Pascal’s Wager, named after the prodigious seventeenth-century mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal. From his posthumously published memos, called Pensées (Thoughts):

1. “God is, or He is not”

2. A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up.

3. According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

4. You must wager. (It’s not optional.)

5. 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.

6. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) 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. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.

In my view, Pascal’s critics were right: if God does exist he is most probably omniscient, so while faking it can take you some places nice, heaven isn’t one of them.

But that’s not the important part in all of this: the aftermath aspect of Pascal’s wager may have been debunked, yet it would soon emerge as the cornerstone of decision theory and set new grounds for probability theory and future philosophies like pragmatism and voluntarism.

Pascal searched for a practical way to decide whether one should believe in God and in the process founded one of the core concepts that today’s economics, psychology, mathematics, and statistics rely on when making decisions masked with uncertainty.

  • Bonus: Pascal invented the first mechanical calculator at the age of 19 to help his father do tax calculations; it was the first non-human calculator able to automate arithmetic tasks. Also, the programming language Pascal is named after him.
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