I am not much of a gambler myself. As kids my siblings and I would take a jar in which the family saved pennies until the jar was full, divvy up the coins and play poker until someone had cleaned everyone else out – then all the pennies went back in the jar. At some point the jar would get full and whosever turn it was would get an infusion to their savings account. Gambling is easy when it costs you nothing. But that isn’t usually the case. As an older teen I helped my grandparents a lot on their perspective farms. On one occasion my paternal grandfather and I finished up his haying for the year. We had just filled the last two wagons in the field and grandpa was certain it would not all fit in the remaining space in the barn loft. I said I though I could get it all in. He said he doubted it. I said ‘Wanna bet’. He asked ‘Bet what?’ ‘A root beer!’ I replied. Grandpa and I both had a thing for root beer. Mason’s was our favorite! Grandpa took the bet. We pulled the wagons to the barn and he ran the bales up the elevator while I scrambled, climbed and toted to arrange them in the loft. On the way from grandpa’s farm to ours we stopped at Campbell’s grocery where I bought two root beers. Then we finished the journey and put the last thirty some bales in our barn. Before giving up I had been hanging out grandpa’s loft window, clutching the track for the sliding window cover with one hand, hooking bales from the elevator with the other and swinging them into the rapidly vanishing available space. Too late I had considered the decades worth of scrawls on the loft wall where grandpa had counted, each and every year, the number of bales he put in that loft. Never bet against the man with certain knowledge!
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is probably best remembered for what has come to be called ‘Pascal’s Wager’. It was actually a minor portion of his thinking and not published until after his death. If you really want to warp your mind study Pascal’s Triangle! But the wager. A brief summation goes like this.
*God is or is not. Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives. (if an infinite God exists He is outside the system of cause and effect and beyond the limits of our reason.)
*A game is being played. (You exist and must conduct your life by a series of choices.)
*You must wager. It is not optional. (Everyone decides for themselves whether God exists or not or, at the very least, whether the decision is important to them.)
*If you wager that God is and win – you gain all and lose nothing – or at the very least any small losses of present material and pleasure are miniscule compared to the eternal bliss you have gained - if you win the wager.
*If you wager that God is not and lose – you lose all and again, any gains in present material and pleasure you may have enjoyed are miniscule compared to the eternal bliss forfeited – if you lost the wager.
*If you wager that God is and lose - you actually lost nothing – endless extinction is the same whichever way you bet and, Pascal observed, believers seem to be as happy – if not happier – in the course of their lives.
*If you wager that God is not and win – if it can be demonstrated that believers are as happy, if not happier than non-believers in the course of their lives – what, exactly did you win?
Whatever anyone thinks of the wager, by describing it Pascal is counted as the father of both game theory and decision theory – both consequential to our modern lives! But, as to the wager itself. Most skeptics deride the theory as the very weakest possible proof of the existence of God – which is kind of like looking at an apple and saying it’s the worst shaped banana you’ve ever seen. Pascal was not trying to prove the existence of God. He was trying to describe the situation in which humans, lacking proof of God, find themselves. Criticizing the wager on the basis of something it is not is what as known as attacking a straw man.
From the perspective of a committed believer, I have only ever seen two objections to the wager.