Check out Blaise Pascal’s Wager on the Vatican Observatory Faith and Science site (click here for it).
If you like math and science it is likely that you have encountered Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). Perhaps you learned about Pascal’s Principle of hydraulics in a physical science class, or in an engineering technology class where you learned about machines that use hydraulics. Or maybe you read about his work with measuring atmospheric pressure, and how he found that as he ascended a mountain the pressure he measured grew less and less. You might have encountered Pascal’s Triangle in a math class.
Pascal’s Wager involves matters of faith—sort of. The Wager is an argument that it is reasonable to seek to believe in God. “Seek”, because the Wager is directed to the person who neither believes nor is inclined to believe. The Wager argues that a person risks little, and gains much, by choosing to seek belief in God. It is all about balancing risk and reward, and apparently Pascal is viewed by some as a sort of founding figure of decision theory—the science of balancing risks and rewards to arrive at good decisions. Surely gamblers beat Pascal to this idea by centuries, if not millennia—and Pascal says as much in the Wager. But apparently Pascal was the first to write about it.
The Wager is not about belief itself. Pascal uses the idea of a wager only to lead an intelligent non-believer, who has no inclination toward belief, to the point of seeing that belief is rational. But Pascal writes that tightly-reasoned proofs are not what leads people to God, and he does not urge the non-believer to pursue them. We know God only by Jesus Christ, Pascal says, and those who have claimed to know God, and to prove God without Jesus Christ, have offered little.
Click here to check out the full text of Pascal’s Wager, from the VO Faith and Science pages. I wager you will find it interesting!
This post is part of a series of posts on Pi, infinity, and other things mathematical. Click here for the series.