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  • Writer's pictureReuven Sherwin

A variation of the Pascal wager.

Updated: Oct 2, 2022

Statue Pascal - Clermont-Ferrand - Jean-Baptiste Claude Eugene Guillaume - Hamelin de Guettelet
Statue Pascal - Clermont-Ferrand - by Jean-Baptiste Claude Eugene Guillaume - photo by Hamelin de Guettelet

Though living for less than 40 years, Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) left a strong impression on the world in multiple domains, including Mathematics, Physics, Philosophy, and Theology.

Part of his legacy includes The Pascal Wager, where he argues that using logic and reason, a person should live as though God exists and according to God's will.

His reasoning is as as follows:

If there is a God, then a person acting accordingly to God's will can expect to has infinite gains (as represented by Heaven), while a person disobeying God stands to face infinite losses (as represented by Hell).
If there is no God, there by acting as if there is a God (and obeying this non-existent God) only faces limited losses (missing out on some fun...).

So weighing all options - claims Pascal - should lead a person (pursuing to maximize gains and minimize losses) to act as if there is a God - and according to God's will.

While Pascal's Wager has more holes than a good Swiss cheese (and you can read some of the criticism it faced [and still faces] here), it recently crossed my mind when I heard a conversation between two friends, one a practicing-orthodox-believer and the other self-proclaimed-secular (on the verge of claiming to be an atheist).

They were discussing a third friend, who was going through bad financial, and bad health, and overall rough, times.

The secular friend was telling the orthodox friend that the orthodox friend should pray for the third friend, as that person needs any help they can get.

And I wanted to ask my secular friend:

If you don't believe prayers help, since no one listens to them, why propose your orthodox friend pray for the sake of the third friend?
And if you believe the prayers help, and someone listens to them, then most theologians agree that God listens closely to those for whom it's the first time of praying... so the secular friend would help more by praying themselves (and not "outsourcing" the prayers to the orthodox friend).



(*) Like Pascal's Wager, this question also has many holes in it. But it did (and does) remind me of Pascal's Wager, so I decided to write it down.

So there you are.

"The Sherwin variation of the Pascal wager" (no need to add this one to Wikipedia's list of variations)

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