1.3.1 Pascal's Wager: The Entrance Criteria for Heaven

Blaise Pascal

The first objection to Pascal’s Wager is probably the most compelling. It is the objection that Pascal’s Wager fails to take account of the fact that infinite rewards and punishments might be distributed on some basis other than belief or disbelief in God. The objection asks us to consider the possibility that it is something other than belief or disbelief in the Christian God that determines whether one goes to heaven or to hell.

It might be the case, for instance, that God rewards intellectual integrity, damning those who believe in him on pragmatic grounds while welcoming agnostics into heaven. Alternatively, it might be that some other god than the Christian God exists, and so that it is belief in Allah (for example), rather than belief in YHWH, that is in our interests.

In either case, it will be better for those who disbelieve in God than it will be for those who believe. Unless such possibilities as these can be ruled out, the pragmatic considerations that Pascal’s Wager seeks to invoke in favour of belief in God will fail to commend such belief. Unless it can be shown that belief in God is in our interests, it cannot be shown that we are pragmatically justified in so believing.

This objection has considerable force. The challenge for the advocate of Pascal’s Wager is to demonstrate that belief in God maximises one’s chances of receiving an infinite heavenly reward. In order to do this, he must demonstrate that Christianity is more likely to be true than any of its rival theories.

This is a difficult, and wide-ranging task. An attempt to complete this task might involve claims that the Christian view is simpler than its rivals, and so is supported by Ockham’s razor. It might involve claims that there have been certain a posteriori confirmations of Christianity, e.g. in the Incarnation and in the lives of believers. Or it might involve the Kantian claim that the Christian view of justice in heaven and hell is a necessary presupposition of morality.

If any of these strategies could be used successfully, of course, then the resulting argument would include an evidential element of the kind for which Pascal’s Wager seeks to remove the need. This may well be enough to demonstrate that a purely pragmatic approach fails.


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