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Saturday, 21 March 2009

Pascal's Wager

I don't know how helpful this will be, but I am posting an extract from Wikipedia about the 18th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal. To put the matter in a very simple way, imagine a bishop talking to an atheist. The bishop says to the atheist: "If you are right and death is nothingness, neither of us will know that you were right. If I'm right, and through death we pass to God's judgement and heaven or hell, we'll both know I was right. What's more, I shall have had a lifetime of looking forward to heaven, and you will have missed all that hope and joy."

Anyway, here's a slightly more complicated way of putting it:

Pascal begins with the premise that the existence or non-existence of God is not provable by human reason, since the essence of God is "infinitely incomprehensible". Since reason cannot decide the question, one must "wager", either by guessing or making a leap of faith. Agnosticism on this point is not possible, in Pascal's view, for we are already "embarked", effectively living out our choice.

We only have two things to stake, our "reason" and our "happiness". Pascal considers that there is "equal risk of loss and gain", a coin toss, since human reason is powerless to address the question of God's existence. That being the case, we then must decide it according to our happiness... by weighing the gain and loss in believing that God exists. He contends the wise decision is to wager that God exists, since "If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing", meaning one can gain eternal life if God exists, but if not, one will be no worse off in death than if one had not believed.


  1. I was trying to find a poem or a relevant quote in response to your poems and the Pascal extract, but couldn't find anything suitable, so here is something which was said to me just before I went on stage as Kate, in "Dancing at Lughnasa" a couple of years ago. 'Live in the moment'. It has turned out to be the best advice for performance that I think I have ever had. To project one's thoughts too far ahead, leads one to stop trusting and at the very worst, to blank completely in panic. to 'live in the moment' is to savour each word, to listen and act appropriately calling to mind all ones skill and judgement and experience gained during rehearsal.

    It occurs to me that one of the mysteries that is so hard to grasp is how God exists outside of time as we know it. Our natural predilection is to push our thoughts into the future and thereby spoil our present. I love the phrase "I AM THAT I AM".

    I have a wonderful little book called "The Path of Waiting " by the late Henri Nouwen. In it he says: 'to wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life'. In so doing, he says we relinquish control over our lives thus letting God define them. He also draws the distinction between hope and wishing; 'hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes'. thus hope is always open-ended.

    I've had a lovely few hours perusing all your blogs and looking at the photos and listening to your music. I shall try to save some of the photos into my photo album when my brain is working properly.

    I hope to come to Somerset on 2nd April (two weeks' time) and will phone you to check the very best time to visit. It's most frightfully late and my eyelids are drooping. Mothering Sunday tomorrow - church with Philippa and her little family in the morning followed by lunch in Sevenoaks with Marcus and his family.( Perhaps I had better say 'I hope'!)

    Meanwhile, I think about you and pray for you every day.

    With love from Mary x

  2. Thank you, Mary. It has been great to renew our friendship at this juncture. Blackheath, Malvern, and then Sevenoaks, the Saxon Shore ... I look forward to your visit to Somerset.