Pascal’s Wager: An Antidote to Apatheism? (Part 1)

In my last post, I gave a definition of the discipline Apologetics and proceeded to show how that discipline is biblically rooted and why we can trust it to find truth. In the first part of this series, I will deal with an objection to apologetics that isn’t necessarily based off an issue with the discipline but an attitude towards religious claims in general. In the second section I will examine some counter objections to my claim that apathy towards the claims of Christianity is no option at all.

Apatheism Defined

In a nutshell, apatheism, ” …is the attitude of apathy towards the existence or non-existence of god(s). It is more of an attitude rather than a belief, claim, or belief system.”[1] It’s the nonchalant, languid attitude one has when they reply to your claims of Christianity being true: “I don’t think it matters anyway.” The interesting point about this push back to religion is that it is not predicated on an argument, but an attitude or feeling that whether or not a God does or does not exist is of no consequence to them. So how on earth are we to explore Theism as a viable option with one who espouses such a disposition? Well to quote the wise King Solomon, “…there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc.1:9) Believe it or not, in the 1600’s there was a brilliant man who came up with a solution to this problem.

Enter Pascal

Lucky for us, the profound scientist, philosopher, and mathematician Blaise Pascal produced an interesting argument to highlight the prudential points of Christianity. It’s called Pascal’s Wager. Just a quick note, for the purposes of this post, it is not necessary to defend the wager itself, as I am merely looking at the prudential or practical reasons which flow from Pascal’s argument for investigating Christianity, not for believing it. To some, this may be a red flag as I am a Christian who is not trying to encourage others to believe in God! Am I disobeying the Great Commission in laying out such a modest claim? Well in my defense, I think in the case of dealing with persons who are apathetic towards the claims of Christianity (which is the focus of this post) one needs to engender an interest in investigating Christianity before endeavoring to convince them to believe it. We are called to be wise in our interactions with those who think differently than us (Col. 4:5-6) and thus starting with a modest claim with those who have no interest in what our worldview offers is one way of accomplishing that. Moving forward, in a very concise manner Douglas Groothuis lays out the core of Pascal’s Wager. “…if Christianity is true and one becomes a Christian, there is much to gain and little of ultimate importance to lose.” [2] Think about it for a second, if you had the opportunity to win trillions of dollars from the lottery with a single ticket, but if you did not enter the lottery you would have a chance of losing absolutely everything you owned (including your life), then it seems rational to enter the lottery simply because you would be crazy not to; you have everything to gain if you do, and everything to lose if you don’t; it makes sense to enter. If Pascal’s argument is analogous to the situation I gave, it appears that we should all believe in wagering our beliefs towards Christianity, in light of the infinite benefits and the possible infinite detriments. However, as I said before, my claim is much more modest. I think that in light of the prudential reasons to believe in Christianity given the infinite benefits one receives if they believe (as well as the immense repercussions if one does not believe) should compel us to deeply investigate Christianity as a viable worldview option. Apatheism is most definitely not an option given how much significance Christianity has if it is true, so one must study its claims in order to live coherently (or have intellectual integrity). Here’s why:

The Issue of Greater Significance

Consider claims you investigate in your everyday life because of their significance and consequences (both positive and negative) which will follow from either not believing the claim or believing it. A prime example of this would be purchasing a vehicle for transport. Assuming you care about your safety and are fiscally responsible, you would most likely do research regarding the price/value difference for certain brands, their safety features, and try to find the most reliable vehicle you possibly could. If asked why, you would most likely suggest that because getting a vehicle that is unsafe, unreliable, or too expensive negatively affects your well-being and possibly your life, you wouldn’t want to take any risks and not research the claims of other motor vehicle brands. I think this kind of a response is a good one and very typical of anyone who is purchasing a vehicle; no issues there. Let’s call their belief that they should research vehicle types because of prudential reasons as proposition A. Now on the other hand, let’s assume that this same person is an Apatheist and does not think that the claims of Christianity need to be investigated, and let’s call this proposition B. If we dig down to the core of why one believes proposition A (it is wise to do so) and B (the Christian worldview does not matter) it becomes clear that these beliefs cannot both be held. This is purely because if one is committed to investigating various types of transportation because they could have negative effects on their well-being (if negative reviews about certain vehicle types are true) then it follows that they should investigate the truth claims Christianity brings forward because they will have even more effects on their well-being-infinitely more, in fact. If Christianity is true, then they are faced with the possibility of eternal separation from God and Heaven, which is much more devastating than getting into a car crash due to a mechanical failure. So, in order to be internally coherent in regards to what they believe, if the Apatheist is willing to research claims which have tiny prudential concerns compared to claims of the Christian worldview, they at least need to research it as well, if not much more.

Conclusion

To wrap up, we examined an argument from a profound thinker, Blaise Pascal, and took the core concepts from it in order to show that one cannot rationally be apathetic about the claims of Christianity if they are concerned with claims that have less prudential or practical concerns (such as looking into a type of vehicle to purchase for your safety and transportation means). This is mainly due to the fact that Christianity has infinitely more reasons to investigate its claims than do other mundane claims we investigate all the time. If that is the case, one is rationally bound to investigate Christianity as well. But, maybe you are pondering certain objections to my ideas laid out in this post and wondering why I haven’t answered those! Well, stay tuned for a following post in which I will examine some objections to the argument I have laid out.

Footnotes

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apatheism

[2] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 157.

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One thought on “Pascal’s Wager: An Antidote to Apatheism? (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Pascal’s Wager: An Antidote to Apatheism? (Part 2) – Thoughts of a Theist

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