Pascal’s Wager: An Antidote to Apatheism? (Part 2)

In the first part of this series I examined the wager set forth by Blaise Pascal which argues one should believe in Christianity based upon the prudential concerns one has. Because of the immense repercussions which would result from one dying as an unbeliever, they should believe in Christianity lest they lost everything. While that is the original intent of the argument, my claim was much more modest. One should at the very least investigate Christianity based on the consequences (both positive and negative) which obtain if Christianity is true. In this post I will look at some objections to this call for inquiry and see if they defeat the argument set forth.

Objection 1: Why Christianity?

The first objection which comes at the argument is based upon the existence of other religions which appear to have just as much prudential incentive as to justify one to investigate them just as much as they should investigate Christianity. This does not bode well for the argument for one major reason. It undercuts the argument by showing other religions besides Christianity also have equally sufficient reasons to investigate them, thus revealing that one’s decision to investigate Christianity is not because it holds concerns of ultimate and eternal value, but because of an arbitrary decision between multiple, equally important choices. These most commonly would be other religions that also hold to doctrines of eternal punishment for non-belief and eternal benefit for belief in said God or gods, as without these doctrines these religions would not possess the same practical concerns as their consequences would not be eternal in length. For the sake of space, let’s quickly examine one major religion that advocates such a doctrine and which poses a threat to the argument: Judaism[1]. I believe it will be sufficient to only examine one other similar religion because in doing so, certain key principles and ideas will be unearthed which will strengthen the case of Christianity being highest on our list to investigate even in the face of other similar religions.

In examining the teachings regarding the afterlife in Judaism, it seems unclear as to exactly what eternal punishment looks like or what it is exactly. One writer for Chabad.org notes that hell is a place of suffering and torture in which one looks at the deeds of their life and remembers all of their wrongs[2]. But, the author (Rabbi Pollen) also suggests that one does not remain in Hell forever, only around a year’s time at maximum![3] If this is the case, then it seems Christianity has a leg up as it advocates an eternal hell (or the annihilation of the unbeliever) which has greater consequence for the one who denies Christianity as true, unlike Judaism. However, it also seems that there are varying views on the afterlife (much like in Christianity) as some other Jewish groups think that those in hell will stay in a place of remorse or be destroyed utterly[4]. If this is the case, it seems to damage the argument I presented based on Pascal’s Wager, as both religions have eternal consequences. But is it sufficient to dismantle the conclusion?

Greater Goods in Christianity

If you remember at the beginning of this series I framed my idea around prudential or practical concerns of investigating Christianity. So far, we have mostly examined the negative motives for investigating Christianity over its competitors. But, when we probe into the goods which result if Christianity is true, there is a change of tune. First and foremost, there is the Incarnation and Atonement as the pinnacles of grace and mercy as the Perfect Being who did not need to save sinful man, chose to come down in the form of a man, Jesus, and be whipped, scorned, beaten, and crucified on man’s behalf so that we all could be reconciled to God (Mark 15; Colossians 1:21-22). This is a doctrine not present in other religions (as far as I know) and gives Christianity a huge advantage over other monotheistic faiths as I&A is intuitively recognized as the greatest good, I think mainly due to the interaction of a perfect being sacrificing Himself for beings which are not perfect and do not deserve such mercy. The condescension of God to broken, humiliated, scorned, forsaken man, is inconceivably great. Secondly, from this doctrine varying other theological ideas are implied: man has great value (as God sacrificed Himself for them), the Greatest Possible Being deeply loves and care for all mankind, and finally, one can have a connect with this being aside from their own merit; the gift of life is not one based off works, but off faith or trust (Ephesians 2:8-9). These reasons listed above provide ample motivation for one to investigate Christianity over religions which may have the same negative repercussions (eternal suffering and separation from God). But, we aren’t out of the woods yet in solidifying the case for investigating Christianity, as there is another objection to be considered.

Objection 2: The Implausibility of Christianity

While there may be strong practical reasons to investigate the claims of the Christian worldview (both positive and negative), the foundation we have built crumbles into rubble if it at first glance, it is so implausible that there would be no rational reason to investigate its claims. In technical terms, this is called prior probability and it essentially refers to the probability of a hypothesis being true before taking specific evidence into account, given the background knowledge we have. This may seem arcane and complex, so here’s an example. Let’s say your friend Bob texts you something like: “I found a Yeti in my backyard, and it’s attacking me, send help!” We’ll call this theory Y. Now before we even go over to Bob’s backyard to investigate, we already have some ideas about why this may or not be true, given what we know about the world (background knowledge). Let’s say we know three important propositions: (1) There is little reason to think Yetis actually exist. (2) Bob usually sends us texts which are exaggerated, silly, and often incorrect. (3) What knowledge we do have regarding Yetis states that they supposedly live on mountains, and Bob’s backyard does not have a mountain in it. Given that we know these three propositions to be true, it seems theory Y is very implausible before we look at any evidence. So in technical terms we would say that the prior probability of hypothesis Y is very low. So low in fact, that we are not irrational for denying to investigate the evidence of hypothesis Y at all. In the same way, the one who objects to my argument would hold that Christianity is analogous to the Yeti hypothesis in terms of their low prior probabilities. If this objection stands firm, it devastates my idea. But as we will soon see, this objection bit off more than it can chew.

Too Heavy a Burden

While there may be multiple lines of reasoning to show how this particular objection falls short, I will focus on one objection as I think it is the most powerful. Consider  what it would take to show that Christianity has a low prior probability. In order for this objection to have any force, it would need to show that we have no reasons to believe Christianity is true from our background knowledge. But this is a massive undertaking as one extremely vital piece of background knowledge pertaining to whether or not Christianity is true is if God exists![5] So it follows that for one to show Christianity has a low prior, they must show God most likely does not exist. Yet, this is far from obvious as there are many varied arguments arguing for Theism which some of the most brilliant minds have conceived. Thomas Aquinas, Gottfried Leibniz, Edward Feser, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, and many others, have all expanded upon or produced strong, rigorous arguments showing that God exists. To claim all these arguments fail is indeed a bold claim. Finally, if the objector indeed thinks that these arguments do fail, that would require them to have investigated them, which broadly means they have investigated at least some of the claims of Christianity, which is exactly my argument! Not only does this objection bite off more than it can handle so as to look silly, it chokes on its food as well!

Conclusion

Throughout this series we have examined Pascal’s Wager and the implications of it regarding whether or not we are compelled to investigate Christianity. While objections have come up against this idea, and some of which have damaged the argument, overall it has been shown that the argument still stands tall. Thus apatheism is a failed attempt at avoiding Christianity and its claims and one must inquire into what the Christian worldview offers given the infinite goods and negative consequences which follow if it is true. Pascal has implored us to dig into the world around us, and not be idle with our minds, especially regarding propositions of possible infinite consequence, and so I implore you also. As Socrates once admonished Meno: “We will be better men, braver and less idle, if we believe that one must search for the things one does not know, rather than if we believe that it is not possible to find out… and that we must not look for it.” (Meno, 86bc)

Footnotes

[1] I obtained this wonderful idea from Douglas Groothuis’ magnum opus, Christian Apologetics.

[2] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3168943/jewish/Does-Hell-Exist.htm

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm

[5] This is due to the fact that Theism (God exists) does not entail Christianity (that God came as man to die for all people) but, Christianity does necessarily entail Theism. Thus, whether or not Theism is true is extremely significant to whether or not Christianity is true.

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