Pascal’s Bet and Pascal’s Conception of GodJune 26, 2021
When we flip a coin, it can come either heads or tails.
If the coin you are using is not fraudulent, you have half a chance. So it doesn’t matter which side you’re betting on because you know that when you hold the coin on the tail and flip it, it can come up heads. If you are not sure whether God exists or not, then what should you do? Is this similar to flipping a coin? Would you place your bet on the option that there is no God and try to live as you wish? Or would it be more rational to pretend that God exists, even if its confirmation is remote? Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), a believer in God, pondered these questions.
Pascal was a devout Catholic. However, unlike most Christians today, he had an extremely bleak view of humanity. He was a pessimist. Everywhere he saw evidence of expulsion from heaven, the flaws he thought we had because of Adam and Eve betraying God’s trust by eating the apple of the Tree of Knowledge. He thought that human beings, like Augustine, succumbed to their sexual desire, were unreliable and easily bored. We were all miserable beings, tormented by anxiety and despair. Each of us should realize how worthless we are. Compared to eternity before birth and after death, our brief time on earth was almost meaningless. Each of us occupies a tiny space in the infinite universe. However, Pascal also believed that humanity had a certain potential if it did not lose faith in God. We were somewhere between animals and angels, but for the most part, in many cases, we were probably closer to the animals.
Pascal’s best-known book, Thoughts, was published in 1670, after his early death at the age of 39, compiled from fragments of his writings. This book consists of short paragraphs that he has carefully written. No one knows how he intended to create a whole with these different parts, but the main theme of the book is clear: defending his own interpretation of Christianity. Pascal had not yet completed his book when he died. The arrangement of the parts was according to the bundles of papers he tied with string. Each scroll forms a chapter in the published book. Pascal struggled with illness as a child and had never been physically strong throughout his life. It doesn’t look good in painted portraits either. His watery eyes are always sad. However, he packed a lot of success into his short life.
In his youth he had become a scientist, with the support of his father, developing ideas on vacuums and designing barometers. In 1642 he invented a mechanical calculator that could add and subtract using a needle that rotated dials attached to complex gears. He did this to help his father with the accounting. This machine, which is the size of a shoebox, was also known as the Pascaline, and although it was a bit heavy, it still worked. The main problem was that it was quite expensive to manufacture.
Besides being a scientist and inventor, Pascal was also a highly accomplished mathematician. His most original thoughts in mathematics were on probability. But he would be remembered as a devout philosopher and writer. He did not want to be called a philosopher; for his writings contained comments on how little philosophers knew and how insignificant their thoughts were. He considered himself a theologian. After becoming involved in a controversial religious movement known as Jansenism, he began writing on religious subjects rather than mathematics and science. Jansenists believed in destiny, they said that we do not have free will and that only a few pre-chosen people can go to heaven. They also adopted a very strict life. Pascal once scolded his sister when she saw him hug his own child, because he did not approve of the expression of feelings. He spent his last years living like a monk, and although he suffered greatly from the illness that caused his death, he never stopped writing.
Rene Descartes, like Pascal, was a devout Christian, a scientist, and a mathematician. He thought that the existence of God could be proved by logic. Pascal disagreed. For him, belief in God was about the heart and faith. The reasoning that philosophers generally used about the existence of God did not convince him. For example, he did not believe that you can see evidence of God’s hand in nature. According to him, the organ that would lead us to God was the heart, not the brain. Despite this, in his book “Reflections,” he presented a clever argument for convincing those who are not sure that God exists, that they should believe in God. This argument is known as Pascal’s Bet and is based on Pascal’s interest in probability.
If you are a rational gambler and gambling is not just an addiction for you, you want the best chance of winning a big prize, but keeping your losses to a minimum when you bet. Gamblers calculate the odds and bet accordingly. Well, when it comes to the existence of God,