One of the more commonly cited approaches to apologetics by both atheists and some Christians is Pascal’s Wager, by Mathmatician Blaise Pascal. I’ve seen Christians cite it as a reason to believe, and I’ve seen atheists use this argument as an argument that Christians are not operating on the basis of facts, they are instead covering their bets or apple polishing.
Pascal’s wager is actually an early version of game theory, based on cost. The typical version of Pascal’s wager is that God’s existence is ultimately unknowable. Therefore, he assumed that because the potential loss of not believing in God (infinite punishment in hell) outweighed the potential gain (some creature comforts). Thus, it was better to wager on Christianity being true than wagering on it being false.
I’m not a fan of Pascal’s wager, and the reason is the nature of faith.
While saving faith is a step past intellect – that is there is a volitional component, faith must by definition include the mind. Pascal’s wager seems to be that which is condemned in James 2 – saving faith is not merely attending church to cover your bets. If the mind is not truly convinced, simply put it isn’t faith.
Pascal countered this argument by noting that faith could become real, perhaps, but perhaps not.
Instead, using similar principles I would like to restate Pascal’s wager in terms of investigation.
If Christianity is true, then not believing has the most dire consequences imaginable – eternal punishment by a Holy God, and therefore it behooves individuals to investigate the faith itself. If Christianity is not true, then yes one has wasted a bit of time, but the study itself can provide a beneficial intellectual challenge, and one can live their life free of the fear of being wrong. Therefore if we wager on whether Christianity is worthy of independent honest investigation, then we should choose to make such an investigation.
Some might note that they are satisfied with atheistic answers to Christian arguments – but are they sure that they actually understand the Christian arguments from atheistic sources? If my experiences with atheists are accurate to the community as a whole, my answer is no, most atheists don’t understand the evidence underlying Christianity, otherwise they would not use arguments based on outdated sources, theories or arguments that were answered definitively in the past. At one point, I thought it was just Dawkins, but most atheists seem stuck in the arguments of the nineteenth century.
As a result, I do not see Pascal as an argument for Christianity – but his line of thinking does provide a prod to look at the evidence itself.