Of reason and belief

A backstory.

I grew up as a Christian. At a certain time in my life I didn’t believe God was real because I felt like objections were too frequent and too frequently unanswered. A certain later time I decided atheism wasn’t all that either, and decided to call myself a Christian again, even though I was unconvinced. I wrote a blog post. I abandoned a blog.

Another backstory.

Blaise Pascal was a brilliant mathematician and inventor. He converted to Christianity later in his life. He started writing a rational defence of christianity to respond to contemporary philosophers, but died before he finished. A collection of his notes were posthumously published as Pensées. Pascal’s Wager comes out of that.


This week someone commented on that post I made nearly 3 years ago.1

Doesn’t Pascal’s Wager kind of fail in the presence of all other religions? Since most religions seem to consider it as bad (or possibly worse) to believe in a ‘false’ religion as none at all, you seem to lose by picking any specific religion.Jill Skinner

Yes, it does fail as an answer to some (not all) other religions, but it doesn’t matter.
You pick regardless of whether you want to.

“Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose.”Blaise Pascal - Pensées III - Of the Necessity of the Wager

Pascal’s Wager only answers the agnostic with: You have everything to gain and little to lose by believing Jesus, vs everything to lose and little to gain by believing there is no God.

It misses out huge swathes of possible belief. It doesn’t answer Buddhism, or Islam, or Homeopathy. But that wasn’t why it was written, and wasn’t why I used it to convince myself it was rational to believe Christ. It’s only tool. A tool to help you change your belief.

I watched a debate between Christian philosopher William Lane Craig and Humanist Bill Cooke, and both of these apparently extremely rational and intelligent people gave well-ordered well-defended rational reasons for their respective positions. But their closing speeches they each gave non-rational (but not irrational) reasons for believing as they did.

Because rational reasons aren’t really that compelling. They excuse and justify belief rather than provide it. There is a universe of good arguments for God. There are so many reasons to believe Christ. But people will always find their reason to not.

“It is incomprehensible that God should exist, and it is incomprehensible that He should not exist”Blaise Pascal - Pensées III - Of the Necessity of the Wager

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.1 Corinthians 1:18–20

We can’t possibly hold the sum of human knowledge in our heads. And all of that is still nowhere near the knowledge of everything. How can we possibly rationalise our way to God? We can only rationalise our own rational objections out of the way.

How do you believe when you’re still unconvinced? Ask God, pursue God. He’s the best revealer of himself. There was a very definite moment when God revealed the truth of himself to me. Just the tiniest fragment, but that was an overwhelming sense of truth, of sureness, of conviction. This didn’t happen at the beginning of my christian-again-ness, but about year later.
I had until that moment assumed I would be forever in a state of doubt, of thinly veiled agnosticism. I know that there is more truth I can’t see yet. I can barely respond adequately to the truth I have seen.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.1 Corinthians 13:12

How do you pursue God? I’m convinced that when you pursue God, even if you pursue him in the wrong direction, he will show up. There’s the story of Paul, a devout Jew, shutting down Christianity because he thought that’s what God wanted, being totally turned around by meeting Jesus. I’ve heard many (unfortunately unverifiable) stories of devout muslims meeting Jesus in a powerful, lifechanging way.

The only real reason to believe is truth, the wager is only a thought-game.

  1. I have since removed comments