Given that Blaise Pascal believed in predestination, doesn't that void the wager argument?

What is at stake? I presume it's salvation.

How is it determined? It's implicit finding faith is a requirement: one could not be atheist and be saved.

But if salvation is predetermined, so is one's faith. And therefore the wager argument is void.

I've never seen the matter put so simply. Why not?

  • The issue of predestination vs free will is a complex one and nobody "solved" it. See Blaise Pascal: "it is difficult to see in what sense human choice is free when it is determined infallibly by a divinely originated desire that the will of each individual, to whom it is granted, finds irresistible. For Pascal, one's choice of salvation is free in the sense that it expresses one's strongest desire; but the desire itself is communicated only to those who are predestined by God, and is such that the recipient is guaranteed to follow it." Mar 3 at 15:19

2 Answers 2


This criticism of Pascal's Wager, based on Pascal's personal views on another subject, constitutes an ad hominem fallacy. One need not be a determinist or predestinationist in order to make a Pascal's Wager argument. As such, it is and invalid, rather than decisive, response.

Free will and determinism are a conundrum that can be raised against any reasoning or argument presented by a determinist, as the presumption of an "argument" is that it can affect one's decisions, but determinism implicitly precludes this. Determinists have split over how to respond to this apparent self-contradiction -- some include the arguments and their effect on minds as part of the determinism, while others admit that they live their lives on the presumption of free will while intellectually holding by determinism. There is an even greater tension with predestination and monotheism, as the validity of any individual agent's apparent will is both suspect, and theoretically irrelevant, under either. This counter is a better counter to belief in determinism and predestination, than it is a counter to Pascal's Wager.

Pascal's approach to faith is tentative and conditional. If his approach to predestination was similar -- IE he assumed it was true based on best evidence, but was uncertain -- this argument would not even be useful as an ad hominem against Pascal, as his tentative reasoning would have no self-contradictions.

A more fruitful critique of Pascal's Wager is that it presumes a God who is unaware of one's true internal certainty, but only cares about outward professions of obedience. Jesus's consistent condemnations of hypocrisy suggest a God who is NOT interested in outward/public views, but only inward ones. Combine this with Omniscience, and Pascal's Wager then becomes either irrelevant, or perhaps even more reason to be condemned.

Another, also fruitful critique of Pascal's Wager is that it assumes a false dichotomy -- belief in one theist doctrine, which presumes a jealous/punishing God who rewards public obeisance, or rejection of all theism. We instead have tens of thousands of different theist claims and worldviews. The in this actual circumstance, the Wager would advocate for adhering to the MOST jealous/punitive of all theisms. The Wager also presumes no risk to mouthing faith one does not believe -- which not all theisms claim, including narrow path or "elect" Christianity. As well as, for an extreme and fictional example, Cthulhu. The Wager therefore is an argument for public profession of belief in the most the most vain, and jealous of all Gods. Noting this to a Wager advocate, is in my experience a very effective counter.

  • Predestination is argued in the Provinciales, see @mauro-allegranza's comment; the wager in Pensées, the basis for an Apology of the Christian Religion. Altogether: reasoning about the wager in relation to predestination is perfectly valid.
    – Erwann
    Mar 3 at 20:25
  • An ad hominem fallacy remains a fallacy even when you document the source behind the ad hominem attack.
    – Dcleve
    Mar 3 at 21:48
  • Are you a sophist?
    – Erwann
    Mar 3 at 22:32
  • It's not an ad hominem if you are asking how a specific thinker reconciled two seemingly contradictory positions A and B. But if you are talking about position A in the abstract, and you said "the originator of A also believed B which contradicts it, therefore A must be false", that would be an ad hominem. @Erwann it seems unclear if you're exclusively asking about how Pascal reconciled his wager with his belief in predestination, or whether you're asking about whether Pascal's beliefs invalidate the reasoning behind the wager in the abstract--if the former, maybe you should edit the Q.
    – Hypnosifl
    Apr 2 at 20:17
  • @Hypnosifl The update I provided on Mar 3 at 20:25 is sufficient.
    – Erwann
    Apr 3 at 22:16

Free will may be understood in different ways: one might say that it’s the ability for someone to make a decision that’s not driven by external factors (this seems rather easy to achieve but is rather more difficult to prove since it’s virtually impossible to remove all external influences, and eventually what is and isn’t part of the individual becomes unclear). A more stringent definition requires the individual to make a decision that could not be predicable even to an observer with an unlimited amount of information about the physical state of the individual, in other words it requires that an individual with free will can make decisions that are not driven by deterministic physics. In real life though, even if we knew for certain that our decisions were deterministic, we lack the ability to foresee our decision-making (in fact this is demonstrably impossible) and so we can think and behave as though the future is non-deterministic; although theoretically the future (including the outcome of a decision) could be known, in reality it can not.

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