Gambling on the Gods

Sam Brinson
Connecting the Dots
6 min readMar 11, 2021

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Born in France in 1623, Blaise Pascal’s intellectual prowess was evident early. He was writing about projective geometry and laying the groundwork for probability theory in his teens, and by his early twenties had built a calculating machine (the Pascaline) to help his father do his taxes.

When he hit his thirties, he had a religious experience that turned his attention towards theology and philosophy. He began writing an examination and defence of the Christian faith. However, he had struggled with his health for many years and passed away at 39, before finishing this project. After his death, other’s pieced it together and posthumously published it as Pensées, French for ‘Thoughts’.

While the book contained many such thoughts, one in particular stands out and has been called the first use of decision theory. Known as Pascal’s Wager, it makes a case for believing in God, using reason rather than faith.

Much like a coin-flip, he states that we each gamble on God’s existence or nonexistence, and we have no choice about it — we have to place a bet. However, while reason cannot tell us if God exists, it can tell us which of the options is the better bet.

Let’s consider the costs:

  • Betting that God does exist and being correct means we get welcomed into Heaven, while being wrong is no big deal.

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Sam Brinson
Connecting the Dots

An emergent property of billions of chaotically firing neurons. Currently thinking about thinking. http://sambrinson.com/