Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), was a brilliant French mathematician and scientist often remembered for “Pascal’s triangle.” But he was also a Christian writer. In his classic work, Pensees (Thoughts), he proposed a fascinating reason for believing in God, often called “The Wager.” Here it is. Feel free to share your reaction in the comments below:
Either God exists or he does not exist. But which view should be taken? Reason cannot answer this question. Imagine a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails; how will you wager? Since a choice must be made, let us see where your real interest lies. You have two things at stake: truth and happiness. What is the gain and the loss if you call heads, that God exists. If you win, you win everything; if you lose, you lose nothing. A gambler, where there is an equal chance of gain or loss, would place a bet if the possible gain was twice the possible loss. But here the possible gain is infinite, and the possible loss nothing. Every gambler takes a certain risk for uncertain gain. Here you are taking a certain risk with the prospect either of infinite gain if you win, or no loss if you lose.
Recently I taught a Bible study on the story of “Doubting Thomas” to my Bible class at church, and again at a local prison. We read in John 20:24-29 how Thomas said he would not believe Jesus was alive unless he saw the nail prints in His hands and put his hand into His side where He was pierced. Then Jesus appeared to Thomas and encouraged him to do just that! Thomas responded with his confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!”
I asked both classes, What lessons do we learn about responding to doubters from how Jesus responded to “Doubting” Thomas?
The Bible class at church gave six answers:
1. Don’t “blast” them; don’t attack them for their doubt
2. Show them what they need; give them evidence, books to read, etc.
3. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead
4. Be loving, compassionate, not judgmental
5. Pray for them
6. Plant the seeds and be patient
The Bible study group in prison added two more answers:
7. Share my own testimony
8. Live my life in a way that shows Jesus is real.
How about you? What have you found that is helpful to respond to those who doubt the faith? What has helped you in times of doubt?
Many atheists today not only don’t believe in God, but they act like they are mad at God. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great are two of the bestselling books on God, and they are written by atheists!
Peter Hitchens, the brother of atheist author Christopher Hitchens, describes this attitude as a “rage against God.” He describes how one atheist “thanked God that he no longer believed in Him.” (Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God, p.19)
It makes you wonder why they fight so hard against somebody they don’t believe in, doesn’t it?
However, there are other atheists and agnostics who seem to have genuine struggles with believing in God. Timothy Keller is a Presbyterian pastor in New York City. He had a brilliant young scientist who struggled with this. He had a feeling that God existed, but as a scientist, he wanted proof that God exists. He said, “I can’t believe unless I find at least one absolutely airtight proof for God.” Finally, the young man began to realize that proof wasn’t necessary. What he needed was clues. If we have enough clues, we can believe. (Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, p. 127-128) After all, a jury is not required to have absolute proof to convict a criminal, they are only required to have evidence that is “beyond all reasonable doubt.”
So, can we know that God exists, beyond all reasonable doubt? Yes, I believe we can.
It is reasonable to believe that God exists.
Atheists often ridicule people who believe in God as ignorant and stupid. “I don’t believe in God, I believe in myself,” says the atheist. G. K. Chesterton points out that most people who are in lunatic asylums believe in themselves, too. (Gilbert K. Chesteron, Orthodoxy, p. 175.) A man can believe he is a chicken and believe in himself. A woman can perform for the judges of “American Idol” and believe in herself. That doesn’t make their beliefs true.
I submit to you that it is more reasonable to believe in God.
Every argument that atheists use can be turned on them, and in addition there are many, many reasons that can be given to believe in God.
For example, atheists claim that belief in God is wish-fulfillment. They say that people wish there is a God, so they dream him up. But we can reply that atheism is wish-fulfillment. Atheists wish away any moral responsibility by wishing God did not exist so that they don’t have to be accountable to Him.
Again, atheists claim that belief in God is “the opiate of the people.” That is, they are saying that people escape reality by believing in God. But we can reply that atheism is the opiate of the conscience. In other words, atheists try to escape moral guilt for their sin by saying there is no God (Art Lindsley, C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ, p. 130). Bob Gass says, “An atheist can’t find God for the same reason a thief can’t find a policeman.”
So every argument that atheists use against faith can be turned on its head. What’s more, there are many, many arguments that can be used in favor of faith in God. Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli list 20 of them. (Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pp. 48-86.) For the sake of time, I will give you three good reasons in this essay, and three more next time. First, we will look at these reasons: a reason from logic, a reason from design, and a reason from morality and conscience.
A. Logic. (“The fool says in his heart, ‘God does not exist.'” Psalm 14:1, HCSB)
There are many logical and philosophical arguments for the existence of God.
During the Middle Ages, a philosopher named Anselm had an interesting argument for God. It’s called the ontological argument. It goes like this: He said that the fact that the idea of God exists in our minds indicates that He is real. After all, God is the greatest being there is, so if He exists in your mind, then He must also exist in reality, because reality is greater than your mind, and if He is in your mind and He is the greatest being, then He must also exist in the real world! (Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, p. 187-188)
Over the years, people have debated back and forth whether Anselm’s argument is true or not. But even if Anselm’s logic does not prove that God exists, it is impossible to prove that God does not exist!
Proving that God does not exist is like proving that there is no gold in Alaska. It is much easier to prove that there is gold in Alaska. All one has to do is to find one speck of gold dust. But to prove there is no gold in Alaska, one would have to dig up every cubic inch of the largest state in the nation.
In a similar way, what would you have to know to prove there is no God? You would have to know everything! Once the famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair was debating Jerry Root. Root asked her, “How much of that which there is to be know do you claim to know, 10%?” She laughed and said, “Okay, 10%.” Then he asked, “Is it possible that God might exist and be part of the 90% of reality that you admittedly don’t know?” She paused and was silent for about a minute. Then she said, “No,” and quickly moved on to another question. She did not want to admit the obvious—that unless you have all knowledge, you cannot prove that God does not exist. (Art Lindsley, C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ, p. 85-86)
In fact, it is absolutely impossible to prove that God does not exist, unless you can prove that the idea of God is nonsense or a contradiction, and nobody has been able to do.
No wonder Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'”
B. Design (“For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” – Romans 1:20, HCSB)
In December 2004, Great Britain’s most famous atheist, Antony Flew, decided at age 81 that he could no longer deny the existence of God. What caused him to change his mind? It was the complexity of the scientific evidence discovered in nature, especially the amazing evidence of DNA, that made him decide that it had to designed by an intelligent Creator.
“I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries,” Flew said. “… I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it.” (“Famous atheist now believes in God,” Associated Press, December 9, 2004; David Roach, “Famed atheist sees evidence for God, cites recent discoveries,” Baptist Press, December 13, 2004.)
The design of God’s creation, from the tiniest protein to the most complex galaxy is another reason to believe in the existence of God. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
Atheists reply that the amazing complexity of nature happened by chance over millions, even billions of years. But as Antony Flew finally decided, it takes more faith to believe in chance than to believe God designed it! Why? Suppose a combination lock has numbers ranging from 00 to 99, and only one sequence of turns can open the lock (e.g., 34-98-25-09-71.) There are 10 billion possible combinations, but only one can open the lock. Saying that nature happened by pure chance is like saying that I randomly twirled the combination lock until it opened. It could happen by chance, but it might take a while. Let’s see, 10 billion seconds is a long time, isn’t it? Multiply that by every species that would have to randomly mutate into another species, and you get an idea of how unlikely it is that nature became so complex by pure chance. On the other hand, if someone turned the lock a few times and opened it on the first try, we would assume it was not by chance, right? In the same way, when we look at the complexity of creation, we can reason that it didn’t happen by chance, either, but God made it. (William Demski, The Design Revolution, p. 87)
C. Morality and conscience (“For I am Yahweh your God, so you must consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:44, HCSB)
So we have seen that it is impossible to prove there is no God, and it is reasonable to believe in God because God has placed an awareness of Himself in each of us, but it is also reasonable to believe in God because of the scientific evidence of creation. Now let me give you a third reason to believe in God: the moral compass in your own conscience.
Leviticus 11:44 says, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” Because God is holy, he calls us to be holy. We believe in morality because there is a God who is holy and good, who put that universal moral code in our souls and expects us to do right.
Atheists never get tired of telling us that everything happened by chance. We should ask them, then where did morality come from? Did we just happen to decide by chance that feeding the hungry is good and committing adultery is wrong? No, reasonable people recognize that morality is a quality within our souls. Peter Kreeft says that the “moral conscience is the voice of God within the soul” (Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 73).
Many postmodernists would say that there is no God and no absolute right and wrong because everybody has to find his or her own truth. They would claim that what is moral for you may not be moral for me. Thus they would claim that morality does not mean there is a God, because different people have different morality.
We would disagree, saying there is a universal moral code, because everybody knows that murder is wrong, and stealing is wrong, and child abuse is wrong, and that feeding the hungry and healing the sick is good. But for the sake of the argument, suppose the postmodernists were right, that everybody has to find his or her own right and wrong. They would still have to admit that there is still one moral absolute: we all need to follow our own consciences. But where did you get a conscience, and why do you have to obey it? It must have been given to you by someone higher and greater than yourself, if you’re supposed to obey it. That Someone is God.
You see, if atheists are right, then there can be no moral absolutes and there is no reason to obey the conscience (Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 72-77). Most atheists are peaceful people, but most atheists live in predominantly theistic cultures, where a moral standard influences believers and unbelievers alike. But it is a fearful thing to think of what the world would be like if the predominant view was atheism, and the culture felt no accountability to a Supreme Being. I believe we have already seen how violent this could be in history, through the French Revolution, Joseph Stalin in Russia and Mao Tse-tung in China.
We have seen that it is impossible to prove that God does not exist. We have also seen that it is reasonable to believe that God does exist. It is logical because the idea of God exists in every human, because God reveals Himself in the design of creation, and because of the existence of morality. In the next essay, we will look at three more reasons: that something had to cause the world to begin, that something causes us to be conscious of our existence, and the personal experiences people have had with God. We will cover those in more detail next time. But let me conclude with this simple question: Since it is reasonable to believe that God exists, why would you not seek to know God?
Jeremiah 29:12-13 says, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
If you were going to seek God, where would you look? What is the best-known book in the world that more people have consulted to know God, more than any other book? It’s the Bible, isn’t it?
And when you read this book, what person rises to the top as the theme of this book? He is God’s one and only Son, Jesus Christ, isn’t He? Listen to what Jesus Himself said about seeking God in Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
If you look for God, you will find Him revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus is like the magnifying glass of faith. When I put a magnifying glass over a book, the tiny letters come into focus as they become larger and clearer, and letters around the edges become distorted and unclear. When I seek God, I discover that Jesus is the magnifying glass that brings God into focus. In Jesus I see God in the flesh. In Jesus I see God’s love lived out by His sacrificial death on the cross. In Jesus I find how I can believe in God. (Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God, p. 139.)
I pray that you will seek God through His Son, Jesus, Christ.
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