Then in 1646, Pascal and his sister Jacqueline joined a fundamentalist Catholic cult, and from then until his death in 1662, Blaise Pascal eschewed the physical world and wasted his talent in the pursuit of mysticism. It was during this period that Pascal proposed what has become known as “Pascal’s Wager.” Pascal posited that, if your choices were oblivion after death or the eternal life offered by Christianity, the wise man would choose the later. Christianity may not be true, but it’s still a better bet than the alternative.
Coming from such an obviously intelligent man, Pascal’s wager is remarkably flawed. The wager posits a dilemma – a choice between only two alternatives. But as an accomplished mathematician, Pascal was surely aware that there are always more than two choices. Probability Theory, a subject on which he corresponded at length with fellow mathematician Pierre de Fermat, assumes an infinite number of random variables.
And there are many other choices than oblivion versus Christianity. There is good karma to secure a better position in future lives versus bad karma to guarantee a lower position. There’s sensual restraint versus hedonism to pave the road to Nirvana. And there’s dedication to the physical sciences to improve the lot of mankind versus praying for that improvement.
Dilemmacism, the posing of every choice as a dilemma, is in wholesale practice today. You have only two choices: the Democrat platform or the Republican platform. You have only two choices: either accept every word from Barack Obama as gospel or be ridden out of town on a rail as a racist. You have only two choices: either pay lip service to some nebulous entity called “women’s health” or be branded a misogynist for exposing the women and children destroying abuses of Planned Parenthood.
Furthermore, Pascal’s wager assumes that eternal life is preferable to oblivion. But I for one would prefer oblivion to an eternity of ennui. Eternal existence is not eternal life Life is by definition growth and struggle and evolution. To be trapped in an everlasting doldrum of sameness, with no challenges and no thrill of success and no incentive of defeat would be eternal boredom.
This lesson also has current applicability. The promoters of temporal utopias, such as Socialists and Communists, miss the point. We do not want stability. We are not cows, we are men – and we are engaged in the never ending task of evolving a better species. That is our primary function, and our responsibility to perform it is etched deeply into our DNA. To try to change it is to risk the destruction of the species.