An atheist once visited Martin Buber (1878-1965), the Austrian philosopher and ten-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and challenged Buber to prove to him the existence of God. When Buber refused to enter into a debate with the persistent man, the skeptic grew angry and abruptly headed to the door to leave. As he departed out the door, Buber in a loud voice posed the question, “But can you be sure there is no God?” The man wrote forty years later, “Buber’s question has haunted me every day of my life.”

Through the years I have been confronted by skeptics who have asked me to articulate proofs that God exists. While there is without question many reasoned and self-evident proofs that God exists, one not wanting to believe will dismiss them all as intellectually lacking. I have come to conclude over the years that the problem of unbelief in God is not a head problem (lack of evidence), but it is a heart problem. Instead of skeptics demanding that believers prove there is a God, let them prove there is no God. I concur with G.K. Chesterton who stated “the riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

To those who claim there is no God, can they answer Buber’s question, “But can you be sure there is no God?” If man possesses an eternal soul which will someday return unto the God who gave it and one must give an account for the life lived, is the short years one is granted on this earth worth the gamble of betting there is no God? Atheism is a terrible bet.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), a French mathematician, religious philosopher and Christian, poses the question to skeptics, “Is it worth the wager that there is no God?” Known as “Pascal’s Wager,” found in his work Pensées (“Thoughts”)(1670),  Pascal contended it is the height of folly not to “bet” on God, even if you have no certainty, no proof, no guarantee that your bet will win. Pascal says, “Either God is, or he is not. But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance [death], a coin is being spun that will come down heads [God] or tails [no God]. How will you wager? Let us estimate these two cases: if you win, you win everything, if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then it is without hesitation. Do not hesitate then: wager that he does exist.” [1]

Paschal argued that if one cannot arrive at reasoned conclusions that God exists, and since one can’t prove He does not not exist, the wise option is for one to live life as if God does exist because in doing so one has everything to gain and nothing to lose. If one lives as though God exists, and in reality, He does indeed exist, one has gained heaven and eternal happiness. And if God doesn’t exist, one has lost nothing. However, if one lives as though God does not exist and He really does exist, one loses their soul and loses heaven. If one weighs the choices, clearly the wise choice is to live as if God exists.

It is recognized that If one believes in God only as a “bet,” that is not the highest ideal or reason to believe, but it is a start. Pascal encourages the skeptic to believe in God not because one’s reason may be able to prove with certainty that God exists, but because the will seeks happiness, and God is one’s only path to  attaining happiness now and eternally. Pascal even contended that when one lived as if God does exist, the one living as if they had faith will lead one to actually coming to faith. He wrote, “That will make you believe quite naturally and will make you more docile.” Pascal’s Wager may not appeal to the highest ideals found in faith and speaks more to “our natural lights,” but in time will lead to full light.

The skeptic may say, “I am not going to wager at all.” Pascal replies, “But you must wager. Because of the fact of death there is no choice.” If God does not exist, it does not matter how you wager, for there is nothing to win after death and nothing to lose after death; however, if God does exist, one’s only chance of winning heaven is to believe, and one’s only chance of losing it is to refuse to believe. As Pascal says, “I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than of being mistaken in believing it to be true… Should a man be in error in supposing the Christian religion to be true? He could not be a loser by mistake. But how irreparable is his loss and how inexpressible his danger who should err in supposing it to be false.”

When one considers there are only two options: God exists or God doesn’t exist, then skepticism/atheism is a terrible bet. Pascal concludes, by calling “heads” God does exist, “I tell you that you will gain even in this life —purpose, peace, hope, joy, the things that put smiles on the lips of martyrs.” But if one calls “tails” God does not exist, and then he does, one has lost for eternity.  And if one is unable to believe, Pascal contends it is the result of selfish passions that hinders clear reasoning, for reason longs to believe. Pascal wants the skeptic to know his words urging one to “bet” the God exists “come from a man who went down upon his knees before and prayer.” Pascal urges skeptics who seem bound by unbelief to learn from men like him who were once bound but now have wagered their all…and found it to be true.

Jesus warns that nothing is worth losing one’s soul, “What will it profit a man though he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). And to those who want to gamble with their souls, the question of Buber is most thought provoking, “But can you be sure there is no God?”

Dr. Dan

[1] Quotes from Blaise Pascal, Pensées (trans. John Warrington), London: Dent (Everyman’s Library No. 874) 1932.