This post is a translation of an article I wrote in Greek back in 2010
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a French mathematician and physicist and made great progress in the formulation of the laws of probability. At the same time he was also part of the dispute between Jansenites and Jesuits and for this reason he wrote his famous book “Thoughts” (Pensées) which contains the now infamous “Pascal’s Wager”
Typically the Wager is quoted as such: “If you bet on God’s existence and he indeed exists, you win everything; otherwise yoy lose nothing”. Needless to say that Pascal wrote a lot more stuff than a single sentence on the matter. You can read it below and I will make my comments afterwards (the numbers in square brackets are marked sentences to be used later for commenting). You can read the entire book at Project Guttenberg.
Infinite—nothing.—Our soul is cast into a body, where it finds number, time, dimension. Thereupon it reasons, and calls this nature, necessity, and can believe nothing else.
Unity joined to infinity adds nothing to it, no more than one foot to an infinite measure. The finite is annihilated in the presence of the infinite, and becomes a pure nothing. So our spirit before God, so our justice before divine justice. There is not so great a disproportion between our justice and that of God, as between unity and infinity. 
We know that there is an infinite, and are ignorant of its nature. As we know it to be false that numbers are finite, it is therefore true that there is an infinity in number. But we do not know what it is. It is false that it is even, it is false that it is odd; for the addition of a unit can make no change in its nature. Yet it is a number, and every number is odd or even (this is certainly true of every finite number). So we may well know that there is a God without knowing what He is.  Is there not one substantial truth, seeing there are so many things which are not the truth itself?
We know then the existence and nature of the finite, because we also are finite and have extension. We know the existence of the infinite, and are ignorant of its nature, because it has extension like us, but not limits like us. But we know neither the existence nor the nature of God, because He has neither extension nor limits. 
Let us now speak according to natural lights.
If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is.  This being so, who will dare to undertake the decision of the question? Not we, who have no affinity to Him.
Who then will blame Christians for not being able to give a reason for their belief, since they profess a religion for which they cannot give a reason? They declare, in expounding it to the world, that it is a foolishness, stultitiam and then you complain that they do not prove it! If they proved it, they would not keep their word; it is in lacking proofs, that they are not lacking in sense.  “Yes, but although this excuses those who offer it as such, and takes away from them the blame of putting it forward without reason, it does not excuse those who receive it.”  Let us then examine this point, and say, “God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
Do not then reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”
Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional.  You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery.  Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.—”That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much.” —Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. It is all divided; wherever the infinite is and there is not an infinity of chances of loss against that of gain, there is no time to hesitate, you must give all. And thus, when one is forced to play, he must renounce reason to preserve his life, rather than risk it for infinite gain, as likely to happen as the loss of nothingness.
For it is no use to say it is uncertain if we will gain, and it is certain that we risk, and that the infinite distance between the certainty of what is staked and the uncertainty of what will be gained, equals the finite good which is certainly staked against the uncertain infinite. It is not so, as every player stakes a certainty to gain an uncertainty, and yet he stakes a finite certainty to gain a finite uncertainty, without transgressing against reason. There is not an infinite distance between the certainty staked and the uncertainty of the gain; that is untrue. In truth, there is an infinity between the certainty of gain and the certainty of loss. But the uncertainty of the gain is proportioned to the certainty of the stake according to the proportion of the chances of gain and loss. Hence it comes that, if there are as many risks on one side as on the other, the course is to play even; and then the certainty of the stake is equal to the uncertainty of the gain, so far is it from fact that there is an infinite distance between them. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain. This is demonstrable; and if men are capable of any truths, this is one.
“I confess it, I admit it. But, still, is there no means of seeing the faces of the cards?”—Yes, Scripture and the rest, etc.  “Yes, but I have my hands tied and my mouth closed; I am forced to wager, and am not free. I am not released, and am so made that I cannot believe. What, then, would you have me do?”
True. But at least learn your inability to believe, since reason brings you to this, and yet you cannot believe. Endeavour then to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. You would like to attain faith, and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief, and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.—”But this is what I am afraid of.”—And why? What have you to lose?
But to show you that this leads you there, it is this which will lessen the passions, which are your stumbling-blocks.
The end of this discourse.—Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, honest, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. Certainly you will not have those poisonous pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others? I will tell you that you will thereby gain in this life, and that, at each step you take on this road, you will see so great certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that you will at last recognise that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have given nothing.
If this discourse pleases you and seems impressive, know that it is made by a man who has knelt, both before and after it, in prayer to that Being, infinite and without parts, before whom he lays all he has, for you also to lay before Him all you have for your own good and for His glory, that so strength may be given to lowliness.
Given the fact that there have been plenty of analyses of the Wager in general, I’ll focus mainly on Pascal’s text itself. Though I do mention the traditional objections at the end, you can easily find more detailed analyses in that respect on the web.
So, let’s get this critique started… and boy do I have stuff to say. If you read the text carefully, you might have a pretty good guess what I’m gonna start with. (BTW, if you click a link and jump to the text, you can return to the previous location with your browser’s back button or Alt+←)
Read sentence  again and then all the preceding ones. Under normal circumstances we might reject the entire Wager on this introduction alone. We cannot know whether God exists or what he is (a remarkably agnostic admition), but God is infinitely just and good , he makes certain to satisfy the human sense of justice , we can know God exists(!!) , we know he is boundless  and faith is a tool that allows us to know him .
Dare I assume that Pascal must have had been drinking when he wrote the Wager and/or he had just returned home from a tavern where he had spent his evening playing cards; hence the inspiration for his Wager?
I honestly need a lot of time to recover after reading this complete hogwash. I’m not surprised that apologists only present the core of the Wager and not the whole text. Why do atheists fall into this? Perhaps the question is rhetorical, since the Wager is interesting, if one ignores Pascal’s silly argumentation.
And yes, I realize that the paragraph opens with an “if”, but the conditional is God’s existence, which he accepts (not to mention that he uses sentence  as an excuse for the Christians’ inability to provide reasons for their faith), so it’s clear that this is no mere rhetorical question.
Sentence  is ridiculous. Christians believe in something they cannot provide reasons for, so it’s illogical to ask for reasons. Of course, the main question is why they believed in something un-reasonable in the first place. But I doubt that Christians would accept that they believe without any reason.
Basically, Pascal wants to convince us that anyone has the right to believe in something he cannot explain and doesn’t need to justify his faith to anyone (so far so good) but the problem arises when he tries to convince someone to join his faith. So, if I declare my belief in something non-provable, I’m exempt from criticism because it’s non-provable, because I declared it so (WTF!) This is basically the whole reason for the formulation of the bet, as can be glimpsed by sentence . It’s a method to safely keep oneself clear of criticism and retain the ability to proselytize. It’s having your cake and eating it too. At least Pascal has the dignity to accept that according to his analysis no one has any reason to accept Christianity prima facie, because none can be offered (apart from the Wager).
The irrationality continues. In sentence  Pascal admits yet again that agnosticism is the logical option, but rejects its without any reason in  as an answer to his hypothetical companion. . Why? Cos I say so, that’s why. What? You’re too good to gamble in my casino?
Now let’s see what the Wager entails. You put on the table your reason, your will, your knowledge and your happiness.  The potential gain is what’s real, good and the lack of error and sadness, if God exists.  It’s justifiable for the hypothetical atheist to say that he might put on the table more than he’s willing to lose. Pascal rambles on the next paragraph (in a fairly complex manner) that anything the atheist bets is little because the human life is finite, while the gain is infinite.
He ignores a very important point, though. For an atheist who doesn’t believe in an afterlife, his finite life is all he’s got. It may be finite, but its value is infinite, and as Pascal certainly knew as a mathematician, every subdivision of infinity is infinite. The atheist doesn’t put on the table something finite, but in practically infinite. What price could someone who doesn’t believe in the beyond attach to this logic, will, knowledge and happiness?
Futhermore, in sentence  Pascal tries to make us believe that the chances of winning and losing are 50-50. I sincerely doubt that even himself believed that. But today, with all the holes that science plugs up -holes where God used to hide in- like the existence of the soul for example, I really doubt if it can be argued that the chances are 50-50. But let’s roll with it. We have a bet in which the atheist loses a part of his infinitely valuable life to gain life eternal. “All in” as Pascal says. Pascal recognizes this when he says in  that the potential loss must be relative to the potential gain; and it’s true that people often risk something finite to gain something finite. But here we have an infinity against an infinity. Are the two really comparable? This isn’t a bet like: “If you lose, you lose your only house, if you win, you win another one”, but a russian roulette with 3 bullets in a six-shooter (and russian roulette is played for the wits, not the gain).
When the atheist asks for more information on the bet, the reply is for him to read the Bible  All suggestions of agnosticism were a smokescreen and we need no further verification. It’s also obvious that only Christianity is worth including in the Wager. If this is based on his “proofs” that Jesus was the Messiah (“Pensées”, 736-801) I am not impressed.
After this we have perhaps the worst section of the text. The atheist says: “I am so made that I cannot believe”  The reply Pascal considers perfectly normal  boils down to “Pretend you believe”. Why didn’t we think of this sooner? If you want to win the favour of an all-knowing, omnipresent deity, the solution is of course hypocritical faitn. Doh?! Surely this will secure the way to heaven! It’s not like the Bible warns against this. Oh, and in the end you might become entranced enough that you might end up really believing! How exciting! Integrity is obviously worthless in heaven.
“But that’s what I fear!”
“Why? What do you have to lose? And you have some much to gain!” Well, you’ll lose your logic, your integrity (so you’ll be both stupid and a hypocrit) which, as we all know, has no effect on the human psyche. You can easily live your life without logic and without “poisonous pleasures” (as Pascal mentions later on). And all this to gain an eternity with a God I am perfectly familiar with (as he ends up saying), but has no knowledge of (as he said in the beginning). This Wager really couldn’t get any more seductive.
And this entire text was written after a prayer to this known-unknown God and he also prayed after writing it; one assumes that he did so to make sure his text met with divine approval? In sentence  Pascal almost attempts to convince us that this section was divinely inspired. And in  Pascal manages to convince his hypothetical atheist and he is made to exclaim: “Ah! This discourse transports me, charms me!”. So he managed to convinced the atheist with all his marvelous arguments. No wonder that atheist had no problem gambling with this logic; he had none to begin with!
And a final point. I find it commendable that the writer, his poor logic aside, at no point does he threaten his hypothetical atheist with hellfire. That’s something, I guess.
Let’s distill the Wager a bit. Pascal presents us with these possibilities:
|God exists||God does not exist|
|I believeGod exists||I gaineternity||I only gainchristian virtues|
|I do not believeGod exists||I loseeternity||I losenothing|
or in a more simplified way from an atheist perspective and marking the successful predictions:
|God exists||God does not exist|
|I believeGod exists|
|I do not believeGod exists|
Looking at the bet in this light, it’s easy to be tempted and bet on God. It’s 50-50. Of course God non-existence makes one wonder how virtuous christian virtues are without divine support. Also (as I’ve already mentioned) Pascal does not bring up Hell at all. I’ll now make some changes to the Wager to make it more realistc (since it can be used for any deity) removing the literary decor.
|I believeGod exists|
|I believeAllah exists|
|I believein neither God|
Wow… the odds are now 1 in 3. Should I add another deity? Why not. We have three abrahamic religions and all three promise demise for the the faithful of the other two (and in case someone wonders, yes, I realize that theologically these are all the same entity, but are not treated as such by their adherents; not to mention that they appear to ask for exclusive worship).
|I believeGod exists|
|I believeAllah exists|
|I believeYahweh exists|
|I do not believeany god exists|
Now we’re down to 1 in 4. For every deity we add (and asks for exclusive worship) the chances for a successful bet drop (the denominator increases by 1). When the diagram is so full of red Xs, it doesn’t look so appealing.
And the matter can become even more complex when one considers the fact that Christianity is not a unified religion, but comprises many denominations, some of which threaten with hellfire those who do not accept their particular theological flavour. So even if one won the original Wager, that the Christian God exists (50-50) hidden under it is another bet with numerous alternatives (and the betting fun can continue!)
And let’s not forget that we calculated all odds as being equally likely. For an atheist they aren’t. An atheist might accept that the chance for there being a deity is 50-50, so the Christian God, Allah and Yahweh are all squeezed in that 50% and each one claims 16.6% of the pie.
I will close my article by condemning again a point Pascal brings up. If the Christian God has the traits we generally attribute to him, then feigning faith is equally dangerous with not having faith at all; not to mention that the stupefying method he offers for suppressing logic can be lethally dangerous.
The question of God’s existence is too important a question (and for some too critical) to irresponsibly gamble with.