Please Don’t Tell Your Kids to Believe in God Just in Case He Exists

Please Don’t Tell Your Kids to Believe in God Just in Case He ExistsToday’s post, like my last one, is in response to some comments I saw in a Facebook group recently. A mom posted that her 5-year-old asked, “How do we know God is real?”

Amongst the many responses from fellow parents was this one: “I would say… Maybe God isn’t real. If he isn’t, then have we lost anything by following him and living good and moral lives? No. So if our faith isn’t true, we can still live lives that spread goodness and love. And if it is true then we get to experience the source of goodness and love when we pass on to the next life. Either way we make a good choice to follow God and spread love and goodness in this world.”

This response is the basic idea behind what is famously known as “Pascal’s Wager,” named for the 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal who first championed it. The gist of the argument is that humans should live as if God exists because we have everything to gain and nothing to lose from it—a safe bet. If it turns out that God exists, then you gain heaven and avoid hell; if it turns out that God doesn’t exist, you’ve lost nothing. So everyone should just believe in God, right?

No, no, no. Please don’t use this as your Christian parenting philosophy…either implicitly or explicitly.

Over time, I’ve received quite a few blog comments from Christian parents suggesting this is their underlying rationale for faith, and I’ve seen many Christians attempt to use this logic with nonbelievers. However, it’s riddled with problems and I implore Christian parents to avoid this mentality at all costs. Here are four reasons why.

 

1. Such a mindset perpetuates the myth of blind faith.

If, in response to the question of how we know God is real, we have nothing more to offer our kids than “better safe than sorry,” we have implied there’s no surer footing for their faith available. This is exactly what atheists want our kids to believe.

Atheists incessantly proclaim that Christianity is all about blind faith—a complete leap in the dark with no evidence to support it. When we, as Christian parents, don’t teach our kids that Christianity is, in fact, a faith based on extensive evidence, we perpetuate this destructive claim. Given the increasingly secular world in which our kids are living, it is our God-given responsibility to 1) teach them that Christianity IS an evidential faith and 2) teach them what the evidence is. (If you need help with this, please get my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side!)

 

2. A philosophical wager doesn’t address the question of which God to bet on.

It’s pointless to bet your life on the existence of a generic God because there are multiple ideas of God to choose from. Should we bet on the Christian God? The Mormon God? The Muslim God? The differences between these concepts of God are not trivial. Each religion would say that if you aren’t “betting” your life on that particular idea of God, you have just as much to be concerned about as if you were betting on no God at all!

Once you understand that there isn’t a simple “God or no God” choice, it naturally leads to the question of what good reasons there are to choose one religion over another. In other words, a decision must still be made to some degree based on evidence and not safety. Pascal’s Wager can’t help with that.

 

3. A philosophical wager doesn’t take into account the trade-off between probabilities and cost.

Imagine for a moment someone told you that if you run 10 miles every day of your life, you will get to be God over your own eternal paradise after death.

Would you do it?

No. For two reasons.

First, the probability of this being true is extraordinarily low; there are no good reasons for believing it. Second, there is a giant cost of daily exercise involved. Maybe if someone told you that throwing a penny out your window would achieve the same outcome you’d give it a go just for fun. But you’re certainly not going to run 10 miles every day of your life given the tiny probability of it being true.

As Christians, we believe there is an enormous cost of following Jesus. We are called to prioritize our relationship with Him beyond all Earthly relationships and pursuits, taking up our “crosses” to follow Him daily.

If you believe that there is no evidence for the truth of Christianity (as atheists typically do), becoming a Christian would be an unreasonable trade-off to make with your life. It’s like running 10 miles every day to be God over your own eventual paradise…an unreasonable decision given your assessment of the probability that this is an accurate picture of reality.

Once again, this brings us full circle to the question of why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is actually true. Our kids will only live out the costly life Christians are called to have when their belief is accompanied by conviction.

 

4. Mere probabilistic arguments have little impact on the heart…which is what really matters.

In the Christian view, believing that God exists is not enough. James 2:19 points out that even demons believe in God. Saving faith is about our relationship with Jesus, and God knows our heart. If we are, for all intents and purposes, living a Christian existence because we see our faith as a safe choice, we are fooling no one except ourselves.

 

Parents, please understand that when I write posts in response to well-meaning comments I see from Christians online, it’s not to be critical for the sake of being critical. It’s because I believe we Christian parents HAVE to step up our game. This world is getting more challenging for believers every day and it requires us to avoid passing down harmful beliefs at all costs. We must strive to arm our children with accurate beliefs, an accurate rationale for those beliefs, and an accurate defense of those beliefs. Let’s be vigilant in this. Together, we can raise a generation ready to stand strong for their faith…even when it’s not a safe choice.

13 Comments

  1. Greg on May 26, 2016 at 6:35 AM

    Do you think it would be ok to still lead with, “Maybe God isn’t real,” then say, “But here are the reasons why I think He is”? Then you can go into all the good reasons we have to believe He is? (As in, Kalam, Leibnizian, Fine Tuning, Moral Argument, Argument from Reason, the historical case for the Resurrection, etc.)



    • Michael Shuman on May 26, 2016 at 7:29 AM

      I appreciate your point against the popular level version of Pascal’s wager. But Pascal was probably intending to build a kind of cummultive case for Christianity. Then the idea was that having eliminated every other worldview as option the choice really was between Christianity and atheism. The person is then on the fence. The wager argument is supposed to give him an incentive to get off the fence and actually try Christianity. He also combined this with his psychological insights of people as not just intellects but also experiential and habitual creatures. If one were to grant that the evidence really was 50 50 between Christianity and atheism, then the wager might be a good approach.



      • Natasha Crain on May 26, 2016 at 8:59 AM

        Hi Michael,
        That’s a great point – the context for discussing the formal Pascal’s Wager a few centuries ago would have looked somewhat different (though it still suffers from many of the same liabilities). The challenge today is that the predominant atheist view is that the evidence is nowhere near “50/50” between Christianity and atheism. If it were, then the wager might be more of a reasonable starting point. Most atheists claim there is ZERO evidence for Christianity…so of course, they won’t be swayed to incur the “cost” of their lives for a 0 probability return.

        While there may be some contexts in which the wager is compelling to people, the main thing I hope to convey in this post is that parents have the opportunity to intentionally present our kids with the BEST foundation for their faith given the world in which they live. For the reasons I explained here, I think we have a much stronger foundation to offer them.

        Thanks for your comment!



    • Natasha Crain on May 26, 2016 at 8:47 AM

      Hi Greg,
      Good question. I do think our phrasing and presentation is important because we can inadvertently leave our kids with some wrong ideas. Here’s roughly how I have said the same to my kids (7 and 5): “That’s a great question, and one of the most important questions to ask in life! Even though we can’t see or hear God like we see or hear each other, I want you to know that God has given us many ways to know He exists. He didn’t leave us to just “guess” if He’s really there. He’s left us plenty of “evidence” – clues – so that if we search for Him, we will find Him. Some of those clues are hard to understand at your age, but we’ll start discussing them now and as you get older, it’s my job to help you understand more and more so that when you get to be an adult, you’ll never have to say you believe in God just because mommy and daddy told you He’s real! Three big questions you can start to understand now are: Where did the universe come from? Where did living things come from? And where did our knowledge of right and wrong come from?” And then we’ve talked several times about the basic answers to those questions and why they are so hard to answer if there were no God.

      I hope that helps a bit. 🙂



      • Shelly on May 26, 2016 at 12:45 PM

        That is an awesome response- one I’ll be sure to use from now on!



  2. Diego on May 26, 2016 at 7:16 AM

    Not only is the “Wager” philosophically incoherent, but it’s biblically false too. In 1 Cor 15, when Paul argues for the resurrection of the dead, he doesn’t say that if Christ hasn’t really been raised then we ought to go on and live our lives as if he did. No, he rejects that and says that if Jesus didn’t rise, then we are without hope and miserable.



  3. Dick DiTullio on May 26, 2016 at 7:54 AM

    As I see it, or perhaps I should say as I apply it, Pascal’s wager is simply saying it is worth whatever investment in time you can afford to see if Christianity is true. If it is, then you should accept it, and if it isn’t, well, then you are on your own. But it makes no sense to just act out Christianity. It isn’t something you just casually put on. Becoming a Christian involved entering into a covenant relationship with God. That means there are stipulations and related blessings and curses to be considered. That is why we are told to first “count the cost”. The cost can be very high, but worth it IF God actually does exist and IF the Bible is actually God’s word.



  4. Shelly on May 26, 2016 at 12:42 PM

    I recently wrote a review for Rice Broocks’ “Man, Myth, Messiah.” This book has an abundance of facts about the historicity of Jesus and is an awesome resource for apologetics.



  5. Patrick McNamara on May 26, 2016 at 8:11 PM

    Hi Natasha…

    I always enjoy your articles and share them often, thanks for your time preparing them.

    Pascal’s Wager has, for me, always been a bit of a challenge to understand… but I believe your concerns about it might be off a bit. One of the better explanations of it that I’ve come across is Peter Kreeft’s (http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/pascals-wager.htm).

    What I take from his explanation is NOT that Pascal was merely saying “live as if there’s a god, simply because it doesn’t hurt, and it’s better to do so even if it’s a blind faith” – which is how I interpret what you wrote. Rather, it’s the proposition that we are ALL going to make one of two choices – pursue God or not pursue God. The default position, not pursuing God, results in loss, so why NOT pursue God honestly and earnestly, and see where that leads us… and that an HONEST pursuit of God SHOULD lead to knowledge of Him and relationship with Him… not a life of blind faith.

    Kreeft points out that many of Pascal’s philosophical contemporaries were skeptics for whom arguments of evidence would not be effective… but the philosophical argument above COULD be effective for an honest skeptic.

    All that said, I agree with your premise that would should not tell simply tell people to believe in case God exists… but Pascal’s Wager is more nuanced than this.



    • Natasha Crain on May 31, 2016 at 10:05 AM

      Hi Patrick,

      Thanks so much for sharing my posts! I appreciate it!

      I acknowledge that the full context of Pascal’s Wager was not considered in this post. My purpose was just to address the popularized version that boils down to what the mom told her child (the quote at the beginning of the post).



  6. […] Please Don’t Tell Your Kids to Believe in God Just in Case He Exists– Natasha Crain […]



  7. […] By Natasha Crain […]



  8. […] Pascal’s Wager – The idea developed by Blaise Pascal that humans bet with their lives that God either exists or doesn’t. (To see an excellent rebuttal to this, see Natash Crain’s article, Please Don’t Tell Your Kids to Believe in God Just in Case He Exists. […]