While we have knowledge of an idea or proposition, we have faith in a person. Daniel Dennett should be relieved to learn that this person is not Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Religious faith is ultimately a statement of trust in the one monotheistic God, and in His authority and reliability. If there is a divine being who has created the universe with special concern for us as human beings, then it is entirely reasonable to suppose that, absent our ability to find Him, He would find His way to us. The religious believer holds that when man is unable to reach up to God, God can reach down to him. Faith is a kind of gift. It is God’s way of disclosing Himself to us through divine revelation. If God did not do this, we have no other way of finding out about Him and He would remain severed from His creation.

Pascal begins with the Kantian postulate that “reason’s final step is to recognize that there are an infinite number of things which surpass it.” In several of his writings, Pascal contends that it is fortunate for man that the highest truths are accessible through faith rather than reason. In other words, faith is available to everyone. If the only way to find out about God was through reason, then smarter people would have the inside track and the less intelligent would be shut out. Getting into heaven would be like getting into Harvard. Apparently God wants to have people other than PhDs in heaven; He seems to have made room for some fishermen and other humble folk. Reason is aristocratic, but faith is democratic.Yet why should we choose to have faith in the presence of doubt? This central human conundrum is the subject of Pascal’s famous wager. (Pascal did not invent the wager; it was offered by Muslim theologian Abu Hamed al-Ghazali in his medieval work The Alchemy of Happiness.” Pascal was familiar with al-Ghazali and probably derived the argument from him.) Pascal gave the wager its current classic expression, and in doing so he places an unavoidable choice before all “brights,” agnostics, and atheists.

Pascal argues that in life we have to gamble. Let’s say you are offered a new job that may take your career to new heights. It looks extremely promising, but of course there are risks. There is no way in advance to know how things will turn out. You have to decide whether to go for it. Or you are in love with a woman. You have been dating for a while, yet you cannot be certain what marriage to her for the next several decades is going to be like. You proceed on the basis of what you know, but what you know is, by the nature of the matter, inadequate. Yet you have to make a decision. You cannot keep saying, “I will remain agnostic until I know for sure.” If you wait too long, she will marry someone else, or both of you will be dead.