Pascal’s Wager … applied to the ISIS threat.

One of the few things I remember from Philosophy 101 is Pascal’s Wager.

In a nutshell, it says that God may or may not exist … and we all have the choice to live righteously or sinfully.

Naturally, that creates a 2 X 2 matrix …

If you choose to live on the wild side and God exists … uh oh.

If you choose to live a clean life, you score big if God exists … and don’t have much downside if she doesn’t.

I often find Pascal’s Wager to be a practical decision-making prop.



Let’s apply Pascal’s Wager to the current ISIS mess?


The Brussel’s terrorist attacks have brought ISIS poignantly back into the spotlight.

President Obama has repeatedly assured Americans that ISIS (err, I guess he still says ISIL) is not an existential threat to the U.S.

As he said in the recent Atlantic interview:

“After all, the president indicated, more Americans are killed each year slipping in bathtubs or running into deer with their cars than by any terrorists, so we need to stop wanting to invade the Middle East in response to every threat.

Given that assumption, the logical strategy is a minimalist one – containment.

But, what if the fundamental assumption is right?

Enter Pascal and his wager … reformulated a bit.



Puts a different paint job on it, right?

Hope Obama is right on this one.

But, as legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes used to rationalize his run-heavy offense: “When you pass the ball, 3 things can happen and 2 of them are bad. So keep the ball on the ground.”

I think I’m with Woody on this one.



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2 Responses to “Pascal’s Wager … applied to the ISIS threat.”

  1. Sam Niburg Says:

    Prof, believe you disregard some complicating factors here – for instance what is the cost (human and $s) to extinguish them and how can you be sure that what replaces them isn’t worse (see: Iraq), but get the simplification and I see your overall point.

    Why don’t you apply Pascal’s Wager on climate change next? That one is more straightforward.

    Hope to catch up soom.

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