Some preamble: I was not impressed with Pascal’s Wager the first time I came across it either, sometime in high school. I have since warmed to Pascal’s thinking and approach, although I recognize along with many others in this thread that the label “Pascal’s Wager” has been applied to a variety of statements that differ in their merits and their resemblance to what Pascal actually wrote. My appreciation for Pascal has come from understanding better his context, and from gaining more experience with reasoning from uncertainty.
The analogy @swamidass was referring to was the God-shaped vacuum quote, while @John_Harshman’s comments about finite & infinite suggest a reference back to the “wager.” Maybe there’s some crossed signals here, or maybe I’m just not following. I’ll share a couple initial thoughts about both and we can go from there.
Could Pascal have used other illustrations for exploring how finite probabilities and infinity relate? Sure, although such mathematical exploration was not his only goal. And in a Christian context, God and his boundless good gifts are a pretty natural place to go when thinking about the infinite, while applications from the natural world would have been less apparent. I don’t know the full history of infinity in mathematics, but Pascal was working in an era before calculus and its framework for working with the infinite.
Is a vacuum a good analogy for the Christian concept of every person’s need for a relationship with their creator? Well, I think it has some interesting connections to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 12:43-45 and the idea that our spiritual “house” needs to be occupied by something and it will get filled one way or the other. That’s similar to a vacuum. Pascal isn’t exactly making the same point, emphasizing that nothing in creation will properly occupy that place. Natural vacuums don’t work that way; all matter is pretty much equal in terms of occupying vacuums. So there’s not a perfect 1-to-1 correspondence, but it is still a useful analogy in that it allows us to talk more concretely about the similarities and differences.
In both cases, I think Pascal is exploring how he can articulate what he believes about God in the emerging language of contemporary science. He didn’t necessarily see these as arguments for belief in God, and didn’t seem to expect a nonbeliever to accept the terms of the wager. Instead, such discussion of God flows naturally from a prior belief.
And yes, none of this has the sparkle of novelty these days after 350 years of progress in math, physics, philosophy and theology. Just like it’s more difficult to appreciate the groundbreaking nature of Citizen Kane after decades of watching films that expanded on the techniques it introduced. Incidentally, that’s a secondary function of the pop culture references in my book; to date the science analogies so that they self-destruct before the science is out-of-date. Although that may not have worked for Pascal, who led up to his “wager” with a discussion of the “pop culture” of contemporary gaming society and games of chances.