For you non-philosophers out there, an epistemic obligation is just an obligation related to what you should believe. Evangelical Oupost has been blogging about Pascal's Wager. I posted some comments there, but I wanted to expand on them here. I think Pascal's argument that we should seek to believe in God is a good one.
The objections that I think are most serious are that you can't just choose what to believe and that it would be wrong to believe for purely selfish reasons. Pascal deals with the first objection by saying he's not trying to argue people into belief, since that has to come on its own. (Try to believe that there's a blue elephant sitting right next to you right now, or that the car approaching you really fast isn't there, if you really think belief is voluntary. It isn't.) Still, we can do things that bring us to be able to accept something more or less easily. Pascal is just giving practical reasons to pursue the kinds of practices that will allow belief in God to come on its own. What I'm trying to do in this post is to suggest more of what's behind Pascal's suggestion and to respond to some objections. [Some of this is adapted from a class handout on religious knowledge and arguments against believing in God based on the lack of evidence.]
What if God does exist and won�t reveal this to anyone with any certainty unless they�re genuinely seeking God through religious practices, and only then when they try hard enough and seek in the right ways (whatever those ways might be)? If this is true, then could a nonbeliever be innocent in not seeking God? One might argue that a nonbeliever needs to have pursued God through the worship, prayer, reading of scriptures, genuine efforts to see and evaluate oneself in the way a perfect God would want us to, entering into a community of faith to see life through the eyes of faith, and so on. Simply learning about religion isn�t enough, because that�s not what God is looking for in us. Only if we enter into religious practices, genuinely seeking God, would God give us this assurance. If this is possible, then it may be that the atheist or agnostic doesn�t have all the evidence that a theist has. This is an interesting possibility that should at the very least give pause to those who think the lack of convincing arguments for believing in God is a good enough reason for not believing in God.
One problem for what I'm saying is that some people do seem to try out religious practices and abandon them, thinking that there is nothing to them. But maybe they didn�t seek hard enough, or maybe they weren�t really seeking the true God. These are at least possibilities that shouldn�t be ruled out.
Probably a more serious objection is that this opens one to brainwashing. Trying out a particular religious community�s practices and viewpoint would tend to increase one�s likelihood of believing, even if that group�s views are dead wrong. That�s a worthwhile concern, and any attempt at seeking God in this sort of way needs to involve some skepticism from the outset just to guard against that. A theist arguing this way might suggest only the mere attempt to engage in religious practices as a goal of seeking out whatever higher power there might be. Does that automatically open someone up to brainwashing? Or is it simply opening oneself up to see things from a different perspective? For instance, can someone truly criticize Christianity if they don�t understand it? Can they understand it without having read the Bible to understand what�s going on in it, seeking someone who knows more about it in harder to understand parts? Could I consider myself to have done my homework in evaluating a particular viewpoint if I haven�t tried to become a part of how that viewpoint sees the world? It may well be that with the case of religious beliefs, there�s evidence you can�t get unless you do that. So someone outside that whole mindset and way of life (of at least seeming to interact with God) doesn�t have the information the person who takes part in such practices may well have.
It's easy to find different perspectives that compete to explain our experience. The question becomes how to look at those different perspectives and judge between them about what we should believe. It may be that you can�t understand the theistic framework without having tried to live, think, and feel from that orientation. The claim would then be that someone who hasn�t done this hasn�t given oneself the opportunity to look at the evidence in a balanced way.
I'm fairly comfortable with how naturalistic, atheistic people look at the world. I live in it as part of being a philosopher in the context I'm in. I've been forced to think through how philosophers will reason even from premises and assumptions I don't share, at least on an intellectual level. I understand the value system of the world around me fairly well, and at times I find myself valuing things according to it as well, though I try to move in the other direction. I've certainly had short-term periods of living life as if some sort of secular worldview is correct. No one can live in light of Christian values and the Christian worldview consistently and continuously indefinitely. Some of this has taken effort, and some of it is just a natural mindset that I can slip into if I'm not careful. Either way, I've experienced a good deal of the major alternative of our era in the American university context. I can't say that most of my fellow Ph.D. students in my department have considered Christianity in the same way.
Does this answer the objection? Does it mean Pascal's argument should be convincing to everyone? Does it mean any non-Christian has a moral obligation to pursue living out Christian practices among Christians and seeking God? I'm not sure what I've said has guaranteed any particular answer to these questions, but I tentatively claim that it gives more plausibility to the claim that people have some obligation to consider Christianity in a way deeper than mere intellectual investigation of what propositions Christianity endorses.