Pascal was a child prodigy born in France in 1623, a mathematician, scientist, writer, and Catholic theologian. As a philosopher of science he anticipated Karl Popper's 20th-century argument about the central role of "falsifiability" (if it can't be tested regarding whether it's false, then it's outside science). Pascal was also one of the founders of probability mathematics: certainty matters of chance, such as the roll of dice or the turn of a card from a shuffled deck.
He believed firmly in the existence of God as understood by the Christian tradition, but he applied a gambling metaphor to the question of faith, to be known as Pascal's Wager. Consider, he said, your loss or your gain. If you bet that God doesn't exist you receive an eternity in hell. If you bet that God exists, you win everlasting happiness — an infinite good. Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists.
The philosopher William James distanced himself from the gambling metaphor. James wrote that " faith in masses and holy water adopted willfully after such a mechanical calculation would lack the inner soul of faith's reality."
According to Laurent Thirouin (Professor of Letters at the University of Lyon), Pascal intended to show that logical reasoning cannot support faith or lack thereof: the gambler's choice justifies the position he has taken (which would describe my choice and position), that belief in God "doesn't depend upon rational evidence, no matter which position."
Referring to Pascal's Wager, Bertrand Russell was asked what he would say after death if he found himself confronted by an angry Jehovah asking why he hadn't believed. Russell is reported to have said: 'You [Jehovah] should have given me better evidence for believing in you.
Pascal agreed with France's Enlightenment writer, Montaigne (1533-93), that making statements of certainty (axioms) is impossible. Certainties, Pascal believed, were not created by mortals such as he. Certainties were available through intuition — the heart — associated with submission to God.
"We know truth not only by reason (discursive knowledge, from the universal) but also by the heart, that is to say by intuition. In other words, the heart has reasons that reason does not point.
In 1659, age 36, Pascal fell seriously ill. He rejected the help of his doctors, claiming that "Sickness is the natural state of Christians." He would die at 39, leaving behind Christianity's negative view of humanity:
Pascal held to faith:
- Man is vanity, in the etymological sense of the term (Latin vanitas, vacuum), as this character is hollow and inconsistent.
- Vanity is inked in the heart of man: The self is hateful.
- Doomed to emptiness and emptiness, the man not only tastes the pleasures of vanity ... but also the prestige of deceptive imagination, the mistress of illusion and error.
- Distracted by the love of self and the deceptive powers of imagination, man is doomed to bad faith: he refuses to become aware of his own nothingness, he experiences, especially in boredom, painful feeling vacuum caused by idleness or lack of passion is linked to full rest, without occupation or business.
- Misery of man without God, happiness of man with God.
- By faith, man can indeed escape the sphere which is inconsistent and know his bliss.
Copyright © 2019 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.