Pascal, Blaise

(1623-62)
   A French mathematician, philosopher and Christian apologist, Pascal became a defender of the Christian faith and, in particular, of its Jansenist form (against the Jesuits) after a religious experience in 1654 turned his primary focus from mathematics and science to theology and apologetics. While never completed, his defence of the Christian faith, posthumously collected as the Pens´ees (Thoughts) (1670), provides a very different approach from the dominant Cartesianism of the day. Rather than seek certainty, Pascal stressed the tenuous nature of existence, referring to man as but 'a thinking reed'. He also recognised the challenge of scepticism and argued that the proofs for the existence of God fail to be compelling. Even so, he believed that Christianity has superior explanatory power, as in the doctrine of original sin, which captures both the dignity and tragedy of human existence. His apologetic brilliance is found in the famous Wager, a trailblazing model of modern decision theory. In the Wager, Pascal argues that even if the evidence for and against Christianity is equal, we ought to believe in God because if we lose, we lose nothing, but if we win, we gain infinite happiness. While this argument has faced its share of criticism, it continues to be defended today. Pascal also believed that we can know through reason of the heart in a way that anticipates Reformed epistemology. His philosophy has had an enormous impact, from atheistic existentialism to Christian apologetics.
   Further reading: Kreeft 1993; Morris 1992; Pascal 1965 and 1998

Christian Philosophy . . 2015.

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