Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662 France, pioneer of faith and science

Hi Max,

I really like this guy, a pioneer mathematician. He had such a mature and balanced grasp of faith with science, that it causes me to wonder why it ever fell apart after him. Makes you wonder too? In my next posts I will leap to the colonial era and we can look at that. Cheers

Blaise Pascal 1623-1662 France

was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Christian philosopher. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector in Rouen. Pascal’s earliest work was in the natural and applied sciences where he made important contributions to the study of fluids, and clarified the concepts of pressure and vacuum by generalizing the work of Evangelista Torricelli. Pascal also wrote in defense of the scientific method.

In 1642, while still a teenager, he started some pioneering work on calculating machines. After three years of effort and fifty prototypes,[1] he invented the mechanical calculator.[2][3] He built 20 of these machines (called Pascal’s calculators and later Pascalines) in the following ten years.[4] Pascal was an important mathematician, helping create two major new areas of research: he wrote a significant treatise on the subject of projective geometry at the age of 16, and later corresponded with Pierre de Fermat on probability theory, strongly influencing the development of modern economics and social science. Following Galileo and Torricelli, in 1646 he refuted Aristotle‘s followers who insisted that nature abhors a vacuum. Pascal’s results caused many disputes before being accepted.

In 1646, he and his sister Jacqueline identified with the religious movement within Catholicism known by its detractors as Jansenism.[5] His father died in 1651. Following a mystical experience in late 1654, he had his "second conversion", abandoned his scientific work, and devoted himself to philosophy and theology. His two most famous works date from this period: the Lettres provinciales and the Pensées, the former set in the conflict between Jansenists and Jesuits. In that year, he also wrote an important treatise on the arithmetical triangle. Between 1658 and 1659 he wrote on the cycloid and its use in calculating the volume of solids. Pascal’s development of probability theory was his most influential contribution to mathematics.[28]

On 23 November 1654, between 10:30 and 12:30 at night, Pascal had an intense religious vision and immediately recorded the experience in a brief note to himself which began: "Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars…" and concluded by quoting Psalm 119:16: "I will not forget thy word. Amen." He seems to have carefully sewn this document into his coat and always transferred it when he changed clothes; a servant discovered it only by chance after his death.[21] This piece is now known as the Memorial. The story of the carriage accident[clarification needed] as having led to the experience described in the Memorial is disputed by some scholars.[22] His belief and religious commitment revitalized, Pascal visited the older of two convents at Port-Royal for a two-week retreat in January 1655. For the next four years, he regularly travelled between Port-Royal and Paris. It was at this point immediately after his conversion when he began writing his first major literary work on religion, the Provincial Letters.

Pascal’s most influential theological work, referred to posthumously as the Pensées ("Thoughts"), was not completed before his death. It was to have been a sustained and coherent examination and defense of the Christian faith, with the original title Apologie de la religion Chrétienne ("Defense of the Christian Religion"). The first version of the numerous scraps of paper found after his death appeared in print as a book in 1669 titled Pensées de M. Pascal sur la religion, et sur quelques autres sujets ("Thoughts of M. Pascal on religion, and on some other subjects") and soon thereafter became a classic. One of the Apologie’s main strategies was to use the contradictory philosophies of skepticism and stoicism, personalized by Montaigne on one hand, and Epictetus on the other, in order to bring the unbeliever to such despair and confusion that he would embrace God.

Pascal’s Pensées is widely considered to be a masterpiece, and a landmark in French prose. When commenting on one particular section (Thought #72), Sainte-Beuve praised it as the finest pages in the French language.[24] Will Durant hailed it as "the most eloquent book in French prose."[25] In Pensées, Pascal surveys several philosophical paradoxes: infinity and nothing, faith and reason, soul and matter, death and life, meaning and vanity—seemingly arriving at no definitive conclusions besides humility, ignorance, and grace. Rolling these into one he develops Pascal’s Wager.

T. S. Eliot described him during this phase of his life as "a man of the world among ascetics, and an ascetic among men of the world." Pascal’s ascetic lifestyle derived from a belief that it was natural and necessary for a person to suffer. In 1659, Pascal fell seriously ill. During his last years, he frequently tried to reject the ministrations of his doctors, saying, "Sickness is the natural state of Christians."[26]

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing: we know this in countless ways.

It is not only old and early impressions that deceive us; the charms of novelty have the same power.

Nature has some perfections to show that she is the image of God, and some defects to show that she is only His image.

Most of the evils of life arise from man’s being unable to sit still in a room.

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