Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal
Birth 1623
Death 1662

Eminent French scholar who made a huge contribution to mathematics (calculus and probability theory), physics (hydrostatics) and mechanics. At 34, he had a ‘mystical conversion experience’ which made him quit science and become a religious philosopher, rejecting rational knowledge in favour of the ‘philosophy of the heart’. His short second burst of life (which ended when he was 39) was devoted to studying the methods and logic to employ in defence of the Christian religion and condemning sinful human desires.

He is best known for Pascal’s Wager: although there’s no logical proof of God’s existence, it’s a lot safer to believe in him than not. If God exists and you refuse to believe it, you’ll burn forever in hell, but if you believe in him, you’ll live forever in paradise. If he doesn’t exist after all, it won’t have any consequences for those who believe in him, good or bad. However nice it might sound, the preconditions for Pascal’s Wager are highly dubious: there’s no evidence that heaven and hell really exist, or that God thinks rationally and decides our eternal fate on the basis of whether or not we believe in Him. What’s more, Pascal omitted to mention how monotheistic religion affects people’s quality of life; it takes up a lot of time and strength and stops people enjoying things to the full.

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