Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Profile: Blaise Pascal

I've recently discovered a new philosopher who intrigues me. Besides the fact that his first name is Blaise, which is immensely cool, Pascal did a lot of really neat stuff.

Pascal wrote an academic thesis on acoustics by the age of 11. He worked on vacuumes to discover that there was space with nothing in it, which was a huge development. He invented the first mechanical calculator, but ended up leaving that endeavor behind due to the fact that he couldn't break even on them. He was most noted for his genius in mathematics, where he discovered Pascal's triangle and also laid the groundwork for Leibniz, who would invent calculus. I'd call him a renaissance man, but he unfortunately contained not a single athletic bone in his body and was actually quite frail. The main point I want to get across: He was a genius and a child prodigy.

Beside his intellectual prowess, Pascal was an great theologian. He and Descartes would go back and forth on their ideas of God and how to know him. While Descartes was all about rationality and using your head, Pascal would have none of it. He said that God can only be reached by taking a step of faith and using your heart. Your head alone will get you nowhere in spirituality. It is for this reason that I most like Pascal.

He could never quite make a formula for how we're to come to God. Before he died, he had post-its all over his house with little snippets of what he was trying to put together about a relationship with the divine. Those were compiled into a book known as The Pensees. They're just a bunch of spiritual axioms and observations. I'm excited to read it. Aside from Pascal's Wager, which I don't much care for, Pascal was a really ingenious man with a heart for seeking spiritual truth.

After a mystical vision he had, Pascal became a Christian, to which he was deeply devoted. Even still, he was a very healthy cynic. The Pensees weren't printed until years after Pascal's death because people were afraid it would cause people to doubt too much. I think that a healthy dose of skepticism in anything is incredibly useful.

Mainly I like Pascal because he was a skeptic Christian who had a deep sense of spirituality. He was incredibly intelligent, yet maintained a stiff sense of piety. I enjoy the notion that spirituality and Christianity aren't just for the stupid and the uneducated. Some very intelligent, well thought people have a deep sense of devotion to Christ, or religion in general. Lots of people here at Drury make it seem like religion is for stupid people, and I just disagree with that. Pascal, Descartes, Leibniz, and al-Ghazzali help me realize this and keep moving forward with my head up.


kourtney said...

Yeah... he kind of makes me feel bad about myself. Haha.
Thanks for looking at my pictures and commenting! It is nice to have encouragement from people. That probably wouldn't have pissed them off... they were annoyingly stoic and while I wasn't there to piss them off, some people came by with the purpose of upsetting them. No one succeeded... even a couple of really angry marines. It would have been nice to see them phased for once, but I really just wanted to represent the opposite of their views. We are a blessed nation full of individuals not afraid to be themselves. Yes, there are major problems here, but there are also plenty of people with the insight and motivation to begin changing things.

Chris Panza said...

The Pensees is a great book. Far as I can see it, it is the book that ushers in the central existential question: what if there's no God? What then?

Some great quotes in there!

Also, who makes you feel stupid about religion at Drury? It seems like a pretty religion friendly school to me. But then again, I'm from the East Coast, so being 'religion friendly" has a lower bar there.

Cardozo said...

As an unbeliever in a God (that is, a higher, "creative" power with will and intention) I have no problem with the kind of tolerant religion promoted in your blog. This is mostly because it doesn't insist on contradicting reason.

I do harbor, I admit, a bit of aggravation about the concept of Jesus as the literal son of God, which seems to be entirely irrational. It makes me frustrated that conversations with believers in Christ can usually go only so far before you come up against that barrier of belief in a literal man who sacrificed himself for our sins.

Love your blog, feels like I'm back in school.

Mathilda said...

My first question is: I really want to know what drew Pascal to Christianity in particular. And..how did he deal with the contradictions, and that there are "stupid" thoughts within Christianity. What made him look past that?

And how did he reconcile the fact that aren't really that many ways to receive the divine in Christianity. It sounds like Pascal found a way to be autonomous while still embracing belief.

I'll definitely check out The Pensees.