A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

Frenchman Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) was one of the founding fathers of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century. A true Renaissance man, Pascal was an eminent mathematician, physicist, and logician, and an intuitive Christian thinker. As a Christian philosopher, theologian, and apologist, Pascal provided a penetrating analysis of Christianity’s broader world-and-life view. He accomplished all of this before dying at the early age of 39.

Yet, while he is one of the most famous thinkers in Western civilization, there are three things you may not know about Blaise Pascal. I hope you’ll find these points enriching and helpful in your apologetics conversations.

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1. Pascal was a homeschooled prodigy.

Blaise Pascal was born in Clermont-Ferrand, France, on June 19, 1623. Blaise’s mother, Antoinette Begon, died when he was three years old, leaving him and his two sisters in the sole care of their father, Étienne. At that time, Étienne was a gifted mathematician who served as a royal treasurer and tax official for the French government. A loving and wise man, Étienne soon resigned his position in order to stay home and educate his children.

Hoping to expose his offspring to as much cultural and intellectual stimulation as possible, Étienne moved his family to Paris. There, he created an intellectual incubator for his children by putting them into social situations with many of France’s leading intellectuals. Blaise, in particular, was taken to a weekly discussion group that featured many of the foremost scientists and mathematicians of the time. Young though he was, his intellectual genius was soon widely recognized—even the great French rationalist philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650) acknowledged Blaise’s precocious accomplishments.

2. Pascal was an inventive genius.

Like all truly great inventors, Pascal’s technological intuition and productive imagination put him far ahead of his time.1 His creative technological experimentation resulted in the invention of the syringe and the hydraulic press, and in the development of the first public transportation system in Europe. His most famous invention, however, resulted from his attempt to help his father avoid the arduous task of calculating taxes.

Pascal became convinced that if a clock could calculate the hour, then a machine could also successfully perform mathematical calculations. He then proceeded to invent a mechanical adding device that was, essentially, the first digital calculator. Today Pascal’s calculator is considered one of the first applied achievements of the early scientific revolution and the precursor to the modern computer2 (hence, the reasons a modern-day computer-programming language was named after him).

3. Pascal had a dramatic conversion to Christianity about which he was tight-lipped.

While Pascal was raised in what could probably be called a nominal Roman Catholic family, at age 31 he underwent a profound religious experience. He apparently had a spiritual encounter while crossing the Seine River in Paris, reportedly during a storm. The nature of this encounter is unknown as Pascal never described the specifics of the experience.

However, though Pascal told no one of the event (called the “Night of Fire”), he did write a memorial to it. He carried this testimony with him the rest of his life—he even had the words sewn into his clothes! The Memorial was discovered only after his death; a portion of it reads as follows:

Fire
God of Abraham, God of Isaac,
God of Jacob, not
of philosophers and scholars.
Certainty, certainty, heartfelt,
Joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ…
He can only be found by the ways taught in the Gospels…
Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ…
Let me not be cut off
from him for ever!3

From that night onward, Pascal devoted his life principally to his philosophical and religious writings in the defense of Christianity.

Pascal’s broad achievements mark him as one of the most advanced thinkers of his time. He has much to offer us today as we engage a technologically oriented culture with scriptural truth. So how about taking up his book Pensées (French for “thoughts” or “reflections”)? You’ll be reading a Christian classic as well as a masterwork of Western civilization.

Reflections: Your Turn

Which of the three points about Pascal did you find most interesting? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources

For more about the life and thought of Blaise Pascal, see Kenneth Richard Samples, Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2019), chapter 8.

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

Endnotes
  1. See Ian P. McGreal, ed., Great Thinkers of the Western World (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992), s.v. “Blaise Pascal.”
  2. McGreal, Great Thinkers.
  3. Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. A. J. Krailsheimer, revised (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 285–86.

 

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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