- Education and Science
Brief Biography of Blaise Pascal
BIOGRAPHY BLAISE PASCAL
Blaise Pascal only lived 39 years, but he left a lasting legacy of influence in theology, philosophy, literature, mathematics, economics, and social science. He also invented the syringe.
Blaise Pascal was born in France into an upper-class family in 1623. His father was a judge and tax collector; his mother died when Blaise was but three years old. Blaise was homeschooled by his father.
When the precocious Pascal was only thirteen, he discovered a mathematical error in the work of Rene Descartes. Three years later, Descartes saw some of Pascal's amazing mathematical work and declared that it had to have been written by someone else because "no boy could know more about mathematics than did all the ancients." When Pascal was 24, he proved that vacuums exist, something Descartes did not believe in.
When Blaise Pascal was but eighteen, he invented the first mechanical calculating machine—the Pascaline—to help his father's staff of tax accountants. The principles that lie behind this machine are still used today. Pascal was very disappointed that the machine did not sell well. Many people were against it because it could do the calculations of six men and it was feared it would end the employment of thousands of accountants.
Pascal was also a prolific gambler, and gambling is thought to have contributed to his amazing discoveries in mathematics, which include Pascal's Triangle.
Pascal originated the theory of probability, and in physics he discovered the foundation of modern hydraulics: Pascal's Law. Pascal also explained how air pressure works, in particular that the higher one goes above sea level the less air pressure there is.
Blaise Pascal was a mystic mathematician. He was a staunch defender of the Christian faith, and a follower of Jansen. Pascal set forth a philosophy of man and society that throws a critical light on what has happened in western culture since his day.
Renowned for his wit and manners, Blaise Pascal was a bright star in his society. He lived in nearly constant pain from an unknown malady, and had extremely poor circulation. He had bouts of being bedridden. Pascal didn't smile much, but he was a savage wit.
Blaise Pascal believed that great minds must have busy lives full of continuous action to keep their minds stimulated. Boredom makes a man unhappy.
Pascal explored the impulse to love, especially to love that which is beautiful.
Within each person is the image of God whom one seeks in order to complete oneself.
Pascal sees the majesty and designs of God as so far above human comprehension that we can only connect with Him through Christ, who was both God and man.
Christ was the sole link to meaning for mankind.
The message of Christ is forgiveness and love.
The miracle and mystery of Christ mediates the mystery of infinite space and the silence of creation.
PASCAL OPPOSES SCIENTISM
Pascal warned against trying to explain everything through scientific formulae. Love, beauty, poetry, and even good government are indefinable by science. Science cannot explain spontaneous conduct, sympathy, friendship, or the love that fills this world. Man is both miserable and great. On the scale of the universe, man is puny. Pascal said: "A drop of water can kill him; he is a feeble reed. But he is a thinking reed."
The details of human existence are too numerous and fugitive to sort out through reason alone. Great minds reach different conclusions. Pascal certainly did not believe that science was the only arbiter of truth, or the only explainer of human existence. In our day, science is a religion for some, who have been persuaded that the only truth is that proved by scientific experiments. Technology and useful inventions benefit everyone, but they also convince the shallow of mind that science has a monopoly on truth, which Pascal thought would be a grave error for the human race.
Blaise Pascal warned against scientism: the fallacious belief that science must, and will someday, explain all forms of human experience and settle every issue. A notable example of this fallacious thinking is that of Karl Marx, who believed that science could explain history and predict the future. The tragic experiments with his ideas in the Soviet Union, Communist China, Cambodia, North Korea, and Eastern Europe have proved that there is much more to humanity than the mechanics of social science. As Pascal said: "The heart has its reasons that the reason does not know."
PASCAL RECEIVES A VISION
At age 31, Blaise Pascal received a vision from God that changed his life.
He quit scientific research to devote the rest of his days to the Lord.
Not long after, he personally witnessed a miracle when God healed his ten-year-old niece of a fistula.
Seven prominent doctors signed a sworn statement to attest that this was indeed a miraculous healing.
The rest of his life was invested to "contemplate the greatness and the misery of man."
Blaise Pascal was working on a new book when he died. It was released posthumously with the title Pensees, which means "thoughts." The title Pascal had given this book was: A Defense of the Christian Religion. It is one of the most eloquent masterpieces ever written.
Pensees is a study of the human soul, for the express purpose of understanding man's need for God. It is a collection of his personal thoughts about human suffering and of faith in God.
Then there is Pascal's Wager: "If you disbelieve in God, you have no eternal life—you yourselves say there is none. But if you believe, you have at least one chance out of two; for if there is no God, you are where you were before; and if there is, you have won salvation."
In Pensees Pascal studies paradoxes: infinity and nothing, faith and reason, soul and matter, death and life, meaning and vanity. His conclusion is that man should admit his ignorance about ultimate matters, and face life with humility while accepting the Grace of God. Pensees reminds some of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs.
Christ is the Redeemer of mankind. Man is wretched without God. Pascal believed that it is natural and necessary for a man to suffer.
For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either. The ends of things and their beginnings are impregnably concealed from him in an impenetrable secret. He is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness out of which he was drawn and the infinite in which he is engulfed.
Blaise Pascal, Pensées #72
Blaise Pascal died of a brain hemorrhage after being first incapacitated by severe pain caused by stomach cancer.
Pascal seemed embarrassed by his abundance of talents. He approached his study of the Christian faith from the perspective and with the rigor of a scientist. He had a slight build but a loud voice. He suffered from migraine headaches since his youth. He was a stubborn perfectionist, yet meek and humble.