Saturday, 16 October 2010

Pascal's Wager: the Man Who Played Dice with God

This is not really a book about Pascal's Wager, so much as it's a book about Blaise Pascal. It was particularly interesting to read this while The Three Musketeers was fresh in my mind, as the two overlap in time, with Cardinal Richelieu, Louis XIII (who was apparently homosexual) and Anne of Austria being prominent figures in both.

Anyway, this book considers Pascal's life from birth to death. It considers his rational and scientific research, and the varying success thereof, both as it relates to contemporary times and as it related to the time in which he lived. It also considers the religious atmosphere of seventeenth century France. I found Jansenism, and consequently Augustinism, as rather frightening extremes of Catholic belief. I was highly amused at the way the Catholic Church wiggled around the question of heresy, as declaring Jansenism heretical really is the same as declaring Augustinism heretical. But questions of Catholic belief are not relevant here.

What is relevant is that Pascal subscribed to Jansenism. Somehow, from that religious standpoint he formulated his well-known wager. Connor makes the point that the wager is only really useful in the context of the 'rules' of the 'game' in which it was made, which I found very interesting. What I particularly found interesting is that considering Augustinist, and consequently Jansenist, belief in efficacious grace, the wager should never have been made. Which brings up the question of what Pascal actually believed, as opposed to what he thought he believed.

This is a fascinating biography of a remarkable man - both in terms of science and theology and in terms of the relationship between them in the seventeenth century. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in these subjects.

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