Saturday, September 7, 2013

Biography of Pascal

Blaise Pascal was born in June of 1623, in the Auvergne region of France.  His mother died when he was three.  His father was a judge and a tax collector.  When Pascal was five, the family moved to Paris.  His father decided to educate all of his children, especially Blaise, because he was a child prodigy.  He especially excelled at science and mathematics. 
Pascal was only 16 when he did his first serious work on mathematics, a proof on hexagons and circles.  There was suspicion that his father wrote the work but he everyone that his son Blaise was the author.  This put his name on the map.
When he was not quite 19, he invented a mechanical calculator to help his father with tax collection.  The calculator was expensive to produce and never became more than a novelty item.  Later he did some work on hydraulics and invented the syringe.  He also did some important work on the effects of elevation on barometers.
In 1646, Pascal was thrown in contact with some Jansenist believers.  Jansenists are members of a then small Catholic splinter group.  He spent most of a year contemplating and writing about theology but fell away.  In November of 1654, he had what he described as an intense religious experience.  He recorded it: "Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars..." and concluded by quoting Psalm 119:16: "I will not forget thy word. Amen."  He wrote this on a paper which was then sewn into his clothes.  He transferred it secretly from clothes to clothes and it was only found after his death.
In 1659 he became ill.  He kept doctors at bay saying that 'Sickness is the natural state of Christians'.  He succumbed in 1662.  His last words were 'May God never abandon me'. 
After his death, his 'Pensees', French for 'Thoughts', was published.  This is an incredible piece of work, one of the most extraordinary works of theology that I've come across.  It's here that he published Pascal's Wager, an argument that believing in God makes more sense than not believing. 
He was quite a man and it's a shame that he died so young.

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