Charters, Creeds, and the english Civil War
                                                                  the Pageant of PhilosoPhy:                                                                       Pascal: I wanted to study vacuums. Evangelista Torricelli, a student of the great Galileo, stumbled onto fascinating
                                                                                                                                                                       mysteries when he tried to create a vacuum. He was trying to disprove Aristotle, who said a vacuum was impossible.
                                                                       PasCal’s Wager
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                                                                                                                                                                   Simplicio: Aristotle didn’t believe in vacuums?
                        (Simplicio stands on a bare stage, holding a Bible. Pascal enters, bearing his own Bible and a sign that reads, “Blaise Pas-               Pascal: Oh, no! He talks about them in the fourth book of his treatise on “Physics.” According to Aristotle, a spear
                            cal, 1623-1662.”)                                                                                                                          that is thrown into the air keeps moving forward because the air rushing in behind it pushes it on. That happens,
                        Simplicio: Hello, sir! Could you help me?                                                                                                      Aristotle said, because nature abhors a vacuum.
                        Pascal: I cannot promise you anything, my boy, but I would be happy to try to help you. What is the problem?                               Simplicio: Doesn’t it?
                        Simplicio: I’m searching for truth, and I can’t find it anywhere!                                                                          Pascal: Not at all! Torricelli proved it. He took some mercury, which is very heavy, and poured it into a long glass
                                                                                                                                                                       tube that was closed at one end. When he turned the tube upside down, the weight of the mercury pulled down
                        Pascal: What is that you have in your hand?                                                                                                    and—voila!—there was a vacuum at the top of the tube.
                        Simplicio: (apologetically) A Bible, I’m afraid.                                                                                           Simplicio: So it only took one experiment to prove Aristotle wrong?
                        Pascal: Are you afraid of what the Bible says?                                                                                             Pascal: Yes, but you would never know it from talking to René Descartes—he despised me for my work—or my arch-
                        Simplicio: Oh, no, I’m not afraid of what it says.                                                                                             enemies, the Jesuits. They continue to insist that Aristotle was right and the experiment wrong.
                        Pascal: Then you are afraid of what I will think of you for carrying it! You are ashamed to be seen with that book.                        Simplicio: (smiles) Descartes and his doubts! You say the Jesuits are your enemies because of a vacuum?
                        Simplicio: I didn’t say that!                                                                                                              Pascal: No, no, they are unhappy with my religious beliefs. Lately I have become closely involved with a religious com-
                                                                                                                                                                       munity at Port Royal.
                        Pascal: Yes, but is it not the case? I have found that men despise religion; they hate it and fear it is true.
                                                                                                                                                                   Simplicio: Are you Protestant?
                        Simplicio: Not me! I don’t despise religion—I just don’t know if it’s true. And it’s truth I want, with all my heart!
                                                                                                                                                                   Pascal: No! I am a devout Catholic, a follower of Cornelius Jansen.
                        Pascal: Ah, then you are a rare individual. What is your name, little seeker of truth?
                                                                                                                                                                   Simplicio: Who is he?
                        Simplicio: (smiles) I’m Simplicio.
                                                                                                                                                                   Pascal: Jansen was a Dutch theologian who tried to defend Catholicism from the Protestants by using their own weap-
                        Pascal: Permit me to introduce myself, Simplicio. My name is Blaise Pascal, and I, too, am a seeker of truth. Since I was
                                                                                                                                                                       ons. The Protestants rely on Scripture and quote Augustine, so Jansen dug even deeper into Scripture and the
                            a little child I have pursued truth—beginning with geometry, then moving on to physics as a young man, and then
                                                                                                                                                                       writings of Saint Augustine, teaching and preaching on the absolute sovereignty of God.
                            into statistics, but all along, the ultimate truth that I really wanted was only to be found in that book you carry.
                                                                                                                                                                   Simplicio: How did that happen to you—a mathematician and physicist?
                        Simplicio: How young were you when you first began pursuing truth?
                                                                                                                                                                   Pascal: It started when I was about twenty-three. My father suffered a serious accident, and some Jansenists took care of
                        Pascal: I received my love for truth at my father’s knee—quite literally. My father was a judge in Clermont, who was so
                                                                                                                                                                       him. A few years later, after my father died, my sister became a nun at the Jansenist convent at Port Royal. I did not
                            interested in science and in my education that he moved our family to Paris in 63, when I was only eight years
                                                                                                                                                                       follow her lead, though—I am sorry to say that when I was almost thirty, I lost my interest in religion and spent all
                            old. He would not let me go off to school, but kept me at home to make sure I was not worked too hard by the
                                                                                                                                                                       my time with loose women, free thinkers, and gamblers. Oddly enough, the time with gamblers proved useful.
                            French schoolmasters. He forbade me to study any mathematics, which may have been a mistake. I was so curi-
                            ous about this forbidden subject that I began to try to find out the secret from my tutor.                                             Simplicio: You won a lot of money, you mean?
                        Simplicio: That’s one way of getting a child to learn math!                                                                                Pascal: No, no. In a series of letters, Pierre Fermat and I worked out some of the basic principles of statistics. All that
                                                                                                                                                                       seemed trivial, however, after the “night of fire.”
                        Pascal: It worked for me. My tutor told me a little bit about geometry, and I gave up all my playtime to figure it out. In
                            a few weeks, I had figured out for myself that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to a straight line. I did                  Simplicio: The what?
                            this just by making a paper triangle and folding the points inwards—no matter what shape the triangle may be,                          Pascal: Something profound happened on the night of November 23, 654—something so holy that I have never been
                            you can always fold the points together perfectly.                                                                                         able to explain it to another human being.
                        Simplicio: Did your father find out about all this?                                                                                        Simplicio: What was it?
                        Pascal: Yes—and though he might have punished me for my wickedness, he was so struck by my interest and ability                            Pascal: Ah, my young friend, I cannot describe it to you, either. It is a secret I will take to my grave. I will tell you just
                            that he gave me my very own copy of Euclid’s Elements, which I devoured. I was twelve at the time.                                         this much, though, since you are on a quest for truth: seek the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the God of
                        Simplicio: Only twelve years old! That’s a young age for geometry!                                                                             philosophers.
                        Pascal: It did not seem so to me. At sixteen I published my first treatise on mathematics, and at nineteen I invented a                    Simplicio: The God of Abraham? But what I want to find is the truth, not mere belief!
                            calculating machine to help my father compute taxes. A few years later, at the age of twently-one, I left mathematics                  Pascal: Yes, yes, I understand—but man is such a feeble thing that he cannot do without belief. We know the truth,
                            behind for a few years and began to research the behavior of liquids and gases.                                                            not only by the reason, but also by the heart.2
                        Simplicio: Why liquids and gases?
                                                                                                                                                                     Pascal died from stomach cancer at the age of 39. After his death, a servant found a mysterious piece of paper sewn into the lining of his
                          Pascal, Pensées, para. 87. Trans. W. F. Trotter, 90, accessed  Sept. 2007 <    coat. The text of that paper appears in the introduction to this script on page 22.
                         html>.                                                                                                                                     2 Pascal, Pensées, para. 282.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        Charters, Creeds, and the english Civil War
                        Simplicio: But why can’t I just rely on reason?                                                                              Simplicio: Well, but Nature is not the only thing for reason to rely on.
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                        Pascal: You would rely on mere human reason, Simplicio? Man is but a reed, my friend, the most feeble thing in               Pascal: No, but what can reason do with a question as big as God? It is incomprehensible that God should exist, and
                            nature.                                                                                                                     it is incomprehensible that He should not exist; that the soul should be joined to the body, and that we should
                                                                                                                                                         have no soul; that the world should be created, and that it should not be created, etc.; that original sin should
                        Simplicio: That’s pretty depressing!
                                                                                                                                                         be, and that it should not be. No, in the end, reason will not tell us whether there is a God or not—but reason
                        Pascal: Ah, do you think so? No, you miss the glory that is hidden in this humility. Man is but a reed, but he is a think-       tells us what we ought to believe.
                            ing reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him.
                                                                                                                                                     Simplicio: It does?
                            But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he
                            knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him, the universe knows nothing of this.2               Pascal: Indeed! As I said before, there is only one rational choice. Choose to believe. Believe in God!
                        Simplicio: Oh, that’s more encouraging. It sounded like you didn’t think much of men.                                        Simplicio: But why, sir? Why shouldn’t I choose not to choose?
                        Pascal: Ah, man! What a chimera, he is! what a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradic-           Pascal: Because although you may be able to postpone your choice, my child, you cannot avoid it. Death, which
                            tion, what a prodigy! A judge of all things, feeble worm of the earth, depositary of the truth, cloaca3 of uncer-            threatens us every moment, must infallibly place us within a few years under the dreadful necessity of being
                            tainty and error, the glory and the shame of the universe! 4                                                                 for ever either annihilated or unhappy.2
                        Simplicio: (hotly) Sir! I must protest!                                                                                      Simplicio: What a terrible thought!
                        Pascal: What, do you think I am too hard on mankind?                                                                         Pascal: There is nothing more real than this, nothing more terrible.3 You have the power today to choose between
                                                                                                                                                         eternal happiness and eternal misery. Heads—God exists. Tails—He does not. Now, which is the rational choice?
                        Simplicio: Yes! Man is the only being here on earth that is rational.
                                                                                                                                                     Simplicio: Neither! He who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong.
                        Pascal: Do you think you are rational?
                                                                                                                                                         The true course is not to wager at all!
                        Simplicio: Yes, I do!
                                                                                                                                                     Pascal: Ah, but you must wager. It is not optional.4
                        Pascal: Then you must believe the gospel. It is the only choice a truly rational person could make.
                                                                                                                                                     Simplicio: It isn’t?
                        Simplicio: That’s preposterous! Why do you say that?
                                                                                                                                                     Pascal: Not at all. You did not give yourself life, and you cannot hold back death. You must choose without knowing
                        Pascal: Would you agree with me that either “God is, or He is not”? 5                                                            the truth—but you can still know what to choose.
                        Simplicio: Yes, of course. But which is it?                                                                                  Simplicio: How so?
                        Pascal: This is the problem—it is the most important question you could ask, but reason can decide nothing here. It          Pascal: Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the
                            reminds me of my old gambling days: you are playing a game where heads or tails will turn up. What will you                  good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your na-
                            wager? 6                                                                                                                     ture has two things to shun, error and misery.5
                        Simplicio: I’ll place my bet on reason!                                                                                      Simplicio: Yes, that seems correct.
                        Pascal: Oh, will you? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you          Pascal: Now your reason should be no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity
                            can defend neither of the propositions.7                                                                                     choose.
                        Simplicio: I can’t?                                                                                                          Simplicio: I don’t want to choose, but I suppose you’re right. If I have to choose, and I can’t tell which is right, it really
                        Pascal: Of course not! Reason argues both sides against the middle! Take the evidence of Nature, for example. Does               makes no sense to object to choosing one rather than the other.
                            Nature tell me that God exists, or that He does not exist?                                                               Pascal: Let us consider what you gamble with your happiness. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that
                        Simplicio: I don’t know. Which is it?                                                                                            God is. Let us estimate these two chances. 6 You should be able to figure this out.

                        Pascal: There—you see? You do not know, though you have clearly bent your reason to the problem. I know; I have              Simplicio: Let me think about it. If I choose to believe in God, and He really does exist, then I suppose I get eternal life.
                            been there myself. I look on all sides, and I see only darkness everywhere. Nature presents to me nothing                Pascal: Correct! And that is good, right?
                            which is not matter of doubt and concern. If I saw nothing there which revealed a Divinity, I would come to a
                                                                                                                                                     Simplicio: Yes, that’s good. Infinitely good, now that I consider it. But if I choose to believe in God and He doesn’t ex-
                            negative conclusion; if I saw everywhere the signs of a Creator, I would remain peacefully in faith. But, seeing
                                                                                                                                                         ist, then I get nothing.
                            too much to deny and too little to be sure, I am in a state to be pitied! 8
                                                                                                                                                     Pascal: Right, but you do not lose anything, either, do you?
                            Pascal, Pensées, para. 347.
                         2   Ibid.
                                                                                                                                                     Simplicio: No, I don’t lose anything. I just die and that’s it.
                         3   “Cloaca” is Latin for “sewer.”                                                                                              Pascal, Pensées, para. 230.
                         4   Pascal, Pensées, para. 434.                                                                                              2   Ibid., para. 94.
                         5   Ibid., para. 347.                                                                                                        3   Ibid.
                         6   Ibid.                                                                                                                    4   Ibid., para. 233.
                         7   Ibid.                                                                                                                    5   Ibid.
                         8   Ibid., para. 229.                                                                                                        6   Ibid.

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                        Pascal: Right. Now, suppose you choose to believe that God does not exist, and it turns out that you are right about
                            that. What do you get?
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                        Simplicio: I suppose I get a lifetime of doing whatever I want.
                        Pascal: Such a life may not be all that pleasant, and it certainly will not be all that long. Compared to an infinity of
                            pleasure at the right hand of God, would you agree that it is comparatively nothing?
                        Simplicio: Well, yes, compared to that I suppose it is.
                        Pascal: And if you are wrong, you have set yourself up as His enemy by doubting Him and hence are deserving of eter-
                            nal punishment.
                        Simplicio: I suppose so, under this situation you’ve set up.
                        Pascal: So, then, how can you rationally choose anything but faith? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose
                            nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He is.
                        Simplicio: But—but—I don’t want to! I won’t! (Simplicio stomps offstage.)
                        Pascal: (looking after him sadly) You will, poor child. You must.

                          Pascal, Pensées, para. 233.


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