Pascal

Pascal said that ‘We know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart.’ I think that in the science-faith dialogue we must always be aware of our assumptions. And reasoned arguments should always be put forward with humility because they rest upon these assumptions. Unless the whole world shares the same assumptions, we cannot claim to have proved our case beyond any doubt.

I love this section from Pascal’s ‘Pensées’. Perhaps one of the most widely shared experiences (which might lead to certain assumptions, maybe not always exactly the same as Pascal’s) is awe.

The Milky Way Galaxy (NASA)

…Let man then contemplate the whole of nature in her full and lofty majesty, let him turn his gaze away from the lowly objects around him; let him behold the dazzling light set like an eternal lamp to light up the universe, let him see the earth as a mere speck compared to the vast orbit described by this star, and let him marvel at finding this vast orbit itself to be no more than the tiniest point compared to that described by the stars revolving in the firmament. But if our eyes stop there, let our imagination proceed further; it will grow weary of conceiving things before nature tires of producing them. The whole visible world is only an imperceptible dot in nature’s ample bosom. No idea comes near it; it is no good inflating our conceptions beyond imaginable space, we only bring forth atoms compared to the reality of things. Nature is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. In short it is the greatest perceptible mark of God’s omnipotence that our imagination should lose itself in that thought.

From Belief, Francis S. Collins

6 thoughts on “Pascal

  1. Dr Ike Okadigwe October 28, 2010 / 2:14 pm

    Even if the whole world agrees with all our scientific assumptions, we would still not be able to prove our case beyond any doubt. Assumptions remain just that – assumptions. You cannot prove anything with certainity based on assumptions.The probability of an event could never be hundred per cent when based on assumptions. Faith, however in Christianity is an entirely different kettle of fish, based on the certainity of God’s existence, the saving work of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour and the prescence of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we work out our salvation.

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  2. Ruth Bancewicz October 28, 2010 / 4:35 pm

    I agree – faith is a different kettle of fish. But is it faith if it’s based on ‘the certainty of God’s existence’? Would it be faith if we were completely certain? Does the certainty not come from experience, after faith is lived out?

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  3. Dr Ike Okadigwe October 28, 2010 / 6:19 pm

    Hi Ruth. Yes, it is faith if it is based on the certainty of God’s existence. Let me back track a little. What is faith? Paul,inspired by the Holy Spirit, gave a wonderful and inspired definition – NOW FAITH is the ASSURANCE (the confirmation, [a]the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the PROOF of things [WE] DO NOT SEE and the CONVICTION OF THEIR REALITY [faith perceiving as REAL FACT what is not revealed to the senses]. – Hebrews 11:1, Amplified Bible. Certainty in God’s existence MUST come first, even though we might not see him with our eyes or hear him with our natural ears, for faith to work and indeed be worked out. He further went on to explain – But without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God MUST [necessarily] BELIEVE THAT GOD EXISTS and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him [out]. Hebrews 11:6 Amp.Believe me, when you are praying for a friend who has had a swollen leg for months, unable to walk properly, then in an instant is able to RUN and rejoice, you have to FIRST ABSOLUTELY BELIEVE in God’s existence,THEN believe that God WILL ABSOLUTELY answer. That is what happened a few weeks ago. No belief, no answer. Where there is certainty, there WILL be an answer from God. Guaranteed.

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    • Ruth Bancewicz November 2, 2010 / 2:49 pm

      I sort of agree, but I’m worried about that people could expect faith to be a sort of magic button. A colleague summed it up better that I could:

      ‘I think it’s a fair point to make that true faith is in the realm of assurance and conviction, but it’s clearly not in the same realm as scientific certainty, i.e. it’s not testable by the scientific method. God’s answers to prayer may be certain, but they are inscrutable, often hard to discern, and often “no”!’

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      • Dr Ike Okadigwe November 3, 2010 / 12:47 am

        Absolutely – faith cannot be tested by scientific method, nor does it need to. Faith is about belief in God and what God can do. As you rightly pointed out, God’s answers to prayer may be inscrutable, hard to discern or often no. There are varied reasons for this, but like the apostle James was inspired to say, sometimes our prayers are not answered because we pray with wrong motives. We must pray in accordance with Scripture and the will of God for our lives to recieve answers to our prayers.

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  4. Richard Hosking November 3, 2010 / 10:42 pm

    Interesting discussion! Pascal also imagines the boundless space within ‘the tiniest things’ we know, and reflects on humanity’s precarious existence between ‘two abysses of infinity and nothingness.’* The fantastic http://www.powersof10.com/film illustrates this; http://multimedia.mcb.harvard.edu/anim_innerlife_music.html (click image to play) also shows the astonishing molecular biology of the dust from which we’re formed. Absolutely agree that it’s ultimately by faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, and faith’s necessity as a catalyst for action (Heb 11, NIV). However, as a (proud) descendant of Cornish fishermen I may have a more pragmatic approach to kettles of fish, and I’m not sure that faith is beyond elements of the scientific method (observation, correlation, statistics, probability). The first prospective semi-randomised controlled trial in history involved Elijah’s contest with the Prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:16-40), the results of which appeared conclusive and received enthusiastic peer review (perhaps over-enthusiastic, if you happened to be a Prophet of Baal). Obviously, valid criticism includes low n number (1), historical reliability, and irreproducibility. However, the whole point was that the initial scepticism of the target audience was dispelled after witnessing Divine Intervention. This proposition that the Jews are God’s witnesses is central to the Old Testament (e.g. Isaiah 43:10,12;44:8 and everywhere else), which St Paul reaffirms in Romans 11:1-5. In fact, Jeremiah 33:25 (cited by Deborah Haarsma in Test of Faith, p.92) makes God’s on-going covenant with the descendants of Abraham contingent upon the ‘fixed laws of heaven and earth.’ Numerically speaking, the Jews have always been statistically insignificant (Deut 7:7). However, despite centuries of scattering and persecution they have survived to produce incredible scientific achievements ranging from quantum theory to genetics to cosmology. Although representing only 0.2% of the world’s population, 22% of all Nobel prize winners between 1901 and 2010 have been Jewish (www.jinfo.org/Nobel_Prizes). Furthermore, the 20th century background to these astonishing accomplishments starkly contrasts their attempted systematic annihilation with the resurrection of the state of Israel. Post-biblical Jewish history, therefore, correlates remarkably well with their own ancient sacred texts.

    In case you’re thinking I should stick to literal kettles of fish (and you may have a point), I’m delighted to leave the last words to Pascal (1623-1662), who, significantly, was a founder of probability theory: “I see the Christian religion founded upon a preceding religion, and this is what I find as a fact. I do not here speak of the miracles of Moses, of Jesus Christ, and of the Apostles, because they do not at first seem convincing, and because I only wish here to put in evidence all those foundations of the Christian religion which are beyond doubt, and which cannot be called in question by any person whatsoever. It is certain that we see in many places of the world a peculiar people, separated from all other peoples of the world, and called the Jewish people … To meet with this people is astonishing to me, and seems to me worthy of attention.”**

    NB A free eBook of Pascal’s Pensees is available at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/18269
    *Pensee #72 **Pensee #618 (Also see 617 and 619)

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