Last week I went to New Word Alive, I may post some stuff about how that was, but it gave me a ripe load of profound material for posting on here. There were several highlights, and one of the most interesting was a session in the morning on Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and theologian, given by Carl Trueman.
Denise has already addressed this, but I'm my own man, so I'm going to write about it too!
Two interesting thoughts came out of Trueman's account of Pascal. Pascal is significant for his analysis of the way human beings tick, and he planned to publish this in a great work on apologetics. He died before its completion and his notes are published in his Pensees.
The first interesting point was the misunderstood nature of Pascal's Wager. The Wager is traditionally thought to state that people should believe in God because if they do believe in God and they're wrong, they just die and don't lose out, whereas if they don't believe in God and are wrong then they're in deep trouble. However, this interpretation of the Wager a) does not agree with the teaching of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 (that if Christ is not raised we are of all men the most pitiable) and b) does not actually square with the other writings of Pascal himself.
Rather than this interpretation, actually Pascal was trying to expose a human inconsistency. As a mathematician, Pascal noticed that humans make decisions in life based on a percentage game. Humans, Pascal says, calculate the percentage risks involved in various courses of action and choose actions in an attempt to minimize the negative risk (for example we wait to cross the road until the probability of getting run down is the lowest). Ask any Game Theorist and he will tell the same story, human beings are risk averse. However, despite our claim to rationality in the matter of God, Pascal uses the Wager to show that if we were simply playing our usual percentage game that we use in the rest of life, we should believe in God. Yet we don't. Pascal argues that we are inconsistent and this exposes that our beliefs about God are not just intellectual - they are moral choices.
The second insight from Pascal was in his posing the question: Why do Kings need Jesters? Most people have to spend their time worrying and working to live, worrying where money and food will come from. The king, however, does not have these worries to occupy his thoughts. Indeed, if he is left to his own thoughts, his mind starts to dwell on the only thing over which he has no control whatsoever - death, human mortality, and what comes after. Thus the king needs jesters and courtiers to entertain him, to keep his mind busy.
This, Trueman points out, is why we are willing to pay so much money to footballers and film stars, and comparatively little to the politicians who run the country. We are subconsciously declaring the truth - that we consider entertainment to be more important than government, because it is entertainment that keeps us distracted from our own mortality (this is also, Trueman suggested, why people today are so apathetic towards God - because entertainment is so readily available, there are numerous ways to hide).
So there you have it; a misconception busted and a penetrating insight into the human psyche.
Up next: a cat does something funny!