Pascal & Pascal Caricatured

I liked this, from Professor James Franklin:

Pascal caricatured:
Being base and greedy, we want lots of goodies in this life and, if possible, the next. So we are prepared to give up some pleasures now, on the off chance of a lot more later, if our eye to the main chancemakes it look worth our while. Since the loot on offer is infinite, even a smallchance of raking it in makes it worth a try to grovel to any deity that might do what we want.

What Pascal said:
You have to choose whether to accept religion. Think of itas a coin toss, where you don’t know the outcome. In this case, if you lose –there’s no God – you have not lost much. But if you win, there is an infinitepayoff. So, you should go to Mass, and pray for faith.

To be considered in light of mathematical exactitude rather than Catholic stridency, if that helps.


  1. It seems the caricature suffers from the same flaw as Anselm’s ontological argument: it fails to grasp the essence of the infinite. “That that which nothing greater can be thought” or in this case “infinite goodies” both fail to make an airtight case for something greater than material goods. In fact, the ultimate good.

    Or as Thomas might put it, the ontological argument only works if you’re God and so perhaps what I’m suggesting is that the caricature only works if God’s flipping the coin.

    Is that too strident? I hope not.


  2. Quin Finnegan says

    Not at all—the connection between the caricature’s “infinite goodies” and Anselm’s ontological argument is inspired, I think.

    Although I haven’t liked it (Anselm’s argument) because it actually does seem like an airtight case for God. So airtight, in fact, that it leaves God rather hermeneutically sealed in a kind of perfect thought: thinking God, there’s no need to bother thinking anything else. Including the ways of God to man (and versa-vice). So it’s useless to the non-believer, who would do better to take up Aquinas’ reasoned (because reasonable) ways.

    Unfortunately, it’s rare that unbelief isn’t in some way irrationally committed to unbelief, and so those ways are either ignored or misunderstood or twisted out of recognition.

    I said stridency because Franklin is a mathematician, and mathematicians are now more credible to the general populace than theologians (compare the place of priests in our world to the mathematician or scientist standing in front of a blackboard full of equations).

    Something similar to Anselm’s proof is going on with the proof of Descartes (and others), I think, in which God is the cause of himself (causa sui). My understanding is that Aquinas is unique in denying that the causa sui is a via to God.

    Thanks, JOB.

  3. Louise Orrock says

    I need to look again at Descartes’ argument, although I think the philosophers are saying things that are at odds with what they believed and that if their works have not been re-written they were being censored.

    I think nature is more intelligent than we can imagine people as being but I don’t think we are capable of knowing if there could be anything more intelligent than nature. And I am not sure to what extent they (I’m thinking of animals, which is easier to observe) are constrained by their lack of physical power or how much influence they have, although I would think much more than we realise.

  4. Louise Orrock says

    One example of bird intelligence. The birds had been making noises and I had got bread ready to take to the ones on the Green near where I live. And I thought I don’t need to put anything on the bread this time because I am tired of doing it. And the birds in the garden fell silent. They are demonstrating their intelligence in a way that I can understand and that will entertain me, although there is usually a serious point.

  5. Rufus McCain says

    I like what Franklin says about the critique that the either/or Pascal lays out is too simplistic. It reminds me of Percy’s explanation of why he converted to Catholicism: “What else is there?”

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