Blaise Pascal< Back to author list
A near-fatal carriage accident in November 1654 — less than eight years before his death — persuaded him to turn his intellect finally toward religion. The story goes that on the proverbial dark and stormy night, while Pascal was riding in a carriage across a bridge in a Paris suburb, a fright caused the horses to bolt, sending them over the edge. The carriage bearing Pascal survived. Pascal took the incident as a sign and devoted himself to theology. It was at this point that he began writing a series against the Jesuits in 1657 called the Provincial Letters.
Pascal is perhaps most famous for his Wager ('Pascal's Wager'), which is not as clear in his language as in this summary: "If Jesus does not exist, the non Christian loses little by believing in him and gains little by not believing. If Jesus does exist, the non Christian gains eternal life by believing and loses an infinite good by not believing.”
Sick throughout his life, Pascal died in Paris, probably from a combination of tuberculosis and stomach cancer at age 39. At the last he was a Jansenist Catholic. No one knows if Pascal won his Wager.