June 19, 1623 - August 19, 1662
Invented an adding machine, Pascal's Law of Fluids, and Pascal's Triangleby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Many math and science students have taken the inventions of this man for granted. He became famous for the invention of the adding machine, a predecessor to the calculator. He also came up with Pascal's Law of fluids and Pascal's Triangle. Besides all of these inventions, he even wrote some theological works. In fact, this individual achieved all of these accomplishments and more during his brief thirty-nine year lifetime. Who is this gentleman? This great man happens to be Blaise Pascal.
Blaise Pascal was born on June 19th, 1623, in the town of Clermont-Ferrand, France. He had an older sister, Gilberte, and a younger sister, Jacqueline. Pascal's father, Étienne Pascal, was a local judge. Sadly, Pascal's mother, Antoinette Begon, died when he was only three years old. Afterwards, his father decided to educate his children. From an early age, Pascal showed great interest in mathematics and science. However, Pascal's father worried that Pascal's mathematical and scientific studies would prevent Pascal from focusing on the other subjects. Eventually, Pascal was able to show his father that his math and science studies were worthwhile. When Pascal was fourteen, he began to attend lectures in mathematics. After studying a work from Desargues about conic sections, Pascal formulated his own theorem about conic sections at the age of sixteen. "Pascal's Theorem" has become a foundation for the modern-day view on conic sections. Since his father had received an exhausting job as the king's commissioner of taxes in the city of Rouen, Pascal decided to make an invention that would ease his father's work. Pascal, at the age of eighteen, devised a machine that could add and subtract numbers. He used gears to make each wheel, which had numbers on it, turn appropriately. As one can see, he was quite a prodigy.
Pascal made a few discoveries in the field of mathematics. In 1653, Pascal developed Pascal's Triangle. Today many math students appreciate Pascal's Triangle when working with binomial coefficients. In 1654, Pascal and Fermat, a famous French mathematician, developed the mathematical theory on probabilities. Though Pascal and Fermat studied gambling to determine this theory, it is applicable to insurance schemes, quantum physics, and other situations.
As expected, Pascal also made many scientific discoveries and inventions. During the late 1640s, Pascal began using the barometer to find out more about atmospheric pressure. While he studied, he learned that atmospheric pressure decreases as altitude increases and that the atmospheric pressure changes as the weather changes. Though most scientists at the time disagreed with him, Pascal was the first to correctly determine that there was a vacuum, an absence of matter, above the mercury in the barometer. During his studies of fluids, Pascal designed the hydraulic press and invented the syringe. He also, developed Pascal's Law, which governs the relationship between pressures and volumes. Between 1645 and 1655, Pascal had discovered and invented many things that people take for granted today.
Just as any other person, Pascal's life was not all about his occupation. In 1646, Pascal became a Jansenist, a Catholic who believes in salvation through God's grace and love, and believes in a few other Protestant doctrines. Ever since he was eighteen, Pascal had problems with his nervous system. These problems became especially bad in 1647. When he moved to Paris, Pascal began to feel better. However, his nervous problems still lingered on. From 1648 to 1654, Pascal went into a time of straying away from his faith. During this time, his father died. His father's death left him with the inheritance. At about this time, his sister, Jacqueline wanted to leave him and move into the Jansenist convent. He was reluctant to let her go because she took care of him during his times of sickness. After sorting out the inheritance, he eventually allowed her to become a nun.
After a near-death experience in 1654, Pascal began to turn his focus toward Christianity. From that time until his death, Pascal wrote several theological works. In these works, he states that reason alone will not convince a person to become a Christian. He believed that passion had to be used also. In other words, he believed that faith in God needs to be in both the heart and mind. Pascal's most famous theological theory was known as "Pascal's wager". "Pascal's wager" says that a man can believe in God or not believe in God. When those who believe in God die, they will win the infinite prize if He is real. However, the wager states, that if God is not real, they will just die and lose nothing. Those who do not believe in God will lose infinitely, if He is real. However, if God is not real, these people will win nothing when they die. Pascal used this wager to show that it makes much more sense to be a Christian than to be an atheist. In 1662, Pascal died from stomach and brain problems. By the time of his death, Pascal had become a great mathematician, scientist, and theologian.1, 2, 3
Pascal was truly a bright and skilled man. He excelled in math and science. At the same time, he wrote many important theological works. He showed that being a Christian was the most sensible way to live. A good description for Pascal would be like the one given for Jesus in Luke 2:52 which says "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."
up3Dr. Phil Fernandes, Ph.D., "The Apologetic Methodology of Blaise Pascal," Leadership U., http://www.leaderu.com/apologetics/pascalmethodology.html (accessed October 30, 2007).