Pascal: The Emergence of Genius

By Emile Cailliet | Go to book overview

IV
The Physicist Confronting His Bible

"Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him?"

-- Job 40:2

I n October, 1646, soon after he had stirred his family to a renewed concern for Christianity, Pascal watched Pierre Petit, intendant of fortifications, repeat Torricelli's experiment as he had learned it from Mersenne. Finding justification for his new interest, as we have pointed out, in the teaching of Saint Augustine and Saint Cyran, Pascal now threw himself into the task of physical research. He was filled, at one and the same time, with enthusiasm for science and with zeal for religion, and he set to work with an energy that was truly staggering. Thus he would clarify those grand syntheses of thought, which were to take shape in the conception of "orders," and in which God was to appear as the principle and the end of all things.

Pascal wished to establish, first of all, the fact of the vacuum, by infinite variations upon Torricelli's experiment. Thus he altered the size, length, and shape of the receptacles used, and also the character of the several liquids employed. In the course of this research, he invented his famous syringe which was, in actual fact, the earliest pneumatic device. He set down his conclusions in a pamphlet, which appeared in 1647 under the title Expériences nouvelles touchant le vide, remarkable in the acuteness of the observations recorded.


SCIENTIFIC RIGOR UPHELD

This did not, however, avert a series of attacks upon his scientific report. The sharpest retort came from a Jesuit, Father Noël, teacher and friend of Descartes. Appealing to the authority of Descartes in the realm of science, and to that of Aristotle in philosophy, he roundly declared that the notion of a vacuum, synonymous with nothing, was inconceivable. In his reply,1 which was phrased as courteously as the letter from

____________________
1
Œuvres, v. 2, 90.

-67-

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Pascal: The Emergence of Genius
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Introduction to the Torchbook Edition 6
  • Preface to the Torchbook Edition 14
  • I - The Emergence of a Pilgrim 17
  • II - An Open Mind in the Making 39
  • III - The Jansenist Quickening 53
  • IV - The Physicist Confronting His Bible 67
  • V - The Source of Our Unhappiness 85
  • VI - Pascal's Hour of Agony 111
  • VII - Fire in the Night 131
  • VIII - Glimpse of a Sanctuary 149
  • IX - The New Vista 167
  • X - Not Peace, but a Sword 187
  • XI - The Champion 207
  • XII - The Sign in the Midst of Battle 223
  • XIII - The Dictates of Conscience 243
  • XIV - Fighting a New Inquisition 267
  • XV - A Lamp Unto My Feet 289
  • XVI - Running the Way of the Lord 311
  • XVII - Holy Anxiety 339
  • XVIII - Meditation on a Death Mask 361
  • Appendix to the Torchbook Edition: Recent Research 364
  • Index 375
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