Bet You Can't Lose

Daily Mail (London), September 12, 2011 | Go to article overview

Bet You Can't Lose


QUESTION What was 'Pascal's wager'? FRENCH mathematician, physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is considered one of the great minds of Western intellectual history.

A child prodigy, at 16 he formulated one of the basic theorems of projective geometry, Pascal's theorem, which states that if a hexagon is inscribed in a circle (or conic) then the three intersection points of opposite sides lie on a line (called the Pascal line).

In 1642, he invented the first mechanical adding machine.

In 1648, he proved that the level of mercury in a column was determined by a change in atmospheric pressure.

Working with Pierre de Fermat, Pascal formulated the mathematical theory of probability, an essential element in actuarial science, mathematics, statistical analysis and theoretical physics.

He also developed Pascal's principle, which states that fluids transmit pressures equally in all directions.

This is the principle of the hydraulic press and jack.

More generally he championed the accumulation of knowledge through empirical experimentation over analytical methods.

Following an intense religious vision in 1654, Pascal mostly gave up work in mathematics and joined an ascetic Roman Catholic sect called the Jansenists.

He devoted the rest of his life to writing Christian philosophy, often applying mathematical principles to his work, reasoning, for example, that the value of eternal happiness is infinite and that although the probability of gaining such happiness by religion may be small, it is infinitely greater than by any other course of human conduct or belief.

When he died, he left an unfinished treatise, later published as Pensees (thoughts).

In it he surveyed philosophical paradoxes such as infinity vs nothing, faith vs reason, soul vs matter and life vs death.

He promulgated his, now notorious, wager: The argument runs: If you erroneously believe in God, you lose nothing (assuming that death is the absolute end), whereas if you correctly believe in God, you gain everything (eternal bliss).

But if you correctly disbelieve in God, you gain nothing (death ends all), whereas if you erroneously disbelieve in God, you lose everything (eternal damnation).

Therefore probability demands that -- despite the long odds -- you cannot go wrong by believing in God.

There have been many repudiations of this wager: for example, a person can't decide to believe something that is evidently false, it can only ever be an argument for feigning belief in God - which might be a problem if your God is omniscient in nature.

Or, what is so important about belief? Wouldn't God prefer and be more likely to welcome a goodhearted, selfless atheist into heaven rather that a cowardly hedgebetter? Or, which god should you choose to believe in? What happens if the true God is Baal and he turns out to be just as jealous as Yahweh? Paul Dalton, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath.

QUESTION In his book American Caesars, Nigel Hamilton says Harry Truman suffered from deformed eye balls. But what was this deformity? ACCORDING to David McCullough's 1992 biography Truman's mother realised the extent of his impaired vision in 1890 and took him to an optometrist in Kansas City.

He diagnosed a rare malfunction known as 'flat eyeballs'. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Bet You Can't Lose
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.