More Than a Wager: Blaise Pascal and the Defense of the Faith

By Robert Velarde

Although he lived for only thirty-nine years, French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) left an indelible mark on Christianity. Pascal is well known in scientific circles for, among other things, his studies of the vacuum and his invention of the world’s first automated calculating machine, but Pascal has much more to offer. In his fragmented and often brilliant writings, Pascal offers cogent observations on issues such as human nature, theology, and apologetics. His lucid, yet at times unpolished, insights cut deeply into matters of the human condition and touch on subjects of great significance and relevance to everyday life.1

Pascal intended to write a substantial work of apologetics called An Apology for the Christian Religion, which he never completed. Instead, after his untimely death due to illness, his many thoughts and notes on the project were collected in Pensées (“Thoughts”), a classic work that has been honored with a place in Encyclopedia Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World series and the Harvard Classics collection.2 Os Guinness and Louise Cowan rightly describe Pensées as “a penetrating, original, and stylish defense of the Christian faith and one of the supreme Christian writings of all time…few authors have captured the human predicament so poignantly.” Later they remark that the work “provides an astonishing window into the human heart,”3 adding, “Pensées is a classic to be read and reread, for it is a gold mine of Christian reflections on the human condition.”4

Unfortunately, aside from his famous wager argument, Pascal’s philosophical and apologetic insights are often neglected. This article will provide an overview of key insights Pascal has to offer contemporary Christians, especially in relation to the task of defending the faith.


Pascal is sometimes accused of taking a fideistic approach to apologetics, meaning that he supposedly valued faith over reason. Some even claim, falsely, that following his deep conversion to Christ, Pascal abandoned scientific pursuits. At any rate, one of Pascal’s most famous fragments is often cited in support of Pascal’s fideism: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing: we know this in countless ways.”5 The fragment itself, however, acknowledges that “we know this in countless ways,” suggesting that Pascal’s epistemology (view of knowledge) is more sophisticated than simply categorizing him as a fideist. Elsewhere, for instance, Pascal remarks, “We know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart.”6 In another fragment we read, “The way of God…is to instill religion into our minds with reasoned arguments, and into our hearts with grace.”7

Granted, scholars are not in complete agreement regarding Pascal’s views of faith and reason. Nevertheless, there is sufficient evidence to argue that Pascal valued reason, as well as certain lines of apologetic reasoning and evidence…


More Than a Wager: Blaise Pascal and the Defense of the Faith – Christian Research Institute