Friday, June 17, 2011

Pascal on Christianity

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“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.”

-Blaise Pascal

“If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making

a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.”

Buy Pascal on Christianity term paper

-Woody Allen

The humorous remark of the famous movie director, Woody Allen, touches upon

the serious question, “does God exist?” It is a question that has inspired and forced

philosophers to argue one way or another. Some believe that God does not exist because

there is no real evidence for His existence. They argue that the world would be better off

if religion and especially Christianity would disappear. On the other hand, many claim

that God does exist and that creation reveals Him to us. They state that Christianity has

been a boon to mankind and has had a beneficent effect upon the human race. Clearly,

both sides of the debate are well prepared to take on such a heavy task and do little to

help resolve the problem. Blaise Pascal, philosopher and scientist, believed that such an

important questioned deserved an answer. Although he claimed close ties to Jansenist

Christianity, his approach and response has been embraced by Agnostics whom hold that

it is impossible to know if God exists. The unique thing about Pascal’s wager was that it

tips the scale in favor of Christianity merely because he feels that it is the safest bet.

Surely, the brilliance of Pascal lives on in his fascinating approach and answer to one of

the greatest questions confronting philosophers.

To begin with, Pascal avoids going into drawn out arguments for or against the

existence of God unlike other philosophers. Perhaps it will be worthwhile examining one

of the rather engaging ideas of two philosophers dealing with the problem of evil, in

order to better understand the innovative and unorthodox conclusion of Pascal’s wager.

The problem of evil is a serious objection to the existence of a God who is

omnipotent, omniscient and omni-benevolent. The argument states that since evil and

suffering exist, a loving God cannot. Epicurus cleverly states

“Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can,

but does not want to; or he cannot and does not want to.

If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, and

does not want to, he is wicked. But, if God both can and

wants to abolish evil, then how comes evil in the world?”

In response, Thomas Aquinas does a good job formulating an account of the origin of evil

that both explain why God is not the cause of evil and how humans are responsible for

their own actions. He concludes that a) evil is not something; b) that evil is the privation

of some particular good; c) that evil does not exist in the absolute good (evil exists in

particular good); d) that the good causes evil but only accidentally and e) that sin and its

consequences are not caused by God but by free will. Aquinas wisely construes evil in

such a way as to accommodate God as creator of all that is good . Clearly, both Epicurus

and Aquinas intelligently argue in favor of their convictions.

Unfortunately, the excellent ability of philosophers to counter any new arguments

either in favor of God or against His existence result in a stand-off. This drives Pascal to

arrive at an awesome conclusion. He begins by suggesting that if there is a God he is

infinitely incomprehensible since he is nothing like us, we will never truly know Him.

Here he differs from Aquinas and Epicurus for they both believed that God could be

found or disproved by using reason. While Pascal believed that, “reason can decide

nothing.” However, he believes that the question demands an answer since it has proven

impossible to solve by using reason. Here he insists that making a decision, either for or

against the existence of God, should be one of great importance for directly or indirectly

everyone ends up making one. There are only two answers to the question either God

exists or He does not. If one chooses to avoid the question, one ends up siding with the

“God does not exist” group because Christianity means being a follower of Jesus Christ

and living a life without Jesus Christ results in eternal condemnation. “I am the way, the

truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” Clearly, there are

only two answers “yes” or “no”. Pascal carefully comes to his conclusion

If I wager for and God is---eternal life;

If I wager for and God is not---no loss.

If I wager against and God is---eternal condemnation;

If I wager against and God is not---neither loss nor gain.

The result is one that appears rather simple. He states that if he believes than he gains

eternal bliss; if he is wrong then he will lose nothing! So he bases his faith in God on the

fact that if he dies there is a fifty percent chance that he will go to heaven, whereas if he

dies a non-believer, he has a fifty percent chance of going to hell. The reasoning behind

Pascal’s conclusion is brilliant because it overlooks all of the complicated debates and

focuses on the greater good after this life is over.

However, there are some criticisms that arise from Pascal’s wager argument.

Many people feel that Pascal’s conclusion does little to help the undecided because it

does not establish the character of God. Some argue that Pascal’s theory provides

grounds for belief in the existence of many gods as well as only one. Thus it is really

useless for Christians to hold on to such an idea. Furthermore, Pascal arrives at “God

exists” by suspicious means for he indirectly is implying that religious belief is a waste

of effort. Moreover, He does not use the Bible to support his claims and therefore tosses

it aside even though Christians hold it to be the inspired Word of God. Perhaps the most

obvious mistake on behalf of Pascal is the idea that, if he is wrong, he loses nothing. But

on the contrary, he loses the opportunity to live life to “it’s fullest” (pardon the clich�).

By believing in God and becoming a Christian one is forced to give up a lot of worldly

pleasures. Therefore, guessing wrong could result in a dull and boring life! It would

mean no more beer gardens, abstinence, Bible reading and church attending. Although it

does not appear all that much, one must remember that this life is short and ones only

chance to experience pleasure before utter darkness. On the other hand, Pascal would

argue that by believing in God one would live a good life. One would be honest, humble,

grateful, generous, and trustworthy, all of which would make us popular and an overall

decent human being.

In conclusion, Pascal’s wager theory appeals more to Agnostics whom believe

that it is impossible to know God than to Christianity. Judeo-Christians believe that God

can be found and experienced directly. Pascal, on the other hand, stated that it was

impossible for simple humans to reason their way to knowing or disproving God. He

came up with an interesting conclusion which stated that one had the most to gain and

nothing to lose if one believed in God. Surely, Pascal saw eternal damnation as the worst

case scenario and therefore chose to believe in God. This brilliant philosopher and

scientist did not allow himself to be dragged into the battle field where both the atheist

and Christian are presently engaged in an all out war. For those on either side of the

debate Pascal’s wager theory did little to help their cause. Instead it added an interesting

new dimension to an already complicated problem.

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