Deposed Royalty: Pascal’s Anthropological Argument -- By: Douglas Groothuis

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 41:2 (Jun 1998)
Article: Deposed Royalty: Pascal’s Anthropological Argument
Author: Douglas Groothuis

Deposed Royalty:
Pascal’s Anthropological Argument

Douglas Groothuis*

* Douglas Groothuis is assistant professor of philosophy of religion and ethics at Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary, P.O. Box 10,000, Denver, CO 80250.

The Bible is God’s anthropology rather than man’s theology.1

Blaise Pascal’s antipathy toward classical natural theology—what he called the “metaphysical proofs”—did not hinder his apologetic endeavors.2 In Pensées and elsewhere Pascal develops several apologetic strategies, including an argument from human nature in support of Christian revelation. He argues that the Christian doctrines of creation and the fall best explain the paradoxes of the human condition and render Christianity worthy of respect. He does not restrict his apologetic endeavors to this argument but employs it skillfully in order to attract the attention of skeptics and other unbelievers.

Pascal’s apologetic orientation is instructive for western Christians today. Starting an apologetic argument from the point of the human condition is appealing in a psychologized and individualistic culture. While there is much theological illiteracy and philosophical naïveté today, there is also great interest in the soul, human potential, and spirituality. People may doubt the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, or the deity of Christ, but they know that they exist and they desire to understand themselves, their pain and their possibilities.3

By examining Pascal’s treatment of the contradictions of humanity, his explanation for the human condition, and the form of argument he presents, we can discern the apologetic force of Pascal’s anthropological argument for Christianity.

I. Human Greatness And Misery

The true religion, Pascal argues, must be able to explain the human condition better than its rivals.

Man’s greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.4

Humans are a curious mixture of widely divergent properties. Science and technology had made tremendous progress in Pascal’s day, much of it at his hand. But truth often escapes the ingenious inventor.5 This causes Pascal to exclaim:

What sort of freak then is man! How novel, how monstrou...

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