Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Philosophical Fact Check: Pascal's Vacuum

I am sometimes asked where Pascal said, "There is a God-shaped vacuum in every person that only God can fill." In fact, I was just so asked today.

He did not say it. But he did write something similar in Pensees.

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself (148/428).

10 comments:

Paul D. Adams said...

This is a very fitting sequel from previous posts re: Postman. After all, it's so easy to find diversion (wasn't there another Pensee on 'diversion') in the "infinite abyss" of techno toys/media/whatnot. I could not help but think of God's words to Israel (and to us)...

"When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.” Deut. 8:10ff

Yossman said...

The two quotes are similar but their use differs vastly. The first statement about the God-shaped vacuum is often used to smooth-talk people into the Christian faith without having to confront them with guilt, sin, condemnation and the need for repentance. Pascal's quote is a solid argument for the existence of God reasoned from man's restless searching for happiness.

Anonymous said...

A god-shaped vacuum.

And which god would that be? Last time I checked, humanity had invented thousands of gods: http://www.godchecker.com

But of course, the answer is the christian god. No other theists would be so blunt, presumptuous and dismissive.

Jeff S. said...

Didn't Augustine say something similar? That man only finds rest in God and no other?

CS Lewis also had a similar argument in the 'Weight of Glory', an argument from absence if you will. Such cravings would be odd indeed if there were no way for them to be fulfilled, like a man who craves bread if a thing called bread did not exist.

Paul D. Adams said...

Yes. Augustine's most famous statement (which I have etched on the back of my iPod, by the way) was...
"for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee." from Book I of the Confessions

Douglas Groothuis said...

To Anonymous:

I took only part of a quote. Pascal was far from dismissive and argued for Christianity against the rivals of his time. There is nothing dismissive about it. For his whole approach, see my book, On Pascal (Wadsworth, 2003) or Tom Morris, The Meaning of it All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life.

Fletcher said...

Anonymous:

You wrote "No other theists would be so blunt"

On the contrary, many religious groups are quite blunt that their faith is the one true way: exclusivity. Jews, Muslims, JW's, Mormons, etc.

If several different people groups have contradictary views about a thing (God in this case, but it could be anything), then they are either all wrong or one of them is right. A cannot be non-A... see the law of noncontradiction.

So if there is good evidence, reason, logic, etc. that nonChristian faiths are false (I old that there definitely is), and that Christian is justifiably true, then what is arrogant about claiming exclusivity? Sure, it might not be the most comfortable position for adherents of other faiths to hear, they might not like it emotionally, but that doesn't make it false.

janelle said...

I found your blog through the bumbling genius, and enjoy it very much. I have always admired Blaise Pascal, though I had thought he did write about the vacuum, I think it went, "There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus”. I'm kind of glad he didn't actually write that or say it, because it never made sense. Aren't we created in the image of God? So wouldn't it be illogical to first say we are created in His image, and then say there is a vacuum in light of that? So thanks, the Pensees quote is waaaaaay better.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Fletcher:

You swing.

DG

Gary said...

For what it's worth, John Stott mentions a vacuum in the heart of men which only God can fill in chapter 6 of his "Basic Christianity". He doesn't appear to be quoting anyone.