Letters Concerning the English Nation
Imagine the greatest debate in history. Who would duke it out? Socrates vs. Augustine? Machiavelli vs. Anselm? Friedrich Nietzsche vs. Dietrich Bonhoeffer?
One duo that initially comes to mind is Voltaire and Blaise Pascal. Voltaire is rightly referred to as one of the leaders of the Enlightenment, and Pascal, I believe, is the greatest Christian philosopher. Unfortunately, after reading Voltaire’s letter “On the Pensees,” you’ll see that this debate would have been a flop.
This is an exciting letter, because it articulates Voltaire’s response to Pascal’s great work. Voltaire’s response, however, calls into question whether he had thought much about the Pensees at all.
One example will have to suffice: when discussing Pascal’s famous Wager, Voltaire says that Pascal’s claim “Not to bet that God exists is to bet that he does not” is “plainly false.” Voltaire argues that “he who doubts and asks to be informed is certainly not betting, either for or against.” Not true! Pascal has already made it clear that every man dies, and no one knows when the appointed hour will be. Every moment we deny God is a moment in which we may die and stand before the Judgment Seat.
What’s more, Voltaire is overlooking basic Christian doctrine. Creation reveals to every man, according to Romans 1:20, that the God of the Bible exists. “Asking to be informed” about God’s existence is a ploy of the flesh—a stall tactic to postpone submitting to the Creator.
The rest of Voltaire’s response to Pascal is almost as fatuous, underscoring the fact that this particular “debate of the century” would have been a bloodbath.
by Jeff Baldwin