Pascal today means a unit of pressure, a computer language, a law in fluid mechanics, and an array of numbers with certain properties.

Few who use his name in these ways know that Blaise Pascal was also a devout Christian and a profound apologist for his faith.

In 1623, Pascal was born into a world that had recently seen the Reformation, the Counter Reformation, and the beginnings of modern science. The Thirty Years War began five years before Pascal's birth, and he was ten when Galileo was forced to recant his teaching of the Copernican system.

Studying under his father, a civil servant, the precocious Pascal first displayed his talents at 16 with his "mystic hexagon" theorem, noting special qualities of a hexagon inscribed in a circle. This he followed with a book on geometry that some contemporary mathematicians refused to believe a teenager could have written.

At 19, he invented the distant ancestor of the modern computer—a calculating machine. Later, as he worked out answers to some friends' questions about gambling, the young genius founded probability theory.

Pascal added the physical sciences to his repertoire with experiments that expanded human knowledge of atmospheric pressure and the equilibrium of fluids. He was inspired to investigate these things by the invention of the barometer by a student of Galileo.

Pascal observed that mercury rises only thirty inches in a closed tube and saw that the space above the mercury challenged the old Aristotelian idea that "nature abhors a vacuum." His experiments on this phenomenon led him to conclude that a vacuum really did exist.

In defending this idea, he distinguished between the methods of science and those of theology. In the latter, said ...

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