“Wait,” said Beneditx. “You speak like a man who, seeing that a twig springs from a branch and that many twigs spring from a branch and that many twigs spring from many branches, denies the existence of a trunk to the tree. Follow the multiplicity back and back, and you will find the single trunk. ” In this extract, Beneditx and Palinor argue about the existence of God.
Show how the key idea about the proof of God’s existence is presented in the dialogues between Beneditx and Palinor. One of the focal points in Paton Walsh’s novel ‘Knowledge Of Angles’ is the question of whether or not God exists.She presents this argument to the reader in a number of ways, but the bulk of the argument is put across through the dialogues between Beneditx and Palinor. Severo assigned Beneditx to show Palinor that God exists by defeating Palinor’s beliefs through argument. Palinor is reluctant to accept this proposal without a fight, and he battles with Beneditx throughout the book, constantly destroying whatever proof Beneditx cares to present him with. ‘How could you assert that this being you imagine does not exist?For a being in all particulars exactly like the one you have imagined, but existing, would be more perfect, and therefore would be greater than the non-existent one.
But you were to imagine the most perfect being possible. To have understood the definition of God correctly is to understand that he must exist, by definition. ‘ Palinor uses Beneditx’s own analogy against him to show that just because you imagine something to be perfect; it does not necessarily have to exist.
‘… A ship from Aclar, coming to rescue me.
And suppose I told you that this ship must exist, because a real one is more perfect than an imaginary one, would you run down to the harbour in expectations of seeing it coming? ‘ In this argument alone it is evident that Beneditx and Palinor think differently and use dissimilar proofs to show their ideas. Beneditx uses a type of logic known as A Priori proofs, which is essentially an argument in which we learn no more from the answer than we already knew from the question. So Beneditx is using an argument that goes round in circles, and attempts to trick Palinor into accepting it as a logical proof of God’s existence.However, Palinor is not fooled by Beneditx’s argument, and he uses A Posteriori proofs to show the flaw in Beneditx’s reasoning. An A Priori proof is one that does not rely on experience, but is simply used because it contains a supposedly logical conclusion. Such logic is commonly used in religious teachings and methods, but can only seem logical to those who believe in God. On the other hand, an A Posteriori proof is one that does not necessarily come to a logical conclusion, but the premise is drawn from experience, so it is relevant and can be used to combat A Priori proofs.
The famous Rene Descartes, who formulated the well-known A Priori proof ‘I think, therefore I am’, was a supporter of the ontological argument. His only objection was that ‘we couldn’t know A Priori that the idea of God, the idea of infinite and absolute perfection, is the idea of a possible being. There may not be any contradiction in the idea, but this absence of contradiction is not the same as the presence of possibility. It does not demonstrate a contradiction until we have proven A Posteriori (through sense data) that God already exists. By this he means that A Priori proofs can be used to show that God must exist, but this does not mean that he does exists. The existence can only be proven by experience, which would make it an A Posteriori proof.The ontological argument was established by St Anselm over 900 years ago.
It was very popular with some people, but others refused to accept it as a relevant way of answering a question. For example, ‘it is sunny in the summer. It is sunny today, therefore it must be summertime. This argument is not contradictory, but it cannot be branded as being pertinent unless we know for sure that it is summertime, which would be drawn from experience, providing an A Posteriori proof. The reason A Priori proofs were so popular when it came to arguing for the existence of God was because it was very hard to overcome. To say that God is perfect, is to say that he is perfect at everything, which means that he must exist. To say that God does not exist is to say that he is not perfect; therefore he is not God. The irony of these two arguments is that they essentially prove the same thing.
The first argument states that God exists because to be perfect one must exist. The latter of the two is showing that in order for God not to exist, he must be flawed, so if he does not exist he cannot possibly be God. In effect we have two arguments that can work together to point to the idea that God does exist. This is why St Anselm once said that ‘only a fool could say that God does not exist’ One such example is when Beneditx says ‘You speak like a man who, seeing that a twig springs from a branch and that many twigs spring from a branch and that many twigs spring from many branches, denies the existence of a trunk to the tree.Follow the multiplicity back and back, and you will find the single trunk. ‘ This example is simple for the reader to understand and link with the argument of whether God exists or not, as God is being embodied by a tree trunk, and humans are being symbolised by the branches and twigs.
Palinor counter argues with Beneditx by saying that ‘Follow it further and you will find the dividing multiplicity of roots. And stand back, you will find the tree one of thousands in the forest. Palinor has taken beneditx’s metaphor and extended it to destroy his original argument, which makes it clearer to the reader how ontological arguments can be out proven by A Posteriori proofs.Beneditx feels very demoralised by the fact that his well-tailored arguments are constantly being obliterated by Palinor’s opposing arguments, so he decides to change tactics and let Palinor put forward an argument for a change, so that Beneditx could show him the error of his ways. Unfortunately for Beneditx, this allowed Palinor to try to convince Beneditx that God did not exist, and this time, Palinor succeeded. ‘”Have you convinced him? he asked. “No,” said Beneditx. He sat down on the edge of Severo’s bed and sank his head in his hands.
“He has convinced me. “‘ This news was highly regrettable for Severo, because even when Beneditx requested to be relieved of his duty to convince the atheist, Severo refused him his request. He took such enjoyment in listening to their philosophical debates, he failed to realise that A Posteriori proofs are very formidable when it comes to such questions.
When Palinor was asked to put forward an argument, Beneditx was unable to use his A Priori proofs to contradict the corroborations drawn from experience put forward by Beneditx.In the final face-off between Beneditx and his adversary, he decides to let him do all the convincing. Palinor begins by saying that as the fish in water cannot possibly know of air, humans cannot possibly know of God because he exists outside time and space, and we cannot know what lies there, as we are trapped in space and time.
Beneditx replies by saying that God has revealed himself to humans, to which Palinor says that God has not revealed himself to humans, but humans have revealed God to themselves.He uses a practical demonstration to prove his point that to know something and to trust a person who says that they know something are two very different things. The very essence of this message is that A Priori proofs rely on trusting information derived from other sources; whereas A Posteriori proofs are founded upon knowledge drawn from ones own experience. Paton Walsh fundamentally shows the key idea about the proof of God’s existence through A Priori and A Posteriori proofs put across to the reader in the dialogues between Beneditx and Palinor.The message that she puts across to the reader is that there is no way of knowing A Posteriori that God exists, but we can only assume A Priori that he must exist simply because in order to be God he must exist, an argument which in itself goes round in an endless circle.
The arguments between Beneditx and Palinor do not reveal to us whether or not God truly exists, but simply that having knowledge and trusting knowledge are not the same thing, and that humans must make their own decision as to whether or not God exists.