“Wait,” said Benedix. “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, Benedix 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 Benedix and Palinor. One of the focal points in Paton Walsh’s novel ‘Knowledge Of Angles’ is whether or not God exists. She presents this argument to the reader in several ways, but the bulk of the argument is put across through the dialogues between Benedix and Palinor. Severo assigned Benedix 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 Benedix throughout the book, constantly destroying whatever proof Benedix 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 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?’
This argument alone shows that Benedix and Palinor think differently and use dissimilar proofs to show their ideas. Benedix 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 Benedix uses 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 proof to show the flaw in Beneditx’s reasoning. An A Priori proof does not rely on experience but is used to contain 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 does not necessarily come to a logical conclusion. Still, the premise is drawn from experience, so it is relevant and can combat A Priori proofs.
The famous Renï¿½ Descartes, who formulated the well-known A Priori proof ‘I think. Therefore I am, I 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 exist. The existence can only be proven by experience, which would make it A Posteriori proof. St Anselm established the ontological argument 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 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 that it was tough to overcome. To say that God is perfect is to say that he is perfect at everything, which means he must exist. To say that God does not exist is 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 shows that for God not to exist; he must be flawed, so he cannot possibly be God if he does not exist. 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.’
Throughout the novel, Palinor and Benedix engage in many philosophical mï¿½lï¿½es, which are made simple for the reader to understand by the use of real-life examples and scenarios. One such example is when Benedix 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, as a tree trunk embodies God, and the branches and twigs symbolize humans. Palinor argues with Benedix, saying, ‘ 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 Benedix’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. Benedix feels very demoralized because Palinor’s opposing arguments are constantly obliterating his well-tailored arguments, so he decides to change tactics and let Palinor put forward an argument for a change so that Benedix could show him the error of his ways. Unfortunately for Benedix, this allowed Palinor to try to convince Benedix that God did not exist, and this time, Palinor succeeded. ‘”Have you convinced him?” he asked. “No,” said Benedix. He sat down on the edge of Severo’s bed and sank his head in his hands. “He has convinced me.”‘ This news was deplorable for Severo because even when Benedix requested to be relieved of his duty to convince the atheist, Severo refused his request.
He took such enjoyment in listening to their philosophical debates; he failed to realize that A Posteriori proofs are very formidable when it comes to such questions. When Palinor was asked to put forward an argument, Benedix could not use his A Priori proofs to contradict the corroborations drawn from experience put forward by Benedix. In the final face-off between Benedix and his adversary, he decides to let him do all the convincing. Palinor begins by saying that as the fish in the 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. Benedix 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 knowing something and trusting 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. In contrast, A Posteriori proofs are founded upon knowledge drawn from one’s 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 Benedix and Palinor. The message that she conveys to the reader is that there is no way of knowing A Posteriori that God exists. Still, we can only assume A Priori that he must exist simply because, to be God, he must exist, an argument which in itself goes round in an endless circle. The arguments between Benedix 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.