The Impossibility of Satan

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

SatanThe Ontological Argument is an infamously devilish a priori argument for God's existence. It runs, roughly, as follows.

God is by definition is the greatest possible thing.

If God is the greatest possible thing, then He cannot fail to manifest any perfection — otherwise, there would be a possible thing greater than He.

Existence is a perfection; that which does not exist lacks something that would improve it.

Therefore, God must exist.

The conclusion can be strengthened, further, with the thought that necessary existence is a greater perfection than contingent existence, and so it is necessary that God necessarily exists. Now, that's a pretty heavy conclusion derived only from some strikingly lightweight premises. This is what makes the Ontological Argument so interesting – it seems clear that something's gone wrong, but it turns out that it's very hard to explain what it is.

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Marlene Dumas: Forsaken Frith Street Gallery London

by Sue Hubbard

1The Eurhythmics may not be considered the philosophical fount of all wisdom but the insistently recurring line that: “Everybody’s looking for something”, from their 1983 hit, Sweet Dreams, kept swirling round my head as I walked round the exhibition Forsaken, the first in the UK since 2004, by the controversial South African artist Marlene Dumas.

Better known for her provocative, eroticised images of woman painted in runny reds and watery blues that highlight the dichotomy between art and desire, pornography and more socially acceptable depictions of female beauty, Dumas’s work can be found in the Tate, the Pompidou Centre and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Normally derived from Polaroids of friends and lovers, or borrowed from glossy magazines and porno pictures she has, here, used the words of Christ dying on the cross: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachtain?“ My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” to explore the feelings of existential despair so prevalent in this solipsistic, secular age. Although in Judaism and Islam God is considered both unknowable and too holy to be depicted in figurative form, within the Christian tradition the image of the crucified Christ soon became the icon onto which all human suffering, rejection and longing were projected. Marlene Dumas’ crucifixions are of a sober northerly bent; more Mattias Grunewäld than Rubens. Her emaciated Christ is depicted as utterly alone – there are no jeering crowds, no weeping women, no thieves or Roman soldiers – painted against very dark or bleached backgrounds. Ecco Homo, 2011 is a moving portrayal of total abjection, whilst the monochromatic Forsaken, 2011 has some of the ghostly luminescence of the Turin Shroud.

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Of Quislings and Science: Reflecting on Mark Vernon, The Templeton Prize and Richard Dawkins

by Tauriq Moosa

Richard_Dawkins_080430103832597_wideweb__300x375 Recently, Sir Martin Rees was awarded the most lucrative science-prize in the world, The Templeton Prize. Notice I said ‘lucrative’; not most respected or prestigious, though some indeed do think it is. This prize is awarded because it, according to its official website, “honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.” It is given to those “who have devoted their talents to expanding our vision of human purpose and ultimate reality” – a sentence worthy of a tacky Hallmark card.

Sir Martin is in the company of £1,000,000 sterling and Mother Theresa and Billy Graham. Indeed, I wonder if that amount is enough to sway anyone, so that he or she is mentioned in the same breath as these fanatics. The point being there is little that is, by definition, about science. The Templeton Foundation and Prize is about promoting notions of the Divine, in whatever loose language you can fathom, using something vaguely non-Divine in approach. If you can anchor your pursuits that effect the world, dealing with sick people (not aiding) like Mother Theresa, or probing the mysteries of the universe with an appreciation for its beauty or possible higher purpose, then you qualify. They’ve melted the solid idea of the theistic god down into liquid form, so it slips through any pretention even when the person awarded the prize is not religious. Like Sir Martin Rees.

If Sir Martin donates it all to Oxfam, I would have little to quarrel with it suppose, except I think any scientist who doesn’t think there’s a conflict between faith and reason or science and religion is wrong. But that’s another discussion. What interests me about this whole episode was not the prize itself but the views that arose concerning the atheist culture wars. I’m interested particularly in ex-Anglican-priest-turned-“agnostic” Mark Vernon’s ever-banal criticisms of Richard Dawkins, as seen here (an ad hominem attack), here (how Dawkins is doing nothing new even though Vernon keeps writing about him), here (when Dawkins praises fellow writer, Christopher Hitchens, Dawkins is promoting hatred), here (Dawkins… groupthink… bus… bad), here (I don’t even know).

I rather enjoyed Dr Vernon’s books 42 and Plato’s Podcasts, so it is disappointing to see this usually clear, clever writer putting on the same performance each time Dawkins is mentioned in an online discussion or in the media. This is especially so when Vernon reflects on Sir Martin’s recent prize and… Richard Dawkins’ stridency. Yes. You obviously made that connection as quickly as I did. Vernon, expert bar none on how Dawkins should conduct himself publicly, has to write something… and it might as well be as Dawkins’ media nanny.

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And Another ‘Thing’ : Sci-Fi Truths and Nature’s Errors

by Daniel Rourke

In my last 3quarksdaily article I considered the ability of science-fiction – and the impossible objects it contains – to highlight the gap between us and ‘The Thing Itself’ (the fundamental reality underlying all phenomena). In this follow-up I ask whether the way these fictional ‘Things’ determine their continued existence – by copying, cloning or imitation – can teach us about our conception of nature.

Seth Brundle: What’s there to take? The disease has just revealed its purpose. We don’t have to worry about contagion anymore… I know what the disease wants.

Ronnie: What does the disease want?

Seth Brundle: It wants to… turn me into something else. That’s not too terrible is it? Most people would give anything to be turned into something else.

Ronnie: Turned into what?

Seth Brundle: Whaddaya think? A fly. Am I becoming a hundred-and-eighty-five-pound fly? No, I’m becoming something that never existed before. I’m becoming… Brundlefly. Don’t you think that’s worth a Nobel Prize or two?

The Fly, 1986

In David Cronenberg’s movie The Fly (1986) we watch through slotted fingers as the body of Seth Brundle is horrifically transformed. Piece by piece Seth becomes Brundlefly: a genetic monster, fused together in a teleportation experiment gone awry. In one tele-pod steps Seth, accompanied by an unwelcome house-fly; from the other pod emerges a single Thing born of their two genetic identities. The computer algorithm designed to deconstruct and reconstruct biology as pure matter cannot distinguish between one entity and another. The parable, as Cronenberg draws it, is simple: if all the world is code then ‘all the world’ is all there is.

Vincent Price in 'The Fly', 1958Science fiction is full of liminal beings. Creatures caught in the phase between animal and human, between alien and Earthly, between the material and the spirit. Flowing directly from the patterns of myth Brundlefly is a modern day Minotaur: a manifestation of our deep yearning to coalesce with natural forces we can’t understand. The searing passions of the bull, its towering stature, are fused in the figure of the Minotaur with those of man. The resultant creature is too fearsome for this world, too Earthly to exist in the other, and so is forced to wander through a labyrinth hovering impossibly between the two. Perhaps Brundlefly’s labyrinth is the computer algorithm winding its path through his genetic code. As a liminal being, Brundlefly is capable of understanding both worlds from a sacred position, between realities. His goal is reached, but at a cost too great for an Earthly being to understand. Seth the scientist sacrifices himself and there is no Ariadne’s thread to lead him back.

In her book on monsters, aliens and Others Elaine L. Graham reminds us of the thresholds these ‘Things’ linger on:

“[H]uman imagination, by giving birth to fantastic, monstrous and alien figures, has… always eschewed the fiction of fixed species. Hybrids and monsters are the vehicles through which it is possible to understand the fabricated character of all things, by virtue of the boundaries they cross and the limits they unsettle.”

Elaine L. Graham, Representations of the Post/Human

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