BBC Radio 4

    In Our Time: The Ontological Argument

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    Editor's note: In Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed The Ontological Argument. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - AI


    The Ontological Argument is quite a way down the list of subjects with which I would have thought I would get absorbed. But I did. The notion of a medieval Benedictine monk from Italy, via France, becoming Archbishop of Canterbury and sitting down to compose through logic alone a proof for the existence of God, and both proving it to the satisfaction of some people and not proving it to the satisfaction of others, was extremely seductive.

    This, I thought, was what medieval monks should be doing. The idea of beginning with an assertion to which, as it were, "the fool in the psalms" - Anselm's starting point - could simply have said "well, I don't take that proposition as anything other than an assertion" (not the prose of Tyndale, but nevertheless I hope you get the gist) is something marvellous.

    The thing about other worlds of knowledge is that the more you examine them and the more you get to know them, the more respect you have for them. It doesn't matter very much whether they seem to be way off-key when compared with "modern" knowledge or information. We have different techniques, discoveries have been made, arguments have been worked through, there are different proofs and so on. But the whole pleasure and virtue of history is to get to know it in the time that it was. And that time for Anselm was the Middle Ages and his attempt to provide in pure logic alone - and in just a few words - the answer to the universe is breathtaking. Perhaps even more breathtaking than Professor Higgs' revelation (he described it as this when the idea came to him on the Cairngorms) that his particle, the Higgs Boson, would be his answer to the beginning of the universe.

    I would guess that you enjoyed as much as I did the way in which the three philosophers circled around and circled again the subject at hand. They were so complementary as well as being so complimentary. There's a great resolute, calm, courteous steadiness about Professor Haldane; Professor Millican has a crystalline quality of his own and Clare Carlisle proved to be, I hope you will excuse the word, brilliant at enunciating both the proposition and her reservations about it.

    I was going to bang on about the odd week that sometimes happens, seeing an arena performance at the O2 of Jesus Christ Superstar; being invited to a concert at the Albert Hall; going to the book launch of a friend who's written something on the Russian archives; managing to get a couple of brisk walks on Hampstead Heath which is under-discussed in these notes but cannot be over-praised; all the privileges of a lucky metropolitan life.

    And now we turn our guns on Gerald of Wales who also wrote about Ireland.

    Best wishes

    Melvyn Bragg

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