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2.7 Saint Anselm of Canterbury (or of Aosta)

Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109 AD) is known for having devised five “proofs” of the existence of God. The four ones said “a posteriori” deduce the existence of God from some essential qualities of things of the world; they are based on goodness (if there are many good things, there must be a supreme good from which they derive), greatness (if everything has some greatness, there must be a supreme greatness from which all others derive), being (if things have being, there must be a supreme being from which the being of everything derives), and perfection. These proofs can be compared to the one that many people sometimes refer to when they say that, if there is the world, there must be someone who did it.
The fifth proof is instead “a priori”, that is, it tries to reach God before having considered the world. It is based on the fact that man, including the atheist, is able to think “that thing about which nothing can be thought of greater”. The argument in practice is this: if you have been able to think of such a large, even infinite idea, then it means that this immense greatness must necessarily exist, otherwise you could not explain how you could succeed, with your own mind, in reaching such an idea, which is greater than your mind itself. The fifth proof had to be, in Anselm’s intentions, the strongest, clearest and most irresistible, but the monk Gaunilo, who also lived in the XI century, objected to Anselm that being able to think of something is not the same as having demonstrated that it exists; Anselm replied to Gaunilo that his objection was valid for the most modest ideas, but not for infinite greatness. Actually, in the same discourse of Gaunilo there was already the counter-reply: in fact he had pointed out that those who say “God” do not necessarily have in their mind an idea that is really adequate to what they are saying.
There would be many other possible objections against Anselm:
– the existence of the world does not necessarily require that of a creator: the world can also be conceived as eternal, or we can keep in mind that the concepts of cause and effect, and also the concept of time, are human and therefore questionable concepts ;
– if the existence of God were demonstrable, it would not make sense to talk about faith, since everyone would be obliged to believe it;
– it can also be assumed that nothing in this world is demonstrable, since every demonstration is actually based on other concepts that in turn would need to be demonstrated, and so on endlessly;
– the effort to demonstrate the existence of God presupposes a mentality that takes for granted the distinction between subject and reality, which is to be proved;
– each demonstration is made up of words and ideas, adapted according to the structures of our brain; the existence of something cannot be considered demonstrated simply because it appears as required by the structures of our mind.
These objections allow us to affirm peacefully that so far no one has been able to demonstrate the existence of God with arguments able to resist any criticism. Actually this is the same reason why there is no answer to the problem of “theodicy” (“justice of God”), that is to the problem of the existence of evil (and therefore also of the cross). The radical nature of these criticisms allows us, even for the future, not to waste time searching for useless answers; any research in this regard will have to assume completely different physiognomies.

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