July 9, 2010


from the Tom Stoppard play, Jumpers:

George: To begin at the beginning --
Dotty (off. Panic): Help! Murder!
(George throws his manuscript on the desk and marches angrily to the door.)
(Off.) Oh, horror, horror, horror! Confusion now hath made its masterpiece . . . most sacrilegious murder! -- (Different voice.) Woe, alas! What, in our house?
(George, with his hand on the door handle, pauses. He returns to his desk and picks up his papers.)
George: To begin at the beginning, is God? (Pause.) I prefer to put the question in this form because to ask 'Does God exist?' appears to presuppose the existence of a God who may not, and I do not propose this late evening to follow my late friend Russell, to follow my good friend the late Lord Russell, necrophiliac rubbish! to begin at the beginning: is God? (He ponders a moment.) To ask, 'Is God?' appears to presuppose a Being who perhaps isn't . . . and thus is open to the same objection as the question , 'Does God exist?' . . . but until the difficulty is pointed out it does not have the same propensity to confuse language with meaning and to conjure up a God who may have any number of predicates including omniscience, perfection and four-wheel-drive but not, as it happens, existence. This confusion, which indicates only that language is an approximation of meaning and not a logical symbolism for it, began with Plato and was not ended by Bertrand Russell's theory that existence could only be asserted of descriptions and not of individuals, but I do not propose this evening to follow into the Theory of Descriptions my very old friend - now dead, of course - ach! - to follow into the Theory of Descriptions, the late Lord Russell --!
(He continues smoothly, improvising off-script.)
-- if I may so refer to an old friend for whom punctuality was no less a predicate than existence, and a good deal more so, he would have had us believe, though why we should believe that existence could be asserted of the author of 'Principia Mathematica' but not of Bertrand Russell, he never had time, despite his punctuality, not to mention his existence, to explain, very good, keep to the point, to begin at the beginning: is God? (To Secretary.) Leave a space. Secondly! A small number of men, by the exercise of their intellects and by the study of the works both of nature and of other intellects before them, have been able to argue coherently against the existence of God. A much larger number of men, by the exercise of their emotional and psychological states, have affirmed that this is the correct view. This view derives partly from what is known as common sense, whose virtue, uniquely among virtues, is that everybody has it, and partly from the mounting implausibility of a technological age as having divine origins - for a while a man might believe that the providence of sheep's wool was made in heaven, he finds it harder to believe the same of Terylene mixture. (He leans into the mirror intently.) Well, the tide is turning his way, and it is a tide which has turned only once in human history . . . there is presumably a calender date - a moment - when the onus of proof passed from the atheist to the believer, when, quite suddenly, secretly, the noes had it. (And squeezes a blackhead in the imaginary mirror. The he straightens up and is the lecturer again.) It is now nearly fifty years since Professor Ramsay described theology and ethics as two subjects without an object, and yet, as though to defy reason, as though to flaunt a divine indestructibility, the question will not go away: is God?
Dotty (off): Rape!
George: And then again, I sometimes wonder whether the question ought not be, 'Are God?' Because it is to account for two quite unconnected mysteries that the human mind looks beyond humanity, and it is two of him that philosophy obligingly provides. There is, first, the God of Creation to account for existence, and second, the God of Goodness to account for moral values. I say they are unconnected because there is no logical reason why the fountainhead of goodness in the universe should necessarily have created the universe in the first place; nor is it necessary, on the other hand, that a Creator should care a tuppence about the behavior of his creations. Still, at least in the Judeo-Christian tradition, nothing is heard either of a God who created the universe and then washed his hands of it, or, alternatively, a God who merely took a comparatively recent interest in the chance product of universal gases. In practice, people admit moral values to give a point to the Creation. But when we place the existence of God within the discipline of a philosophical inquiry, we find these two independent mysteries: the how and the why of the overwhelming question: --
Dotty (off): Is anybody there?
George (pause): Perhaps all mystical experience is a form of coincidence. Or vice versa, of course.
(Dotty screams. It sounds in earnest. Of course, nothing can be seen.)
(Murmurs.) Wolf . . .
Dotty (off): Wolves! --Look out!
(George throws his manuscript down furiously.)
(Off.) Murder -- Rape -- Wolves!
(George opens his door and shouts at the enclosed Bedroom door.)
George: Dorothy, I will not have my work interrupted by these gratuitous acts of lupine delinquency!
(The Procession Music, which had been allowed to fade out, is brought up by the opening of the Study Door.)
And turn that thing down! --you are deliberately feigning an interest in brass band music to distract me from my lecture!
(He closes his door, and from behind it produces a quiver of arrows and a bow. These he brings downstage and places them on his desk.)
(Pleasantly.) Does, for the sake of argument, God, so to speak, exist?
(He returns upstage and finds an archery target, which he leans up against the upstage bookcase, resting on the day-bed.)
(To mirror.) My method of inquiry this evening into certain aspects of this hardy perennial may strike some of you as overly engaging, but experience has taught me that to attempt to sustain the attention of rival schools of academics by argument alone is tantamount to constructing a Gothic arch out of junket.
(He extracts an arrow from the quiver.)
Putting aside the God of Goodness, to whom we will return, and taking first the God of Creation - or to give him his chief philosophical raison d'etre, the First Cause - we see that a supernatural of divine origin is the logical consequence of the assumption that one thing leads to another, and that this series must have had a first term; that, if you like, though chickens and eggs may alternate back through the millennia, ultimately, we arrive at something which, while perhaps no longer resembling either a chicken or an egg, is nevertheless the first term of that series and can itself only be attributed to a First Cause - or to give it its theological sobriquet, God. How well founded is such an assumption? Could it be, for instance, that chickens and eggs have been succeeding each other in one form or another literally for ever? My old friend - Mathematicians are quick to point out that they are familiar with many series which have no first term - such as the series of proper fractions between nought and one. What, they ask, is the first, that is the smallest, of these fractions? A billionth? A trillionth? Obviously not: Cantor's proof that there is no greatest number ensures that there is no smallest fraction. There is no beginning. (With a certain relish he notches his arrow into the bowstring.) But it is precisely this notion of the infinite series which in the sixth century BC led the Greek philosopher Zeno to conclude that since an arrow shot towards a target first had to cover half the distance, and then half the remainder, and then half the remainder after that, and so on ad infinitum, the result was, as I will now demonstrate, that though an arrow is always approaching its target, it never quite gets there, and Saint Sebastian died of fright.
(He is about to fire the arrow, but changes his mind, and turns back to the mirror.)
Furthermore, by a similar argument he showed that before reaching the half-way point, the arrow had to reach the quarter-mark, and before that the eighth, and before that the sixteenth, and so on, with the result, remembering Cantor's proof, that the arrow could not move at all!
Dotty (off): Fire!
(George fires, startled before he was ready, and the arrow disappears over the top of the wardrobe.)
Help - rescue - fire!
George (shouts furiously): Will you stop this childish nonsense! Thanks to you I have lost the element of surprise!

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