Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thinking of the Ontological Argument

The ontological argument, formulated in the 12th century by St. Anselm (click here), essentially states that since we can conceive of a perfect all-powerful being, God, He must exist, because nothing greater than God can be conceived. But if we conceive of God and He does not exist, we could conceive of something greater, namely a God who does exist. This hypothesis seems to lead to a logical absurdity: that there both is and is not something that can be imagined that is greater than God.

This can be formulated as such:

(1) God is that than which no greater can be conceived.
(2) If God is that than which no greater can be conceived then there is nothing greater than God that can be imagined.
Therefore:
(3) There is nothing greater than God that can be imagined.
(4) If God does not exist then there is something greater than God that can be imagined.
Therefore:
(5) God exists.1

So since we can't conceive of something greater than God, if He didn't exist we could conceive of something greater than Him. In that case, there is and isn't something that can be conceived that is greater than God. There is because we can conceive of a God who does exist, but at the same time there isn't because it’s impossible to imagine something greater than the greatest thing imaginable. This is a logical absurdity!

Now, my philosophy teacher brought up the concept of a yellow, striped, three-legged, talking cat in Japan and then asserted that it exists. But the problem I find with this is this animal is not something which something greater can be conceived. It isn't perfect or omnipotent. Since the only being that is perfect and all powerful is God, if we start conceiving of other things that have these attributes, they add nothing to the equation since that is what we began conceiving in the first place.

So, to finish, since not believing in a perfect being leads to a logical absurdity, such a being exists and this being is God.

1 http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/theistic-proofs/the-ontological-argument/st-anselms-ontological-argument/

4 comments:

Froggie said...

Well, no, you are wrong.
You are excluding a being tht is outside your understnding who may have even creted the God of which your mind can conceive.
One thing you did get right and that this rgument is pure philosophy and doesn't prove a thing.

bossmanham said...

You are excluding a being tht is outside your understnding who may have even creted the God of which your mind can conceive

You don't seem to understand the first premise. God is the being of which no greater can be. That means that nothing could create Him, because He is the greatest being, in fact, the necessary being. That means He never came into existence, meaning nothing needed to create Him.

Paul Brown said...

(1) The greatest cheese sandwich is that than which no greater can be conceived and exists in my hand right now (since a cheese sandwich that I cannot eat is clearly not the greatest and if a greater on could exist then it wouldn't be the greatest).
(2) If this sandwich is that than which no greater can be conceived then there is no sandwich greater than this that can be imagined.
Therefore:
(3) There is no sandwich greater than this sandwich that can be imagined.
(4) If this sandwich does not exist then there is something greater than this sandwich that can be imagined.
Therefore:
(5) I have a sandwich in my hand.

and yet, I do not have a sandwich in my hand. The main logical hole (for there are several) is that (4) defines part of being "greater" as existing and then infers existance from this, however I can imagine a great many things that do not exist and trying to state "existance" as one of their properties isn't going to cause them to pop out of the air.

Also, if God is the "greatest" (why is this term never defined, btw? Greatest mass, greatest energy, unbeatable at Scrabble? What are we discussing here?) thing that can exist then you are only left with deism, since God must be the entire universe and everything in it, otherwise there is a greater entity than God, to whit God + whatever parts of the universe do not constitute God. A compound entity, granted, but greater nonetheless. Following that line means that I am God, you are God and my aunt Sally (if I had one, although I can imagine one if that helps) is God. All at once. JHWH, Thor and Apollo are all out of luck.

bossmanham said...

Paul,

Just restating the greatest island rebuttal? By virtue of it being a cheese sandwich it precludes itself from being the greatest being. Islands and sandwiches don't have the ability to be the greatest things imaginable. Even if there is a greatest sandwich that exists we could conceive of something greater than the greatest sandwich. God for instance.

A being who is maximally great in every respect can be conceived of. But if the being doesn't exist, then we're still left with a logical contradiction.

Or if you prefer, we could go with Plantiga's formulation. It's premises are actually not very controversial at all and basically comes down to: if it's possible for a maximally great being to exist, that being exists necessarily. If it's not possible, that being does not exist.

1) It is possible that a maximally great being exits.
2) If it is possible that a maximally great being exits, then a maximally great being exits in some possible world.
3) If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
4) If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exist in the actual world. 5) If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
6) Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

You have to be somewhat familiar with modal logic to understand this. I'll leave that up to you.