Possibilities.jpg

The Ontological Argument

The Ontological Argument

 

Originally discovered by St. Anselm, this argument has been reformulated and defended by Alvin Plantinga, Robert Maydole, Brian Leftow, and others.(1) Plantinga’s version is formulated in terms of possible worlds. For those who are unfamiliar with the semantics of possible worlds, let me explain that by “a possible world” I do not mean a planet or even a universe, but rather a way reality might be. For example, if I say ‘the Prime Minister is a Prime number’, is not possible, because numbers are abstract objects and cannot possibly be identical with concrete objects like Prime Ministers in any world, and in this case, it is absurd! Like a square circle. However, if I say Joe Bloggs is King of England’ this could be possibly true in some possible world. I’ll present the version of the argument as stated by Plantinga, one of its most respected contemporary proponent God exists.

Typically, the Ontological argument isn’t well understood by detractors of the argument. They seem to take it as a charming joke, but not something to be taken seriously! The typical response from atheists is to think that, we, the theist is claiming the sheer act of thinking anything you wish and therefore it pops into existence by virtue of someone thinking of it! But this isn’t correct, as I hope to demonstrate in my defence of the argument! The argument, if successful, demonstrates; 1. The coherence of the notion and 2. If it is coherent, it must exist in some possible worlds and ultimately in the actual world.

After a some tweets with the ‘The Real Atheology Podcast’, I was shown the error in my premises, so I have tried to amend them to meet the claim I have tried to defend.

 

The argument goes as follows:

1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.

2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.

3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it is possible a maximally great being exists in every possible world.

4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it is possible it exists in the actual world.

5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then it is plausible a maximally great being exists.

6. Therefore, the notion a maximally great being exists is plausible.

 

Defence of the premises:

1.

1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.

Is it possible that a maximally great being exists? Now what do I mean by Maximally Great Being (MGB)? By this I mean Omniscient, Omnipotent and Moral Perfection. It seems to me that it is objectively better for a MGB to know all true facts, than say one that only knows their three times table for example. Similarly, it is objectively better for a MGB to have maximal power, than to be impotent and weak. Moreover, moral perfection is clearly a better quality than someone who is morally suspect. Surprisingly, premises 2-6 are relatively uncontroversial, so any objection, must be done at premise 1, for their objection to go through, they must maintain it is logically impossible for a MGB to exist. But I have never seen any objection that was successful. There have been numerous attempts to give a defeater to the argument by way of parodies E.g. A Maximally Great Island(MGI) or the Maximally Great Pizza (MGP) or sometimes the Flying Spaghetti Monster(FSM)figure1.1. As William Lane Craig puts it “...it remains the case that the concept of a maximally being is intuitively a coherent notion and, hence, it might be argued, possibly instantiated. In order for the ontological argument to fail, the concept of a maximally great being must be incoherent,  like the concept of a married bachelor...once one understands the meaning of the words “married “ and “bachelor,” that nothing corresponding to that concept can exist” (Craig2008)

So, do these parodies work? No! First let us look at the MGI. You should notice that in my definition of the MGB, I used qualitative notions, that is no physical descriptors. The

 

 

 

Figure 1.1. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM VENGANZA.ORG

 

parodies you should recognise are using quantitative notions, that is physical descriptions. So back to the MGI! There are no maximal qualities to an island, they are subjective, for example, what size should it be? You could always make it a little bit bigger to make it greater! What about palm trees? 1,2,500? And again, you can always have more! What about a mountain with a waterfall? Or a lake with fish, or a whole area filled with wild berries? Maybe you hate palm trees and prefer oak trees or something else internally! So, as we can see the parody fails, there can be no Maximally Great Island in all possible worlds.

But, what about the MGP? Again, there are no obvious maximal qualities to a pizza. For example, thin crust, thick crust, stuff crust? What about size, 10",12", bigger or smaller? What about toppings? Moreover, whatever you pick it is subjective to the consumer E.g. cheese,  you may only like mozzarella, or maybe you like four cheeses? What about pepperoni? Anchovies? What if you are vegetarian or vegan? Additionally, you could always add more cheese or pepperoni etc. to add to its greatness. Furthermore, by definition a pizza is designed to be eaten, so couldn’t exist in all possible worlds, it is absurd like the married bachelor.

Finally, what about the FSM? Again, there are no clear maximal qualities to assign to the FSM. From the Encyclopaedia Britannica they state ‘The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), which is said to be invisible, is depicted as a floating mass of spaghetti noodles with a large meatball on either side of its body and two centrally located eyestalks.’(2) There are several problems here, 1st Spaghetti and meatballs are created by Humans. 2nd they have a shelf life, that is they go off and spoil. 3rd there is no maximal amount of spaghetti, why only 2 meatballs? What if you are vegan or lactose intolerant? 4th Spaghetti and meatballs are to be eaten so couldn’t exist in every possible world. 5th Monsters are physical flesh and blood entities.  

A legendary animal combining features of animal and human form or having the forms of various animals in combination, as a centaur, griffin, or sphinx. any creature so ugly or monstrous as to frighten people. any animal or human grotesquely deviating from the normal shape, behaviour, or character. A person who excites horror by wickedness, cruelty, etc. any animal or thing huge in size.(3) 6th If, as objectors do say, the FSM is invisible or the Spaghetti and meatballs are special so they do not go off or can’t be eaten, are robbing the words of any meaning, so in essence aren’t talking about Spaghetti, meatballs or monsters! So in essence the FSM is absurd and isn’t a good parody, it is like a married bachelor.

Another objection I have come against,  is that it is equally true it isn’t possible a MGB exists. So they parody the argument:

1. It isn’t possible that a maximally great being exists.

2. If it isn’t possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.

3. If a maximally great being  doesn’t exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

4. If a maximally great being doesn’t  exists in every possible world, then it doesn’t exists in the actual world.

5. If a maximally great doesn’t exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being doesn’t exists.

6. Therefore, a maximally great being doesn’t exists.

This simply isn’t coherent, as they are claiming it is impossible for a MGB to exists, yet when pressed cannot say what is incoherent with the possibility of a MGB, that is, a MGB is as incoherent as a square circle or a married bachelor. They will simply say it is just as likely a MGB doesn’t exist.  Moreover,  it is incoherent to say ‘x’ exists and not exists at the same time, either there is an incoherence to the notion of ‘x' or not, if it isn’t incoherent,  it must be possible. 

Graham Oppy, widely considered one of the leading academic philosophic atheists in recent times, in his book ‘Arguing about gods' discusses this argument. To me, Oppy seems to argue a weak form of the argument, using language that both make it hard to understand and easier to defeat. He writes “On the one hand, the idea “being than which no greater can be conceived“ encodes the property of real existence – this is what the reductio argument establishes (if it establishes anything at all). On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to entertain the idea of a being than which no greater can be conceived – and to recognise that this encodes the property of real existence – without attributing real existence to a being than which no greater can be conceived...”(Oppy2006) well, no, even if we take his version of Plantinga’s Ontological Argument Oppy uses,

  1. God exists in the understanding but not in reality.

  2. Existence in reality is greater than existence in the understanding alone.

  3. A being having all God’s properties plus existence in reality can be conceived.

  4. A being having all of God’s properties plus existence in reality is greater than God. (From (1) and (2))

  5. A being greater than God can be conceived. (From (3) and (4))

  6. It is false that a being greater than God can be conceived.

  7. Hence, It is false that God exists in the understanding but not in reality.  (From (1), (5) and (6))God exists in the understanding.

  8. Hence God exists in reality.

The language used makes it less understandable,  but is equivalent to William Lane Craig’s rendition.  1.we establish it is possible that a MGB exists. 2. If it is possible a MGB exists,  it must exist in some possible word. 3. A MGB wouldn’t be maximally great if it only existed in only some possible worlds. 4. Therefore a MGB exists in all possible worlds. 5. If a MGB exists in all possible worlds, a MGB exists. 6. Therefore a MGB exists in the actual world.

Moreover, I do not accept his assumption that the notion, it is possible a MGB exists encodes the property of real existence, it is a propositional statement, so we are entertaining the notion, if it is possible a MGB exists, then you jump to premise 2 and so on and so forth to the conclusion. Alternatively, if it can be shown that it isn’t possible, the argument fails. He seems to be jumping to the conclusion and trying to sneak it into the premise to reject.

Let me be clear, I am not accusing Oppy of bad faith, from what I have read and seen on YouTube, his arguments are well thought through, fair and has given adequate time to discuss topics. Given his position and education, and the response form equally well educated people(6), it is probably me, that hasn’t understood his argument and if my musings ever get seen by him, I would love to discuss this topic with him some time. But as far as I can understand it, Oppy fails to give adequate force to question the validity of the argument.

2.

2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.

 

So,  if the atheist, concedes the 1st premise, it logically follows that a MGB exists in some possible world, or they are simply not understanding the argument. If it is possible that a MGB exists,  it must exist in some possible world.

3.

3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it is possible a maximally great being exists in every possible world.

If a MGB exists in only some possible worlds, it isn’t maximally great, unless it exists in every possible world, or they do not understand the argument! If a truly maximally great being exists it cannot be limited to some possible worlds.

 

4.

4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it is possible it exists in the actual world.

If premises 1-3 are true, a MGB exists in every possible world, it is possible they exist in the actual world.

5.

5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then it is plausible a maximally great being exists.

If premise 4 is true, a MGB exists in every possible world, then it is plausible a MGB exists.

6.

6. Therefore, the notion a maximally great being exists is plausible.

Therefore, it is plausible to accept a MGB exists.

 

 

References:

(1)Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974); Robert Maydole, “A Modal Model for Proving the Existence of God,” American Philosophical Quarterly 17 (1980): 135–42; Brian Leftow, “The Ontological Argument,” in The Oxford Handbook for Philosophy of Religion (ed. William J. Wainwright; Oxford University Press, 2005), 80–115.

(2)https://www.britannica.com/topic/Flying-Spaghetti-Monster

(3)https://www.dictionary.com/browse/monster

(4)Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics – William Lane Craig. 3rd ed. P 183-196

(5)Arguing About Gods – Graham Oppy. P 49-96

(6)https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/the-existence-of-god/arguing-successfully-about-god-a-review-essay-of-graham-oppys-arguing-about/