- Religion and Philosophy»
- The Role of Religion in History & Society
Does God exist? The Ontological argument
Is this book true?
What is the Ontological argument?
Ontology is the study of 'being' literally the study of "How can we know that we exist?" and you guessed it, with something like that it's more a philosophical argument than anything else.
The ontological argument is a philosophical argument for the existence of God using the concept of 'being' and as such it is the one argument that actually doesn't require any empirical evidence!
The Cosmological and Teleological arguments both require empirical evidence to be shown to be true, but the Ontological argument doesn't as it is philosophical and does not require observable data. That isn't that the argument is flawed but that it deals with the realm of Metaphysics, an area our present sciences are I'll equipped for!
How can we study just 'BEING'? How would we quantify existence? Can we quantify it?
Where both the Cosmological and Teleological arguments rely on empirical evidence and observation from the sciences the Ontological argument doesn't need them as it is a philosophical argument that uses the state of 'being' as it's starting point.
Both the Cosmological and Teleological arguments start with observation and draw inferences from the observations but the Ontological literally starts with a statement.
Anselm starts with the premise that it's actually impossible to deny that a 'Greatest possible being' exists and it's actually self contradictory to say he doesn't exist!
The ontological argument relies on a concept rather than empirical evidence and as such it works by relying on our understanding of concepts!
Anselm's classical argument
[Even a] fool, when he hears of … a being than which nothing greater can be conceived … understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding.… And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.… Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.
'That which no greater can be conceived' is the way he puts it. If you can't concieve of anything greater than that would be God
The argument works out in five points
- God is a conceptual truth. That he is the greatest possible being is a concept
- God is an idea in the Mind.
- To be the Greatest being that exists has to exist in reality and not just in the mind.
- We can't imagine one greater than God (that is a contradiction in terms as he is God and greater than God doesn't exist)
- Therefore God exists
Anselm argues that even though God is a 'concept' he also has to 'exist in reality' in that the concept has to be realistic and something for which there is no other explanation. We can conceive of a creature greater than ourselves, there are quite a few in nature that have some greater attributes, but no single one of them has all of the attributes greater than man, and none have an intellect greater than man's, yet one greater still must exist because we can conceive of him.
For Anselm even the atheist argues for the existence of God simply because they too can conceive of a being for which no greater can exist! His argument is that if God exists in the 'mind' (as a concept, even if given another name) then the concept must translate into reality!
The argument doesn't elaborate on whether God is personal or loving, just simply that he exists, Anselm however did see the concept as being that of the God of the Bible.
Understanding the question?
Right from the start there have been those who opposed the arguement. Some of them have brought out some good points about the weakness of the argument
Gaunilo of Maumoutier
A contemporary of Anselm and also a Monk (Both were Benedictine) argued that the argument fails as it allows us to imagine all kind of creatures (Unicorns and Leprechauns) existing that don't exist in reality. Gaunilo argued that man can only comprehend information that comes from our senses and not from deduction of a concept that can't be percieved by them.
Gaunilo fails to take into account though that much of what Anselm talks about to arrive at the concept of God can actually be quantified (eg Knowledge and Power can both be quantified in that 'perfect knowledge' or perfect 'power' literally means the absolute maximum that the universe can hold! and any being that had these attributes would literally be 'GOD'
Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)
Aquinas argued that God's existence is self evident in his creation and does not need deductions from claims about the concept. He argued that not everyone would understand the same thing about the concept of God!
Immanual Kant (1724-1804)
Kant argued that just because a being exists doesn't make it 'perfect' and that just because a being is conceived does not automatically mean it exists in reality (existence is not a property!)
The discussion has been going on for centuries (and will probably continue) with scholars on both sides weighing in and more modern developments taking place through scholars like Gödel writing his own version of the Ontological argument, but before we go onto that we need to look at Anselm's second argument.
Anselm's second version.
Anselm also produced a second version of the argument in which he doesn't rely so much on the original first premise, it is as follows
- By definition, God is a being than which none greater can be imagined.
- A being that necessarily exists in reality is greater than a being that does not necessarily exist.
- Thus, by definition, if God exists as an idea in the mind but does not necessarily exist in reality, then we can imagine something that is greater than God.
- But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God.
- Thus, if God exists in the mind as an idea, then God necessarily exists in reality.
- God exists in the mind as an idea.
- Therefore, God necessarily exists in reality.
(Copied from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) This argument changes things slightly in that God isn't 'Necessary' to existence but it is necessary that if he exists in theory then he exists in reality! (otherwise he wouldn't be God!)
For further reading
- Anselm: Ontological Argument for the God’s Existence | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Philosophy of Religion » St Anselm’s Ontological Argument
An explanation of St. Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God.
Modern Ontological arguments
Kurt Gödel, a mathematician and friend of Albert Einstein published a version of the Ontological argument that uses 'Modal logic' (A kind of logic developed by the scholastic scholars and loved even today by Mathematicians and Physicists).
The Modal system shows
- God is Omniscient and Rational
- Rational beings believe in existence.
Even a cartoon character believes in his or her existence, they are just mistaken about it in reality
- If God didn't exist then as an omniscient being he would know he didn't. That leads to a contradiction in point 2 so then it follows that he must then exist!
Like Anselm, Gödel doesn't really argue whether God is personal (he did believe that God was) but simply that God exists. Another piece of Gödel's work that reflects on the existence of God is his theorem in which he argues that it is possible for a thing to be 100% true but unprovable!
You decide, but read the original articles first!
- Gödel's ontological proof - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- God Exists, Says Math: Modal Logic and Software Prove Gödel's Logic
Does God exist? Modern software and math have verified Gödel's proofs of a being that expresses all positive properties.
So, the Maths is true but still no evidence???
Case for the creator
Have I proved anything?
The short answer is probably not! All I've tried to do is give some semblance of order in which the arguement for the existence of God from the state of 'being' has come about. The fact is that the Ontological argument is based on philosophy and not really on empirical evidence.
I'm not sure I would accept the statement made by the atheist presenter in the video on Godel's argument that all that was proved was the internal workings of the argument (but then again I'm a theist and would say that!) as to me even the internal workings would have to work in reality to be of any value.
We all come to a hub like this with our own ideas, and mostly we take those ideas away but it's my hope that as we read and comment on hubs like this that we can all learn something and each take away a piece that will help us understand both sides of the argument.
Hope you enjoyed it.