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Is the Modal Ontological Argument for God a Sound Proof?

Plantinga

Over the coming weeks, instead of exclusively posting articles asserting and defending a particular view, we'd also like to feature open-ended discussion posts that lay on the table a popular argument for or against God and then invite us to discuss it together, as a community, in the comment boxes.

Today, we'll begin with Alvin Plantinga's modal ontological argument for God. Plantinga is one of the most respected and influential philosophers today. He's the John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and has written groundbreaking books on the problem of evil, God and science, and philosophical arguments for God.

His modal ontological argument for God relies on modal logic, which deals with the logic of possibility and necessity. Watch the nine-minute video below for a summary of the argument:

The video presents the argument like this:

Premise 1: It is possible that God exists.
Premise 2: If it is possible that God exists, then God exists in some possible worlds.
Premise 3: If God exists in some possible worlds, then God exists in all possible worlds.
Premise 4: If God exists in all possible worlds, then God exists in the actual world.
Premise 5: If God exists in the actual world, then God exists.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

What's interesting about this argument is that it attempts to show that if God's existence is merely possible, then it would be necessary. Or to put it another way, the only way God couldn't exist is if his existence is impossible. Thus if Plantinga is right, any atheist who says "I don't believe God exists but it's at least possible" would, if he properly understands the argument and Plantinga's definition of God, be logically compelled to change his mind.

If the argument holds, it would also mean we can't say there's a 50%/50% chance of God existing, or that the odds are 10% or 90%. The only possibilities are 0% or 100%. Either God's existence is impossible (0%) or it's possible and therefore necessary (100%).

What do you think? Is the modal ontological argument for God a sound proof? If not, how does it fail?

Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

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  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    Brandon, thanks for the article. It's a great summary of the argument. I'm glad you point out that the argument cuts both ways. If there's one possible world where God exists, then God exists in all possible worlds (including this one), and if there's one possible world where God does not exist, then God does not exist in all possible worlds (including this one).

    The two places I think this argument can fail:

    (1) Premise 3 rests on a system of modal logic called S5. One of the consequences of S5 is that, if something is possibly necessary, then it's necessary. Not all philosophers accept S5 modal logic. I won't elaborate, both because I tend to accept S5 and because I'm not a philosopher, and so we should get a real philosopher to say what's potentially wrong with S5.

    (2) It risks confusing epistemic possibility and metaphysical possibility. This problem is illustrated by an example borrowed from Kripke's "Naming and Necessity" (which I highly recommend). Take Goldbach's conjecture, that every even integer greater than two can be expressed as the sum of two prime numbers. No one's proved or disproved it. So now I'm going to prove Goldbach's conjecture here and now, on this forum! Someone can award me the fields medal :D

    It's possible that someone will in the future prove Goldbach's conjecture is true.

    That means it's possible that Goldbach's conjecture is true.

    But Goldbach's conjecture is a claim in mathematics. If it's true, it's necessarily true.

    Therefore Goldbach's conjecture is possibly necessarily true.

    By S5, Goldbach's conjecture is necessarily true (it's true in the possible world where someone proves it to be true, so it's true in all possible worlds)

    I suspect no one is going to nominate me for the fields medal based on this proof. The reason is that it confuses epistemic possibility: "for all I know, there's a possible world where Goldbach's conjecture is true" and metaphysical possibility: "Goldbach's conjecture is true in some possible world."

    This means that indeed I can say that God is only 10% likely to exist, or 90% likely, or anywhere inbetween. What saying "it's 10% likely that God exists" translates to, for someone who accepts S5, is "for all I know, it's 10% likely that there's a possible world where God exists and 90% likely that there's some possible world where God does not exist."

    This seems to hollow out Plantinga's Modal Ontological Proof. I don't think it undermines the argument entirely. Plantinga's argument works best within his religious epistemology; if faith in God is properly basic, a fundamental perception that those gifted with the sensus divinitatis have of the world, then this along with S5 is good enough to show it's reasonable for those with this sense to believe in God, and possibly also that it's rational for those without this sense to believe in God, too. Additionally, Joshua Rasmussen has provided some good arguments for the metaphysical possibility of a necessary being. If these arguments are convincing to a person who believes in S5, then this suffices to prove that God exists.

    Finally, there's a very interesting version of the proof that connects God to the an objective concept of justice, called the Modal Ontological Proof from Divine Justice. You can find the argument here.

    I find the argument itself convincing, but I think it demonstrates the existence of Spinoza's God, or Nature. Something has to be necessarily true, something has to exist necessarily. I think it's the Cosmos. Or more fundamentally, that Principle like Gravity in which we live, and move, and are; as some also of your own poets said: "for we are also its offspring."

    • joseph3982

      Hi Paul,

      It would seem to me that Goldblach's lecture is the same error in thinking spoken about in the video. Goldblach's lecture's possibility of existence isn't a convincing counter-argument because it doesn't deal with the type of being which God is supposed to be.

      Plantinga's argument deserves some careful thought about what a necessary Being like God truly entails. I think that Plantinga's argument is similar in this respect to Anselm's (often completely misunderstood Ontological Argument). The idea here is that if you admit the possibility of a Perfect Being, that Being must necessarily exist. Many will think that is an unnecessitated jump in logic. If one were merely talking of a contingent being this would be true, as in the case of the Athiest's unicorn example. However, a perfect being includes by its very definition that it exist. Why is this the case? Isn't this just proofing God into the argument as Bob claims above? Not exactly. Plantinga wishes to make the point that even the possibility of a Perfect Being must eventually lead to the acknowledgement that such a Being is necessary. To admit of possibility in the case of the Necessary Being requires that one admit that beings existence must therefore follow. If this wasn't the case than the very question couldn't even be formulated. It all depends on perfection and what that means. The perfect Being if it is able to be thought of demands that by necessity that perfection spill over into ontological reality.

      For a better understanding of what Plantinga is aiming at I think it is helpful to study Anselm's Ontological Argument followed by Gaunilo's objection entitled "On behalf of the Fool." But don't stop there! Anselm replies to Gaunilo's objection and shows how his perfect island refutation doesn't work.

      The brilliance of this kind of argument is that if the Atheist is to deny God's existence than he must be able to prove that it is impossible for the perfect Being to exist. The minute the Atheist admits possibility of the perfect Being the game is up.

      I'm sure you will beg to differ. But I would challenge those interested in this question to dig deeper and think about the logical implications of perfection.

      • joseph3982

        Another quick note. If one talks of a perfect being but does not admit of the necessity of that being than by logical implication one should realize that one has ceased to speak of the Perfect Being. I think that was an important point that I left out above.

        That is why if the Athiest doubts the perfection of God (which includes necessity) than he isn't doubting God because the being he doubts isn't perfect--he is doubting something else.

        And hence to speak of perfection and what it entails logically must lead to the admission that it must exist.

    • D Foster

      Even as a theist, I'm very much in agreement about the second objection. I've seen defenders of the argument make this mistake many times.

      The argument is philosophically interesting, but, as an apologetic tool, it seems worthless without some defense of the ontological possibility of God's existence. So far, I've not seen any good defense of that.

  • Bob

    Seems unsound to me.

    P2 basically poofs God into existence since God is defined as necessary.

    • "Seems unsound to me. P2 basically poofs God into existence since God is defined as necessary."

      I don't think that's true. Premise 2 is perhaps the most uncontroversial of all the premises. In fact, it holds for any being in the world, not just God. You could just as easily say: "If it is possible that zebras exist, then zebras exist in some possible worlds."

      Premise 2 doesn't presume God necessarily exists, nor does it "poof" God into existence.

      • Bob

        Incorrect. Zebras are not necessary beings which is what caused the objection. God is defined as a necessary being a priori and as such cannot be used in the way Plantinga tries to use it without poofing it into existence as soon as he drops "it is possible" in the second phrase of P2 - If it is possible that God exists, then it is possible God exists in some possible worlds - would be a sound premise.

        • "Zebras are not necessary beings which is what caused the objection."

          But premise 2 has nothing to do with necessary beings. It simply affirms the common sense fact that if something possibly exists, then it exists in at least some possible worlds. I don't see why that's controversial...

          Even though it uses the word "God", premise 2 holds for any being, whether that being is perfect or imperfect, necessary or contingent.

          I actually think there are strong challenges against Plantinga's argument, but not against his second premise.

          • joseph3982

            Hi Brandon,

            What would you say is a weakness in Plantinga's argument? Other than the 50/50 critique you mention. Do you think the all or nothing nature of the argument is a weakness?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I'll let Brandon answer for himself, but just to see if I've learned something here.

            Is it because God in Plantinga's argument is a being, a feature of a possible/actual world? It would seem difficult to reconcile Plantinga's God and divine simplicity.

          • joseph3982

            Hmm....

          • "Is it because God in Plantinga's argument is a being, a feature of a possible/actual world? It would seem difficult to reconcile Plantinga's God and divine simplicity."

            Yes, that gets near the problem I mentioned above.

            I actually do think Plantinga's argument is airtight and effective at what it attempts: to prove the existence of a necessary, transcendent being. And while that should be enough to challenge any atheist or agnostic--since it's obviously incompatible with either worldview--it's not completely in harmony with the Thomistic/Aristotelian view of God.

          • joseph3982

            So in short it seems that you believe that Plantinga's argument treats being as an accident of God. And an accidental property is not a sufficient grounding for reality if God's simplicity and perfection are to be maintained. That's what I got from Feser's argument. I'll need to think more on that.

          • "So in short it seems that you believe that Plantinga's argument treats being as an accident of God. And an accidental property is not a sufficient grounding for reality if God's simplicity and perfection are to be maintained. That's what I got from Feser's argument. I'll need to think more on that."

            Precisely. That's my main issue, but along with Dr. Feser, I also have trouble with the whole idea of "possible worlds."

            Again, though, these are "meta" objections. I object to the sort of God Plantinga is trying to prove. I still think the argument successfully proves Plantinga's idea of God, namely the "theistic personalist" type of God. And that's still enough to refute atheism/agnosticism.

          • joseph3982

            Yeah you're not the only one who has a problem with possible worlds. That was a major subject of one of my classes at Franciscan. I can't pretend to grasp all the nuances of the arguments there.

            My personal white whale is the idea as argued by Thomas that God has no real relation with the world. Which I think is wrong. I have a hard time believing that God as creator has no real relation to me as his creature. I think the great challenge before Thomist metaphysics his how to account for real relation while preserving divine simplicity. Thomists think they have have but I would disagree. Its pretty amazing how philosophical problems are intertwined.

          • "What would you say is a weakness in Plantinga's argument? Other than the 50/50 critique you mention. Do you think the all or nothing nature of the argument is a weakness?"

            I have a few different quibbles with Plantinga's version, but the most significant is his construal of God as a being, albeit "maximally great" or "perfect, who has existence. I don't think either description is correct.

            God is not a being who can either exist or not exist, as if his existence were separate from his essence, but the act of being itself. His essence is to exist, which is subtly different than saying, "He necessarily exists."

            This view puts me in league with the so-called classical theists (e.g., Aquinas), as opposed to what Dr. Ed Feser labels the "theistic personalists", which would include Plantinga.

          • joseph3982

            Thank you for your reply. Food for thought. Not sure if I really agree that Plantinga's argument would necessarily separate being from God's essence. Thanks again!

          • "Thank you for your reply. Food for thought. Not sure if I really agree that Plantinga's argument does that but its food for thought. Thanks again!"

            You bet! Dr. Feser gets into more of the essence/property conundrum, and the problem with "possible worlds" from a Thomist/Aristotelian perspective, here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/06/god-and-possible-worlds.html

          • joseph3982

            Great posting. I really like the part in which he talks about the being of an impossible object like a square circle. That one's always a hard one to explain.

            "To be sure, it is only those ideas that do not imply a contradiction that can serve as archetypes in creation – even God cannot make a round square. But the reason is that what God creates are beings, and a “round square” is not any kind of being at all. (Cf. Summa TheologiaeI.23.3) A possible being is a possible being, something which “participates” in Being Itself (in the A-T sense rather than the Platonic one – see my discussion of the Fourth Way in Aquinas). Hence, again, possibility is grounded in God (qua Being Itself) rather than in anything outside Him."

          • Bob

            God is a necessary being by definition, therefore if God exists in any possible world - God exists in all possible worlds. That's great, but God is still being poofed into existence by premise 2 simply because God is defined as a necessary being. Just how these arguments work...

          • joseph3982

            So you think there isn't enough proof to define God as a necessary being? If he isn't necessary we aren't talking about God any longer. How do you propose we describe God while denying the attributes that make him perfect?

          • Bob

            God can be defined as a necessary being. However, when you then use God in this type of argument, you have simply defined God into existence, or poofed if you prefer.

          • joseph3982

            You don't see the contradiction here? To speak of God is to speak of the necessary being. Unless you want to speak of something other than God. It has nothing to do with defining something into existence but rather being faithful to the meaning of the definition of words themselves. The existence is required logically from an understanding of what perfection is. You're problem is not that we poof up God by definition but that you don't understand the implications of perfection.

          • Bob

            You are missing the point of my objection. I am not objecting to the definition of God. My objection is that P2 as stated necessarily defines God into existence. It really is as simple as that.

          • mepatri3

            You simply don't understand the argument, particularly in the definition of God.

        • Andrew Kelly

          Im resurrecting this thread as it's the first time I've seen it.

          I'm with you on this. If it is possible that god exists in some possible worlds, then by the definition of 'possible', isn't it also the case that it is possible God DOESNT exist in some possible worlds? By the same argument therefore god doesn't exist. The only thing to break this stalemate is that god is a necessary being.

          Another consideration is given by analogy. It is possible that out of all the possible notebooks that I have ever written in, I have written a number "2". However there is still the possibility that none of the books contain it... the only way the statement can be unconditionally true is if we are looking at ALL possible notebooks I have used, and if I must NECESSARILY have written a "2". Without both of these the argument collapses.

          Overall the argument just seems loony, particularly premise 3:

  • David Hardy

    1. The ontological argument is an a priori argument, which can only properly show that things are true by definition or outside of specific instances. For example, 2+2=4 does not require a specific example of adding 2 like objects to 2 other like objects and showing there are now 4 like objects. To move from the definition to assuming a specific instance (that is, God is defined as necessarily existing, which then is used to argue He does, which is a misuse of a priori arguments. This would appropriately challenge premise 3 on, since in my experience people using this sort of argument consider imagined worlds to be possible worlds.

    2. The ontological argument makes the false assumption that existing adds to the perfection of God. The argument assumes that an existing God would be greater through existing, because an imagined God remains contingent on the imagination. However, existence does not add a quality, it only shows whether the qualities and object imagined actually exist. Therefore, if God exists as understood in the argument, God is necessary. However, this does not prove that God exists, since it is, as mentioned before, a priori . This also challenges premise 3 on.

    As a side note, this argument as presented in the video makes the error of thinking that logical coherence makes the argument true. However, a logically sound argument based on a false premise will lead to false conclusions. The false premise in this case is that a priori reasoning can be used to show the actual existence of anything, including God.

    • joseph3982

      David,

      An imagined god fails to fulfill the definition of Perfect Being. So when you speak of a false assumption in Plantinga's proof regarding the idea that reality is greater than imagination I don't know how you think that is relevant to the discussion. A being that exists only in imagination couldn't have the properties necessary to demand its existence. And this is not the type of being Plantinga is talking about.

      However you are right in stating that "if God exists as understood in the argument, God is necessary." This is the whole crux of the question.

      • David Hardy

        An imagined god fails to fulfill the definition of Perfect Being.

        Yes, so we can know, a priori that the imagined concept of God is not God as meant by the definition. We can not then know that God actually exists, only that our imagined concept of God is not God.

        However you are right in stating that "if God exists as understood in the argument, God is necessary."

        Yes, and the argument does not, and cannot, speak to whether God exists, only what will be true if God does exist. It would allow us to judge whether something we are considering that exists fits the qualities of God, not whether it exists in the first place.

        • joseph3982

          I think that we agree here. Plantinga's argument is designed to show that if God is a perfect being that logically he must exist. I think Anselm's argument deals more with why the perfect being as proposed by Christian Theism must exist.

          • David Hardy

            Plantinga's argument is designed to show that if God is a perfect being that logically he must exist

            I am afraid we do not, unless you do not think the ontological argument is a valid argument to prove the existence of God. My position is as follows:

            1. A priori arguments cannot be used to prove something specific exists.

            2. The ontological argument is an a priori argument.

            3. Therefore, the ontological argument cannot prove that anything specific exists.

            If you disagree, please either provide other examples where an a priori argument proves the specific existence of something, or show that the ontological argument is not a priori . The "unicorn" challenge, and others like it, are meant to highlight my first premise, stated above.

            EDIT: Corrected an error in blockquoting.

          • joseph3982

            Let me clarify. I think you can have an a priori argument for God's existence. What I meant to say is that it seems to me that the emphasis of Plantiga's argument is a little bit different from Anselm's. Anselm's arguement, which I think works if properly understood seeks to show the existence of a Perfect Being. Plantinga's does do this as well I guess but it seems to me the emphasis is a bit different in that he wishes to show once you admit possibility you must admit of reality. The two arguments are pretty similar actually.

            But to answer your challenge. Anselm's argument fits the bill for what you are asking for I think.

            Although perhaps I err bringing up Anselm in a discussion of Plantinga's ideas.

          • David Hardy

            But to answer your challenge. Anselm's argument fits the bill for what you are asking for I think.

            Outside of God, whose existence cannot be confirmed independently, can you provide any a priori argument that proves the specific existence of anything else?

          • Kenisaw Landis

            Why cant a god's existence be confirmed independently? Every single god ever claimed to exist interacted with the universe, which means evidence was left behind...

          • David Hardy

            My apologies for the delayed response, but I will try to answer you here.

            The main issue, as I see it, is that every proof offered in this way, that is evidence purported to be left behind by God or a god outside of subjective accounts, does not appear to have any definitive signs that it is such. Some people point to beauty, or serendipity, or the success of a particular religion, but I hear these used to support a wide range of theological positions. These proofs support each position equally convincingly, which is to say that they are no more supportive of any one position than the others. In addition, there are convincing atheistic explanations for these as well. That does not prove any of these positions are wrong, but rather that the independent evidence does not seem to point to a particular god, and does not necessarily point to any god at all. If you are aware of independent evidence that does clearly points to a particular theological position, I would be grateful if you could point me to it, so I may examine it and assess if I agree that it necessarily points to that position.

          • Kenisaw Landis

            I would disagree that those proofs support each position equally, unless one says that it does not support them at all. The existence of something doesn't prove how or why it came to be in my mind. "Beauty" is just a human concept, and has no empirical value. Nothing is inherently "beautiful". I agree that there is no definitive sign of any data being the result of a godly action. It would seem that the only rational deduction to make at this time is that there haven't been any such actions...

          • David Hardy

            I would disagree that those proofs support each position equally, unless one says that it does not support them at all.

            I would agree that this is a valid point.

            "Beauty" is just a human concept, and has no empirical value.

            It does, however, demonstrate evolutionary value, since many people rate as beautiful landscapes that would be valuable territories, and qualities typically rated as beautiful in people (such as symmetry in facial features) indicate resilient genetics in regards to non-adaptive mutation. Beauty also is culturally generated, and helps people identify and maintain common identity in social groups.

            I agree that there is no definitive sign of any data being the result of
            a godly action. It would seem that the only rational deduction to make
            at this time is that there haven't been any such actions...

            This seems to be the case, but I remain open to the possibility that I have simply not been exposed to such data.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            This is a bit of an aside, but did you mean to suggest that bilateral symmetry is non-adaptive? The argument has certainly been made -- and it seems highly plausible to me -- that there is a survival advantage in being able to move in (more or less) straight lines rather than running or flying around in circles (like a fly with one wing). That would seem to explain our love of facial symmetry, etc.

            At the same time, it's interesting that we aren't purely drawn to simplistic symmetries. Slight asymmetries (like hair parted on one side, or like the famous Cindy Crawford mole) seem to have some allure. We could indulge in some armchair evolutionary biology theorizing that might plausibly explain that as well. Maybe something to do with vulnerability. Maybe something to do with surprise and newness.

            In any case, it seems to me that beauty is rooted in something that is external to us. Proximately, that "external something" may be the logic of natural selection. Ultimately (though I generally accept the explanations at the level of evolutionary biology), I think there is also a deeper level of explanation.

            Personally, I attach a lot of meaning to the fact that we both love symmetry and also love that which breaks symmetry. We love crystalline structures, but we don't want to be trapped by them. Complete symmetry, complete order, is death. To be alive and free is to be breaking symmetries. But here I am rambling quite a bit ...

          • David Hardy

            This is a bit of an aside, but did you mean to suggest that bilateral symmetry is non-adaptive?

            I am not sure how my post suggested this, but no, I did not intend to do so.

            At the same time, it's interesting that we aren't purely drawn to simplistic symmetries.

            Some asymmetry may be drawing, but certainly not all, and I would suspect that, depending on the asymmetry, one could identify reasons for the draw, although I would add that a person's view of beauty is not just genetic -- culture can also play an important role.

            In any case, it seems to me that beauty is rooted in something that is external to us.

            Based on your description of what you mean by "external", I would generally accept the position, but with the caveat that evolution describes a process, and our appreciation of beauty might be described as one outcome within that process, distinct from the process itself.

            We love crystalline structures, but we don't want to be trapped by them.
            Complete symmetry, complete order, is death. To be alive and free is to
            be breaking symmetries.

            Drawing on what seems to be the spirit of this position, I would agree that, psychologically, many well ordered beliefs and perceptions can constrain as much as guide and help if those holding them cannot break beyond the limits assumed within them. Likewise, being able to step out of one's own view and into the view of another has many benefits in finding common ground that might not otherwise be apparent.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks for clarifying and sorry for the mis-read.

            and our appreciation of beauty might be described as one outcome within that process, distinct from the process itself.

            I am pretty sure I agree with this.

            The questions that then come to my mind are: was our love of beauty somehow "in the cards" from the very beginning? Is the process of natural selection in some sense likely to produce a love of beauty? Does our love of beauty arise from something intrinsic in the structure of the universe? And if so, isn't beauty then more than "just a human concept"? Isn't it the case that beauty shapes us, and not the other way around?

            EDITED to remove redundancies that were unnecessarily repetitious redundancies :)

          • David Hardy

            Thanks for clarifying and sorry for the mis-read.

            Conversations through the internet can make misinterpreting rather easy, when words are stripped of tone, facial expression and body language, not to mention significant gaps between possible clarifications. On the other hand, sometimes very interesting thoughts arise from what might start as misunderstanding.

            As to the questions you ask, I do not know if beauty was likely, or intrinsic. Perhaps it is, or perhaps some other function could achieve the same value for living creatures, and the arising of life may or may not have been inevitable. I will, however, respond to one question in particular:

            Isn't it the case that beauty shapes us, and not the other way around?

            I would say that beauty may or may not shape a person. Some people go through life seeing little beauty in anything. However, in my experience, to find beauty in things, and to learn to bring out the beauty in others, are abilities that can grow with practice and are well worth the effort. They can help a person rise above struggles, inner and outer, which might otherwise trap that person. Often it is far more effective to work towards something positive that define oneself in reaction to things that are negative.

          • Kenisaw Landis

            "It does, however, demonstrate evolutionary value, since many people rate as beautiful landscapes that would be valuable territories, and qualities typically rated as beautiful in people (such as symmetry in facial features) indicate resilient genetics in regards to non-adaptive mutation. Beauty also is culturally generated, and helps people identify and maintain common identity in social groups."

            I agree that there is an evolutionary component, but attractiveness in breeding would still be subjective.

            "This seems to be the case, but I remain open to the possibility that I have simply not been exposed to such data."

            As do I, but until that happens I won't assume it's existence is plausible...

          • Kenisaw Landis

            None exists that I know of. Given the claims throughout human existence of such creatures existing, there should be oodles of empirical data to study, yet no one can provide anything. The silence, as they say, is deafening...

    • existence ≠ necessary existence

      Kant's argument against existence being a predicate does not apply to necessary existence.

      • David Hardy

        So, are you arguing that a priori reasoning in regards to God, in contrast to every other application that we can actually verify, is somehow sufficient to show a specific example of existence? Or do you have other examples of a priori reasoning demonstrating something necessarily existing that we can actually verify independently?

        • No, I'm much fuzzier on the interplay between the a priori and the a posteriori. Here's what I have said recently; I'm not sure I can state it better, yet:

          LB: The only answer I can surmise to the above is that the a posteriori (evidence viewed through grid of theory) and the a priori have a rich interaction which is generally ignored in debates between atheists and theists. This mirrors the debate between evidentialism and fideism (aka presuppositionalism) in Christian epistemology. I happen to like Francis Schaeffer's approach, which can be seen at WP: Francis Schaeffer § Apologetics: "he walked a middle path between evidentialism and presuppositionalism". I think this can be construed as the a priori and a posteriori interacting in a mysterious way—but a way which can be explored.

          Indeed, this is one of the most interesting areas of my personal research these days: how does fuzzy/​intuitive thinking interface with analytical/​formal thinking? [...] It might interest you to know that there is the SEP article Vagueness, which seems to be a field of philosophy which was suppressed by modern philosophy (now, postmodernism has considerable influence in philosophy, although it is important to distinguish the philosophical form from the vulgar form).

          I also have hesitations based on a rejection of univocity of being; see Brad S. Gregory's 2008 No Room for God?, as well as the first chapter of his The Unintended Reformation.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer
    • joseph3982

      A God like this would be a God that operates outside consistent logical laws. So that kind of God would be greater? Hmm...

      Sounds like a restatement of the question "Could God create a rock so heavy he couldn't lift it?"

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        I wonder if there's a possible world where everyone relaxes because it's just a joke. ;)

        • joseph3982

          Touche!

          • joseph3982

            Interesting thought here. Do you think the existence of humor could be a possible proof of God's existence or at least of the spirit? It would seem to me laughter is one of greatest proofs of the divine.

          • Lazarus

            Great point, and if you want to read a very solid argument for exactly that have a look at Fr. James Martin's book "Between Heaven and Mirth".

        • "I wonder if there's a possible world where everyone relaxes because it's just a joke. ;)"

          There is no such possible world :)

          • Mike

            lol

        • Redsox_239

          LOL, just scrolling by and this was really funny

  • The problem with this argument is that it is solely in the mode of logic, having no existential content or relevance.

    We know what entities are through experience. Comparisons such as greater or ‘Maximally Great’ in the entities within our experience refer to characteristics or categories shared by multiple entities, such as mass or some biological property. Such comparisons can only be made among things known to exist.

    There is no possible definition of a logical being, i.e. a logical construct, which is maximally great except in some category that is self-limiting. Being or existence is not a categorical property.

    Consequently, the modal ontological argument is a logical argument, but not an ontological argument in the sense of having any existential relevance.

    No philosophical argument for the existence of God, can be initiated with a definition of God, because God is not within human experience. Philosophically, the definition and existence of God are initially known simultaneously in a single conclusion, not in a premise.

    • JohnD

      "Philosophically, the definition and existence of God are initially known simultaneously in a single conclusion, not in a premise."

      Can you elaborate?

      • The argument is this:
        Typically, we know the nature of an entity through personal experience of its existence. Everything about the entities within our experience is sufficiently explained by what they are, e.g. a dog.
        What is not explained about any such entity is its existence, because its nature is indifferent to existence and distinct from its existence. (The extinction of dogs, would not change the nature of dog.) There must be a being, not within the scope of our experience, which does not have this fatal flaw that renders the existence of the entities within our experience inexplicable in themselves. The nature of this being must be to exist. Such a being would explain its own existence and the existence of all the entities within our experience.

        Both the existence and the nature of this being initially come
        to light in this singular conclusion.

        Prior to the conclusion, a being whose nature is to exist, would have no meaning, within the context of our experience. Just as a necessary being, or a maximally great being, so too, a being whose nature is to exist can have no meaning in a premise within an argument, which leads to the conclusion of its existence. An argument, whose terms have no meaning, may be in accord with the form/mode of a logical argument, but the argument has no existential/ontological relevance.

        • Lazarus

          I unconditionally agree with your argument, but something just struck me as a possible response to such argument as I read your post (see also my other post here on my view on the ontological argument).

          Would your argument be affected at all if we counter it by pointing out that this is exactly why the incarnation had to take place? That Jesus gave, or even gives, us that personal experience, or at least makes it possible? From there argue the Trinity, and you have destroyed that specific objection.

          Or am I cheating?

          • As personal experience, I mean what we know based on animal sensation. In the Catholic view, grace builds upon nature. It does not substitute for nature or, in this case, philosophy. I contend that the ‘Catholic peasant’, who believes in a creator, does so based on a philosophical argument. It is just that he hasn’t explicitly formulated that argument, in which
            the peasant concludes that there must be a being who explains its own existence as well as all the things within his experience, none of which is ontologically explicable in itself.

  • David Nickol

    Here's an interesting passage from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry Ontological Arguments quoting Plantinga himself on what he believes his argument accomplishes:

    Plainly enough, if you do not already accept the claim that there is an entity which possesses maximal greatness, then you won't agree that the first of these arguments is more acceptable than the second. So, as a proof of the existence of a being which posseses maximal greatness, Plantinga's argument seems to be a non-starter.

    Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Plantinga himself agrees: the “victorious” modal ontological argument is not a proof of the existence of a being which possesses maximal greatness. But how, then, is it “victorious”? Plantinga writes: “Our verdict on these reformulated versions of St. Anselm's argument must be as follows. They cannot, perhaps, be said to prove or establish their conclusion. But since it is rational to accept their central premise, they do show that it is rational to accept that conclusion” (Plantinga 1974, 221).

    I think when most of us who are not confirmed atheists say we believe it is possible that God exists, we are not saying that a "being" such as conceived of, and defined by, Anselm, or Aquinas, or Plantinga exists. Their definitions of God (as I see it, and I am not a philosopher by any means) are "rigged" to make God a being who must exist.

    • Mike

      so am i right to think that you unconfirmed atheists think that it is possible that God exist IF God is conceived of as some creature maybe like us only MUCH MUCH smarter and infinitely more powerful but DO NOT think that God is possible if "he" is conceived of as "subsistent being" in the way Aquinas reasons to him?

      • David Nickol

        so am i right to think that you unconfirmed atheists

        I think it is an unwarranted assumption to conclude that those who are "not confirmed atheists" are unconfirmed atheists!

        I would imagine that most people who are not "confirmed theists," and who think that God may or may not exist, do not have an elaborate philosophical definition of God, just as probably most "confirmed theists" don't think much (if at all) about the God of philosophers such as Aquinas and Plantinga.

        I often think that the God of "everyday piety" and of the Old and New Testament is rather difficult to reconcile with the God of philosophy, and I think probably most people who pray think of God as a "heavenly father" than as "subsistent being" or a necessary being or an unmoved mover.

        If theists can believe in God while for all practical purposes ignoring the God of philosophy, then atheists can disbelieve in God doing the same. I don't see why it is acceptable to have "simple faith" that God exists and be totally ignorant of philosophy and theology, but why an atheist is supposed to have mastered all of philosophy and theology (or at least that dealing with God's existence) before he or she can express disbelief in God.

        • Dan Easler

          Well said Sir. I am a theist and a Catholic, but I wholly in concurrence with your thinking: the God of Philosophy and that of Common Piety are difficult to reconcile. The matter is more complicated than an exists/doesn't exist dichotomy. Part of the solution is within Catholicism itself, which precisely means being in a relation to a Personal Absolute. In other words, they are difficult to reconcile, but I think not irreconcilable.

          Where does it leave the "Catholic Peasant"? Faith is different from Knowledge. Faith must certainly have an object to have faith in, a concept that is, but in the Catholic system moral living takes preeminence over certain knowledge. Faith in fact directs our action when we are quite uncertain. Faith is not, as some protestants might have you think, an intellectual or emotional conviction of God's existence or Christ's status as "personal savior". Faith is an entrusting of oneself despite uncertainy. It is when we are most uncertain that we are most capable of a great act of faith, just as when we are most afraid we are most capable of an act of courage. Faith in transcendent Good, Justice, Beauty... Mercy --- these are a basis for action. The Catholic God is the substantial "embodiment" or Perfection of all such transcendent order.

          An "atheist" who acts out of Faith in Justice or Truth, and most especially out of Self-sacrificial Love, will be in pretty good shape when he stands before the Almighty for Judgement (in the Catholic view).

          • Andrew Y.

            It is when we are most uncertain that we are most capable of a great act of faith

            It is when we are most holy that we are most capable of great acts of faith. Only opportunity proceeds from uncertainty; capability proceeds from grace.

          • Dan Easler

            I think that you are right, of course, but that would be introducing a whole other element into the discussion that would require its own justification.

          • Lazarus

            I take it, Dan, that you have however managed to reconcile those "two Gods"?
            I sometimes wonder if we are not just seeing the same God from different angles. Reading certain books, certain authors, who have the skill of showing how those "Gods" are really just one God often make me doubt that original distinction that I drew. Bishop Robert Barron's excellent new "Exploring Catholic Theology " is one such experience.

          • Dan Easler

            I would say that to my own satisfaction, enough to make an act of faith, I have intellectually reconciled the two, but there are certain problems which do not admit of an easy answer, problems that a lifetime of study may or may not grant 'satisfaction', problems such as God and Time, not to mention the Trinity. That is part of my point previously, that though we seek a degree of certainty and knowledge of God, moral living is more important. Intellectual knowledge is of great help for some of us so disposed to make an act of faith, and that is not the only advantage, furthermore knowledge is good for its own sake... But is the "Catholic Peasant" who prays her Rosary 'worse off' just because she doesn't worry about whether God's immutability affects whether or not He 'hears' her prayer in time?

          • Lazarus

            I often envy those "peasants" their simple, beautiful faith.

          • VicqRuiz

            the God of Philosophy and that of Common Piety are difficult to reconcile

            Quite right, Dan. I suspect that most atheists start out by rejecting the God of "common piety" and that but a limited number take the further step of carefully and thoughtfully rejecting the God of philosophy.

            Which is why the strategem of some Catholic apologists - "let's prove the God of philosophy first, and work our way round to introducing the rosary later" - rarely wins.

        • Mike

          i agree with you...i think.

          but from your comment it seemed like you were saying that you think that a theisitic personalist god is more likely than the God of aquinas.

          • Dan Easler

            I think you are misinterpreting Aquinas if you think that he didn't argue for a Personal deity. My thrust has been that the God of the Philosophers and the God of Common Piety are NOT irreconcilable. A mountain may be approached from opposite sides, but there is only one summit. It may even appear unassailable from one facing, but a route opens from another.

          • Mike

            i agree.

  • David Nickol

    Why the quote from Colossians?

  • Dan Easler

    I'll list first what I claim to be the most powerful of my objections:

    This argument is confusing two different modes of being: possible and actual. Saying that God exists in a possible world can never get you to God existing in an actual world. A God, or Absolute/Perfect Being, that "exists" in a possible world exists not as an actual being but as something like an idea.

    God's Necessity does not help this argument whatsoever. Possible "necessity" and Actual "necessity" are still in different modes of being. I am not familiar with "S5 modal logic", but based on this argument I'm going with: BUNK.

    The video creator claims that only premise 1 can be attacked and this is just ridiculous. I would attack this argument on multiple fronts.

    My second objection, against Premise 3, follows:

    If God "exists" (see above) in a possible world why does that exclude the possibility of imagined worlds that do not include the existence of an Absolute/Perfect (or M.G.B. a silly and unconventional name). Many people have imagined possible worlds -- deistic worlds, materialistic worlds, pantheistic worlds, etc. -- that do not include a Perfect Being although they may include some kind of Absolute Being. ("necessary" is a confusing term because it has different senses, for example I could say in one sense that because I exist it is necessary that I exist. This is obviously a different sense than necessary meaning non-contingent, which is why I prefer Absolute...)

    We may be able to point out flaws in all the imagined worlds I listed above, but I propose a different possibility: Nothing at all. Given that there is being, a self-evident truth from experience, we might be able then to prove that there is Absolute being. But what if there were simply no being? Nothing at all? Is there anything intrinsically impossible about nothing? Then there "exists" a possible "world" in which there is no God. Given that there is being or given that there is God, then it is certainly necessary that there is Absolute Being. But to define God into existence is beggingthe question in the worst kind of way.

    There is also the distinction between possible and potential which might be relevant here or help to clarify what I mean. An imagined world that is possible, for example one in which I never existed, is not problematic at all, but it is not a potential world. The potential for that world to exist ceased to be when I came to be.

    Edit: distinguished between first and second objections.

  • Dan Easler

    One more thing. If Theists can't even agree on an argument (Aquinas was among the great minds that objected to the ontological argument) then its value is highly suspect at least. The question at some point we have to ask is: How much time are we willing to spend on this? It might be better left on the shelf as an intellectual novelty.

  • The argument is valid. But then so is the opposite:

    1. It is possible that God doesn't exist.
    2. If God exists in some possible world, then God exists in all possible worlds.
    3. (from 1, with ⋄X → ¬◻¬X) It is false that God exists in all possible worlds.
    4. (modus tollens on 2+3) God does not exist in any possible world.
    5. (from 4, with ¬⋄X → ◻¬X → ¬X) God does not exist in the actual world.

    [this nice concise version is from Andrew G at OTS, but you can find other versions all over which explain the steps in more words]

    It might seem strange that the proof works equally well at "proving" the existence and the non-existence of a god.

    As others here have already pointed out, that strangeness is because of how the proof is misused. "Possible" means one thing in ordinary English and quite another thing in modal logic. When the modal ontological argument is aimed at non-logicians, it gets all its force from their unawareness that "possible" has a peculiar, specialized meaning in this context. The argument is a trick played on the unwary.

    • James Chastek

      Hi Ryan,

      This is my favorite parody of the argument on the thread. Still, AndrewG's #1 has a problem that Plantinga's doesn't. If it is possible that God does not exist, this is either because God is a contingent being or because he is impossible, but the first is false and the second begs the question.

      • If it is possible that God does not exist, this is either because God is a contingent being or because he is impossible, but the first is false and the second begs the question.

        Andrew G suggested to me to point you to his writeup since he actually addressed the objection you raised.

        As for myself, it looks to me that your objection relied on the ordinary meaning of "it is possible that", overlooking the possible worlds semantics of the modal logic. It's not really an objection to say that a logical deduction "begs the question". Of course it does: with logic you only get out what you put in. So you likely also got tripped up by the tricky definition switch.

        It might be easier to see if we make #1 less concise:
        "It is possible for a world to exist which contains no entity of which it can be truly said that the entity exists in all possible worlds."

        For Plantinga's version:
        "It is possible for a world to exist which contains an entity of which it can be truly said that the entity exists in all possible worlds."

        They're both equally valid from the standpoint of modal logic. Whichever one is true is true of all possible worlds and therefore true of the actual world (assuming that we have good reason to believe possible worlds semantics and modal logic accurately describe how the real world works). Whichever one of the two is true, the conclusion "begs the question" because it was logically contained in the original statement. Plantinga's point was not to prove that a god exists, but to prove that his theism was not illogical.

  • Andrew Y.

    This argument does not prove the existence of God—only the existance of an entity held to be necessary. Replace the word "God" with "Numbers" or "Absolute Truths" and you end up with the same conclusion (the entity exists). So in the end all it really confirms is that the definition of God includes the property of being necessary.

  • Lazarus

    In my view, by far the best summary of the ontological arguments can be found in Robert Maydole's comprehensive essay in "The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology". He deals with just about all of the various ontological arguments that are around, including Plantinga's.

    Maydole's (a philosophy professor at Davidson College) concludes that the argument by Plantinga (and certain others) does not necessarily beg the question, but he finds the argument "particularly vulnerable to being refuted by parodies." In this sense a parody is a structurally similar argument but with an absurd conclusion, as we have seen some examples of here already.

    Maydole then submits his own Modal Perfection Argument, a sixteen step deduction of a three part premise. I would suggest that if one wishes to use the ontological argument as a serious contender in apologetics you would be best served by the MPA.

    So, is Plantinga's argument a "sound proof"? Maydole shows that it is not all that sound, and that there are other, better contenders in this category. Even so, Maydole himself concludes that

    "Ontological arguments are captivating. They convince some people but not others. Our purpose here was not to convince but simply to show that some ontological arguments are sound, do not beg the question, and are insulated from extant parodies. Yet good logic does convince sometimes. Other times, something else is needed."

  • Tim Dacey

    Consider a more basic reason about why (for me at least) this argument doesn't seem right.

    If a great many Philosophers and equally informed epistemic peers are satisfied with Plantinga's argument, and I am not, then I have at least some conciliatory pressure to figure out why I don't accept his argument (e.g., am I just not understanding one of the premises?). Though, it is not the case that a great many Philosophers and equally informed epistemic peers find Plantinga's argument valid (in fact, quite the opposite), and it seems that I understand his premises. Therefore, I have good epistemic reasons to reject his argument even if (as the narrator suggests) the argument is impossible to refute (and even if I don't know *exactly* where the argument is invalid)--there just seems to be something intuitively wrong with the argument. In fact, Plantinga's own case for 'warrant' gives us good reasons to reject his Modal argument. This 'higher-order' evidence cannot be ignored

    I am somewhat suspicious of all necessary being arguments, not so much that I think they are false (they do seem to give me good reasons to believe in a necessary being) - but they don't give me any good epistemic reasons to believe in a particularly Christian conception of God. That's what we Christians want, right?

    "There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself...as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist!" - CS Lewis The Great Divorce

    • "If a great many Philosophers and equally informed epistemic peers are satisfied with Plantinga's argument, and I am not, then I have at least some conciliatory pressure to figure out why I don't accept his argument (e.g., am I just not understanding one of the premises?). Though, it is not the case that a great many Philosophers and equally informed epistemic peers find Plantinga's argument valid (in fact, quite the opposite), and it seems that I understand his premises. Therefore, I have good epistemic reasons to reject his argument even if (as the narrator suggests) the argument is impossible to refute (and even if I don't know *exactly* where the argument is invalid)--there just seems to be something intuitively wrong with the argument."

      Hey, Tim! Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You seems to be saying this:

      1. I don't find any specific problems with Plantinga's argument

      2. Many philosophers disagree with Plantinga's argument

      3. Therefore, I should reject the argument

      Unfortunately, the conclusion doesn't follow. You shouldn't reject an argument unless you have good, rational reasons to reject it. And "lots of philosophers disagreeing" doesn't meet that criteria.

      A few weeks back, Dr. Michael Augros answered a similar objection here at Strange Notions: "Is a Proof Bad If It Fails to Convince Everyone?". You might enjoy reading that.

      If the argument appears sound to you, and you want to act rationally, you should accept it (and thus believe God exists) until evidence compels you otherwise by showing the argument to be unsound. It shouldn't matter whether some (or many) other thinkers disagree with the argument's conclusion. Their disagreement, perhaps, may be rooted in personal or emotional discontent wholly separate from the argument. They could have non-rational reasons for rejecting it.

      "I am somewhat suspicious of all necessary being arguments, not so much that I think they are false (they do seem to give me good reasons to believe in a necessary being) - but they don't give me any good epistemic reasons to believe in a particularly Christian conception of God. That's what we Christians want, right?"

      Eventually, of course, but like almost all arguments for God, this one doesn't pretend to take someone all the way from atheist to Christianity. It simply aims to prove some basic facts and attributes about God, namely the fact that some sort of transcendent, "maximally great" being exists! Sure, that's only a slice of the Christian God, but it's a slice too big for most atheists and agnostics to accept.

      • David Nickol

        Unfortunately, the conclusion doesn't follow. You shouldn't reject an argument unless you have good, rational reasons to reject it. And "lots of philosophers disagreeing" doesn't meet that criteria.

        Surely to someone outside a particular field (such as philosophy), what is a minority view and a majority view within that particular field ought to count for something. For example, it has been argued here that the vast majority of historians believe in the existence of the historical Jesus. When presented with "mythicist" arguments against the existence of the historical Jesus, are we all obliged to become professional historians, read Richard Carrier, and decide for ourselves?

        Are we obliged to study modal logic so that we can decide for ourselves wither Plantinga's "proof"—couched in terms of modal logic, which many of us have barely even heard of, if that—is convincing? As I have argued before, from the viewpoint of believers, the simply faith of a peasant woman, ignorant of all theology and all philosophical proofs, is to be celebrated. Yet in order to be an atheist in good faith, it is necessary to have a mastery of all philosophy and all theology so that one can disbelieve and refute them all and be an atheist with integrity.

        Why are those who disbelieve in a God required to know theology backwards, forwards, and inside out, while those who believe in a God be worthy of praise for (or nearly for) their ignorance?

        Suppose an atheist devised a proof of the nonexistence of God that required years of study to understand but was considered conclusive by a majority of the people who studied it all the way from beginning to end. Would a theist be obliged to put in the time to study and refute it before he or she could continue to claim being a theist?

        • Rob Abney

          To me, it seems that the difference is that the simple peasant doesn't ask for more evidence but the atheist does. A common atheist objection is that there is no convincing proof of God, that sounds like he is saying "I'm looking for proof if it exists".

          • David Nickol

            That is not how I see it. Many theists are perfectly happy with the simple peasant who is religious. But they seem to believe that a simple peasant who is not religious, if asked why he or she doesn't believe in God, must justify unbelief by refuting all the philosophical proofs.

            Suppose some great atheist thinker were to go around to religious peasants making the case against God, and they were to say, "I don't need to understand all those arguments. I just know he exists." They would be considered people of faith for not taking a bunch of intellectual arguments seriously enough to try to refute them. But suppose a great religious thinker were to go around to atheist peasants and try to convince them of the existence of God. If the peasants responded, "Don't try to fill our minds with all those fancy ideas. We just don't believe in God," they'd be considered good candidates for hell by religious people.

            Of course, none of this is particularly mysterious. Religious people generally assume they are right—even obviously right—and everyone who disagrees with them is deficient in some manner.

            If I think I am right, and you agree with me, it is very doubtful that I am going to grill you about why you agree with me. However, if I think I am right, and you disagree with me, then I will keep after you and make you try to change your position.

          • Rob Abney

            "If I think I am right, and you agree with me, it is very doubtful that I am going to grill you about why you agree with me. However, if I think I am right, and you disagree with me, then I will keep after you and make you try to change your position."
            Does this description describe you?

          • Rob Abney

            I'm curious about you as a former or lapsed Catholic.

            Although many non-Catholics don't like the thought of this, Catholics have an authority, the church, to have faith in. So the simple peasant and the theologian ultimately have the same belief, the belief in God's promise to never let the church fail.

            As far as I know, atheists do not have anything but their own interpretation of reality.

            So, if you are trying to convince Catholics of your position are you mainly trying to convince us of the fallibility of the church?

          • David Nickol

            So, if you are trying to convince Catholics of your position are you
            mainly trying to convince us of the fallibility of the church?

            Actually, I overstated when I would keep after people to try to make them change their position. Being pretty much of an agnostic about the existence of God, and having major doubts about the Catholic Church's claims even if there is a God, it is not my wish or my goal to turn everyone into a doubter like myself. I would actually be very upset if someone wrote here, "Mr. Nickol, I was a Catholic before I started reading your comments, but you have convinced me to quit the Church." Frequently, what I am saying is, "How can you be so totally convinced you are so unquestionably right that you sit on your high horse and tell those who disagree with you flat out that they are wrong?"

            I remember reading one of those "Quesion Box" columns once long, long ago, and someone wrote to the priest and said, "Some of my Protestant friends are claiming that such-and-such a Catholic doctrine is not true. Could you please give me some good arguments to use against them?" As I said, this was a long, long time ago, and I think the priest did begin by saying, "Well, why do you believe it yourself?" In any case, that kind of thinking really bothers me, as do "canned answers." The one that immediately comes to mind (because of a discussion in another forum I am in) is that by attending the wedding at Cana, Jesus "raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament." Oh, come on!

          • Rob Abney

            That's a good answer, I hope you strengthen others' faith by helping us to examine our convictions. The good news is that practically every skeptical question has been considered by the Church at one time or another, and its not too difficult to consult those previous answers.

            I'd be interested in discussing the sacrament of matrimony, maybe on another thread where it fits the topic better.

          • David Nickol

            That's a good answer, I hope you strengthen others' faith by helping us to examine our convictions.

            It seems to me it isn't just Catholics who claim that one way to strengthen their faith is to turn their skepticism up a notch and ask questions. I think adherents of most religions believe if they are challenged to look deeper, their faith will be strengthened.

            It is not my intention to persuade Catholics to abandon their faith, but it is also not my intention to strengthen their faith by ignorantly challenging settled issues or asking questions that have already been satisfactorily answered and driving people to look up the "canned" answers.

        • Lazarus

          It gets worse, doesn't it?
          By those standards we should all then also put in the same intellectual work when we reject Islam, and Buddhism, and Hinduism. On what basis can I then reject Taoism? And why just intellectual study? What should my response be if a Merton, a Keating, a Cistercian monk accuses me of rejecting Christianity after a rigorous intellectual assessment, but I have not yet spent enough time in a monastery, working on my Cloud of Unknowing?

      • Tim Dacey

        Thanks for the reply Brandon.

        Re: "you shouldn't reject an argument unless you have strong rational reasons..."

        This seems like too narrow of an epistemological position. Suppose I had good evidence, for example, that plantinga was drinking when he made that argument. This would give good reasons to reject his argument, even though his drunkeness is independent of the actual argument. The difference here is between first order evidence and higher order evidence. Disagreement amongst qualified epistemic peers may be higher order evidence against the modal ontological argument

        Furthermore this shouldnt be considered an 'atheistic' objection. Rather a philosophical one instead. I may reject the modal argument but I still identify as a Christian

    • Lazarus

      The Blackwell Companion I referenced in a post above follows a very strong approach. They have 20-25 natural theology arguments, such as the ontological, prime mover, all the classics - which still leave the reader where you indicated - and then they close the book with a very powerful essay on the resurrection of Jesus, which of course makes it as specific as you can get.

  • Plantinga's original version is valid in modal logic, and its inversion ("It is possible that God does not exist...") is equally valid in modal logic, as is well known. Modal logic does not strictly speaking require possible worlds semantics; but it is the only game in town for interpreting modal logic, AFAIK. And it appears to me that taking possible worlds semantics seriously would force us to conclude that the inversion -- and not the original -- is the sound argument. Here's why.

    First, suppose for the moment that modal logic and possible worlds semantics are a correct guide to reality. Second, ignore for the moment that the proposed definition of "God" as "an entity whose possibility implies its necessity" has nothing specific in common with Yahweh; proving or disproving its existence has little or no consequence for religion.

    Is it the case that the philosophical Nothing that some theists go on about is a genuinely coherent concept - i.e. that a "null world" is a logical possibility? A "possible world" is a maximally consistent set of propositions, so we can specify the null world by the set of propositions like "For any object/field/quality/quantity/relation/substance/form/whatever X: No X exists." It sure looks like that would be a consistent set of propositions; there's nothing there that can conflict.

    And of course, if the null world is a possible world, then it does not contain any entities at all, and therefore there can be no entity which exists in all possible worlds. So we have a priori reason to reject the "God" (as that term is defined for the purposes of the modal ontological argument).

    (This was cross-posted from OTS. I figured I'd get the other perspective here.)

  • billwalker

    Hi GypsyEddie. Lol. I would LOVE to know the source of your 'statistic' that 67 % of atheists have a deathbed change of heart. It would really make my day to know who conducted it, how many next of kin were 'in on it', how many hospital people who were there & how many of the atheists who were in the process of dying were asked to participate. :-) Threatening an atheist with the eternal torture for disbelief is like a child threatening an adult because he didn't believe in Santa Claus he wasn't going to get any presents. I wait with bated breath for that vital information on the source of that 67% deathbed reconverting by atheists. :-)

  • Amos Funkenstein argues that the ontological argument only really makes sense if one accepts univocity of being:

    2. Univocation and the Ontological ArgumentWhy was Anselm's ontological proof neglected in many quarters during the Middle Ages, and why was it so widely acclaimed in the seventeenth century?[10] If successful, it proves God's existence by demonstrating that an adequate notion of God excludes, of necessity, non-existence. Yet many medieval theologians denied that we possess a notion of God adequate to sustain the ontological argument without watering it down. God, according to Thomas, is indeed a notum per se ipsum, but only to himself, not to us.[11] Descartes, More, Leibniz, and Wolff revived the argument because they believed in our capacity to form an adequate and precise, if incomplete, idea of God. Inasmuch as our ideas are clear and distinct, they are, we are told, the same as God's. Descartes chose the term "idea" over others because "it was the term commonly used by philosophers for the form of perception of the divine mind."[12] (Theology and the Scientific Imagination, 25–26)

    For more on this, I suggest Brad S. Gregory's 2008 article No Room for God?.

    • I second that belief, and I would also recommend the first chapter in Gregory's excellent book, The Unintended Reformation.

      • Yep, I've just started reading it. It looks like you haven't done a blog post on Gregory's work; is that planned at all?

        • Perhaps! I'm actually not finished with it yet :) I worked with him on a documentary for Word on Fire, and I'm four chapters into his book--which doesn't sound impressive until you realize each chapter is around 100 pages and book only has six chapters!

          • Something, perhaps for even further down the road, is to tackle Gregory's complaints about [hyper-]specialization in academia. My wife is a dual biophysicist–biochemist, and she knows quite a lot about the problems of having sub-sub-sub-fields in science. If you think that 'biophysics' and 'biochemistry' are basically the same, you have some things to learn. Straddling the two fields has been very painful for her. I can hardly imagine how many fields Gregory had to straddle to do what seems like an extraordinarily important work. It is as if the fragmentation of mind and society is aimed at preventing us from seeing what is going on...

      • Lazarus

        I've never heard of Gregory, which is my loss. This looks very good though, thanks for the recommendation. At nearly $40 for the Kindle, it better be worth it ;)

  • Although I haven't studied Plantinga in any depth, it seems to me that this argument is incompatible with any traditional monotheistic notion of God. Plantinga in other contexts certainly views God as an entity in the world. Contrast this with Aquinas, who denies that God is a substance, that he exists in the same sense as finite things, or that God is even one in the arithmetical sense.

  • Senne Kuyl

    Seems to me a that a MGB would also be universally obvious so ... well, I'm happy to leave the question as a Schrödinger's deity until it is demonstrated unequivocally. I too see simply defining something in a particular manner and declaring it therefore existing as ludicrous.

    Of course, if your deity is YHWH then surely it becomes much simpler. That conclusions is arrived at by the use of the Bible to support the definition, though it may simply be a familiar appeal to ancients attempts to the transcendent. If we come to terms with the evidence given and note the evolution from El Elyon and his court, to the usurper YHWH and his court to its absorption of other deities attributes and transcendence surely we can rule out the Abrahamic deities as a possible candidate?

    Not only that the scriptures used also contain the verse "The entrance of thy word bringeth light; it gives understanding to the simple." So if you have to sit and think very carefully on a question that is really just semantics surely you would begin to doubt it truly is bringing understanding to the simple? That smarter minds than I take a long time to come to the above conclusion suggests I can probably throw the texts out as intelligentsia possibly would arrive at the same conclusion without the texts.

    * Fixed an incomplete prior edit that unfortunately passed 'proofing'.

  • God Exist as the ultimate necessary being.

    Omniscience
    an omniscient being could be awareness itself with access to all information
    If I create a virtual reality I can have access to all information in that system

    What happens when a human being gains access to all the information in Reality itself?

    Some would say this would be impossible

    So the question then becomes is awareness itself limited or is human consciousness limited?

    Omni benevolence
    An omnibenevolent being would have compassion and love for all living beings and would act on that compassion and love in all ways possible. Such a being could only develop a compassion for all suffering if that being can relate to all beings suffering.

    Such a being would have to be able to not only suffer for itself but to take on the suffering of all beings. This is not possible by taking on merely one or two or even three aspects of suffering such as death, physical pain, or ridicule.

    Proof. All human beings have suffered physical pain at one time or another. All human beings will suffer death and most human beings already know this. All human beings have suffered ridicule of some type.

    Yet not all human beings are compassionate for all living beings nor do all human beings seem to be capable of love on the deepest unconditional level.

    Omnibenevolence would require a being to be able to suffer. A Perfect Necessary Being could not exist as an Imperfect therefore Unnecessary Being.

    Therefore a Perfect Necessary Being can not suffer and therefore can not be Omnibenevolent.

    Omnipotence

    An Omnipotent being would require that this being could interact with an infinite potential to create any possible outcome and bring in to existence any actuality

    This requires anything to be possible including square circles.

    In Universes that include square circles as possible potentiality may be more powerful then the actual. If you want a reality in which actual entities exist certain potential possibilities must become very improbable such as square circles.

    Omnipotence should not be confused here with Theological Omnipotence in which an Omnipotent being uses it's will to influence or even over take another beings will.

    Such an act would be completely incompatible with Omni benevolence.

    This leaves us with only two possibilities.

    No such Necessary Being exists.
    or
    The proof of such a Necessary Being is only obtainable by seeing that this being is actually The Source of All Living Things or The Ground of All Being.

    That is the source of Reality is Awareness itself. And therefore ALL Awareness is God.

    If Awareness does not exist independent of Consciousness then God does not exist.

    Since consciousness includes all the attributes of thinking emoting reasoning etc except awareness...

    And awareness can be observed without these qualities then awareness can be said to exist independent of consciousness.

    Therefore God exist as a necessary being only if we all exist as necessary beings. All living beings must exist necessarily.

    Therefore God exist if we exist. If there is any being that is not God then God is not necessary.

    All beings are aware. The ground of all being is awareness itself.

    Therefore God Exist as the ultimate necessary being.

  • Freethinker

    P1 needs to be demonstrated to be true. Simply saying objections do not defeat it does not justify accepting P1. Now, P1 can be self proving if god is defined as the greatest possible being, but that definition is also problematic since we have no mechanism to determine what the greatest possible being is.

    Often the presenter conflates the greatest imaginable being with the greatest possible being. The presenter will try to say that the greatest possible being has necessary existence since that is greater than contingent existence, but that is not justified. Certainly the greatest imaginable being would, but when speaking of the greatest possible being, you need to demonstrate that an attribute is possible before assigning it to such a being.

    Necessary existence for beings would need to be demonstrated to be possible for beings to have before saying the greatest possible being has it.

    As to the unicorn, call it a maximally great unicorn and the argument suddenly "proves" unicorns exist.

  • Kenisaw Landis

    I've read several comments below that mentioned that we would have to be talking about the perfect being in order for this proof to be true. But if some god were the perfect being, why did it need to create anything, like us?

    • Faron

      Maybe there is no experience in perfection. It could be a static state of being.

      • Kenisaw Landis

        Perfection isn't an experience, it is a state of being. If a god creature was perfect, creating imperfect humans would be impossible.

  • selbyn

    I think what a lot of theologians ignore when using this argument is how they are defining possible and necessary worlds so they can be needlessly vague.

    If we use alethic modal definitions (where a "world" is each row in a of a formal logic truth table):
    Exists in possible worlds = god's existence is not logically contradictory
    Exists in all possible worlds = god's non-existence is logically contradictory

    Since Plantinga doesn't demonstrate there is a logical contradiction if God doesn't exist, God doesn't exist in all possible worlds. (God's existence is not tautological)

    If we use Epistemic modal logic:
    Exists in possible worlds = I don't know that god doesn't exist
    Exists in all possible worlds = I know that god exists.

    Since I don't know that god exists, god does not exist in all possible worlds.

    If we use William Lane Craig's weak sauce definition of "possible world" as a world we "can conceive of" :
    Exists in possible worlds = I can conceive of a world where god exists
    Exists in all possible worlds = I can't conceive of a world where god doesn't exist.

    Since I can clearly conceive of a world without god, god doesn't exist in all possible worlds.

    Given, two of the unstated premises here are:
    1. A MGB being is one that exists in all possible worlds.
    2. God is a MGB.

    Since we demonstrated that God's existence is not necessary by several definitions of the term ... we can conclude that either God is not possibly a Maximally Great Being or MGBs don't need to necessarily exist.

    • KNH777

      If God doesn't exist there is no Maximum Greatness Potential. And there is no Maximality of qualities.

      There is no Conscience without Maximality to reach. So then why would conscience exist among humanity, yet not exist in any other living thing produced in the same possible world?
      Wouldn't it make sense that if conscience was evolved, that there would be further samplings of conscience in the same possible world?

  • KNH777

    I love this easy to understand clip.
    I love the logic to the absurd arguments.

    The arguements mentioned in the video are arguments commonly given. And they leave me thinking "duh that's a ridiculous argument" not apples to apples. They points are crude, undefined, unthought out nonsense arguments that leave me feeling like there is no intellegent work in their answers to disprove the existence of God. By people who use broad strokes taught to them in evolution and nonsense argument when it comes to and how did the 1st speck appear? So I was really glad to hear this argument because it comes down to a bottom line that clearly compares ridiculous to logical. So now I can put that feeling to words and show them why their argument is ridiculous compared to a true logical answer.

  • KNH777

    The rule of logic leading to Maximum Greatness, by standards of Maximum Excellence.

    Qualities pertaining to Maximum Excellence in Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Moral Perfection necessary to achieve Maximum Greatness is determined by the highest possible Evolution in any and every possible world.

    Maximum Excellence is point of reference, and Maximum Greatness is point of reference!

    1 Maximum Greatness exists in any and every possible world.

    2 Maximum Excellence exists in every possible way relative to the greatest or at the very least minimum application necessary to achieve it's highest possible evolution to Maximum Greatness in any and every possible world.

    3 If any of the possible worlds consists of only ants and bugs, then Maximum Excellence is whatever qualities are necessary to achieve it's highest possible evolution to Maximum Greatness in that possible world.

    4 So Maximum Excellence is relative to the greater or at least minimum applications necessary to achieve highest evolution of Maximum Greatness for any and all possible world.

    5 Maximum Excellence entails the application of qualities necessary to achieve Maximum Greatness relative to any and every possible world.

    6 There exists a Being of Maximum Excellence relative to the greatest or at least minimum qualities necessary to achieve Maximum Greatness in any and every possible world.

    7 Maximum Excellence as Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Moral Perfection are relative to the greater or at least minimum application necessary to achieve it's highest possible evolution to Maximum Greatness in every possible world.

    8 What is impossible in one possible world, may be be possible in other possible worlds.

    9 What is possible in one possible world may be impossible in another possible world.

    10 The proposition, there exists an Omnicient, Omnipotent, and Morally Perfect Being of Maximum Excellence relative to the greater or at least minimum application necessary to achieve it's highest possible evolution to Maximum Greatness in an actual possible world.

    11 So the conclusion is there must be a Maximum Excellent Being in any and every possible world that has the greatest or at least minimum qualities necessary in Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Moral Perfection relevant to the acievement of highest possible evolution in Maximum Greatness in that actual possible world .
    **
    12 - Nothing exists if No-Maximality is exemplified

    13 - Maximal greatness is possible only if Maximality is exemplified.

    14 - Without Maximality, then Maximal Greatness is impossible!

    15 - Since Maximality exists, ONLY those who are made in the image of Maximality can achieve the highest possible Maximum Greatness in the image of Maximality!

    16 - Those who are made in the image of Maximality achieve Maximum Greatness by an ever present goal within themselves, and set before themselves ever reaching for their Maximum Greatness with standards reflective of the image of Maximality!

    17 - The goal to achieve Maximum Greatness can never achieved if Maximality is altered by a lesser image of Maximality in any and every possible world!

    18 - Maximum Greatness is achieved by reaching it's Maximum Potential in it's Maximum Purpose through achieving it's highest possible likeness to an unaltered image of Maximality.
    **

  • KNH777

    **
    1 - Nothing exists if No-Maximality is exemplified

    2 - Maximal greatness is possible only if Maximality is exemplified.

    3 - Without Maximality, then Maximal Greatness is impossible!

    4 - Since Maximality exists, ONLY those who are made in the image of Maximality can achieve the highest possible Maximum Greatness in the image of Maximality!

    5 - Those who are made in the image of Maximality achieve Maximum Greatness by an ever present goal within themselves, and set before themselves ever reaching for their Maximum Greatness with standards reflective of the image of Maximality!

    6 - The goal to achieve Maximum Greatness can never achieved if Maximality is altered by a lesser image of Maximality in any and every possible world!

    7 - Maximum Greatness is achieved by reaching it's Maximum Potential in it's Maximum Purpose through achieving it's highest possible likeness to an unaltered image of Maximality.
    **

  • mepatri3

    Simply apply the argument to another necessary element....like abstract numbers as mentioned in the video. Is the number 2 necessary in any possible world? If it is, why the angst over the necessity of a being that is perfect? Why can't a being be necessary if other things can be? How can one prove that to be impossible? It seems to me any refutation of Plantiga's argument must claim necessity does not apply to anything, and that is ludicrous. Just as the number 2 is necessary in any possible world, so too is God. It's not so much perfection, but is a matter of dependency; which is an absolute trait of any possible world.

  • Andrew Kelly

    Ok this is a year old, but it's the first time I've seen it.

    I can't see how premise 3 follows at all... perhaps it needs to be a step as opposed to a premise assumed to be true.

    Let's try analogy. It is possible that a Sumatran tiger is born bright green with two heads and somehow survives to adulthood. By this argument it therefore necessarily MUST exist, by the sheer virtue that it was possible in some world. That's borderline insane.

    If someone can break down why P3 is a premise, I'd be all ears. After all it was possible that I was born with 30 ears, so therefore I must exist with 30 ears....

    • Will

      I think the problem is a misuse of the word "possible". I'd agree that it's "possible" that God exists because I don't know enough to determine whether or not such a being exists or not. In the same way, people 5000 years ago thought it was possible the earth was flat, but that was just an indicator of ignorance, it was never possible for the earth to be flat given the physics of this universe. The argument is unsound because no one has sufficient knowledge to claim it is actually possible that God exists like one can claim it's actually possible for a ball to drop (as opposed to lack of knowledge possible).
      If universe is infinite and the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, then everything that is actually possible becomes actual at some point, especially if multi-verse hypothesis are also true. It's interesting to think that everything that can happen or exist, will happen or exist.

  • Immanuel Kant

    Disproven in 1781. Existence is not a predicate. Moral argument is the only one that works.

  • Matthew Hunter

    This is actually very simple. He was right that it all does revolve on premise 1.
    P1 is making an unfounded claim that it is possible that a god exists. If you can actually show that it is possible for a god(mgb) to exist, then you are done. No need for P2 onward. POSSIBLE doesn't mean IMAGINABLE. Also, possible worlds do not include all imaginable worlds, but rather all worlds that could possibly exist within the cosmos and fitting within logical constraints.

    The only reason that you can continue past premise 1 is if you can demonstrate that it is in fact possible for a god to exist. Saying that we don't know of its impossibility does not mean that it is in fact possible.

    This argument seems to convince some people because it waters down the massive step across the first 2 premises such that many skip through them using the above mentioned conflation of possible and imaginable. All of the work is done here, yet it sounds harmless enough because hey, "Who am I to say that it isn't possible in some possible world?"

    I think that it is surely unsound because premise 1 has not been shown to be true.

    It may also be invalid since as presented here, it simultaneously proposes god as either the creator of the worlds or at least something not bound by the limits of those worlds, and at the same time logically positions the god as existing within those possible worlds. The defined god would have to exist outside of all of those possible worlds.

  • Jim Grossmann

    one: Why can’t some possible worlds limit the greatness of what they contain more than others? Might not some possible worlds be so impoverished that the greatest thing that could exist in them would be the biggest mote of dust in them?

    two: Doesn’t the argument fail if it can’t establish that “greatness” *must* be an intrinsic property of something rather than a speaker evaluation of something?

    three: Why would power and knowledge be a measure of greatness? Isn’t love more important than the far more powerful exploding star? Isn’t the life of an ignorant child more important than increasing one’s knowledge through higher education? (Hint: Very few people would abduct children and sell their organs on the black market in order to pay for college.)

  • Jim Grossmann

    four: If God exists in all possible worlds, does this mean that there is one God or does this mean that there are as many Gods as there are possible worlds?

    five: What, exactly, limits the number of maximally great beings to one? Could not more than one identical maximally great being exist?