• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

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.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • 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.

      • Matthew

        You want me to prove God's existence is "impossible," given Plantinga's use of the term and given the same degree of hidden existence claims in the premises? Okay, easy:

        Premise 1*: It is possible that God doesn't exist.
        Premise 2*: If it is possible that God doesn't exist, then God doesn't exist in some possible world.
        Premise 3*: If God doesn't exist in some possible world, then God doesn't exist in any possible world.
        Premise 4*: If God doesn't exist in any possible world, then God is impossible.
        Therefore, 5. God is impossible.

        Of course, we shouldn't accept Premise 1* or Premise 1, given what Plantinga means by "possible" (that is, an existence claim about the constituents of possible worlds) -- but, if you're going to allow a sly existence claim into your premises, then Premise 1* is just as verified as Premise 1!

        (Thanks, as Mackie says, goes to Plantinga himself for pointing this objection out.)

        • Benjamin L. Toms

          That unfortunately just affirms that the MOA is valid. It is just stating the same fact that the MOA states. Either God exists necessarily or HE necessarily doesn't.

          To show that it is possible that God doesn't exist is to do the project that the MOA (Plantinga) says is what is needed to object to the argument. So just restating that mere fact isn't doing the project.

          So you are still in need of actually showing that God is not possible.

          • NC

            You are totally right. He'd need to provide an argument for his first premise. By contrast, there are compelling reasons to think the MOA succeeds.

          • Matthew

            NC: I said explicitly that premise 1* should not be accepted, but ALSO that premise 1 should not be accepted as well. So you don't refute my post at all. Both premise 1 and premise 1*, as I said, are existence claims. I take it you think there are "compelling" reasons to think God exists in some universe, as per the first premise? Do pray tell.

          • Matthew

            NC: I have an email notification about your response to me, but I can't see the actual response on this page. I'll copy and past what you said here, and then respond in a separate post. So, you said:

            "I know you CLAIMED that neither premise 1 or premise 1* should be accepted, but you provided no argument. The burden of proof is on you to justify such a claim.

            So you don't refute my post at all. Both premise 1 and premise 1*, as I said, are existence claims.
            This isn’t quite correct - premise 1* is about logical possibility and premise 1 is about metaphysical possibility. They are in different categories, and as I explained, Plantinga’s MOA refutes your version of the argument.

            I take it you think there are "compelling" reasons to think God exists in some universe, as per the first premise? Do pray tell.

            It is clear from this comment of yours that you really don’t understand the modal ontological argument. God is by definition a maximally great being, and so it is possible that a maximally great being exist in some possible world... then on to the confusion. Now in order to refute the conclusion of the MOA you’d have to show that the concept of God is somehow logically incoherent (like the idea of a married bachelor) or provide a compelling argument. You can’t just assert that the argument fails without justification!"

          • Matthew

            NC: So, here's my response.

            First, the burden is on me to prove that your first premise is false? What, where on earth did you learn logic? No, the burden is on you to show that it is true -- if you can't show it is true, then you haven't shown your conclusion to be true.

            As for the idea that Premise 1* is about logical possibility and Premise 1 is about metaphysical possibility, that's not true at all. I was using 'possible' in P1* in the same way that it is used in P1 -- specifically, where "possible" means "exists in a possible world."

            Listen, I do understand the MOA, and I think it's clear that you're getting confused by the different uses of the word 'possible' that are getting used. This is clear in a sentence like this: "So it is possible that a maximally great being exist in some possible world." No. No no no. If 'possible' means 'exists in some possible world,' then are you saying that there's a possible world in which there's a possible world where God exists?

            Clearly from this sentence, we need to really get down to basics, and I haven't explained what's going on in the MOA clearly enough. So let me be as clear as I possibly can be: PLANTINGA IS USING HIS OWN VERSION OF 'POSSIBLE.'

            Let's look at what this means.

            In the past, I, as an atheist, would admit that God is possible. What did I mean by that? I meant "God is logically consistent."

            Now, Plantinga has his own definition of "possible," so that someone who says "God is possible" means "God exists in some possible world."

            These are not the same thing.

            We have two different uses of the word 'possible' here.

            I, as an atheist, assert the former, but not the latter.

            Is Plantinga right to use the word 'possible' in his new way? Maybe -- I don't really care; it's semantics.

            Let's try and be clearer again. We can redefine words however we want -- but we need to be clear that's what we're doing, and not sliding from one use in the premise to another use in the conclusion. That is to say, I could pull a Plantinga, and redefine the word 'possible' as well. I could say "'Possible' refers to only those words that have the letter 'h' in their name." Would you accept if I said to "AHA! God is therefore impossible, because there is no 'h' in the word God!" Of course you wouldn't, because that is silly; and yet that is precisely what is going on with this discussion of the MOA.

            So, again, 'possible' has two meanings:

            1) Logically consistent.

            2) Exists in some possible world.

            THESE ARE NOT THE SAME THINGS! More importantly, 2 doesn't follow from 1. That is, someone could accept that a thing is logically consistent, and yet not believe in possible worlds at all. There is nothing logically inconsistent with believing 1 and not 2.

            So, what's Plantinga doing?

            In his first premise, he is saying "God exists in some possible world."

            Now, why should I accept this? Because I believe God is logically consistent? But 'existing in some possible world' does not follow from 'logically consistent' -- I am holding a non-contradictory view when I accept logical consistency and yet reject the existence claim.

            And this is true EVEN THOUGH the word 'possible' is being used to refer to both concepts. Again, please don't get stuck on the fact that the word 'possible' is being used in two different ways: just as the word 'possible' could refer to words that have an 'h' in their name, it would be irrelevant to cite that definition when discussing either of the other two definitions.

            Do you see now why a sentence like this is confused: "Now in order to refute the conclusion of the MOA you’d have to show that the concept of God is somehow logically incoherent (like the idea of a married bachelor) or provide a compelling argument."?

            You are talking about logical incoherency, here, when discussing the MOA's conclusion -- but that is explicitly NOT what Plantinga means in his premise 1 when he talks about 'possibility.'

            I really don't know how to explain it any clearer than this, so I hope you get it -- but I don't have to show that God is logically inconsistent if I am to show that he is impossible in Plantinga's sense BECAUSE THAT IS NOT HOW PLANTINGA USES THE WORD.

            I don't care how he uses the word -- as I say, he could use it to refer to words with 'h' in their name or 'G,' but let's be clear that this is what he's doing. My position is this: God is logically consistent; you have not shown that he exists in some possible world; I have not shown that he exists in no possible world; there is no 'h' in the word 'God;' and there is a 'G' in the word 'God.'

            Using the word 'possible' to refer to all of these concepts is confusing but it doesn't change the facts. "Logical consistency" and "exist in a possible word" are not the same thing any more than "Logical consistency" and "has an 'h' in it's name" are the same thing.

            There is no clearer way to say it, and semantically equivocating between definitions does not make them the same thing.

          • Matthew

            NC: Again, for some reason, I have an email notification of your response, but I can't see your response here. So let me again copy and paste, and I'll respond in the next post. So, you said:

            "Ok, Matthew. You are totally wrong. Plantinga DOES NOT use "possibility" to denote existence. You maybe have watched a poor atheist rebuttal of the argument that makes this argument, but they are wrong. Certain ontological arguments do make this claim (I believe Anselm is one of them), but this claim is not made by Plantinga in the MOA. This is the dictionary definition of "possible world" from the freedictionary.com: "(in modal logic) a semantic device formalizing the notion of what the world might have been like." Plantinga's use of the term "possible" or "possible world" is NOT him saying that God exists. It is saying that it is possible ( in the normal sense of the world) that God *could* exist, in that there is no logical contradiction in the definition of God. This then leads to the conclusion through model logic that God DOES exist. But the first premise DOES NOT make this claim. If refuse to concede that this is the argument as set forth by Plantinga, then there's really no point discussing this as you do not understand what you are talking about."

          • Last Milwaukee Socialist

            It's also possible that a four-headed giraffe exists. So it must? Logic is reasoning with words; but human knowledge grounded in something more than a simply posited word-thing correlation and with any degree of provisional truthfulness about existents requires (among other things) empirical/testable/prediction-bearing evidence.

          • Matthew

            No -- if the argument is sound (that is, if the premises are true and the argument is logically valid) then rationally we have to accept the conclusion. If you disagree with the argument you have to say where it's going wrong. I reject premise 1 because of how the word 'possible' is being used (although NC keeps playing hide the ball with his semantic equivocations, so with his definitions I reject premise 4, because according to NC it's saying that if we can imagine God in all possible worlds then he must actually exist in the real world. NC has given us no reason to accept this wild premise, his assertion that it is a 'logical rule' notwithstanding).

          • Matthew

            NC: So, here's my answer to your response that I cut and pasted from my email today:

            I'm sorry, you don't think Plantinga is "using 'possible' to denote existence"?

            Then you just simply didn't read Premise 2: "If it is possible that God exists, then God exists in some possible worlds."

            That could not possibly be a clearer statement about how "possible" is being used here, and it is not talking about logical consistency -- it is making a claim about what exists in other words. If you're going to baselesly say in your premises that God exists in other worlds, just drop the facade of rationality and baselessly say he exists in this one.

            NB: Please don't quote dictionary definitions to me -- I agree Plantinga's using his own definition of the word.

            NB: I didn't "hear another atheist" reject the argument -- I have a Master's in Philosophy, I understand very well what the argument is about (and I still would even if it wasn't right there in the second premise), so let's just drop the ad hominems, eh? They're a waste of time. Discuss the argument, not me, please.

          • NC

            Sorry - for some reason my answer keep getting flagged as spam! Did you see the response I just sent you?

          • Matthew

            NC: Yes, I got your response -- strange that this last message posted, but your actual response didn't. I'll do the copy and paste thing again, and then respond. You said:

            Then you just simply didn't read Premise 2: "If it is possible that God exists, then God exists in some possible worlds."

            This is a continuation of the use of the word "possibility" or "possible world" as a semantic device according to modal logic. Here, "possible (world)" simply means that it is God could conceivably exist - IN NO WAY is it saying that God does exist.

            Perhaps you think that Plantinga is saying that in some parallel universe there is a God that exists? If so, that is absolutely NOT the sense by which Plantinga is arguing. Again he is simply reasoning from the metaphysical possibility of God's existence.

            Please don't quote dictionary definitions to me -- I agree Plantinga's using his own definition of the word.

            I would reject your view that Plantinga is using his own version of the word.

            I didn't "hear another atheist" reject the argument -- I have a Ma ster's in Philosophy, I understand very well what the argument is about (and I still would even if it wasn't right there in the second premise), so let's just drop the ad hominems, eh? They're a waste of time. Discuss the argument, not me, please.

            Well then I apologise for the ad hominem. However, I truly believe you do not understand the argument. I can only think that you skimmed over the ontological argument in your studies and didn't learn the distinction between Plantinga's version and the earlier versions. I can agree the earlier versions had problems (and I don't defend them). One of which (which doesn't apply to Plantinga's) is the smuggling in of existence as a great making property which Plantinga and pretty much every philosopher educated on the topic rejects. Obviously you reject this too, but so do I and so does Plantinga.

          • NC

            Just an aside, I'd like to commend you on your desire to stick to the arguments and the points you make. I'd be happy to discuss any arguments with you - whether it be arguments of natural theology, or otherwise - such as epistemology, truth, post-modernism, platonism etc.

          • NC

            I just came across this point here:

            So I did pay attention, and in doing so I heard that Plantinga's own objection to his argument, which is what I started my discussion off with in this thread. Are you going to attack Plantinga now too and say he didn't understand his own argument?

            You know I'd need some further information here. I know that Plantinga doesn't consider this a knockdown argument, nor do I. I think it is a coherent argument that is true, but I wouldn't be convinced solely from this argument. I take this argument to be one that (I believe successfully) addresses the coherence of the concept of God more than anything.

          • Matthew

            Weird -- now my reply has been deleted. Did you get an email notification of my last response, about how "exist" is being used in two different ways?

          • Matthew

            Has our entire comment thread been deleted?

          • NC

            You said: NB: I don't know if this is a better way to think of it, but it's more succint. What does premise 3 say, to you, given the modifier of "possible"? "If we imagine God existing in other worlds, we have to imagine him existing every possible world"? Okay, so premise 4 is "If we imagine him existing in every possible world, he exists in this one." Do you see? If we're only talking about imaginary existence (or something like that) in the first few premises, then all of a sudden real existence is going to pop into the argument unsupported.

          • NC

            But laws DON'T exist -- they describe. There is no actual world "thing" called the law of contradiction -- it doesn't exist in our universe or any universe. (Funny how it is actually a good analogy with God!)

            Wow. I agree that natural laws are merely descriptions of regularities but you are dead wrong in saying the law of non-contradiction doesn't exist. I am very surprised you would reject the view that the law of non-contradiction is necessarily true in "every possible world" (which would lead to the conclusion that it is true in our world). I really need to see an argument here if you are going to reject the law of non-contradiction, otherwise I don't know how I can take your views on the MOA seriously anymore. I don't think you understand that it is incoherent to deny the law of non-contradiction?

            The MOA for God's existence is analogous to the line of argument that would lead one to the conclusion that the law of non-contradiction is true in the actual world.

            I think I would agree that for you psychological factors are obviously at play.

            I take this to be an ad hominem with no basis other than the fact that I disagree with you. Now that you have signalled the turn to a lack of civility, I will in turn express my opinion: I think you display a deep lack of understanding when it comes to the MOA & modal logic generally. A lack of understanding so acute it makes me think even less of the teaching standard of philosophy at the university. Your denial of the law of non-contradiction is the nail in the coffin as far as I'm concerned.

          • Matthew

            You're completely misunderstanding me. Yes, of course the law of non-contradiction is true in every possible world; but it doesn't exist. It's a description. Like "George Clooney is 56" might be true, but doesn't exist. Nothing about the J Welton quote contradicts my opinion.

            As for the ad hominems, to be fair you implied my rejection was based on feeling, and you've had many implied (if not totally explicit) ad hominems before. But my fault for engaging with you on them -- let's forget them.

          • NC

            Here is a quote from Philosopher J. Welton regarding the laws of thought (which includes the law of non-contradiction): "The Laws of Thought, Regulative Principles of Thought, or Postulates of Knowledge, are those fundamental, necessary, formal and a priori mental laws in agreement with which all valid thought must be carried on. They are a priori, that is, they result directly from the processes of reason exercised upon the facts of the real world. They are formal; for as the necessary laws of all thinking, they cannot, at the same time, ascertain the definite properties of any particular class of things, for it is optional whether we think of that class of things or not. They are necessary, for no one ever does, or can, conceive them reversed, or really violate them, because no one ever accepts a contradiction which presents itself to his mind as such."

          • Matthew

            Benjamin: Not at all. Plantinga is using a definition of possible that is "exists in a possible world." This is an existence claim. I have no reason to accept that God exists in a possible world, any more than I have reason to accept that he exists in this one. Given what Plantinga means by "possible," it is an empirical claim that you have given me no reason to accept. Why should I accept that God exists in a possible world? Of course, I accept that God is possible in a more traditional sense of the word possible (like "logically consistent"), but if you want to bring an existence claim into your first premise then you had hella better justify it! I'm not going to play semantics -- use the word "possible" to refer to toothpicks if you want; but if you're going to redefine it as an existence claim, then your first premise is just as unproven as the conclusion you were using it to support! That is, if you want to start your argument with an unproven existence claim, why even have an argument? Just go straight to the conclusion and have that as your unproven existence claim -- it's just as reasonable or unreasonable as your first premise, given what you mean by "possible"! Conflating two uses of the word possible, one of which sneakily imports an existence claim, is not an argument my friend!

    • 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.

    • andy_the_bear

      S5 or no S5, I think premise 3 follows from the way he defined a maximally great being and not from appealing to a mere epistemic possibility. A Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy page describes his definition as:

      "Say that an entity possesses “maximal excellence” if and only if it is omnipotent, omnscient, and morally perfect. Say, further, that an entity possesses “maximal greatness” if and only if it possesses maximal excellence in every possible world—that is, if and only if it is necessarily existent and necessarily maximally excellent.

  • 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.

    • Matthew

      Ryan: God, yes, exactly! Your original post is exactly right, and for some reason when I try to point it out it keeps being deleted -- so thanks for posting it yourself! (Even if it was three years ago and you've long since moved on :) )

  • 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?

  • emarkjones .

    Hello Brandon

    I think that as stated in the video this argument fails because you define God as existing in all possible worlds from the outset. Premises 2 to 5 are unnecessary and the conclusion is basically a restatement of premise 1.

    Your claim that skeptics must show that it is impossible for God to exist in all possible worlds is shifting the burden of proof; refuting the Omnipotence Paradox is not proof that God exists.

  • Rick Taylor

    The MOA may be a sound argument. It is valid, in that (assuming S5); the conclusion follows from the premises. So if the premises are true, the argument is sound.

    However, whether or not it is sound, it is not convincing. It does not give a rational skeptic a valid reason for altering their view. It's very much like the following argument:

    Premise 1: Either two plus two is five, or God exists.
    Premise 2: Two plus two is not five.
    Conclusion: Therefore God exists.

    If God exists, the above proof is sound. But whether or not God exists, it's not a convincing argument.

  • Minerverse

    "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."

    It's possible that you have a woman tied up in your basement. I don't believe you do, but it's possible. Must I now be compelled to change my mind? Let's find out..

    Premise 1: It is possible that you have a woman tied up in your basement.
    Premise 2: If it is possible you have a woman tied up in your basement, then you have a woman tied up in your basement in some possible worlds.
    Premise 3: If you have a woman tied up in your basement in some possible worlds, then you have a woman tied up in your basement in all possible worlds.
    Premise 4: If you have a woman tied up in your basement in all possible worlds, then you have a woman tied up in your basement in the actual world.
    Premise 5: If you have a woman tied up in your basement in the actual world, then you have a woman tied up in your basement.
    Conclusion: Therefore, you have a woman tied up in your basement.

    Yikes! For your (or rather said woman's) sake, we better hope Plantinga was wrong.

  • andy_the_bear

    You said:

    "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%)."

    Here many might read that in an epistemological sense. In this case I think it is crucial to be pedantic and make the distinction between possibilities in epistemology vs those in ontology...for until I made it myself, I completely misunderstood the ontological arguments in any form I looked at.

    An epistemological probability, impossibility, or contingency is in the context of what we know. For example if something is epistomologically contingent, then we might say "for all we know that thing is true". If it is impossible in an epistemological sense it means we are certain it is false. If it is necessary in an epistemological sense then it means we are certain it is true.

    Consider the statement: "Germany might have won WWII". Now in an epistemological sense this statement is False (in modal terms: impossible), since we know Germany did not win. However in an ontological sense this is a possibility that may have happened had history been different--but different in a way that is not intrinsically impossible. Trying to be more precise: there is what philosophers call a "possible world" made up of counterfactuals where the world has something we would recognize as being essentially the same thing as our WWII, but in which Germany wins. By contrast we might say it is impossible that 2 + 3 = 7 (without changing the meaning of the symbols) so that we would say 2 + 3 = 7 is impossible...in this case it would be in both an ontological sense, since there is no possible world where it could be true by its own nature, and in an epistemological sense, since we are certain its not true.

    A good example I heard Dr William Craig use would be to consider somebody doing an horrendously complex mathematical proof on a chalk board. You and I look at it and scratch our heads and we think it is "possible" it is valid, but the proof is long and complex and we are not sure, at least before we carefully attend to it for a long while. In this case we mean "possible" in an epistemological sense. Of course the proof is either necessarily true or impossible in an ontological sense.

    The modality of ontological arguments need to be understood in the context of how reality could be in an ontological sense...independent of what our knowledge is. Like the validity of the proof, God is either necessary or impossible in an ontological sense.

  • Mark Brewster

    I don't see how anyone can claim valicity in this argument; it's quite simple, actually -- Premise 3 is false.

    "Premise 3: If God exists in some possible worlds, then God exists in all possible worlds."

    This 'God' could not exist in any more than HALF the possible worlds, because it is necessary to accept that every possible world has the 0%/100% duality. In fact, defining this 'God' more precisely decreases the number of possible worlds in which it could exist, since the same could be said for every defined god out there (presently numbering in multiple thousands.....).

    **SOME** deity COULD exist; however, these silly themes will not demonstrate that -- only that unnamed deity could, and IT has had 2 million+ years to demonstrate itself. The impossibility of existence has not been reached, but approaches more closely with the passing of every unproven day. And, more truthful than this argument is this:
    "A god that does not manifest is indistinguishable from a god that does not exist."

  • AllGodsMyth

    The argument’s weaknesses are exposed when substituting the full definition of God. The Argument then reads as follows:

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

    Principally, from the original argument, it is not possible for a MGB to exist in "some" possible worlds as, by definition, a MGB must exist in all possible worlds, and thus cannot only exist in a subset of all possible worlds. P2: … God exists in some possible worlds ... asserts contingency is possible for a necessary being, which it is not. Eliminate the original argument’s stepping stones, and all we are left with is definitions, assertions, and slight-of-hand.

  • Nathanael Roberts

    Without even getting into the substance of theism, I find this argument in particular to be deceiving, as it can be used to prove the existence or pretty much anything, so long as it contains the property of existing of all possible worlds.
    For example:
    Definition: a maximally great computer is one that cannot be bested in computational speed and energy efficiency, and exists in all possible worlds.

    P1: It's possible for a maximally great computer to exist.
    P2: If it's possible for a maximally great computer to exist, then a maximally great computer exists in some possible worlds.
    P3: If a maximally great computer exists in some worlds, then a maximally great computer exists in all possible worlds (by axiom s5).
    P4: If a maximally great computer exists in all possible worlds, then a maximally great computer exists in the actual world.
    P5: If a maximally great computer exists in the actual world, then a maximally great computer exists.

    What this shows is that the argument transforms possibility of necessity into true necessity. So the burden of proof isn't so much that the common notion of God is possible, but rather that it's possible for God, who is omniscient, omnipotent, and infinitely good, to be necessary. Proving that would in turn prove his existence, but I have yet to hear a case for why it's possible for God to exist in all possible worlds. This isn't to attack the validity of theism at all, I just find this specific argument deceitful because it uses separate definitions of God. When asking if God is possible, his definition becomes "omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good", but when inserted into the ontological argument, axiom s5 comes up and his definition changes to "omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good, and exists in all possible worlds." That inconsistency is where the argument breaks down.

  • AccidentalHero

    I would think that the biggest failing of this argument is that the more infinite attributes you apply to a being the less likely it is to exist, and more likely that it's impossible for it to exist. For example, it is far more likely that there is a infinitely jealous God, who is not also good vs. and infinitely Jealous God who is also infinitely good. Plantinga, states that a being exists with all possible (good) infinities must exist, but is somehow more likely than any other God of limited subset of infinities. Thor, is more likely than and a combination of Thor and Poseidon.

  • Kester Nethlo

    Premise 1 is potentially unsound. It takes advantage of the colloquial sense of "possible" used in everyday conversation to express open-mindedness, meaning something like: "could be the case, for all I know." It doesn't mean we've determined that it's *actually* possible. As such, it has no place in a formal philosophical argument. It's smuggled baggage. Worse still, insofar as the colloquial version is true, its converse is also true: It could be the case that it's impossible for God to exist, for all we know.

    Premises 2 through 4 engage in equivocation concerning "all possible worlds". Initially, this phrase refers to thought experiments, not locations with actual ontology, being introduced in Premise 2 as though it were a modest rewording of Premise 1. Later, by Premise 4, "possible worlds" are treated as actual locations, out there in a sort of philosophical multiverse, such that things which exist in them really do exist (if not here, at least *somewhere*). And this is equivocation.

    Consider this analogy:
    The proposition, "It's possible that unicorns exist [in our world]." is NOT synonymous with the proposition, "Unicorns definitely exist, at least in an alternate dimension [which itself really exists]." If you construct an argument which slides from acceptance of the former to affirmation of the latter, relying on a third phrase (a phrase which could, under different usages/senses, be characterized as a fair description of either) in order to connect the two, then you've engaged in equivocation. Full stop.

    Premise 3 also seems to make assumptions about the properties of God (namely that if he exists he would possess the property of existing in all possible worlds). While other ontological arguments aren't without objections concerning the cases they lay out for the properties required of a "maximally great being", at least they make the attempt. This version of the argument omits all these premises, and so relies on us coming to the table already having taken them for granted. This seems sloppy.

    Premise 5 is extraneous, adding no new information. It also hints at the equivocation: There would be no need to stress that something which exists in the actual world really exists... unless this stands in contrast to things which exist in possible worlds, which don't *really* exist. But the real existence of things which exist in possible worlds is required in order for the argument to establish that God exists in our world too (Premise 4), by employing the otherwise valid reasoning that: if a being who has the property of existing in all worlds [really] exists in at least one, then it must exist in ours too.

  • Matthew

    Using Plantinga's definition of "possible," then P1 hasn't been shown to be true, as it included an existence claim (God exists in a possible world).

    The atheist/agnostic can, of course, claim that God is still possible, if by "possible" he means some traditional definition like "logically consistent." But by redefining the word "possible," Plantinga doesn't redefine the atheist/agnostic's position -- namely, that "God is logically consistent but it's not known whether he exists in any possible world."

  • Matthew

    NB: I don't know if this is a better way to think of it, but it's more succint. What does premise 3 say, to you, given the modifier of "possible"? "If we imagine God existing in other worlds, we have to imagine him existing in every possible world"? Okay, so premise 4 is "If we imagine him existing in every possible world, he exists in this one." Do you see? If we're only talking about imaginary existence (or something like that) in the first few premises, then all of a sudden real existence is going to pop into the argument unsupported.

    • NC

      If all you're saying up til premise 3 is that we can imagine a world where God exists, then that carries through to 3: "If God exists in some possible worlds, then God exists in all possible worlds ."

      You are correct that it is only from the logical follow on that if God exists in all possible world that God indeed exists in the actual world.

      If the first half of this is an imaginary posit, then why would the second half suddenly be about actual existence?

      I know you are making this point rhetorically to indicate your confusion. But this is exactly correct - it is only once we get to the stage "then God exists in all possible worlds" that we can conclude (after this premise - so yeah, I'd say premise 4) that we are now talking about the actual world.

      Try this: locate a contradiction in the statement: "I can imagine God existing on another world and indeed in every world, but as for actual real existence I don't think God has it."

      This is of course the difference between logical possibility and metaphysical possibility. The MOA would refute such an argument. I'm not saying you should accept that God exists on the basis of this argument. But I think you are mistaken in rejecting a valid argument (I know you still dispute this).

      I disagree completely. The semantics are completely irrelevant to anything I've been saying, and if you think otherwise then you've just completely misunderstood everything I've been saying.

      Well it does seem to be that you are taking issue with how to define words such as "possible" and "exists"

      That's not only snarky but completely wrong. With this I'd say either put up or... well, I don't want to be snarky, but you get where I'm going.

      Well I obviously don't agree. There is a clear and unsaid naturalistic bias in philosophy at the university. This appears to me to be the most prominent view in the discipline of philosophy. When in fact, naturalism is self-referentially incoherent. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on an argument against naturalism I will post after this. It's not a theological argument, but it makes believing in naturalism untenable.

      A lot if atheistic arguments, such as the argument from evil, are not well-thought-out and I don't respect them. I say that as an atheist, but more importantly ad someone who's intellectually honest.

      You have a point here. I totally agree with your point regarding the argument from evil. I find it utterly boring to discuss with anyone. But I do think arguments for naturalism is also an argument for atheism (we can quibble about this). But I would say that belief in naturalism is supportive of an atheistic viewpoint

      I have. As an atheist, I sure you won't be surprised to learn that I spurn all suck supernatural ideas.

      I'm surprised that you would reject this so easily. I find it to be the most tenable form of atheism. Naturalism I find to be very difficult to rationally sustain.

      I don't know if this is a better way to think of it, but it's more succinct. What does premise 3 say, to you, given the modifier of "possible"? "If we imagine God existing in other worlds, we have to imagine him existing every possible world"?

      I would take this as a thought experiment that if one concludes that God exists in every possible world due to logical necessity then it follows God must exist in the actual world as logical necessity demands it.

      Okay, so premise 4 is "If we imagine him existing in every possible world, he exists in this one." Do you see? If we're only talking about imaginary existence (or something like that) in the first few premises, then all of a sudden real existence is going to pop into the argument unsupported.

      I don't see that. Logical necessity is what leads us to the conclusion that God exists in the actual world? That If God exists in every conceivable world - then he must exist in the actual world.

    • NC

      Alvin Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Contained in the book "Where the Conflict Really Lies" is a really good argument against naturalism. If you are a metaphysical naturalist then the argument here is that it is self-referentially incoherent to believe in both metaphysical naturalism and evolution because they call into question the reliability of our cognitive faculties. There are some good lectures by Plantinga on the subject. There's one on YouTube entitled "Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism" from Veritas. The only refutations of this argument I've seen is by people who presuppose the accuracy of our cognitive faculties - which is assuming the thing you are trying to prove! It should be noted that the argument is more sophisticated than I've laid out. It isn't an argument for God - but it's certainly an argument against belief in naturalism - which is perhaps the most common view held by atheists.

    • NC

      There's also a good brief article on it on the "bethinking" website entitled "An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism
      Alvin Plantinga".

  • Matthew

    "But this confusion should be resolved given the full (first) premise (for example) "It is possible that God exists"."

    How? How does talking about imaginary existence in the first premise allow you to deduce real existence from imaginary existence in the second premise? You certainly haven't spelled thus out, to say the least.

    "However I think it doesn't make sense when constructing other equivalent modal arguments. For example: Premise 1. I can imagine that the law of non-contradiction in some possible world... Concluding Premise: I am imagining that the law of non-contradiction exists in the actual world."

    But laws DON'T exist -- they describe. There is no actual world "thing" called the law of contradiction -- it doesn't exist in our universe or any universe. (Funny how it is actually a good analogy with God!)

    "I'd say modal logic would allow one to do that... But again, we seem to be parting ways on this point."

    Well we can sort ways but you'd be wrong -- as I said earlier, modal logic doesn't have it's own rules of logic; it's just logic applied to modality. If you can't logically deduct your conclusion then you have an invalid argument, whether or not it applies to modality.

    "Well there are no unstated assumptions in the MOA. It follows from the definition of God. In the same way as The law of non-contradiction has the property of necessity and is true in every possible world."

    I've already discussed non-cobtradiction above, but in terms of unstated assumptions, I didn't accuse you of that here. I said "'Your premise is, 'If I can imagine that God is in every possible world, then he exists in the actual one,' and that is not a rule of logic" -- and it's not. You seen to think that there are extra rules for logic when applied to modality but suffice it to say you sure as hell haven't argued for them (and no-one else has, or at least no-one has successfully done so -- and if you haven't shown this premise to be true then you haven't shown your conclusion to be true).

    "I think some tend to be unconvinced by this argument simply because it doesn't *feel* like it's enough on it's own."

    That's not me -- I'm not convinced because you haven't shown your premises to be true.

    "So I think there are subjective factors at play. For myself, I found that it did nothing more than raise my confidence in God's existence."

    I think I would agree that for you psychological factors are obviously at play.

  • Jeff Wilson

    Premise one itself is a huge leap. How can anyone know that it's possible that god exists? The burden of proof that it's possible has not been established and the possibility has not been demonstrated. This is just a claim by fiat and not evidence.

    • Jim the Scott

      First as a Thomist I reject ontological arguments as wrong headed. So let us be clear about that. Second, unless you can show that it is impossible that God exists then why wouldn't it be possible?
      Three, I think you are equivocating between trying to prove God exists with the question of the possibility of His existence which means you are begging the question. four, saying something is possible is not the same as saying it is true or reality.

  • Rick Taylor

    Hello. In case it's of interest, I've just written a series of three youtube videos explaining in detail why Plantinga's modal ontological argument cannot be persuasive, even if it is sound. And no, it doesn't show the atheist has to prove God exists. https://youtu.be/DCv6MhJJryk

    • Sample1

      Thank you for a clear and informative analysis of Plantiga’s MOA. I know saying thank you can be an overused politeness providing no useful information as to the presented subject of inquiry but in your case it is a job well done.

      I look forward to more of these breakdowns from you.

      Mike, former cradle Catholic now trying to believe responsibly.

      • Rick Taylor

        Why thank you so much! It makes me glad to know my analysis has been helpful to someone. Just to let you know, I made.a mistake and the links to part 2 and 3 of the series, which has since been fixed.

        I don't know if I'lll be doing more videos. I only did these three on the MOA because I have what I think may be an unusual perspective, given my background in mathematics. I do have an old copy of a video I made on Maydole's argument which I might put up since it's already done. And if there's some response in the comments I might put up something to clarify things if there's confusion.

        I'm hoping people who still use the MOA will see this and think about it. I have nothing whatsoever against belief in God, but it bothers me when people have such a strange misunderstanding of what can be accomplished using formal logic alone.

        • Sample1

          Understood. Have you explored David Deutsch? Quite an intrepid and incisive thinker blending Popper and a few others into his own optimistic anti-foundational worldview highlighting reason and good explanation. I’ve had to put some old ideas on hold as I confront exactly what is of personal and societal value.

          I’m not too active on this site but I followed you on Disqus so I’ll keep an eye open for any postings.

          Happy 2019.

          Mike

          • Rick Taylor

            I haven't, but I'll put him on my list of people to check out. Is there a particular book either by or about him you would recommend to start with?

          • Sample1

            I stumbled across him through the Sam Harris podcasts. He’s done two. The first is fairly agreeable with Harris, the second is not so much. I’ve listened to his audio book The Beginning of Infinty and used an adjunct philosopher to parse out the principles. His aesthetic argument is taking me time to understand.

            Deutsch (apart from his pioneering quantum computation research) is striving for a principle for the fundamental physical laws of Nature, a meta principle of you will. And yet he is not a foundationalist because he is also a fallibilist. He has a Ted talk called A New Way To Explain Explanation. It’s under twenty minutes so perhaps if you like what you hear you can find the book or listen to the podcasts. He does not have a lot of philosophical work online compared to others. He has an earlier book I have yet to read: The Fabric of Reality.

            His Constructor theory is novel and will take up my interest before I read his other books. As a mathematician you would likely enjoy that.

            Have fun.

            Mike
            Edit done.

    • Grimlock

      Hey,

      That was a thoroughly interesting video series! Thank you for putting it together.

      A couple of questions from me that I was hoping you'd take the time to consider.
      1) A typical response that I've made (and seen others make) to that argument is to phrase a similar argument for atheism. A first premise that basically asserts that atheism is (metaphysically) possible.

      It's not a perfect analogy, but I don't see any difference in disfavor of atheism. (Suffice to say I find each equally unconvincing.) On the other hand, you're obviously more familiar with the subject than I am. I was wondering if you see any immediate flaws with such a mirrored argument, beyond the flaws of the theistic version?

      2) In the third video you discuss the idea that the MOA makes it so that the atheist must prove that the MGB is impossible (or some such). Would your point be, paraphrased, that the MOA creates no additional burden of proof for the atheist?

      3) ...well, I had a third question, but I got interrupted and completely lost my train of thought.

      Grim

      • Rick Taylor

        Hello Grim, I tried to reply to this, but my post never appeared. Perhaps my post was too long. Anyway, if you ask me any questions on on youtube, I can reply to them there.

        • Grimlock

          Hey,

          My apologies for the late response. I did at some point see your comment, but I was not in a position to answer at the time. When I went back to respond, the comment had disappeared, and I had turned off email notifications for comments (turned them back on now), so it didn't end up in my inbox. (I believe that in some cases, comments marked as spam/removed by a moderator can be seen by yourself in your Disqus comment history. If you do look for it, and find it, I'd be grateful if you'd copy in the answer to the first question.)

          Let me just express my appreciation for your very thorough response. While I don't recall all the details, I found it very enlightening. Particularly your answer to the first question.

          I don't think a repeated response to my questions is necessary, but I will definitely leave a comment on YouTube if I have any follow-up questions. (Though I won't assume that you'll always be following up on the comments for your videos.)

          Grim

    • I've made my own response to the modal ontological argument below. Your video was helpful, thanks.

      https://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2019/01/the-modal-ontological-argument-it-needs-a-good-thrashing/

      • Mark

        Your argument is a response to Craig's MOA, not Plantinga's. Either way, neither are classical God arguments. Both men are/were theistic personalist and classical theists don't find either argument compelling.

        Additionally before you post your next post in which you hint will be the "no-God or evil God MOA" you might brush up on the doctrine of privation if you want any AT philosopher to take those criticisms seriously.

        Lastly, I too appreciate the videos. One of the things Rick did exceptionally well is to act charitable towards theists or atheists and present the logical shortcomings of the MOA. It's really hard to read past the first line of your article "This Christian apologetic argument is the one that I most often see put forward as the one that will put cocky atheists in their place." followed by some additional philosophical drivel about a prisoner which literally has nothing to do with MOA but mostly a cheap jab at Christians. If you're just trying to play to your crowd's sophistication fine. But why post a link here where people take philosophy and theology and logical argument seriously. You lose credibility.

        • What argument would you recommend as being more compelling?

          • Mark

            I'm not sure what you're asking. If you're asking a compelling argument against the Anslem/Plantinga work I don't particularly personally care because, like I said, they are an argument for a theistic personalist. I'm agnostic to the theistic personalist God. It may or may not exist, but it doesn't hold up to the scrutiny of philosophical reason. If you want a compelling argument against classical theism you can do your own homework. But if you're going to argue as you suggest in the article, that good is a privation of perfect evilness that is going to be tough; whether or not there is a God. Edit Done

          • You said, “classical theists don't find either argument compelling,” so I was wondering what arguments they would find compelling.

            But it now sounds like apologetic arguments aren’t an interest of yours, so never mind.

          • Mark

            Sorry Bob, I got taken away from my CPU for business and hadn't finished editing prior to your comment. Please forgive me for that.

      • Rick Taylor

        Thank you, Bob. I'm a bit busy with teaching currently, but I'll have a look at what you wrote when I have a little breathing room.

        • No problem. My point was more a thank-you than a request that you read the post.

      • I find it ironic that you rebuked a guy for telling him to read his entire site before, when you do the same on the regular. Even tried it on me once on my old account I deleted to make this one.

        Also, what are these "possible worlds" that you go on about? Is this some gnostic trap you set for your own pride where you claim there is some "multiverse" where you have usurped God in one of them?

        As Tolkien said, the mark of Good fiction is that you understand that God could have created the universe to be anything. What cannot change is God.

        By denying God, your fictions are therefore unfounded and terrible.

        Now, if you are confused about Good. Goodness is just anything as God created it to be.

        Even you were Good when created, but you became evil through misuse of free will. evil merely being an absence of Good caused by sin.

    • The Truth of something is not determined by your willingness to receive it, so therefore your premise is worthless because reality does not rely on your consent.

      As for your writing and thinking. Woof. Reminds of Venerable Fulton Sheen when he said fools use big words to hide small ideas.

  • Jim the Scott
  • igor

    My undersanding of this argument is that it, in a round-about way, defines God into existence in the Actual World. This requires that the construct of Possible Worlds includes the Actual World (that we inhabit).

    My approach is to define Possible Worlds as Imagined Worlds, including an imagined version of the Actual World, but not the Actual World itself.

    So with this approach, the argument can establishe that God exists in all Imagined Worlds. But it does not establish that God exists in the Actual World. This is because, whilst there is a path from the Actual World into an Imagined World, there is not a path from an Imagined World to the Actual World for any definition/construct that comes into existence in an Imagined World.

    • Ficino

      This is an interesting suggestion, but at first, I would wonder whether it matters whether the class of possible worlds and the class of imagined worlds are coextensive. Is a world that no one is imagining, but which someone might someday imagine, to count among imagined worlds? Do imagined worlds that turn out to admit violations of the PNC get allowed to remain in the class of imagined worlds when, one supposes, they are not possible worlds? Etc.

      I'm not seeing at the outset how a replacement of Possible Worlds with Imagined Worlds furthers attempts to distinguish among modal states by trying to specify the scope or extent of quantification. Some F is necessary on this theory if it is quantified over xs in all possible worlds, no? How does quantification work over xs in imagined worlds?

      Can you flesh out your approach more fully? I'd like to hear more.

      • igor

        Depending upon the usage of Possible Worlds in an argument, it may be more appropriate to use "imaginable" rather than "imagined". (btw, I am not part of the philosophy in-crowd)

        As for my point, maybe some more detail. In the case of this MOA, a particular collection of Possible Worlds is being used. One way to define Possible Worlds is that each member of the collection must be logically possible. For this MOA I would add the requirement that a candidate Possible World permits definition into existence of an MEB. If a candidate PW does not permit the definition into existence of an MEB, the candidate PW is excluded from the collection.

        I suggest that the Actual World (that we inhabit) does not permit definition into existence of an MEB, so the AW would be excluded from this collection of PW. So if the only PW that permit definition into existence of an MEB are imagined/imaginable worlds, then the collection of PW in this MOA is a collection of imagined/imaginable worlds.

  • Vincent Torley

    The real problem with Plantinga's argument is that it makes God's possibility metaphysically prior to His necessity, by grounding the latter in the former. God is said to exist in all possible worlds (making Him necessary, and hence real in the actual world) because He exists in some possible world. However, God's necessity is a fundamental attribute of God, so it cannot be grounded in anything more basic (such as His possibility).

    The other flaw on the argument is that it equivocates between two (or perhaps three) meanings of possible: (a) logical possibility; (b) real or metaphysical possibility; and (c) epistemic possibility (where something may be true, for all we know). With regard to the first premise ("It is possible that God exists"), all we are in a position to affirm is that it is possible in sense (c): for all we know, He might. We cannot say whether God's existence is logically possible or impossible, because we cannot grasp His nature. And since it is God's actuality which grounds His possibility, rather than the other way round, we cannot affirm that God's existence is metaphysically possible unless we have independent grounds for affirming His existence. I therefore agree with Matthew that Plantinga's argument seems to contain the same fallacy as the ontological argument.

    • igor

      When the MOA states that the MGB exists in "some" Possible World, does this mean "any" Possible World?

      If the answer if "yes", then it is valid to select the Actual World (that we inhabit) as the Possible World. So in that case the statement would be that the MGB exists in the AW. The obvious question is - how is it demonstrated that the MGB exists in the AW?

      The third statement of the MOA:

      3. It is possible that there is a being that has maximal greatness. (Premise)

      becomes:

      3. In the Actual World (that we inhabit) there is a being that has maximal greatness. (Premise)

      If the AW cannot be selected, how can the AW be a member of the collection of PW?

      • Vincent Torley

        Hi Igor,

        In philosophical circles, "some" means "one or more." So Plantinga's premise that a maximally great being exists in some possible world means that it exists in one or more worlds, but not necessarily the actual world. To obtain the conclusion that this being exists in the actual world, one needs to define "maximally great" in such a way that it implies existence in all possible worlds or none at all. However, as I stated above, my quarrel is not with this premise, but with the equivocation between the different senses of "possible," as well as the attempt to ground God's actuality in His possibility. I believe that any definition or description of "God" which tries to do that is fundamentally mistaken. Cheers.

        • igor

          Possibly my longest held issue with arguments proposed by apologists is that as an argument progresses, the meaning/context of a word/expression changes, thus invalidating the argument. I think that we are in the same page re this issue. The way I sometimes try to deal with this is to expand the argument by replacing the offending word/expression with the meaning/context of the word/expression.

          In this case I see the problem you refer to - the Plantinga MOA has been expressed in differing forms and the one in this blog has the problem. The form I use may overcome your issue:

          1. A being has maximal excellence in a given possible world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good in W; and
          2. A being has maximal greatness if it has maximal excellence in every possible world.
          3. It is possible that there is a being that has maximal greatness. (Premise)
          4. Therefore, possibly, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good being exists.
          5. Therefore, (by axiom S5) it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.
          6. Therefore, an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.

          • Vincent Torley

            Hi Igor,

            Thanks for sharpening the argument. Re your new version: I would question premise 3. (I might mention, in passing, that there are some logicians who question S5 - but I guess you know that already.)

          • igor

            Hi VT, Yes I know about S5 and am prepared to allow it for the sake of argument. P3. is well-known as contentious. I am not sure how AP justifies it, but I am well aware that WLC sometimes justifies some of his premises as "metaphysical intuition", as if that somehow makes it right. I think that metaphysics has a lot to answer for, or maybe the way it is employed by some of its enthusiasts.

  • Phil

    So if this is proof of a god existing in our actual world. What is the difference between it existing and not existing?

  • igor

    Proponents of the Modal Logic version of the Ontological Argument seem to claim all Possible Worlds. But with a bit of thought, it is apparent that this will not work.

    The Christian conceives Possible Worlds in which the Necessary Being is the God of Christianity.
    The Muslim conceives Possible Worlds in which the Necessary Being is the God of Islam.
    The indigenous person conceives Possible Worlds in which the Necessary Being is a Spirit Creator.
    The Modal Logic practitioner conceives Possible Worlds in which the Necessary Being is the Maximally Great Being.

    So in each case, the "observer" conceives a different sub-set of all Possible Worlds, but to the observer the sub-set appears to be all Possible Worlds. So what the proponent of the Modal Logic Ontological Argument asserts is all Possible Worlds, is in reality (in imagination, actually) a sub-set of all Possible Worlds, permitted by the blinkers.

  • igor

    1. Humans are contingent, so anything imagined by a human is also contingent, indeed necessarily contingent.
    2. The content of something imagined by a human may be necessary within the context of that imagination, but because the imagination itself is contingent, the content is also necessarily contingent.
    3. Within the imagined context of a Possible World, there is the Necessary Being known as the Maximally Great Being.
    4. The Maximally Great Being exists necessarily, but necessarily contingently.