Arguments for God’s Existence: The Ontological Argument

Guest post by billybob

Betrand Russell once exclaimed “Great God in Boots!—the ontological argument is sound!” Not sure what he was smoking that day, but it must have been some pretty good shit. The ontological argument is an attempt to prove God by logic, and I will evaluate the version used by William Lane Craig:

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

Convinced? Let’s start with the first line:

1. It is possible that a maximally great being (God) exists

The “It is possible” simply plays on the fact that our knowledge is limited, so you can’t say that a God or a maximally great galaxy eating troll does not exist as you would have to prove a negative. Line 1 does not say it is definite that a maximally great being (God) exists; therefore, 1. a) logically follows:

1. a) “It is possible a maximally great being (God) does not exist”

Going one step further, let’s substitute one of the following for “being”:

– penis

– vagina

– 300′ tall reptile

– anything you make up in the next minute

– good being

– evil being

So if the logic of the ontological argument is valid, a maximally great Godzilla is real: run for your lives! What the hell does maximally great mean, maximally great to whom and compared to what, and what are its attributes? The words essentially have no real meaning without some context, if at all. What is the length and girth of a maximally great penis? Maybe we should ask a porn star.

I should stop now as the argument is obviously flawed, but I am a bit of a masochist so onward.

Second Line

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

2. a)“If it is possible that a maximally great being does not exist, then a maximally great being does not exist in some possible world”

How does saying, “If it is possible that a maximally great being exists” logically justify “then a maximally great being exists in some possible world”? Why does someone claiming something is possible mean that it is actually a fact in some world? It does not follow. If the logic in this line is valid, then everything anyone can think of exists in some possible world.

2. b) If it is possible that a maximally great planet-eating-vorpal-dragon-kitten exists, then a maximally great planet-eating-vorpal-dragon-kitten exists in some possible world.

Third Line

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

3. a) If a maximally great being does not exist in some possible world, then it does not exist in every possible world.

It seems that this line means if maximally great being exists, it is so great that it would have to exist in all possible worlds. Why? This line gives character to a maximally great being that wants to be everywhere. Other than the fact that the argument fails if it doesn’t want to occupy every world, why would a maximally great being exist in every possible world. Maybe it hates some worlds? This is the human trait of seeking power, already the argument is anthropomorphic, what the maximally great being would want is to be all powerful, it wants what we want. Maybe it would just want to sit in one world and smoke a maximally great spliff.

Do I really have to continue? My brain hurts, and the stupid is just overwhelming. I need a drink; it is the only way to continue discussing this nonsense.

—————–

Now I can continue my mind has been numbed.

Line 4

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

4. a) If a maximally great being does not exist in every possible world, then it does not exist in the actual world.

It must mean that our world is one of the possible worlds. I guess Craig is talking about a multi-verse, and if a maximally great being exists in all the possible worlds in a multi-verse, then one of them is our actual universe. This is almost the same as line 3 and Craig uses sleight of hand by conflating possible world and actual world so that our universe becomes the subject of the argument: are there multiple possible worlds? Craig obviously must accept some form of a multi-verse hypothesis even if there is not a lot of proof for it.

Lines 5-7

5. Therefore, a maximally great being exists in the actual world.

5. a) Therefore, a maximally great being does not exist in the actual world.

6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

6. a) Therefore, a maximally great being does not exist.

7. Therefore, God exists.

7. a) Therefore, God does not exist.

Lines 5-7 sum up Craig’s proof that god exists or in the a) version that god does not exist. Therefore God both exists and does not exist. Like a negative and positive, the arguments neutralize each other.

Conclusion

The ontological argument convinces only those who desperately want to believe because it suffers from at least three flaws. It is a convoluted version of the god of the gaps argument, uses imprecise and superlative words with no context and commits errors of logic.

A typical god of the gaps argument is “you don’t know how x occurred so god did it” Craig turns this into “you don’t know everything so god is possible.” Craig uses the fact that our limited knowledge cannot prove a god or gods do not exist. No rational person could go through life believing everything is possible, they would have to believe in all gods, fairies and goblins. What can be proven by evidence to exist exists; everything else is an abstract concept.

What is a “maximally great being”? Without a description of the being, the words are so vague that they are meaningless. Maximally great is a comparative phrase that has no real meaning without context, someone could say Ms. X is the greatest, greatest at what, greater than whom? Why would a maximally great being (god) need worshippers: is it maximally insecure?

The basic format of the argument is if x is possible, then x is actual. Why? Because if there are an infinite number of possible worlds anything is possible? This is fantasy speak. How do we know there are an infinite number of possible worlds and even if there are does anything we imagine to exist in one of those hypothetical worlds, exist? Craig’s version of the ontological argument is based on there being multiple possible worlds; actually, he needs an infinite amount of worlds because in a finite number of worlds a maximally great being may not exist. Insert a number of worlds “then a maximally great being exists in 1 of 3 possible worlds.”That sounds silly: what worlds? Craig needs the vagueness of “every possible world” to support his assertion.

Where did these possible worlds come from? Do they already exist and who created them? The line “then a maximally great being exists in some possible world” assumes that the possible worlds already exist. The worlds already exist and the maximally great being is an inhabitant of the possible world? If Craig’s god is the maximally great being where did the worlds where it exists come from? The argument assumes that either there is a “possible world” created by a maximally, maximally great creator god, the “possible worlds” have always existed or the maximally great being created the “possible worlds” and created itself? Did the maximally great being exist before the worlds? Very confusing, not sure of the logic of this if there is any. Essentially “some possible world” assumes some possible world already exists. If the maximally great being created the possible worlds it exists in, then the argument assumes god from the beginning by using the phrase “some possible worlds” (created by a maximally great being (god)).

The ontological argument fails: possible ≠ actual.

Note: I will get started on the next argument for God; it seems God can only be found in words not deeds.

32 thoughts on “Arguments for God’s Existence: The Ontological Argument

  1. In the highly recommended video linked below, Brian Dalton (aka Mr. Deity, YouTube atheist vlogger) points out that arguments by themselves are empty unless the argument uses observable (as opposed to merely “conceivable”) facts about reality as its premises. He uses the Kalam Cosmological as his example, and he destroys it in more ways than you might expect. Just under 15 mins.

  2. William Lane Craig has a patina of respectability about him that is conferred upon him entirely by people awestruck at his height, his dark fitted suit, his erudition, his airs. And a toy Ph.D. Yet, appearances and erudition is all he’s got, and not enough people can see that he’s factually stark naked. His “arguments” consist of name-dropping and quote-dropping, and inconclusive ideas that God is “more likely than not” to exist – he has enough sense to remember that he has no concrete evidence to show. He misconstrues various things scientists say, sometimes when they’re standing a few feet away (eg. Dr. Sean Carroll), and it’s cringe-inducing to decent folk.

    tl;dr Dr. William Lane Craig is a dressed-up buffoon. Secularists and atheists should refuse to debate him the same way they would refuse to debate Alex Jones or Charles Manson.

  3. 1) It is possible that the ontological argument is only trotted out in the absence of any actual evidence for a maximally great being.

    2) Therefore there is no evidence for a maximally great being.

    3) Therefore there is no maximally great being*.

    * Seems that gods credit rating has been downgraded from omnipotent to maximally great in an attempt to sidestep the patently obvious logical inconsistencies that an omnipotent and omniscient being brings into the “discussion”.

    This seems to negatively affected the old boy, in the good old days he routinely destroyed cities, entire civilizations and the planet, today he seems hard pressed to make a cameo appearance in a dogs backside or a grilled cheese sandwich.

    • I recently went looking to see if there were any new
      arguments for god. Apparently any new proof of god is
      limited to a dogs backside:)

  4. This kind of “rebuttal” is exactly the kind of thing I had in mind when I offered to do a series of philosophical responses to apologist arguments. All too depressingly often atheists think they’re so damn smart and religious people are total morons, and they smugly spout off without giving it serious thought only to end up as a punch line at one of Craig’s talks.

    This whole post is simply wrong. There’s no gentle way to put it. It completely misses the whole point of the ontological argument, right from the first premiss (which, no, is not a “god of the gaps” argument). It doesn’t even seem like you know what the word “ontological” means. Hell, at one point you even dismiss a proposition by saying it “does not follow”… not only does it indeed follow, that particular proposition is actually one of the axioms of modal logic – it’s not only true, it’s tautologically true; it *can’t* be not true. (I note that you took pains to mention the fact that Russell once bought the argument while still an undergraduate (and for the record, what he was smoking that day was tobacco that was airborne when he had his realization – it’s a pretty well-known story), but you completely missed the warning in the following sentence, where even after he realized the argument was flawed he still cautioned that *finding* its flaw is not easy. And incidentally, your silly “negation” argument doesn’t work, because your line “3a” is completely nonsensical – the actual line 3 actually does make sense, in context.)

    Religious people may all have the wrong conclusions, but if you assume they’re dribbling idiots, you’re only setting yourself up to be trapped by the clever ones among them and turned into laughing-stock examples. I’ve lots of people baffled by why William Lane Craig is so popular among Christians – the answer is because he often shows up atheists as clueless and out of their depth precisely because they underestimate him. There is a virulent streak of anti-intellectualism and anti-philosophy among New Atheism (that Mister Deity video is a good example of this), and Craig exploits it; that’s how he earns his cred among Christians. Craig is wrong, but he is not a fool – he didn’t pick this form of the ontological argument without giving it very serious and careful thought. If you are going to criticize his philosophical work, you’d better be *damn* cautious about it, or the one who comes off looking like a fool won’t be Craig.

    • William Lane Craig is a smooth salesman. We all have to carefully spend time dissecting his spiel.

      No. There is nothing to be gained by entertaining these hucksters. We know he is reciting carefully edited messages written for people who desperately want assurances. This is the Christian psychology frontline assault strategy.

      Criticizing the concept of God is simple. Show me the deity.

      Forget about black holes and singularities. What size genitalia does God have? What does he do with this junk? Why did he dispose of his original wife. What the hell did he invent the food chain for? What sort of psychological reward did he get from causing three global mass extinctions(of all known lifeforms)?

      All stupid questions but more to the point for an actual God concept.

    • “right from the first premiss (which, no, is not a “god of the gaps” argument).”

      Let me rephrase the line with what is implicit added

      As we do not know everything it is possible that a maximally great being (god) exists in one of an infinite number of imagined worlds.

      This is basically a form of the presuppositional argument.

      The god of the gaps argument is;

      you don’t know how life (universe etc. anything we don’t know) began so it must have been god therefore god

      Craig’s argument is based us not knowing everything, it is sort of a revved version of the god of the gaps. It takes the reverse approach, we don’t know everything therefore god.

      “And incidentally, your silly “negation” argument doesn’t work, because your line “3a” is completely nonsensical – the actual line 3 actually does make sense, in context.)”

      Line 3 with implicit meanings

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

      3. a) If a maximally great being does not exist in some possible world, then it does not exist in every possible world.

      When I first wrote this I was not sure it worked but then I realized the assumption in Craig’s line 3, that a maximally great being would occupy all worlds means that if it does does not occupy all worlds then the maximally great the being is not maximally great.

      “it does not follow”

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

      2. b) If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in one of an infinite number of imagined worlds.

      I still do not understand how you get from possible to existing, why is that logically consistent? Is there an infinite number of worlds so all thing exist in some possible world?

      At the end of the argument Craig uses the word phrase “actual world’, jumping back into the real world so “possible worlds” evaporates once you enter reality.

      The argument is a sophisticated version of a word salad.

      • > Let me rephrase the line with what is implicit added

        You seem to think “implicit” means “stuff you insert to cover for stuff you don’t understand”. Your entire “rebuttal” is just a series of blind swipes at straw men.

        > As we do not know everything it is possible that a maximally great being (god) exists in one of an infinite number of imagined worlds.

        Nothing in Craig’s argument has anything to do with “we do not know everything” – there is *literally* not a single word in there about “knowing”, “not knowing”, “unknown”, “understanding”, or anything even remotely related. That is entirely your own invention, based entirely on your own preconceptions about how you think all theological arguments work, and on your misunderstanding of Craig’s use of “possible”. All you’ve managed to do is rebut a premiss of your own invention.

        > Craig’s argument is based us not knowing everything, it is sort of a revved version of the god of the gaps.

        No it isn’t. First, it has nothing to do with us “not knowing everything”, and second, nothing in it even remotely resembles offering an explanation for some unknown phenomena, which is what “god-of-the-gaps” is. You are trying very hard to cram it into this category, because it’s a category that you understand. But it simply does not fit in that category.

        > When I first wrote this I was not sure it worked but then I realized the assumption in Craig’s line 3, that a maximally great being would occupy all worlds means that if it does does not occupy all worlds then the maximally great the being is not maximally great.

        Correct, basically. That is roughly Platinga’s definition of “maximal greatness”, which Craig borrows.

        > 2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
        >
        > I still do not understand how you get from possible to existing, why is that logically consistent? Is there an infinite number of worlds so all thing exist in some possible world?

        “If it is possible that X exists, then X exists in some possible world.” If X does not exist in *ANY* possible world, then “it is possible that X exists” can’t be true. It is incoherent to say “it is possible that X exists, but X doesn’t exist in *ANY* possible world”… that would be saying “it is possible that X exists, but it isn’t possible that X actually exists anywhere”, which is nonsense.

        Thus if “it is possible that X exists”, that means X *MUST* exist in some possible world. That is one of the cornerstones of ontology. (This doesn’t imply that the particular “possible world” actually literally exists in reality – as I keep repeating, this is not about “parallel universes”. It is a *POSSIBLE* world, nothing more, nothing less. If he meant “parallel universe”, he would have said “parallel universe”.)

        > The argument is a sophisticated version of a word salad.

        Everything looks like word salad to the illiterate.

        The “word salad” you think you’re looking at is actually just the textual form of a modal logic argument. In essence, it’s like you’re looking at a verbal description of a mathematical equation and saying it’s gibberish. All that really reveals is that you don’t understand the math involved.

  5. So here is a new one to me.

    God is a concept, so how can anyone say he does not exist.

    So is existence a proper property of a concept?

  6. Heheh, love this stuff

    When I first learned about formal logic, while taking a philosophy class, it was impressed upon me that just because an argument is logically sound and consistent, doesn’t mean it has any relation to real things. I am not an expert in logic.

    All X are Y
    Z is an X
    Therefore Z is Y

    All glibs are globs
    Schefkel is a glib
    Therefore Schefkel is a glob

    All trees are pink
    Billybob is a tree
    Therefore Billy bob is pink

    The first is the logical form of a syllogism
    The second is logical, but nonsense.
    The third is logical, but with false premises.

    Without some premise in the real world logic produces nonsense.
    Without accurate premises, logic produces inaccurate results.

    Godzilla’s penis really doesn’t do the ontological argument justice though.

    Example:
    A maximally great hammer, call it Thor’s hammer, is an ideal hammer regardless of the circumstances. But, if what you really need is a wrench, then a sufficiently adequate wrench will probably be of more use to you than Thor’s hammer. Unless you just like breaking things.

    So what can we substitute for (God) in this argument about being? Yes, (the universe) is a good call. In fact, the ontological argument is quite similar to the many worlds argument. But that doesn’t mean there are many worlds.

    We don’t have all the premises, yet.

    Also, the ontological argument is somewhat circular. The definition of being, is “something that exists”, so saying being exists because X, is redundant at best.
    The ‘maximally great’ part of the argument is the logical slight of hand used to distract from a hidden premise. Being exists by definition, not in relation to anything.

    • > When I first learned about formal logic, while taking a philosophy class, it was impressed upon me that just because an argument is logically sound and consistent, doesn’t mean it has any relation to real things.

      I think you’re confusing soundness with validity. An argument can be valid but unsound if it’s form is correct, but the premisses are not true. For example, the pink billybob trees. (And the glib Schefkel globs.)

      But if the argument is valid, and the premisses are true, then the argument is sound. In that case, it *does* have a relation to reality (assuming the premisses have a relation to reality, which they must if they are “true”).

      So if someone actually comes up with an argument for God’s existence that is sound – that is, where all the premisses are true, and where the form is valid – then you have to accept the fact that God exists. In reality. Denying that conclusion would make you irrational.

      Of course, that hasn’t happened, and it doesn’t seem likely that it ever will.

      > In fact, the ontological argument is quite similar to the many worlds argument.

      No, it isn’t. Not even close. In fact, it has nothing to do with the many-worlds hypothesis at all. (It’s also not a god-of-the-gaps argument. It’s an ontological argument – it tells you exactly what kind of argument it is right in the name.)

      All that “possible worlds” stuff has nothing to do with hypothesizing that there are other worlds, or that one of them has a god (or “maximally great being” or whatever). It’s all just a way to show that God’s existence is a necessary conclusion following from its characteristics… or in other words, it’s an ontological argument. All the gymnastics with the “possible worlds” and “maximal greatness” is only done to (try to) generate that conclusion without begging the question. It’s all just thought experiment to lead you to the conclusion.

      It’s as if I said: “Imagine a world where the Earth is flat. In that world we wouldn’t see ships getting lower as they move towards to the horizon. But we do see that. Therefore, we don’t live in a world where the Earth is flat.” Nothing about this argument actually requires the existence of a world with a flat Earth; the fact that no other worlds exist, or that no other worlds exist with a flat Earth, would not invalidate my conclusion. It’s just a thought experiment to illustrate the conclusion – the “flat Earth world” is a *hypothetical* “possible world” we can conceptualize and reason about to get a better understanding about our own world. Craig’s “possible worlds” where “maximally great” beings exist is the same thing – just a thought experiment to illustrate the real conclusion. (As for exactly how they do that… well, that would require explaining exactly what he’s trying to do, and how his argument (supposedly) accomplishes that, and that requires far more explanation than I’m willing to cram into a comment.)

      > Being exists by definition, not in relation to anything.

      Yes, *THAT* is why the ontological argument fails. (Or rather, that’s one way of showing why it’s pointless as a proof.) Not because the thought experiments it uses to make its point aren’t literally real, and not because you can superficially reword it to be about maximally great Godzilla dicks.

      Sneering at apologists and haphazardly dismissing their arguments without really giving them any thought or understanding them may give some shallow satisfaction in the short term. But sometimes taking the time to respect the intelligence of our opponents and to really understand what they’re trying to do with their apologetics can actually end up exposing us to really profound and enlightening ideas. That can make us better skeptics and thinkers in general in the long run.

      Of course, the apologists are still totally wrong. Acknowledging that they’re not complete idiots doesn’t change that fact at all.

      • “I think you’re confusing soundness with validity.”
        Very likely, it’s been a while, and I was always more disposed to the continental end rather than the more boring analytic, heheh. Except for my admiration of Russell and Philosophy of science, I’m a thoroughly disgusting postmodernist cretin.

        “that is, where all the premisses are true, and where the form is valid – then you have to accept the fact that God exists.”
        But it’s not just about knowing if all the premises are true… Per se, but also if you have access to all the premises. Sometimes we don’t see even gaping holes… Or our hidden premises. But eh, formal logic was never my strong suit, rhetoric brings the fun.

        “just a thought experiment to illustrate the real conclusion”

        It’s more than that though… To them.
        They are stuck in a kind of platonic understanding of perfect being. Like Plato derived his forms from geometry thinking. The world is only a shadow… Blah blah. Perfect being must exist because it’s perfect.

        It’s backwards as hell, but so was Plato in a lot of ways, and you only realize that when you embrace empiricism as an arbiter, something theologians lose too much doing.

        Also many worlds, in physics, is not a sci-fi stand alone hypothesis, it’s actually an interpretation of QM. In order to keep QM, which you have to if you are sane, but get around a problematic wave function collapse, they sub in a universal wave function, which demands many worlds, that is, a tree of existence where possibilities are not just probable, but existing. All of them.

        The similarity in both cases is that a multi verse gets plugged in to support an unprovable claim. (Some religious)Theology claims God, (some physicists)QM claims a universal wave function. Both are ontological, as they both deal with the nature of existence. Neither is even close to testable.
        Of course Theology is a Grand Canyon worth of rational holes, whereas QM is and Everest of empirical evidence. So, very different in that last sense.

        “Of course, the apologists are still totally wrong. Acknowledging that they’re not complete idiots doesn’t change that fact at all.”

        Agreed.

        • > … I was always more disposed to the continental end rather than the more boring analytic, heheh.

          … said to the boring analytic. ^_^;

          > They are stuck in a kind of platonic understanding of perfect being. Like Plato derived his forms from geometry thinking. The world is only a shadow… Blah blah. Perfect being must exist because it’s perfect.

          Craig *is* a Platonic realist (I think – it’s been a while since I last read up on him), which means he *does* believe that ideal Platonic forms have real existence somewhere in the cosmos. So he thinks that somewhere out in the cosmos (likely “in the mind of God”, whatever that means) there is an actual extant “perfect stapler”, and all the staplers we actually use are shadows or approximations of it. He really does believe that (if I’m remembering correctly), yes.

          But that is not what he’s trying to do with this argument. He’s cribbed terminology from Platinga (I think), and he’s trying to play the game Descartes first introduced to avoid (obvious) circularity in his argument.

          The original ontological arguments began “God is a perfect being (or ‘the greatest being’, or ‘that which there is nothing greater’, etc.)…”, and then went on to show that being “perfect” or “greatest” or whatever meant it *MUST* exist. Those early forms justly earned criticism for being circular – if you say “being the greatest means necessary existence”, then make the argument “God is the greatest… thus God necessarily exists”, you’ve really just said “God necessarily exists… thus God necessarily exists”.

          So later philosophers got more cagey about not baking necessary existence into the first line by starting with “it is *POSSIBLE* that a perfect being exists…” or “I can *CONCEIVE* of a perfect being…”. These are “safer” because they’re not (yet) implying that that perfect being *actually* exists, so they don’t beg the question. The trick, then, is all about getting from a mere “possible idea” to concrete existence. Post-Descartes, *all* forms of ontological argument are about playing this game, in various ways.

          Craig’s version is just another flavour of that game. Descartes used “mental concepts”, Craig uses “possible worlds”, but it’s the same thing. You could reword Craig’s argument using Cartesian “mental concepts” and not really change anything. (The punchline would just end up being something like “if God exists in *all* universe concepts that can be conceived of, then it must exist in that universe concept that exactly mirrors the real universe… thus God exists in the real universe”.)

          > Also many worlds, in physics, is not a sci-fi stand alone hypothesis, it’s actually an interpretation of QM. In order to keep QM, which you have to if you are sane, but get around a problematic wave function collapse, they sub in a universal wave function, which demands many worlds, that is, a tree of existence where possibilities are not just probable, but existing. All of them.

          Yes, many-worlds was just about getting around the problem in QM that you can’t have both realism and locality. Conventional interpretations give up locality (whereas Deepak Chopra gave up reality, nyuk) – hence quantum entanglement and “spooky action at a distance”. Many-worlds made an end run around the problem by saying we can have realism *and* locality… if we assume “local” is spread out over an infinite number of universes “generated” from the wavefunction collapse.

          But saying that Craig’s ontological argument requires MWI is a bit of a stretch. First, it would imply that Craig is betting on MWI to be true. That seems too much of a gamble for a person as clever as Craig. If science ruled out MWI just a couple years after Craig published his argument – and MWI has always been *EXTREMELY* controversial – that would be game over. More problematic would be if real physicists got wind of what he was attempting to argue, and found a way to cut his concept of MWI to shreds, making him a laughing stock. And there’s always been a large contingent that pooh-poohs MWI as pseudoscience (in fact, they were so adamant that MWI was junk science, they literally drove Everett right out of physics… and into killing people (weapons development)), which makes it a rather shaky foundation to base your headlining killer argument on.

          But the reason I’m almost certain that he isn’t using any forms of MWI (other than that I recognize the form of ontological argument he’s using, and it doesn’t require MWI) is that MWI violates his larger philosophy. MWI is incompatible with Christianity.

          Think about it: if MWI were true, that would mean that there are universes where Mary aborted Jesus. There are universes where the Romans brought him to the cross and said “Psyche!” (in Latin – although technically, MWI implies that there is *are* universes where they literally did say “Psyche!”) then let him go. There are universes where the Ark sank, and all of humanity ended. There are universes where every copy of the Bible, and ever person who knew anything about Christianity, didn’t survive the first century.

          More tellingly, MWI effectively makes the whole point of sin and requiring forgiveness meaningless. There are universes where I committed no sins whatsoever, and thus have no need for salvation… there are universes where *EVERY HUMAN THAT EVER LIVED* committed no sins whatsoever. And in any case, I can’t be held morally accountable for my “sins”, because the only thing that separates sinner me from the version of me who chose not to commit the sin is a flip of a coin. I don’t need forgiveness, I just have shitty luck.

          No, Craig is way too smart to have failed to consider these implications, or to try to handwave them away with appeals to goddidit.

          Thus, I don’t believe that Craig buys MWI at all, and I don’t believe he would base his signature argument for God’s existence on it.

          • “But that is not what he’s trying to do with this argument. He’s cribbed terminology from Platinga (I think), and he’s trying to play the game Descartes first introduced to avoid (obvious) circularity in his argument.”

            Descartes was also trying to avoid being burned at the stake, literally. In more modern times, theologians are the one’s on the defensive.

            Although I loved reading Descartes, for his intellect, I tend to see his rationalism as just a less literal form of Plato’s primacy of ideas nonsense. It made a certain sense when empirical knowledge was minimal, but Descartes was really the last of the breed… logical positivism being more of a death rattle.

            ““God is the greatest… thus God necessarily exists”, you’ve really just said “God necessarily exists… thus God necessarily exists”.”

            Yes, exactly. So its really about they way it is said.

            “The trick, then, is all about getting from a mere “possible idea” to concrete existence. Post-Descartes, *all* forms of ontological argument are about playing this game, in various ways.”

            Sure, but… that is harder… for an empirically minded person, than for a pure rationalist or platonist. Its not just baked into the words, but the worldview and ideology. They have to work harder to hide the premise.

            “But saying that Craig’s ontological argument requires MWI is a bit of a stretch.”

            I don’t think its required, I do think its a part of this particular formulation. The multiverse is fashionable. Even invoking probability makes no real sense here, since we only have one universe as an example and no clear idea about the initial conditions. But by invoking it, you attribute a certain intellectual street cred to it, that it doesn’t really deserve.

            What is truly mindboggling for me, is the inclusion of: “possible world”

            If we are talking about THE GOD of monotheism, this is a staggering admission. No matter how maximally cheese grating a being it is, this is an admission that ‘the god’ being discussed, the thing being proved, exists in a universe, as opposed to being the ‘outside’ creator. I mean, it is one thing to say, that the laws of our universe don’t apply outside of it, so the God can be a whateveryouwant, but by placing hesheit ‘in a universe’, you move from the god, to simply a god. Ooops.

            “First, it would imply that Craig is betting on MWI to be true.”
            He is trying to make belief ‘reasonable’, theologically this is more in line with the way ‘the law’ uses ‘reasonable’. Most christians would be comfortable with the singular history of wave function collapse and its arbitrariness… and allowing for godly guidance… is probably more palatable to most theologians.

            “MWI is incompatible with Christianity.”
            “Think about it: if MWI were true, that would mean that there are universes where Mary aborted Jesus.”

            Sounds positively hellish. Heheh. I’m sure a theology could be built around that.

            “There are universes where I committed no sins whatsoever, and thus have no need for salvation… there are universes where *EVERY HUMAN THAT EVER LIVED* committed no sins whatsoever.”

            So…Heaven?

            I had a conversation with some friends a while back, she was a religious christian, he was a crazy anarchist. They were arguing about Lee Smolins ‘every black hole is another universe’ of all things. It was a gloriously unscientific conversation to witness, but at one point she turned to me and asked me quite seriously if heaven could be in one of those blackhole universes.

            I said…. I suppose. She liked that idea.

            “And in any case, I can’t be held morally accountable for my “sins”, because the only thing that separates sinner me from the version of me who chose not to commit the sin is a flip of a coin. I don’t need forgiveness, I just have shitty luck.”

            Calvinism disagrees.

            “Thus, I don’t believe that Craig buys MWI at all, and I don’t believe he would base his signature argument for God’s existence on it.”

            I think he is smart enough to play to the fashionable, but as implications go… invoking probability is a huge enough blunder in my view that I don’t really hold his fore thought in that high a regard.

          • > What is truly mindboggling for me, is the inclusion of: “possible world”

            That’s because you keep interpreting it as a literal world, instead of what it literally is: a possible world – a world in conceptual space that is not logically incoherent (and hence, “possible”).

            If Craig had meant “parallel world” or “alternate universe” or anything like that, he would have used those words. Instead he used wording from modal logic that does not require that the “possible worlds” exist – and in fact, whose standard interpretation is that those possible worlds do *NOT* (necessarily) exist. Why do that, if he actually needs them to exist? Why agonize so carefully over every word in this argument but then just… forget that key element?

            It doesn’t add up. You know what does add up? That he meant what he said and said what he meant, and that he used standard terminology from modal logic with the intention that they be understood by their standard (not fringe) interpretations. That is, that the “possible worlds” are mere concepts, not actual worlds.

            > “Think about it: if MWI were true, that would mean that there are universes where Mary aborted Jesus.”
            >
            > Sounds positively hellish. Heheh. I’m sure a theology could be built around that.

            That’s just the tip of the theological iceberg. With MWI, *ANY* meaningful event in *any* theology can, and *MUST HAVE BEEN*, subverted. Theological narrative is rendered impossible.

            If it’s possible for God not to exist, then there *must* be universes without God… and some of them *must* be quite heavenly. Modern theologians are clever enough to try and argue for God’s *necessary existence* – basically the ontological argument, in most of its modern forms – to avoid that problem, but they’re still left with the problem that in some universes… God is a complete and utter douchebag, totally unworthy of respect or worship except by definition in defiance of its actual behaviour. (Arguably, this universe is one of them.)

            There are universes where Jesus was a paedophile. There are universes where he sided with the Romans and exterminated the Jews. There are universes where Jesus has actually come back to the world after a thousand years and said: “Wow, you people believed all that shit? What a bunch of maroons.” There are universes where the Romans nailed Jesus to the cross, then stared at him for a few minutes and said, “well, shit, what was the point of that?” because they live in a universe where humans are immune to crucifixion. Hell, there are universe where the Apocalypse was on the cusp of happening, Jesus returned in the Second coming… but then some kid with a Glock plugged him between the eyes, and everything turned out rosy afterwards.

            MWI is straight-up incompatible with Christianity – or *any* religion for that matter. In fact, an entire branch of theology has always been about *dismissing* the possibility of MWI… *before MWI was even defined*. It goes all the way back to Leibniz’s “best of all possible worlds”. (Which, as you can see, uses the term “possible world” as early as 1710 – and the *idea* was used even earlier. It’s not an MWI thing.)

            Craig, by the way, also has an argument for why this is the only/best possible world.

            > “There are universes where I committed no sins whatsoever, and thus have no need for salvation… there are universes where *EVERY HUMAN THAT EVER LIVED* committed no sins whatsoever.”
            >
            > So…Heaven?

            While MWI certainly allows for a(n infinite number of) worlds that could be considered “heaven”, the lack of sin doesn’t necessarily imply that.

            In fact, there could be worlds where no human that ever lived ever committed any sin… yet the world itself is harsh and miserable with rampant disease, meteorites dropping out of the sky killing and maiming, just general all-round bad luck regardless of the fact that all the people are perfectly good. There could be worlds where not only has no-one ever sinned but where everyone obsequiously worships God 24/7… yet *still* terrible, shitty things happen to them.

            Imagine trying to square Christian theology with such a world:
            GOD: Bow before me and beg for salvation, and I will free you from your suffering!
            PEOPLE: Suffering? You mean the suffering you’re obviously the only cause of, asshole?
            GOD: Uh, your suffering is only because of the existence of sin in the world… which… uh….
            PEOPLE: And we *did* try bowing and begging for salvation, and we *still* got screwed.
            GOD: That was because of… uh… I was just testing you?
            PEOPLE: Even though you knew the *test* would just mean a universe (infinite number of, actually) that remained loyal but got screwed anyway?
            GOD: Uh… I am love?
            PEOPLE: Then fuck off and go love yourself, God. Biblically.

            > “And in any case, I can’t be held morally accountable for my “sins”, because the only thing that separates sinner me from the version of me who chose not to commit the sin is a flip of a coin. I don’t need forgiveness, I just have shitty luck.”
            >
            > Calvinism disagrees.

            Technically Craig is famously *not* Calvinist, but even if he were, Calvinism doesn’t have an answer for this particular moral problem. Calvinism requires the original sin… what about all those infinite universes where it didn’t happen? And the only difference between “me in a universe with original sin” and “me in a universe without original sin” is, again, blind luck. Nothing I, God, Satan, Adam or Eve, or *anyone* or anything did is responsible for deciding which of those to “me”s I am. It’s not the case that I am destined to sin – I am destined *both* to sin *and* to not sin, and it’s a flip of the coin which “me” I am.

            Indeed, many-worlds makes Calvinism completely incoherent (as it does for most forms of Christian theology). According to Calvinism, God decided in advance who was going to be saved and who wasn’t before Creation. Sounds legit, but if you now throw MWI into the mix, you realize that the list of people God chose to be saved has to be… everyone. And the list of people God chose to be damned is… everyone. Which is nonsensical to the whole idea of predestined salvation. Predestination – and prophecy in general – become meaningless, because no matter what you predestine/prophesy/predict… you’ll be right in an infinite number of universes and you’ll be wrong in an infinite number of universes. It’s the ultimate “heads I win, tails you lose” game.

            Calvinism doesn’t make sense with MWI; Craig’s pet theology does kinda allow it, in a limited way, but….

            > Just so you don’t think I pulled the MWI completely out of my own ass…
            >
            > https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_realism
            >
            > So, there are at least 2 asses involved.

            Yeah, literally two. ^_^; You and the guy who came up with that.

            I had heard of modal realism (actually as the punchline of a joke), but it’s really a fringe thing (the last word on that wiki page is the *inventor* of modal logic saying “this is bullshit”). If you want to argue that Craig is using MWI because it’s “fashionable” (which I don’t agree that it is)… well modal realism is definitely *not* fashionable. So that argument kinda falls apart.

            But this is all moot anyway. Someone sent me a message letting me know that Craig definitely does *not* accept MWI.

            Part of the message just reminded me of what I already knew but forgot: Craig uses a Leibniz-like argument that this universe we live in is the “best” possible universe the God could have created. Basically God could not create a universe with less suffering and still achieve his plan (his “mysterious ways”, if you prefer). This argument explicitly refutes the existence of other worlds.

            The other part of the message was telling me that Craig apparently did a debate with physicist Sean Carroll where the issue came up – apparently in the context of “free will” – and Craig made it pretty clear he doesn’t buy MWI. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t confirm… but like I’ve been saying, that’s pretty much what Craig’s theology implies in general, so it’s hardly a surprise.

          • “That is, that the “possible worlds” are mere concepts, not actual worlds.”

            Fine with me, but it doesn’t address my point. In Christian theology, God is eternal and external to the world, he created it. This ontological argument places God IN THE WORLD, so even if it proved something about a being, that being is not the Christian creator God. It might say something about Thor or Jesus existing… But not even a conceptual creator God.

            “Theological narrative is rendered impossible”

            That’s why I said that most Christians would probably prefer wave function collapse, but simply alluding to fashionable ideas doesn’t bind you to them. Using modal logic is the safe route in that sense.

            “God is a complete and utter douchebag, totally unworthy of respect or worship except by definition in defiance of its actual behaviour.”

            This is why placing God in even a logically possible world is mind boggling, and why most theologians tend to keep God separate from the universe… and eternal.

            Also in modal logic, the closer the logically possible world is to ours the more value it has, otherwise you get Rick and Morty. Highly recommended, btw.

            “Imagine trying to square Christian theology with such a world”

            Well no, the original sin was disobedience, only after that salvation is needed. As soon as you rebel against God, that is sin, and you need saving.

            “It’s not the case that I am destined to sin – I am destined *both* to sin *and* to not sin, and it’s a flip of the coin which “me” I am.”

            The fact that you would have different destinies in different universes doesn’t matter to Calvin, it’s simply gods decision. For Calvin some were born beyond salvation, in this universe.

            “Predestination – and prophecy in general – become meaningless, because no matter what you predestine/prophesy/predict… you’ll be right in an infinite number of universes and you’ll be wrong in an infinite number of universes.”

            But you won’t be ‘you’ in all those universes, it would simply be someone like you. Calvinism essentially just leaves ‘your’ destiny up to God. Nothing limiting a different destiny in another world.

            “I had heard of modal realism (actually as the punchline of a joke)”
            Hahah, I gravitate to the weird stuff, as I find it fascinating, although I admit I thought it was more than one guy, before I went to wiki.

            “well modal realism is definitely *not* fashionable. So that argument kinda falls apart.”

            It doesn’t have to be, it just has to be similar enough… To be convincing.

            “Basically God could not create a universe with less suffering and still achieve his plan (his “mysterious ways”, if you prefer). This argument explicitly refutes the existence of other worlds.”

            Assuming he only had one plan. My guess is, one universe would bore me too, after a few eternities.

            “The other part of the message was telling me that Craig apparently did a debate with physicist Sean Carroll where the issue came up”

            Might look that one up. Sounds amusing.

    • The definition of being, is “something that exists”, so saying being exists because X, is redundant at best.

      But surely the ontological argument is saying that a being exists because X, which is a little different. Change “a being” to “an entity” and it seems clear, at least to me, that the question of redundancy is much more debatable. I think the real problem lies in the arbitrariness of the word “great”. Why should that necessarily include the property of existence?

      • A being is something that exists, so a supreme, perfect, ultimate… Must exist because it wouldn’t even be a being if it didn’t, and it’s the best at being a being, that any being can be…

        If I was talking about a hammer, the perfect hammer is a hammer that can hammer better than any other hammer. Hammering is what makes it a hammer, it’s in the name, but the perfect hammer may not exist though. It’s not a primary quality…

        Part of what makes it compelling is the wording, and what we feel is its main attribute, that makes it what it is. This is not logic, it’s rhetoric. An entity doesn’t entity anything. Also philosophers have had a hardon for the word ‘being’ since philosophers started philosophizing.

        And theology loves it because it plays well with the whole Essence before existence, mind of God stuff.

        • Existence is not an attribute or a quality, let alone primary.

          Which is one of the refutations of the ontological argument, which contains a premise that treats existence as an attribute.

          Existence can only be adduced by evidence.

          • > Existence is not an attribute or a quality, let alone primary.

            This is correct.

            > Existence can only be adduced by evidence.

            This is completely false.

            New atheists are often accused of “scientism”, which is basically fetishizing science – or rather empiricism – as the only true path to knowledge. Some of atheism’s most popular writers bend over backwards and twist every definition they can to make that *seem* true (for example, by redefining what is “evidence” to include things like mathematical proofs, which are, in fact, straight-up logical proofs and not empirical evidence).

            But it’s all complete nonsense. It’s trivially easy to show that you can use pure logic to prove that something exists, no evidence required.

            For example, suppose you know the following two facts are true:

            1. Nancy is a naturally-born human.
            2. Nancy is not an orphan.

            Without even leaving your chair, you now know that there *MUST* exist at least one other living human person in the universe. You know a parent exists. You don’t need evidence, and in fact you’re wasting your time bothering to look for it. If you find the parent, well duh shock-of-shocks, and if you don’t find the parent that tells you nothing (maybe you just missed them – absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).

            (And in fact, pure logic also tells you numerous other facts without requiring a lick of evidence: you know that person must have ~50% of the same DNA as Nancy; you know that person must have been fertile at one point and must have borne at least one child; etc.. The only motivation you might have to checking any of these facts would not be because you doubt the logic, it would be because you doubt the initial premisses.)

            And before you try to argue that I didn’t really use any logic because the conclusion is circular:

            1. Does not imply that any humans (besides Nancy) exist. It implies that other humans must have existed *in the past* (when Nancy was born), but it doesn’t imply they exist *now*.
            2. Does not imply that any humans (besides Nancy) exist, or indeed that they ever did. In order to be an orphan, you need two things: you need to have had parents at one point, and they need to be now dead. If Nancy had been created in a vat by superintelligent shades of the colour blue – never actually having any parents – then she would not be an orphan… but at the same time no other humans need exist, now or ever.

            It is only by using logic that I am able to produce new knowledge out of that existing knowledge. And that new knowledge is that something exists.

            And as I said, this kind of proof is trivial – I could do it a million different ways: “JFS1 is a plane that requires a human to fly. JFS1 is flying. Therefore, there must exist a human (who is flying JSF1).” “The graffiti in the room required a human to paint it. No human has left the room (or died) since before the graffiti was painted. Therefore, there must exist a human (and they must be in the room right now, and they must be someone who has painted graffiti at least once in their life, etc.).”

            It’s also just as easy to use pure logic to prove that something *doesn’t* exist. Empiricism (and by extension, science) can’t even touch that one.

            The problem of the ontological argument is not that it tries to prove existence logically, it’s that it hinges on existence being a property of the object (eg, God’s “maximal greatness”), rather than an external property contingent on other factors in the universe (eg, Nancy being naturally-born, which is not a property of the parent). You can prove something exists by pointing to the existence of something else that can’t exist without it, or by pointing to something true that can’t be true if the thing doesn’t exist. You can’t prove something exists by virtue of its own qualities; you can’t prove something exists because it… feels like it, or has a tendency to, or “exists by definition”, or whatever.

            Science (and empiricism) is all fine and good, but it is not the *ONLY* source of human knowledge. And in many fields, it’s not even the *best* source of human knowledge (I point you to those boneheaded atheist attempts to scientifically define morality… no less stupid than trying to mathematically quantify beauty). There are *two* – and only two – paths to knowledge: empirical and logical. Science is empirical; mathematics, metaphysics, and (most modern forms of) philosophy are logical. Both paths have their strengths and weaknesses, neither makes any sense at all without the other, and we are at our best when we leverage both.

            Don’t be one of those philosophy-hating atheists that worships science and evidence to the exclusion of all else.

          • I only know that Nancy exists because I have evidence that Nancy exists.

            That is an unstated premise of your argument.

          • > I only know that Nancy exists because I have evidence that Nancy exists.
            >
            > That is an unstated premise of your argument.

            No, that is an assumption you’ve inserted. It’s possible you know Nancy exists because of evidence, or perhaps the reason you know *she* exists is *also* via logical deduction.

            Either way, it doesn’t matter (that’s why it was “unstated” – it doesn’t matter). The point is the existence of Nancy’s parent, not the existence of Nancy.

        • A being is something that exists…

          I still think putting an article in front of the word “being” makes a big difference you’re not fully accounting for. Hercule Poirot is a being in the same way that he’s a man, a detective, and a Belgian. He just happens to be a fictional being rather than a real one.

          I agree that using the word “being” might make William Lane Craig’s version of the ontological argument more intuitively compelling, at least to some, but I can’t see how the logic would be significantly different if it were to read “a maximally great entity (God)” or even “something maximally great (God)”.

          • I agree it makes a difference, but in rhetoric the connotations of a word can be just as powerful as the denotation.

            The logic doesn’t change a whit. Theology is not about discovering truth, its about justifying scripture.

  7. The ontological argument:
    Premise 1: Hello!
    Premise 2: What a lovely day!
    Conclusion: Promptly do whatever I tell you to do (:

  8. @Steve Oberski

    Existence is not an attribute or a quality, let alone primary.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “primary” here, but I think the question of whether existence counts as an attribute or quality is at least debatable. Wouldn’t it be fair to say that the difference between an imaginary warthog and a real warthog is that the latter has the attribute of existence whereas the former doesn’t?

    It’s trivially easy to show that you can use pure logic to prove that something exists, no evidence required.

    For example, suppose you know the following two facts are true:

    1. Nancy is a naturally-born human.
    2. Nancy is not an orphan.

    But nobody gets facts for free. If I know Nancy is a natural-born non-orphan, that knowledge must have come from somewhere. The source could be direct testimony from Nancy herself, or it could be other known facts that allow the appropriate deductions, but any chain of deduction about what exists in the real world has to start with evidence. Steve Oberski is right on the money regarding this point.

    Science is empirical; mathematics, metaphysics, and (most modern forms of) philosophy are logical.

    Science is just as logical as mathematics and philosophy. Science involves the specific task of applying logical thinking to empirical evidence, unlike mathematics and unlike much philosophy, but logic is logic.

    • The second part of my previous comment (from the quoted sentence that begins “It’s trivially easy” onwards) should be addressed to Indi – sorry I forgot to indicate that.

  9. Indi,

    Just so you don’t think I pulled the MWI completely out of my own ass…

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_realism

    So, there are at least 2 asses involved.

    Also, I’ve been thinking about your interpretation, and I like it more and more by the minute.

    The idea that there is a God, that he created many worlds, but we never see him, because he only cares about the perfect world where no one sinned, and our entire universe is just a weird apple that fell too far from the tree…. its glorious.

  10. Joe, you are not maximally great unless everyone knows it!

    1. It is possible that a maximally great being (God) is known to exist.
    2. If it is possible that a maximally great being is known to exist, then a maximally great being would be known to exist to all inhabitants of some possible world wherein it exists.
    3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it would be known to exist to all inhabitants of every possible world wherein it exists.
    4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it would be known to exist to all inhabitants in an actual world wherein it exists
    5. Therefore, a maximally great being is known to exist to all inhabitants of the actual world.
    6. Therefore, a maximally great being is known to exist.
    7. Therefore, God is known to exist.

    Maybe presuppositional apologetics work?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Help

WordPress theme: Kippis 1.15