The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, esp. when considered as an academic discipline

Proving God #1: The Ontological Argument

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  • Proving God #1: The Ontological Argument

    So, we owe this one to St Anselm of Canterbury.

    Let God be the greatest thing conceivable.
    So God exists in the conception.
    A thing that exists in reality as well as conception is greater than one that exists only in the conception.
    If God exists only in the conception, we can conceive of a thing greater than God, an identical thing existing in reality also.
    But we have already decided there is no conceivable thing greater than God.
    God must therefore exist in reality.

    Comments welcome.

    Best wishes, 2RM.
    Last edited by 2ndRateMind; 06-20-2015, 05:59 AM.

  • #2
    Gaunilo's response to this was to take Anselm's argument and apply it a "lost island". Imagine a "lost island" which is greater than any island that can be conceived to exist. Gaunilo argues that following Anselm's line of argument, that island must actually exist in reality.

    I owe this reply to Peter Vardy's book The Puzzle of God.
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    • #3
      Yes, I think Gaunilo had a point. Whether one is talking the best possible island, or the scariest possible monster, or the kindest possible charity, it would seem we can, from this reasoning, claim it's reality. So where is the flaw, in the reasoning?

      Best wishes, 2RM.
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      • #4
        According to Peter Vardy, Anselm's reply was that "Guanilo had not understood his argument. Anselm's point is that only God has all perfections and his argument therefore only applies to God, on God is 'that which none greater can be conceived', only God is the greatest possible being. Because God is perfect God must, according to Anselm, be necessary, as otherwise God would be blacking something that belongs to perfection".....
        "Guanilo is saying that God is merely the greatest actual being just as the island is the greatest actual island - but this is not what Anselm is saying. Anselm is claiming that God is the greatest possible being and his argument applies only to God."

        I'm not sure if I quite follow the distinction that Vardy is making there.
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        • #5
          Interesting thought. I had not previously considered it. But whereas 'actual' implies existence, I am not sure that 'possible' does, however great that possibility might be.

          Best wishes, 2RM.
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          • #6
            Peter Vardy then goes on Rene Descartes who he thinks makes a clearer version of Anselm's argument. "Descartes holds that just as we cannot conceive of a triangle without it having three angles; just as we cannot think of a mountain without a valley so we cannot think of God without conceiving his as existing."

            He says that Descartes reformulated the argument as follows:
            1. Whatever belongs to the essential nature of something cannot be denied of it;
            2. God's essence includes existence; therefore
            3. Existence must be affirmed of God.

            Vardy also goes on to Kant who thought the argument made an illegitimate jump from ideas to ontos, 'reality'.

            There follows a lot of objections from Kant and some comments on "What does it mean to say that God exists?"

            He then goes on to Anslem's second argument which makes my head spin just trying to read it! :)
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            • #7
              So your head is spinning! So is mine! So I am not yet ready to discuss Descartes, and Kant, worthy though they be. My intention is discuss all the alleged proofs of God, in turn, and gradually, so we can all climb aboard the journey.

              Meanwhile, I am left to wondering, why does God's essence necessarily involve existence, this premise 2? It seems a bit like Descartes is assuming what he wants to prove.

              Best wishes, 2RM
              Last edited by 2ndRateMind; 06-21-2015, 08:24 AM.
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              • #8
                Originally posted by Bede View Post
                Gaunilo's response to this was to take Anselm's argument and apply it a "lost island". Imagine a "lost island" which is greater than any island that can be conceived to exist. Gaunilo argues that following Anselm's line of argument, that island must actually exist in reality.
                An island by definition is limited, God by definition is unlimited and greater than we can conceive. Therefor, the "lost island" analogy invalid. But, if one would argue, then that Island that is greater than anything that can be conceived is in nature God and so is God.

                Atheists object to any logical proof of God's existence, but they come up far shorter with positive proofs against God's existence.


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                • #9
                  Yes. But we are not here primarily concerned with the limits of God, but the incidence of Him. Or do you think they are the same?

                  Best wishes, 2RM.
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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by 2ndRateMind View Post
                    Yes. But we are not here primarily concerned with the limits of God, but the incidence of Him. Or do you think they are the same?

                    Best wishes, 2RM.

                    The first line of the proof: "Let God be the greatest thing conceivable." That's a statement of limits, or lack thereof. The limitless nature of God is a proof of incidence.

                    I think the proof is clearer in the negative form. We can't conceive of God not existing. If you don't believe God exists, then it's not God you're conceiving of that doesn't exist.
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                    • #11
                      OK. We all come at this one from different angles, with different idea-scapes.

                      I'll tell you my problem with this alleged proof of God, and submit myself to your criticism.

                      It seems to me that the greatness of a thing is a matter of its quality, while the incidence of a thing is a matter of its quantity. A thing can be great, and exist zero, one, several or many times. I think Anselm mixes the two, quality and quantity, and that is why (for me) this particular proof fails. However great a thing, it does not affect the number of times it occurs in the universe. We can imagine the greatest possible politician, and such a politician would be a truly great personality. Nevertheless, however great the politician in our imagination, the incidence of him in reality (and I just know you sceptics are saying there is no such thing as a great politician!) would not be affected, at all. For me, quality and quantity are separate attributes, and not to be confused with each other, even when we are discussing an amorphous concept such as 'greatness'.

                      Best wishes, 2RM.
                      Last edited by 2ndRateMind; 06-22-2015, 04:36 AM.
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by 2ndRateMind View Post
                        It seems to me that the greatness of a thing is a matter of its quality, while the incidence of a thing is a matter of its quantity. A thing can be great, and exist zero, one, several or many times. I think Anselm mixes the two, quality and quantity, and that is why (for me) this particular proof fails. However great a thing, it does not affect the number of times it occurs in the universe. We can imagine the greatest possible politician, and such a politician would be a truly great personality. Nevertheless, however great the politician in our imagination, the incidence of him in reality (and I just know you sceptics are saying there is no such thing as a great politician!) would not be affected, at all. For me, quality and quantity are separate attributes, and not to be confused with each other, even when we are discussing an amorphous concept such as 'greatness'.
                        God by definition is the greatest thing conceivable.
                        The greatest thing conceivable is God existing not just in concept, but in reality. Therefor, God exists in reality.

                        God is greatIST. God can't be greatist and exist zero because that wouldn't be God. Something that exists is greater than something that does not exist -- so God can't be zero, because zero is not greatist.

                        A politician by definition is not the greatest thing conceivable. This argument has no application to politicians or islands.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Cornelius View Post

                          God by definition is the greatest thing conceivable.
                          The greatest thing conceivable is God existing not just in concept, but in reality. Therefor, God exists in reality.

                          God is greatIST. God can't be greatist and exist zero because that wouldn't be God. Something that exists is greater than something that does not exist -- so God can't be zero, because zero is not greatist.

                          A politician by definition is not the greatest thing conceivable. This argument has no application to politicians or islands.

                          Yes, I think this is a fair, if unsophisticated, summary of where Anselm is coming from. If his 'proof' works for you, that is just fine. I am not trying to demolish anyone's faith, just investigating the best of reasonings that have led people to believe in God's existence.

                          Nevertheless, you still have to address the issue as to why the idea of ultimate greatness necessarily involves the idea of occurring in the universe. If you can do this successfully, I will be converted to your position.

                          Best wishes, 2RM.
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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Cornelius View Post
                            Something that exists is greater than something that does not exist -- so God can't be zero, because zero is not greatist.
                            Very interesting. I believe your point also addresses questions concerning the character of God and resulting arguments for/or against God's omnipotence. Questions are sometimes asked, can God lie? If He cannot lie, then there are some things (as if greater) that God cannot do etc, therefore He is not omnipotent.

                            God bless,
                            William
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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by 2ndRateMind View Post

                              I am not trying to demolish anyone's faith, just investigating the best of reasonings that have led people to believe in God's existence.
                              G'day 2ndRateMind,

                              The Object of our faith is Jesus Christ. Scripture tells us one cannot see let alone enter the kingdom of God (the object of our faith) without regeneration. Consider the reasoning behind Genesis 3:5, when Satan, disguised as a serpent, said to Eve, "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Here are the double lies; first, she would be like gods, and thus independent, able to rule over herself apart from God, and secondly, there is not one God, but many gods; each is sovereign over himself or herself.

                              How can one reason in themselves drawing close to the object of our faith? Wouldn't man be the center of his reasoning while attempting to reach heavenly godhood? How can we reason lest we acknowledge our nature and its resulting influence upon us (depravity), and the nature of God (Holy, Otherness). I believe to "see", being "born from above" (John 3:3) is not being limited only to visual sensory, but addresses the nature of man, and his finite mind as whether capable of perceiving or comprehending an infinite Creator in all His Wisdom.

                              Originally posted by 2ndRateMind View Post
                              If you can do this successfully, I will be converted to your position.
                              Curious, converted to what? Blind faith? What do you define as a genuine conversion - for example, an intellectual conviction, etc? If a man were to decide for himself, would he not himself be the judge ruling over his convictions? An autonomous creature would be answerable to no one. It is logically impossible to have a sovereign God existing at the same time as an autonomous creature. The two concepts are utterly incompatible.

                              Originally posted by 2ndRateMind View Post
                              If God exists only in the conception, we can conceive of a thing greater than God, an identical thing existing in reality also.
                              A theory untested is not reality? Lets apply the argument and address a thing greater than God, in the heavenly fall and the fall of man, an identical thing (creature) exists in both theory and reality, the object of faith of the world, and the god of this world are more than a conception, but not to be mistaken for the faith of Jesus of Christ.

                              God bless,
                              William
                              Comment>
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