Is the ontological argument the strongest argument for the existence of god, is it defendable?

8 August 2016

In this essay I will first explain the ontological argument and my reasons for choosing it. I will then discuss why I believe it is a better account for the existence of god than the teleological argument and the cosmological argument. I will then move onto discuss various theologians that oppose the ontological argument and critique their responses. The aim of the essay if to show the strength of the argument and to expose some key weaknesses with its criticisms.

Hopefully the essay will be convincing enough for the reader to not accept the words from Scott Aikin that the ontological argument is merely “the litmus test for intellectual seriousness”. It is interesting to note how this argument is able to deduce God’s existence from our very definition of god as existential claims rarely follow from conceptual ones. For example if I wish to prove that dragons exist I cannot merely reflect on the concept of dragons. I would need to use my senses in the real world to begin an empirical investigation. I would need to do exactly the same thing to prove that dragons do not exist.

Is the ontological argument the strongest argument for the existence of god, is it defendable? Essay Example

We can clearly see that most existential claims, both negative and positive can only be established with some sort of empirical methodology. That being said, there can be one type of exception. For example, We are able to prove that there are no rectangular squares without checking every square in existence, because by definition it would be a contradiction if all squares were not square. The ontological argument therefore supposes that it is as much a contradiction to say there are rectangular squares as it is to say that god does not exist.

This for me is a different and interesting way of arguing for the existence of god. The argument first came about from St. Anselm in his Proslogium. It can be summarized as follows. 1) It is true by definition that god is a being than which none greater can be conceived. 2) God exists as an idea in the mind. 3) A being that is able to exist both in the mind and in reality is to be considered greater than a being, which only exists in the mind. 4) Therefore, if god is only an idea in the mind, we can imagine something that is greater than God. 5) We cannot imagine something greater than God.

It would be a contradiction. 6) Therefore, God exists. A crucial point of this argument is that existence in reality is a great-making property. To exist in reality is better to exist just in the mind. Take the idea of imagining a beer that exists only in your mind. You can make this beer however you want, it can be ice cold, hoppy, bubbly etc. but this beer is only in your mind and does not exist in reality. The beer you have imagined is useless if you want to physically drink it. Now compare the beer to one that not only exists in your mind but also in reality, surely you would say that the new beer is better?

From this then we can deduce that things that both exist in the mind and in reality are to be considered greater then those that only exist in the mind. This argument for me seems to be the most convincing compared to the cosmological and the teleological argument. The cosmological argument in short asserts that the universe had an “original cause”. The basic idea being that everything that moves is moved by something, that also had to have been moved by something else and so on. So the “original mover”, the one who began the universe would have to be God.

Just like the first domino in a cascade, the first domino is to be metaphorically applied to God. The proof for this theory would therefore come from the observations on the nature of causality in the exterior world. This theory is far less convincing, the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises. Inductive reasoning is a weak basis for an argument. It does not follow that from things in the universe having a cause, that universe has a cause. We do not have any experience of universes that are caused and therefore cant make such a claim.

Another argument that provides reasonable doubt came from David Hume who famously argued that “This does not prove, that every being must be preceded by a cause; no more than it follows, because every husband must have a wife, that therefore every man must be marry’d. The true state of the question is, whether every object, which begins to exist, must owe its existence to a cause: and this I assert neither to be intuitively nor demonstratively certain…” (David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book 1: Of the Understanding, Part 3: Of knowledge of probability, Section).

The idea that everything does not necessarily need to have a cause is in my opinion the cosmological arguments ultimate downfall. The teleological argument also comes up short, it asserts that the world is so perfectly designed and so intricate that it must have a designer, i. e. god. The analogy of a watchmaker is used in order to explain the theory. Just like a watch has a designer so to does the universe. There are many reasons to why the argument is weak, however I will only briefly explain a few. As we saw with the cosmological argument the inductive nature of the argument makes it vulnerable.

Hume argues that just because things in the universe have designers, does not mean that the universe has a designer. He also asserts that there may be more than one designer, such is true with the universe. The infinite regress argument also leads me to doubt the plausibility of the argument. God must surely have a designer; something as magnificent as god must have a designer. This leads us to infinite regress. I also think that arguments from analogy are to be seen as weak as the inference from a watch to the universe is too large.

These are just a few reasons why I believe these two arguments to be inferior to the ontological argument. Obviously the ontological argument does have its weaknesses but I don’t think they are as damaging to the theory as the ones I have mentioned above. My reasoning for believing that the ontological argument is the best account for the possibility of god is simple. Anselm shows that the concept of god is not illogical, everyone has a concept of god in their mind, even a non-believer. Therefore because of this he must exist in reality also, as shown in Anselm’s above argument.

The argument is deductive and reaches clear and distinct conclusions. The argument leaves only one possibility, the existence of god. The main weaknesses of the ontological argument in my opinion came from Gaunilo and Kant. Here I will discuss Kant’s main argument and the possible responses that can be given. Gaunilo’s main objection is that we cannot go from defining something to assuming its existence as necessary. He uses the same logical argument that Anselm does, however he replaces god with the idea of the perfect island.

It is true by definition that the perfect island is an island that than which nothing greater can be conceived. 2) The island exists in my mind. 3) An island that exists both in our mind and in reality is greater than an island that only exists in my mind. 4) If the perfect island is only an idea in our mind then we can imagine something greater. 5) We can’t imagine something greater than the perfect island. It would be a contradiction 6) Therefore the perfect island exists. Gaunilo’s argument does raise problems with the original theory.

However they are not strong enough to dismiss the theory. Premise 1 of Gaunilo’s argument seems to be incoherent. The properties of a perfect island do not have intrinsic maximums. A perfect island can always be better, for example if the island had 100 trees, it could be greater with 101 trees and so on. There is no maximum number of trees that make it great. The island has no intrinsic maximum as the greatest possible island is incoherent. This is not the same with God as Anselm argues. God’s attributes such as power and knowledge have limits.

God knows everything and therefore it is conceptually impossible for him to know anything else. So Anselm’s argument will not work if the concepts that are conceptually essential to the idea of god do not have intrinsic maximums. The idea of God would be incoherent just as the perfect island is. However, as long as the relevant properties of God are omnipotence, omniscience and moral perfection, which all have intrinsic maximums. Then we can say that Anselm’s ontological argument has avoided the criticism raised by Gaunilo. The second argument comes from Kant.

He argues that existence is not a predicate of God. A predicate is property that we attribute to something when describing it. For example, the sky is blue. Blueness is one of the sky’s predicates. So all I am doing by saying the sky is blue is adding information about the subject. Kant believed that there was an essential difference between predicating something and asserting that it exists. if we look at the predicates of God, he is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good. These all make sense, however when we talk of existence it doesn’t add anything.

It only tells you that god is, it doesn’t tell you anything about what god is like, only that he is. So for Kant existence as a predicate is meaningless as it tells you nothing about the subject. This argument is fairly convincing, however in my opinion it is flawed. Take necessary existence instead of existence. Necessary things, it would have to be agreed are greater than contingent ones due to their nature, they are unable to not exist. Imagine two identical objects, one that exists necessarily and one that is contingent. The first must be seen as greater as it is not contingent.

Kant belief of existence not being a predicate does seem strange. Take another example of a child who has believed in Santa’s existence for his whole life. He then comes and asks as to whether or not Santa is real. He is told that Santa does not exist and the child takes this as the truth. If we follow Kant’s reasoning then the child has learnt nothing new. this surely must seem strange? The child has obviously learnt something new i. e. that Santa exists. would this then show that existence is a property that one is able to attribute to things. Thus the ontological argument survives Kant’s criticisms.

In conclusion I have showed why I believe the ontological argument to be the best theory for the existence of god. Also my reasoning behind why I believe both the cosmological and teleological arguments are not as convincing. they simply seem to have too many objections that give near definitive reasoning as to why the argument fails. The ontological argument in my opinion is the only defendable argument as I have shown with both Gaunilo’s and Kant’s objections. Overall Its clear that the ontological argument does have it flaws, however these can be overcome with the way we perceive both the ontological argument and its objection.

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