Saturday, December 19, 2009

Food for thought: Anselms Ontological Argument

In my history of Philosophy class this year we studied St. Anselm who has the craziest argument for the proof of God. Before I explain it to you I must preface it by saying that it doesn't specifically prove the Judeo-Christian God Yahweh, although the more you dig into the argument the more it does look like Yahweh. Also, in Anselm's version he refers to God as "The being that than which non greater can be conceived" for times sake and because I'm lazy we will be referring to him as the "Greatest Conceivable Being" or GCB. The argument consists of nine premises which I will lay out, anything said in brackets is my attempt to explain some of the more difficult premises. Here we go.

1) Things can exist in 2 ways: in the mind, and in reality (this actually turns into 4 possible ways to exist: In the mind and in reality, in the mind and not in reality, not in the mind and in reality, not in the mind and not in reality [this last one sounds weird, but think of it like this, a bowing 747 jet did not exist in the mind or in reality 1000 years ago, but it is still a thing which exists] this bracket is not actually important for the initial argument, I just think it's interesting.)

2)The GCB (Greatest Conceivable Being) can possibly exist in reality (in that it is not a completely absurd concept like a square circle.)

3) The GCB exists in the mind (we can think of it)

4) Anything that exists in the mind and possibly in reality might be greater than it is (in that, Superman, as he exists in my mind is pretty awesome. But how much greater would he be if he were real!)

5) The GCB only exists in the mind (this is the atheists summation)

6) The GCB was possibly greater than it is (this is based on premise 2 and premise 4)

7) The Greatest Conceivable Being is a being that than which a greater being is conceivable (a GCB that exists only in the mind, is by definition not the greatest CONCEIVABLE being, because to exist in reality is a conceivably greater quality than to exist in the mind only.)

8) It is false that the GCB exists only in the mind

9) thus, the GCB exists in both the mind AND in reality.

So there you have it. I've run it over several times, trying to find the fault in the argument, because although I believe in God, this just seems to easy or ridiculous, in that if we can think of the GCB he must exist. As of yet however, all of my attempts have been thwarted by logic. Most people will attack the argument based on premise 2, saying the GCB could not possibly exist in reality, however their argument usually falls through as most people don't like to deny the possibility of God, even if they don't believe in God.

So what do you think? Is this argument sound or is it simply the drabble of some old Catholic Saint? give reasons for your acceptance or objections.

I love Philosophy.

1 comment:

  1. I've always thought Anselm's argument a little insulting on an intellectual level. For one, it precociously states itself as the convenient answer to this grand truth about the cosmos, and does it by bandying with a silly word game.

    Firstly, it presumes that something in reality must exist as greater than something we can conceive of in the mind, but that's not always the case. For instance, how many times do we conceive of what something will be like, and then are disappointed by the reality? This argument is only convenient if you suspend the reality of how something existing in your mind MUST compare to physical existence. I also don't buy the concept that just the fact that it exists in reality makes it better. According to who? That sounds like an Ann Coulter argument. 'This is fact because I say it out loud'. Almost every song I've ever written has sounded way better in my head than in reality. Do the songs gain some merit for my being able to share them with other people in the physical domain? Maybe, but that doesn't make them better pieces of art, it just means I can glean a benefit from their physical existence. And even that is questionable.

    An interesting parody of this came from an Australian philosopher named Douglas Gasking. Reads something like this:

    1) the creation of the universe is the most marvellous achievement imaginable

    2) the merit of an achievement is the product of a) its intrinsic quality, and b) the ability of its creator

    3) the greater the disability (or handicap) of the creator, the more impressive the achievement

    4) the most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence

    5) therefore if we suppose that the universe is the product of an existent creator we can conceive a greater being - namely, one who created everything while not existing

    6) an existing god therefore would not be a being greater than which a greater cannot be conceived because an even more formidable and incredible creator would be a God which did not exist

    Ergo, God does not exist.

    This is obviously a joke. Gasking didn't prove anything, any more than Anselm. He created a conditioned reality where his paradox would make sense (or rather, seem profound). That's what has always bugged me about the Anselm thing.

    There's actually a good argument to this as well in one of Richard Dawkins' books, the God Delusion as "The Ultimate Boeing 747". He's not much of a philosopher, but he's a smart guy and makes a good go of it. Interesting topic. Hurts the head.