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Summary in 400 words or less:
Judeo-Christians understand God as a being that is perfect in knowledge (Ps. 147:5), power (Job 42:2), presence (Ps. 139), acts (Ps. 18:30) and has none greater (Heb. 6:13) nor equal (Ps. 40:6).
Following Anselm’s: “credimus te esse aliquid quo nihil maius cogitari possit”¹, God is understood to be a Being that exhibits maximal perfection.
“1. It is greater for a thing to exist in the mind and in reality than in the mind alone.
2. ‘God’ means ‘that than which a greater cannot be thought.’
3. Suppose that God exists in the mind but not in reality.
4. Then a greater than God could be thought…
5. Therefore God exists in the mind and in reality” (Kreeft and Tacellli, 1994)
In other words, God is that which nothing greater could be conceived. If God is this, then God must exist in reality as well as in the mind.
God is, borrowing Alvin Plantinga’s words, a being “having an unsurpassable degree of greatness—that is, having a degree of greatness such that it’s not possible that there exist a being having more.” (Plantinga 2002: 102 emp. removed)
God is thus understood to be a being having maximal excellence with respect to power (omnipotence), knowledge (omniscience), presence (omnipresence), and is morally perfect (this is why God cannot lie or be unrighteous).
The following is a difficult argument constructed by Alvin Plantinga and simplified by Kreeft and Tacelli:
“1. There is a possible world (W) in which there is a being (X) with maximal greatness.
2. But X is maximally great only if X has maximal excellence in every possible world.
3. Therefore X is maximally great only if X has omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection in every possible world.
4. In W, the proposition ‘There is no omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being’ would be impossible–that is, necessarily false.
5. But what it impossible does not vary from world to world.
6. Therefore, the proposition, ‘There is no omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being’ is necessarily false in this actual world, too.
7. Therefore, there actually exists in this world, and must exist in every possible world, an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being” (Kreeft and Tacelli, 1994).
In other words, if God is possible in one world, God is possible in all worlds. God’s existence far exceeds the rationality of God’s non-existence.
From modal logic the existence of such a being (God) is either impossible or necessary.
Charles Hartshorne and Norman Malcolm developed a modal version of Anselm’s argument. Kreeft and Tacelli define it as:
“1. The expression ‘that being than which a greater cannot be thought’ (GCB, for short) expresses a consistent concept.
2. GCB cannot be thought of as: a. necessarily nonexistent; or as b. contingently existing but only as c. necessarily existing.
3. So GCB can only be thought of as the kind of being that cannot not exist, that must exist.
4. But what must be so is so.
5. Therefore, GCB (i.e., God) exists” (Kreeft and Tacelli, 1994).
The concept of contingent existence of God is a contradictory idea since (i) necessarily, “a being is maximally great only if it has maximal excellence in every world” and (ii) necessarily, “a being has maximal excellence in every world only if it has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection in every world.” (2002: 111)
Thus either the existence of God is impossible or necessary. The existence of God is not impossible. Therefore it is necessary. Therefore God, as understood by Judeo-Christians, exists.
Whether or not this is a persuasive case for existence of such a Being, it shows that Judeo-Christians’ understanding of God is rationally acceptable.
Scripture for YouVersion:
Three questions (1 fill-in-the-blank, 1 multiple choice, and one discussion question):
References for further reading:
People who have defended (some who still defend) some version of the ontological argument: Anselm, Rene’ Descartes, Charles Hartshorne, Kurt Godel, Alvin Plantinga, Alexander Pruss, Brian Leftow, Stephen Davis, Clement Dore, Robert M. Adams.
We can make this into different topics:
Ontological Argument. The variety of approaches to and authors on the ontological argument makes it hard to narrow down the most important contributions. The sixties saw an explosion of literature on the ontological argument. Three books that came out of that decade are Alvin Plantinga (ed.), The Ontological Argument: From St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers (Doubleday Anchor, 1965). John Hick & Arthur McGill (eds.), The Many-Faced Argument: Studies on the Ontological Argument for the Existence of God (Wipf & Stock, 2009 reprint of 1967 ed.). Jonathan Barnes, The Ontological Argument (Macmillan, 1972). Much more recently is Graham Oppy, Ontological Arguments and Belief in God (Cambridge, 2007). Kevin Harrelson, The Ontological Argument from Descartes to Hegel (Humanity, 2008). For a very extensive historical and contemporary bibliography, see Raul Corazzon’s page, “History of the Ontological Argument for the Existence of God.” See also Graham Oppy’s SEP entry, “Ontological Arguments” as well as Kenneth Einar Himma’s “The Ontological Argument” in IEP. Charles Hartsnorne discusses 10 ontological arguments in ch. 2 of The Logic of Perfection (Open Court, 1962). A Highly recommended paper is John Baggaley, “The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God.” A very recent volume is Miroslaw Szatkowski, Ontological Proofs Today (Gazelle Distribution, 2012), which has a variety of new ontological arguments as well as new spins on old ones. For more general, article-length treatments, see Peter van Inwagen, “Necessary Being: The Ontological Argument” in Metaphysics (Westview, 2002), pp. 91-114. Stephen Davis, “The Ontological Argument” in Paul Copan & Paul Moser (eds.), The Rationality of Theism (Routledge, 2003), pp. 93-111. Brian Leftow, “The ontological Argument” in William Wainwright (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion (Oxford, 2007), pp. 80-115. Jason Megill and Joshua Mitchell, “A Modest Modal Ontological Argument” Ratio 22/3 (2009), 338-349.
Anselm’s Ontological Argument. Ian Logan, Reading Anselm’s Proslogion: The History of Anselm’s Argument and Its Significance Today (Ashgate, 2009). Some technical papers sympathetic to Anselm’s argument include: Norman Malcolm, “Anselm’s Ontological Arguments,” Philosophical Review 69 (1960),pp. 41-62. Robert Adams, “The Logical Structure of Anselm’s Argument,” Philosophical Review80 (1971), pp. 28-54. Paul Oppenheimer & Edward Zalta, “The Logic of the Ontological Argument” in Philosophical Perspectives 5 (1991), pp. 509-29; “Reflections on the Logic of the Ontological Argument,”Studia Neoaristotelica 4 (2007), pp. 28-35.
Descartes’ Ontological Argument. Good place to start: Lawrence Nolan, “Descartes Ontological Argument” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. See the book symposium on Descartes’ argument, Joseph Margolis (ed.), Fact and Existence (Oxford, 1969), especially Anthony Kenny’s essay. Margery Naylor Van Inwagen, Descartes’ Three Versions of the Ontological Argument (University of Rochester, 1969). William Forgie, “Existence Assertions and the Ontological Argument” Mind 83 (1974), pp. 260-262. Sylvia Crocker, “Descartes’ Ontological Argument and the Existing Thinker,” The Modern Schoolman 53/4 (1976), pp. 347-377. Michael Dougherty, “The Importance of Cartesian Triangles: A New Look at Descartes’s Ontological Argument,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 10 (2002), pp. 35-62. Lawrence Nolan and Alan Nelson, “Proofs fir the Existence of God,” in Stephen Gaukroger (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to Descartes’ Meditations (Blackwell, 2006), pp. 104-121. Georges Dicker,Descartes: An Analytical and Historical Introduction (Oxford, 2nd ed. 2013), pp. 221-227.
Spinoza’s Ontological Argument. Jarrett Charles. “Spinoza’s Ontological Argument,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 6 (1976), pp. 685-691. William Earl, ‘‘The Ontological Argument in Spinoza,’’ and ‘‘The Ontological Argument in Spinoza: Twenty Years Later,’’ in Marjorie Green (ed.), Spinoza: A Collection of Critical Essays (Notre Dame, 1979). Don Garrett, ‘‘Spinoza’s ‘Ontological’ Arguments,’’ Philosophical Review 88 (1979), pp. 198-223. A. Z. Bar-on, “The Ontological Proof: Spinoza’s Version in Comparison with Those of St. Anselm and Descartes,” in Rotenstreich and Schneider (eds.), Spinoza: His Thought and Work (Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1983). Martin Lin, “Spinoza’s Arguments for the Existence of God,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research75/2 (2007), pp. 269-297. Garrett and Lin do well to point out other arguments for the existence of God in Spinoza that rely on the PSR.
Leibniz’s Ontological Argument.Robert Adams, Leibniz: Determinist, Theist, Idealist (Oxford, 1994), chs. 4-6. David Blumfield, “Leibniz’s Ontological and Cosmological Arguments,” in Nicholas Jolley (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz (Cambridge, 1995). pp. 353-381. Barry Loewer, “Leibniz and the Ontological Argument,”Philosophical Studies 34 (1978), pp. 105-109.
Gödel’s Ontological Argument. Robert Adams, “Introductory Note to *1970. Ontological Proof.” In Kurt Gödel,Collected Works Volume III: Unpublished essays and lectures (Oxford, 1995), pp. 388-402. C. Anthony Anderson, “Some Emendations of Gödel’s Ontological Proof,” Faith and Philosophy 7/3 (1990), pp. 291-303. Frode Bjørdal, “Understanding Gödel’s Ontological Argument,” in Timothy Childers (ed.)., The Logica Yearbook 1998 (Filosofia, 1999), pp. 214-217. Rubens Randolph Goldman, Gödel’s Ontological Argument (University of California Berkeley, 2000). Alexander Pruss, “A Gödelian Ontological Argument Improved,” Religious Studies 45/3 (2009), pp. 347-353. James Baird, “God and Gödel: Gödelian Incompleteness in Mathematics and the Confirmation of Theism,” (1997). Robert Koons, “Sobel on Gödel’s Ontological Proof” Philosophia Christi 8 (2006), 235-247. See also Robert Maydole’s treatment of Gödel in “The Ontological Argument” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 574-580.
Hartshorne: Charles Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God and the Logic of Theism (Harper and Row, 1941); “The Formal Validity and Real Significance of the Ontological Argument,” Philosophical Review 53 (1944), pp. 225-245;The Logic of Perfection (Open Court, 1962), ch. 2. Anselm’s Discovery: A Re-Examination of the Ontological Proof for God’s Existence (Open Court, 1965). George Goodwin, The Ontological Argument of Charles Hartshorne (MT Scholars, 1978). Eugene Peters, “Charles Hartshorne and the Ontological Argument,” Process Studies 14/1 (1984), pp. 11-20. Donald Viney, Charles Hartshorne and the Existence of God (SUNY, 1985), ch. 4. Joshua Ernst, “Charles Hartshorne and the Ontological Argument,” Aporia 18/1 (2008), pp. 57-66. Malcolm: Norman Malcolm, “Anselm’s Ontological Arguments,” The Philosophical Review 69 (1960), pp. 41-62. James Tomberlin, “Malcolm on the Ontological Argument,” Religious Studies 8/1 (1972), pp. 65-70.
Alvin Plantinga. Alvin Plantinga, “The Ontological Argument” from God, Freedom, and Evil (Eerdmans, 1974). Plantinga’s most developed version appears in The Nature of Necessity (Oxford, 1974), pp. 196-221. A unique defense of the main possibility premise in Platinga’s S5 ontological argument is Alexander Pruss, “The Ontological Argument and the Motivational Center of Our Lives,” Religious Studies 46 (2010), 233-249.
Robert Maydole. Robert Maydole, “A Modal Model for Proving the Existence of God,” American Philosophical Quarterly 17 (1980), pp. 135-142; “The Modal Perfection Argument for the Existence of a Supreme Being,” Philo 6 (2003), pp. 299-313. “The Ontological Argument,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), pp. 553-592.
Epistemic Defense. C. A. McIntosh, “Keeping Up Appearances: A Defense of Modal ‘Appears Claims’”. Email me (Chad McIntosh) for copy.
Collaborators: Brian Chilton
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