The Instigator
enaidealukal
Con (against)
Losing
7 Points
The Contender
Smithereens
Pro (for)
Winning
38 Points

Is the Ontological Argument for the Existence of God Successful?

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Post Voting Period
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after 7 votes the winner is...
Smithereens
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/26/2013 Category: Religion
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,082 times Debate No: 31738
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (10)
Votes (7)

 

enaidealukal

Con

This debate will take up the question of whether "ontological arguments" for the existence of God/a god successfully establish the existence of such a being. Round 1 for acceptance, opening arguments to commence in Round 2. I will be arguing "Con", i.e. that such arguments are not successful.
Smithereens

Pro

Accepted. Aside from the lack of definitions and a clear resolution, I hope this will be a fun debate.

(lets see how well we go without any definitions)
Debate Round No. 1
enaidealukal

Con



Premilinary Remarks

Let me just start by thanking my opponent for accepting my challenge to participate in this debate, and also explain my motivation for challenging him to debate this particular topic; I had viewed another debate in which my opponent was arguing for the soundness of ontological arguments for the existence of God and frankly, I was appalled by their treatment of some of the traditional objections to the argument, as well as the fact that their opponent in the debate failed to adequately call attention to this. I wished to provide a more rigorous examination of the many (fatal) flaws in the traditional ontological arguments, as well as the more contemporary modal version, and thus, this debate.

Consequently, this debate will take up the question of whether any of these (ontological) arguments are sound; that is, whether any of them are logically valid (the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises) and have plausible or reasonable premises- it is my claim that ontological arguments are, without exception, either invalid, question-begging, or contain premises which are not plausible or reasonable (if they do not beg the question). In this opening post, I will present a couple versions of the traditional ontological argument (henceforth TOA), as well as the most salient and noteworthy objections to it. In later rounds, we will consider the modal ontological argument (MOA), or any other versions that Pro wishes to examine.

The Argument

But first, let us clarify what we mean by "ontological argument"; the argument is typically credited to St. Anselm of Canterbury, who gives his formulation in his Proslogion in the form of a prayer, and for that reason many scholars prefer to not use his version (it is not obviously intended as a persuasive deductive argument, but rather as a prayer or personal reflection). The argument has been given in various forms by many writers over the years, but can be stated succinctly and accurately in two premises-

P1. God is, by definition, the greatest conceivable being
P2. It is greater to exist than not.
C: Therefore God exists.

Or, another way to put it-

1. God is, by definition, perfect.
2. Perfection entails existence.
C: Therefore God exists.

Now, before we consider whether the argument is valid, let’s review the most prominent criticisms of the TOA.

Gaunilo

Gaunilo, a contemporary of Anselm, offered what has become known as the “Lost Island” objection; he claims that one could run the same argument, but with respect to something other than a greatest conceivable/perfect being, such as a greatest conceivable or perfect island-

“For example: it is said that somewhere in the ocean is an island, which, because of the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of discovering what does not exist, is called the lost island. And they say that this island has an inestimable wealth of all manner of riches and delicacies in greater abundance than is told of the Islands of the Blest; and that having no owner or inhabitant, it is more excellent than all other countries, which are inhabited by mankind, in the abundance with which it is stored.

Now if some one should tell me that there is such an island, I should easily understand his words, in which there is no difficulty. But suppose that he went on to say, as if by a logical inference: "You can no longer doubt that this island which is more excellent than all lands exists somewhere, since you have no doubt that it is in your understanding. And since it is more excellent not to be in the understanding alone, but to exist both in the understanding and in reality, for this reason it must exist. For if it does not exist, any land which really exists will be more excellent than it; and so the island already understood by you to be more excellent will not be more excellent."

If a man should try to prove to me by such reasoning that this island truly exists, and that its existence should no longer be doubted, either I should believe that he was jesting, or I know not which I ought to regard as the greater fool: myself, supposing that I should allow this proof; or him, if he should suppose that he had established with any certainty the existence of this island. For he ought to show first that the hypothetical excellence of this island exists as a real and indubitable fact, and in no wise as any unreal object, or one whose existence is uncertain, in my understanding.”
(Gaunilo, On Behalf of the Fool, Ch. 5)

Kant

Immanuel Kant offers one of the most widely known criticisms of the ontological argument, i.e. that existence is not a predicate. Kant objects to the stipulation that being the greatest conceivable being, or being a perfect being, entails existence, because existence is not a trait or attribute that can predicated of an object (i.e. as in added to it), but rather gives you that object, as it were, predicates and all.

“Being (i.e. existence) is evidently not a real predicate, that is, a conception of something which is added to the conception of some other thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations in it… The proposition, God is omnipotent, contains two conceptions, which have a certain object or content; the word “is”, is no additional predicate—it merely indicates the relation of the predicate to the subject. Now, if I take the subject (God) with all its predicates (omnipotence being one), and say: “God is”, or, “There is a God”, I add no new predicate to the conception of God, I merely posit or affirm the existence of the subject with all its predicates—I posit the object in relation to my conception…

By whatever and by whatever number of predicates—even to the complete determination of it—I may cogitate a thing, I do not in the least augment the object of my conception by the addition of the statement: “This thing exists.”… Now, if I cogitate a being as the highest reality, without defect or imperfection, the question still remains—whether this being exists or not? For, although no element is wanting in the possible real content of my conception, there is a defect in its relation to my mental state, that is, I am ignorant whether the cognition of the object indicated by the conception is possible a posteriori.” (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Ch. 3 Sec. 4)

Hume

David Hume offers general criticisms of any a priori existential argument (including the SOA); he points out that the only things which are strictly demonstrable are those things whose negations violate the principle of non-contradiction; I can demonstrate that a round square does not exist because the negation of this claim, that a round square does exist, would be contradictory. But any entity or thing which is conceivable (as a round square is not even conceivable), is contingent; that is, neither it nor its negation is contradictory.

“there is an evident absurdity in pretending to demonstrate a matter of fact, or to prove it by arguments a priori. Nothing is demonstrable, unless the contrary is a contradiction. Nothing, that is directly conceivable, implies a contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as non-existent. There is no being, therefore, whose non-existence implies a contradiction. Consequently there is no Being whose contradiction is demonstrable. (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, p. 164–5)

***

Now, in the next round I will respond to any criticisms of these objections that Pro produces, as well as argue that the TOA is ultimately an invalid argument, and so despite the efficacy of these criticisms, it is ultimately a moot point whether these objections serve to refute the TOA or not- the argument is simply invalid.
Smithereens

Pro

I have provided a more thorough modal ontological argument for reference. Note that I will be using different modal ontological arguments throughout the debate.

Modified modal ontological argument: [1]
1)
God is that which nothing greater is possible, i.e. the greatest possible being.
2) It is at least possible for God to exist in reality. That is, whether or not God actually exists in the real world, He at least exists in some possible set of circumstances. So, God might have existed in the real world.
3) If something exists only in the mind but is possible, then that something might have been greater than it is. For example, a majestic mountain that exists only in the mind might have been greater: the mountain existing in reality.
4) Suppose God exists only in the mind and not in reality.
5) Then there is a possible being that is greater, namely God existing in reality.
6) So it is possible for something to have been greater than God.
7) Since God is that which nothing greater is possible, then it is possible for something to be greater than that which nothing greater is possible.
C: Premise 7 is not possible and therefore its negation is true, God exists.
based on the model of Anselm's ontological argument to prove God.
This argument in logical symbolism [2]


Refuting Objections:

Gaunilo's Island:
Probably the most famous parody of Anslem's modal ontological argument, Gaunilo's island attempts to refute the ontological argument by arguing that it is unreasonable. Note that it doesn't actually attack any of the premises or even the conclusion. There is a fairly easy way to confirm that the parody employs faulty logic, like most parodies do. To do that, all we need to do is continue from where Gaunilo's island parody stops:
1) There exists the greatest possible island
2) There is still an island greater than it
3) This island has more palm trees and softer sand
4) This island can transcend reality and is not bound to be a physical island
5) Such a transcendent island has being and actuality
6) Such a being has power and thought
7) Such a being is tri-omni
8) Such a tri-omni being is maximally great and perfect
8) Such a tri-omni, maximally great, perfect being is also known as God
Gaunilo's island actually proves God. The island is still an island, but it shares all the qualities and characteristics of the God we are debating. It is because of such that Gaunilos island and God are synonymous. If taken literally, there is no such thing as the greatest possible island as there will always be one greater than it. One that has more qualitative and quantitative features or traits. You will find that such a logical prohibitation appears on everything except the greatest possible being. This is because everything other than the greatest possible being can be represented as an integer. Since there is no such thing as the 'most perfect integer,' then there is also no such thing as any 'most perfect 'anything' Other than the greatest possible being.

Anslem replies to Gaunillo saying: There is no contradiction in denying the existence of a perfect island, but there is in denying God's existence. [3]

Kants Objection:
While it might be hard to see, Kant's objection is self-defeating. He claims that the Ontological argument's definition of God does not have existence of a predicate. However, this is akin to saying that there exists a being who exists in all possible worlds that does not exist. This redefines God out of existence.

My second objection is on the basis that existence is a nessecary predicate. There is a difference between a God that exists and one that doesn't. A God that doesn't exist does not exist in reality and therefore does not have omni-presence or nessecary existence is no longer the greatest possible being. The greatest possible being has the traits of having nessecary existence since it is logically unsound to conclude that God has possible existence. It is therefore a contradiction to say that the greatest possible being has contingent or possible existence. Furthermore, existence is a predicate due to the fact that knowing that He exists changes something about Him, that is, our perception of Him. Since existing makes God slightly different to His non-existence, existence is a predicate and Kant's objection is invalid.

My third and final objection to Kant is that it is irrelevant to the Ontological argument. In the words of Alvin Plantinga:
But is it relevant to the ontological argument? Couldn't Anselm thank Kant for this interesting point and proceed merrily on his way? Where did he try to define God into being by adding existence to a list of properties that defined some concept? if [Anselm] had simply added existence to a concept that has application contingently if at all -- then indeed his argument would be subject to the Kantian criticism. But he didn't, and it isn't.[4]

It is interesting to note as you look at the Ontological argument, existence is not supposed to be a predicate for God. Anselm simply makes the comparison between a God existing in the mind vs a God existing in the mind and reality.

The argument Kant has against the ontological argument is: If we deny the existence of something or other, we can't be contradicting ourselves; no existential proposition is necessary and no contra-existential is impossible.[5]
This is irrelevant to the argument and does not seek to disprove it. To suggest that God's non existence does not contradict anything external to God does not attack the argument. It is also false. God's existence contradicts God's non-existence and thus Kant's objection fails.

Alvin Plantinga restates the argument to demonstrate that nothing is attacked by Kant's objection: [5]
1) There is a possible world in which maximal greatness is instantiated.
2) Necessarily, a being is maximally great only if it has maximal excellence in every world
3) Necessarily, a being has maximal excellence in every world only if it has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection in every world.
4) God exists in our world -reality.

Now consider the negation:
There is no omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being.
The flaw with this negation is that it forms a contradiction by stating that a being with perfect actuality is impossible. Since this contradiction is impossible in one possible world, it is hence impossible in all possible worlds.
Kant's Objection is thus refuted.

Hume:
Hume in creating his objection fallaciously takes one fact and draws absurd conclusions out of it without justifying them. He says:
(1) The only way to prove something a priori is if its opposite implies a contradiction.
(2) If something implies a contradiction, then it is inconceivable.
(2) Everything can be conceived not to exist.
Therefore:
(3) Nothing can be proved to exist a priori.
Multitudes of flaws appear in the argument under scrutiny. The only rebuttal I have space for is that it falsifies the laws of logic from which is relies upon. It is true that:
1) The argument employs logical laws
2) Such logical laws according to the argument can be concieved not to exist
3) The argument does not exist if it is true.
C: We cannot concieve of the non-existence of the logical laws that govern and allow rational thought

Humes argument also fails because in relation to the ontological argument, premise 2 becomes a contradiction. 'God can be concieved not to exist.' However, God is concluded as actuality, and to imagine his non-existence is to unjustifiably change the conclusion to form a contradiction.

Sources:
[1]
http://www.angelfire.com...
[2] http://www.debate.org...
[3] http://philosophy.lander.edu...
[4] Plantinga (1974a)
[5]http://mind.ucsd.edu...;

Debate Round No. 2
enaidealukal

Con

enaidealukal forfeited this round.
Smithereens

Pro

I asked for Con to wait a little before posting his round, as I was on a camp, seeing as he did this to the greatest possible extent, i would ask voters not to deduct conduct point from him but to treat this as 2 round debate.

This round I will post no new material, instead i will treat readers to a history of the ontological argument and different variations of it.

What is an Ontological argument?

"There are many directions form which people have tried to prove the existence of God. There have been arguments based on design: a complex universe must have a designer. There have been attempts to show that the existence of an ethical sense implies the existence of God. There have been arguments based on causality: trace chain of effect and cause backward and one must reach a fist cause. Ontological arguments seek to establish the existence of God based on pure logic: the principles of reasoning require that God be part of ones ontology."[1] (p. 133)
Melvin Fitting - Types, tableaus and Gödel's God - Dordrecht, Kluwer, 2002.

Ontological arguments seek to prove God by starting with his definition, and then following premises to negate His existence, thereby forming a contradiction.[2] Since the conclusion contradicts itself, the negation of the contradiction must be true. This sort of argument is called a reducio ad absurdum argument, lating for reduced to absurdity.

Ontology is according to merriam webster: 'A branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being.' [3] Whenever you think about questions like, 'do thoughts exist?' You are employing ontology. When you start thinking about thought, introspection, you go even deeper. Ontology is pure reason, thought and logic. There is rarely anything empirical about it.

History:
The Ontological argument has its roots in Canterbury, where Anselm made a very famous statement in his Proslogion in 1078.

"Therefore, Lord, who grant understanding to faith, grant me that, in so far as you know it beneficial, I understand that you are as we believe and you are that which we believe. Now we believe that you are something than which nothing greater can be imagined.

Then is there no such nature, since the fool has said in his heart: God is not? But certainly this same fool, when he hears this very thing that I am saying - something than which nothing greater can be imagined - understands what he hears; and what he understands is in his understanding, even if he does not understand that it is. For it is one thing for a thing to be in the understanding and another to understand that a thing is.

For when a painter imagines beforehand what he is going to make, he has in his undertanding what he has not yet made but he does not yet understand that it is. But when he has already painted it, he both has in his understanding what he has already painted and understands that it is.
Therefore even the fool is bound to agree that there is at least in the understanding something than which nothing greater can be imagined, because when he hears this he understands it, and whatever is understood is in the understanding.

And certainly that than which a greater cannot be imagined cannot be in the understanding alone. For if it is at least in the understanding alone, it can be imagined to be in reality too, which is greater. Therefore if that than which a greater cannot be imagined is in the understanding alone, that very thing than which a greater cannot be imagined is something than which a greater can be imagined. But certainly this cannot be. There exists, therefore, beyond doubt something than which a greater cannot be imagined, both in the understanding and in reality."
http://www.anselm.edu...


This was the very first ontological argument. In premise format, what he said was:
  1. Our understanding of God is a being than which no greater can be conceived.
  2. The idea of God exists in the mind.
  3. A being which exists both in the mind and in reality is greater than a being that exists only in the mind.
  4. If God only exists in the mind, then we can conceive of a greater being—that which exists in reality.
  5. We cannot be imagining something that is greater than God.
  6. Therefore, God exists.
Gaunilo of Marmoutiers was a faithful monk and amoung the first to criticise the argument. Gaunilo himself believed that Anselm was writting to convince the fool to believe in God, though this wans't the case. [4] In his address to Anslem, 'On behalf of the fool,'Gaunilo discusses the implications of the argument and an apparant fallcy in the logic it is cased upon[5,6]

"..It is said that somewhere in the ocean is an island, which, because of the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of discovering what does not exist, is called the lost island. And they say that this island has an inestimable wealth of all manner of riches and delicacies in greater abundance than is told of the Islands of the Blest; and that having no owner or inhabitant, it is more excellent than all other countries, which are inhabited by mankind, in the abundance with which it is stored.

Now if some one should tell me that there is such an island, I should easily understand his words, in which there is no difficulty. But suppose that he went on to say, as if by a logical inference: “You can no longer doubt that this island which is more excellent than all lands exists somewhere, since you have no doubt that it is in your understanding. And since it is more excellent not to be in the understanding alone, but to exist both in the understanding and in reality, for this reason it must exist. For if it does not exist, any land which really exists will be more excellent than it; and so the island already understood by you to be more excellent will not be more excellent."

http://oll.libertyfund.org...

A variation of the ontological argument which I used in a previous debate on this topic was Godel's formal proof:

Definition 1: x is God-like if and only if x has as essential properties those and only those properties which are positive
Definition 2: A is an essence of x if and only if for every property B, x has B necessarily if and only if A entails B
Definition 3: x necessarily exists if and only if every essence of x is necessarily exemplified
Axiom 1: Any property entailed by—i.e., strictly implied by—a positive property is positive
Axiom 2: If a property is positive, then its negation is not positive.
Axiom 3: The property of being God-like is positive
Axiom 4: If a property is positive, then it is necessarily positive
Axiom 5: Necessary existence is positive
Axiom 6: For any property P, if P is positive, then being necessarily P is positive.
Theorem 1: If a property is positive, then it is consistent, i.e., possibly exemplified.
Corollary 1: The property of being God-like is consistent.
Theorem 2: If something is God-like, then the property of being God-like is an essence of that thing.
Theorem 3: Necessarily, the property of being God-like is exemplified.
[7]


To conclude:
This website has a timeline of the ontological arguments progression through history:

http://plato.stanford.edu...

Sources:
[1]http://www.ontology.co...
[2]http://en.wikipedia.org...
[3]http://www.merriam-webster.com...
[4]http://cumrecordaremursion.wordpress.com...;
[5]http://www.philosophyofreligion.info...;
[6]http://www.philosophyofreligion.info...;
[7]http://en.wikipedia.org...'s_ontological_proof
Debate Round No. 3
enaidealukal

Con

enaidealukal forfeited this round.
Smithereens

Pro

Well, 2 rounds of wasted effort...

Thanks to Con for challenging me to this debate, the practice was well worth it. We shall conclude with Beethoven's moonlight sonata: ;


The ontological argument is harder to refute than one might think. Good day.
Debate Round No. 4
10 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Smithereens 1 year ago
Smithereens
eh, just qopel. not going to make a difference. Ty bench.
Posted by Smithereens 1 year ago
Smithereens
I am back, ty so very much for waiting for me :) appreciate it.
Posted by enaidealukal 1 year ago
enaidealukal
I can. Also, I got the message attached to your friend request- I'll wait to post my argument for this next round until the last possible moment; that should give you almost 6 days to post your argument for the next round.
Posted by Smithereens 1 year ago
Smithereens
Can you see the picture with the logical symbols? or is it a broken link?
Posted by Smithereens 1 year ago
Smithereens
I've never argued with a teacher, so this is certainly an experience.
Posted by enaidealukal 1 year ago
enaidealukal
As I said, we both appear to know what an ontological argument- the class of arguments consisting in variations of Anselm's (whether Anselm's itself, Godel's, Plantinga's, etc.)- and a successful deductive argument is a logically sound one. God is the deity of the Christian religion, but more specifically for the purposes of this debate, the "most perfect being", "that of which nothing greater can be thought", i.e. the entity whose existence ontological arguments purport to prove.

This should be sufficient, and any further specifications can be made during the debate.
Posted by Smithereens 1 year ago
Smithereens
but anyways..
Posted by Smithereens 1 year ago
Smithereens
you may have to define God. And also what an ontological argument is. Also, the resolution can't be a question, it has to be a statement, but I guess this will work. You will need to clarify when a OA successfully proves God's existence, and when it doesn't. That sort of stuff that makes it easy to do the debate.
Posted by enaidealukal 1 year ago
enaidealukal
Response time changed (even though 72 hours is dreadfully long). As for definitions, you'll have to be more specific; it seems to me that the key terms are fairly clear- we both appear to know what the class of arguments termed "ontological arguments for the existence of God" are, and a successful deductive argument would just be one which is logically sound (valid, with true premises).
Posted by Smithereens 1 year ago
Smithereens
Change this to 72 hours to respond and I'll play. Also, put some definitions in.
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