The Instigator
mattrodstrom
Con (against)
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The Contender
popculturepooka
Pro (for)
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The Ontological Argument as Proof of God

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/7/2011 Category: Religion
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,324 times Debate No: 14263
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (24)
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mattrodstrom

Con

The Ontological Argument is seemingly one of the more popular arguments which Rationalistic theists like to employ in trying to prove the existence of God.

The rudimentary version, as written by Anselm, essentially goes like this:

-P1- One can conceive of something which is "Most Great"
-P2- Existence is greater than non-existence
--Conclusion--> the "Most Great" thing which was conceived of Must be existent, as existent things are more great than non-existent things.

It has been around for quite some time, and has been controversial, and so attacked, since it's inception, but it still seems to be kicking through people's minds a bit.

My goal now is to show that it shouldn't have ever had any kick in the first place :)

- - -

Now, although this argument has received much critical attention in it's history, and there have been several different kinds of objections to it, I believe that the most striking problem with using this argument to try to prove the existence of God has not been paid enough attention to.

For what is most immediately clear (with this formulation of the argument) is that it doesn't make what is intended to be it's reference to God clear enough to show that what's purportedly been proven is God, rather than something else.

Additionally this lack of clarity in regard to what it means to conceive of something "Most Great" undermines the merit of the argument he actually makes. In order for his argument to hold water he needs to show that "greatness" is an objective standard.
He needs to show that the conception of "something that is Most Great" does not differ from person to person, for, if it were to, then the argument would purportedly prove the existence of multiple different "Most Great" things, and would be nonsense.

Anselm suggests that we can conceive of something that is Most Great, but doesn't, within this argument, explain what "Most Great" means, beyond (his conclusion) that it must include existence, as he says (-P2-) that existent things are "greater" than non-existent ones.

So, the only characteristic his "Most Great" has, to this point, been suggested to have is existence.

"Greatness" has yet to be objectively defined, and why existence is necessarily characteristic of it (-P2-) has not been explained.

Given that only this one characteristic of "Most Great" has been suggested, it seems that by "Most Great" Anselm could have simply meant conceiving of something "Most Existent"
But then his argument would only prove that something which is "Most Existent" exists.

- - -

So, in order for this argument to be legitimately used in an effort to prove the existence of God, and avoid being taken as either uselessly tautological, or being so vague as to turn to nonsense through purportedly proving multiple different "Most Great" things;

the term "Greatness" needs to be shown to be an objective standard,

and "Most Great" needs to be shown to be the equivalent of "God", which can only be done by explaining why the characteristics of God are (according to that necessary, objective, standard) "Most Great"

{the "characteristics of god", for the purposes of this debate, including Omniscience, Omnipotence and Omni-Benevolence}

- - -

I do not believe that this argument can be satisfactorily supplemented in such a manner, and would love to debate it (or my above evaluation of it) with a willing opponent.
popculturepooka

Pro

Thanks to mattrodstrom for challenging me to this debate. This should be fun.

First let's take a look at what Anselm really presented as his ontological argument (OA):

"Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater. Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality." [1]

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The Objections
=========

If one carefully reads that they will see that much of Con's objections immediately fall flat and border on straw-manning Anselm, even.

For example: Con's P2 is attributing a position to Anselm that he never takes. He was not contrasting existence and non-existence and then saying that existence is greater than non-existence; he was contrasting existence-in-the-understanding (mental) with existence-in-reality (non-mental) and claiming that existence-in-reality is greater (is a great-making property) than the former.

Con's second point is that is one commonly raised against OAs - the problem of the "subjectivity" of the term "greatness" or of a great-making property - but it is entirely due to the ignorance of medieval metaphysics. Many problems modern audiences have with OAs are simply due to moderns' reading assumptions into the arguments that the original arguer would never have assumed and probably would have explicitly rejected.

The truth is, presupposing medieval metaphysics, there IS an objective way to measure varying degrees of greatness. It was quite common during the middle ages (the time during which Anselm lived) for philosophers and thinkers to place everything into a "great chain of being." [2] The higher up on the chain that one goes the more great-making properties something had. Great-making properties would be knowledge, power, goodness, love, rationality, existent-in-reality and so on and so forth. Under this understanding it's easy to see how a normal, adult human would objectively be considered greater than a blade of grass; a human has more great-making properties after all. Even further one could see how there are degrees of knowledge, power, goodness, love, existence (etc) and that would admit that there seems to a limit or an upper-bound on these great-making proper-making. One can see where this is leading, necessarily, God, by definition, would be the upper-bound of these degrees of great-making properties; he would be all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, perfectly loving, existent-in-reality, etc.

Con says: "He needs to show that the conception of "something that is Most Great" does not differ from person to person, for, if it were to, then the argument would purportedly prove the existence of multiple different "Most Great" things, and would be nonsense."

But it should be evident by now that I need do no such thing. People differ on their conceptions of a lot of things - it doesn't follow that there is no objective truth of the matter. That'd be like me arguing that since there are different conceptions of the term "good" or "moral obligation" in ethics it follows that there is no objective truth of the matter.

==========
Anselm's OA
==========

So, I will use a much more fair, plausible and rigorous version of Anselm's OA proposed by Robert Maydole:

(1) The definite description "that than which it is not conceivable for something to be greater" is understood.
(2) "That than which it is not conceivable for something to be greater" refers to that than which it is not conceivable for something to be greater.
(3) The concept of whatever a definite description that is understood refers to has existence-in-the-understanding.
(4) It is conceivable that something is greater than anything that lacks a great-making property that it conceivably has.
(5) Existence-in-reality is a great making property.
(6) Anything the concept of which has existence-in-the-understanding conceivably has existence-in-reality.
(7) It is not conceivable that something is greater than that than which it is not conceivable for something to be greater.
(8) That than which it is not conceivable for something to be greater exists-in-reality. [3]

I conclude that as of right now Anselm's OA properly construed stands.

=========
Sources
=========

[1] http://wadsworth.com...
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org...
[3] William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, pg 567
Debate Round No. 1
mattrodstrom

Con

I've spent the last few hours typing out my response... but have now lost the first half of my argument (which I had only had saved in the Debate Review section... and won't be able to re-write it in the next 2 hours.. as I have other things I've got to do to now...

PCP's agreed to the idea that we copy and paste this first round into a new window.. and continue this debate as it stands now... right here: http://www.debate.org...

I'll be able to re-do the portion of this round that I've accidentally deleted and submit my round two by tomorrow...

sorry for the ridiculousness...
popculturepooka

Pro

popculturepooka forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2
popculturepooka

Pro

popculturepooka forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
24 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by vardas0antras 6 years ago
vardas0antras
3 hours left... Will we see a forfeit ?
Posted by vardas0antras 6 years ago
vardas0antras
You're welcome !
Posted by popculturepooka 6 years ago
popculturepooka
I like how this debate has 3 "likes" already. :)
Posted by Cody_Franklin 6 years ago
Cody_Franklin
Even as an atheist, I know who's winning this one. :P
Posted by Freeman 6 years ago
Freeman
Popculturepooka, you have to beat mattrodstrom for me. He called my favorite philosopher a baby eater.
Posted by Atheism 6 years ago
Atheism
rI am going to preemptively cast my vote of S&G in PCP's favor right now.
Posted by popculturepooka 6 years ago
popculturepooka
unitedandy, thanks for the vote of confidence. I should have my first round up soon.
Posted by unitedandy 6 years ago
unitedandy
Can't wait to read this debate. After debating with PCP, I know that even although I think the ontological argument is maybe the single worst argument for God's existence taken seriously by philosophers, mattrodstrom will still have a very difficult challenge ahead.
Posted by mattrodstrom 6 years ago
mattrodstrom
I do think, however, as I said... that I don't believe the argument can be Satisfactorily fleshed out....

showing "most great" to be a necessary, objective, standard... and God to be most great..

That's what I would think the argument will be about.. Regardless of how PCP expands the argument.
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