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  • DRC

    Well played, sir.

    I’m proud to say that in my Christian upbringing no pastor or teacher ever presented the ontological as a good reason to believe in God. I only became aware of it recently. That argument is thoroughly impotent and suggests a touch of desperation on the part of its proponents.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless/ Reasonably Faithless

      I agree. And I think it is noteworthy that William Lane Craig has only once (as far as I’m aware) presented it in a debate. And that was against Victor Stenger, a physicist. There, Craig used the Ontological Argument instead of the Fine-Tuning Argument, which is a really unfortunate coincidence, given that Stenger had recently written a book entitled “The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning” ;-)

      • DRC

        What an unfortunate coincidence indeed!

  • JohnM

    Greater in mass or what? Greater how?

    • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless/ Reasonably Faithless

      “Greater in mass or what? Greater how?”

      You realise this question renders the notion of “greatest conceivable being” incoherent, right?

      But to answer your question, how about…… greater in compassion?

      - He could have stood against the slaughter of innocent children, instead of routinely commanding it.

      - He could have miraculously teleported the Canaanites to a desert island so that the Israelites could have taken their land without needing to massacre them all.

      - He could have sent missionaries to Australia so the aborigines didn’t live for 40,000 years with no hope of salvation.

      - The bible says that God created some people specifically for damnation (Romans 9), and even explicitly states that he will send some people a “powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie” (2 Thess 2). It is trivial to consider a greater being than this.

      In any case, you don’t even need to conceive of a new God whole-cloth. Consider Yahweh, as described in the Bible. Now let’s make a tiny alteration. Consider one infant that was killed during the Canaanite slaughter. Now let’s change the story by having Yahweh render this little child unconscious for one second prior to its execution, so that it doesn’t experience the pain of being butchered with the sword. This version of Yahweh is virtually identical to the biblical portrayal, but is slightly more compassionate. Given that the Bible itself teaches that compassion is a great-making quality, this version of Yahweh is greater than the one portrayed in the Bible. As such, I have conceived of a being greater than that described in the bible.

      • JohnM

        Must God also be the greatest evil conceivable?

        The greatest sinner conceivable?

        Satan is the Lord of evil, the Prince of darkness, and the father of lies, in Christianity. He’s the greatest evil being conceivable. While God is the greatest good conceivable.

        So what’s greater? Evil or good?

        The Ontological Argument is completely useless in relation to Christianity. It’s catholic garbage theology.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless/ Reasonably Faithless

          Do you think evil is a great-making property?

          And by the way, despite the title of this blog, the argument I presented really just deals with one of the standard theistic definitions of “God”:

          The best definition of God as a descriptive term is, I think, St. Anselm’s: the greatest conceivable being. As Anselm observed, if you could think of anything greater than God, then that would be God! The very idea of God is of a being than which there cannot be a greater.” (William Lane Craig – http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defining-god)

          Do you realise that most Christians are Catholic?

          • JohnM

            What do I care about great-making properties? I do not believe in a man-made God.

            And people who does not keep the commandments, but break the commandments, by bow down to statues of Virgin Mary, and insult God, by calling their pope by his title ( Holy Father ) and insult the sacrifice of Christ by exalting Virgin Mary as “co-redeemer”, are not following in the footsteps of Christ. They have been deceived and lead astray by wolves.

          • madhatter

            Very late to the party here, but what would be the actual properties to consider as great-making?

            I don’t know the first thing about modal logic but the discussion is very interesting and I’m pretty sure that there’s an obvious flaw in my reasoning so would appreciate if someone would explain would (and why) the following reasoning be wrong:

            It would seem obvious to me that I could conceive a being that would be maximally free and it seems obvious that maximal freedom would be a property of a maximally great being.

            But if a being is maximally free, would this not contradict the property of maximal goodness, which is an essential property of WLC’s God. WLC often state the God as being “good by nature”, but this somehow limits its ability to be maximally free – which then leads to conclusion it is not the maximally great being.

            What’s more, if both properties qualify to make a being maximally great but contradict one another – the conclusion would be that a maximally great being could not exist.

            Where is my mistake? :)

          • Reasonably Faithless

            I think someone like Craig would try and argue that God *is* maximally free, but can (tautologously) only act in accordance with his own nature. He would also define “good” in terms of God’s nature so that, by extension, he could only do good.

            This of course is circular, and begs the question (if my actions were *defined* to be “good”, would it really be amazing that I was always good?). Should we really grant the existence of a being from whom the notion of “good” is derived in order to grant the meaningfulness of a certain definition involved in an argument for the existence of the being in question?

            I agree that there’s an issue with the very definition of “maximally great” – what are the great-making properties? Does someone get to decide what they are? If so, who? (God?) If not, then one must first convince the atheist of the existence of a collection of objective great-making properties before even thinking about the Ontological Argument. Craig even makes this refutation himself when he discusses Victor Stenger’s Maximally Great Pizza analogy – see here:

            http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless/2012/08/21/resurrecting-victor-stengers-ontological-pizza/

          • madhatter

            Thanks a lot for taking the time to reply, and for a great series of aricles discussing these subjects! I’ve read the article and the discussion you pointed to and those seem at least as equally valid arguments as Craig’s is. Haven’t had the time yet to watch the latter of two debates between Craig and Stenger, but sure will.

            Defining what the great-making properties are is essential and this indeed puts the burden of proof to the theist. As several people have already suggested, it seems that Craig epxloits the intelectual honesty of his opponents and his debating is much more oriented towards audience intuition and emotion than to the truth wherever the logic may lead.

            But whatever the great-making properties may be, it seems to me essential that Craig’s “First Cause” – as used in his cosmological argument – relies on having the will to create the Universe, and this will is by nature.

            So, a being creating the Universe does not actually have a choice – it’s no more than a puppet of its nature. If such a thing as unfreedom can be defined – this would be a pretty good example of it. Even a robot programmed to make decisions relying on a throw of dice or quantum indeterminacy would be more free than such a being, even though we might argue that this would be an illusion or “quasifreedom”, rather than proper one.

            A Christian theist argues that humans are created in God’s image and an essential property of humans is the “free” will to choose from embracing God or rejecting it. Even this extremely limited freedom is at least one degree greater than God’s freedom. Even worse, this could raise the question of God’s nature being “fine tuned” – leading to the question of its Tuner?

            I hope I haven’t wondered off too much with my thinking… I have no experience whatsoever in formal logic and its mechanisms :)

            Regards

  • im-skeptical

    “Greater in mass or what? Greater how?”

    A god who does not kill off his creation or who does not condemn them to eternal suffering. A god who could manage to make a world in which his creatures are happy. A god who reveals his presence and does not make us worry about whether we have made the correct choice about how to live. A god who doesn’t tolerate the massacre of little children. A god who shares his bounty with everyone, who lives with us, speaks to us, helps us out when we really need it. A god who acts like he loves us.

    • JohnM

      A god who does not kill off his creation

      Oh. So you think it would be better, of evil people were just allowed to wax worse and worse?

      who does not condemn them to eternal suffering.

      Oh. So you think it would be better, if there were no justice, and the serial killer could just commit suicide, and not have to face the consequences of his actions?

      A god who could manage to make a world in which his creatures are happy.

      Have you heard about the garden of Eden?

      Are you aware that we don’t live in the garden of Eden, but rather in a fallen world?

      A god who reveals his presence and does not make us worry about whether we have made the correct choice about how to live.

      Romans 1:20
      For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

      So why do you worry?

      A god who doesn’t tolerate the massacre of little children.

      Wait a minute.. I thought you said, that you wanted to justice and no wicked people killed?

      A god who shares his bounty with everyone, who lives with us, speaks to us, helps us out when we really need it. A god who acts like he loves us.

      Well Gods kingdom is open. You just have to knock on the door. And then you’ll experience Gods love, his walking with you, his affect on your life.

      But you don’t really want that, do you? Having to repent and turn from your sins is a hard one, yes? So you chose your sin over the kingdom of God, am I right?

      • DRC

        I’m interested that you quoted Romans 1:20. Your point is only valid if the message of Romans 1:20 is actually true. Where is your evidence for that?

        I’ve got some evidence that it’s false: I’ve never been able to see God’s invisible qualities in “what has been made” (let alone see it “clearly”). There are many others like me, so this proves that Romans 1:20 false.

      • msironen

        “Oh. So you think it would be better, of evil people were just allowed to wax worse and worse?”

        Complete eradication of your creation does come off as slightly inelegant solution. Not too much to ask of a god to think of something better, I think?

        “So you think it would be better, if there were no justice, and the serial killer could just commit suicide, and not have to face the consequences of his actions?”

        Eternal torture for anything ranging from simple disbelief to mass murder and genocide seems a tad… crude for a divine system of justice. I personally don’t think a finite being can commit anything deserving an infinite amount of punishment and I must worry about you if you do.

        “Have you heard about the garden of Eden?”

        Yahweh’s failed attempt to “make a world in which his creatures are happy”? I guess you see it differently.

        “”For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

        So why do you worry?”

        Despite the claim of 1:20, it seems billions upon billions of people have, in fact, not seen and understood. So is your claim that the huge majority of humankind has been as wicked to deny Yahwe’s eternal power and divine nature despite seeing and understanding it clearly, or do you concede that the Bible is making a rather grandiose claim that doesn’t seem to be borne out by reality?

        “Wait a minute.. I thought you said, that you wanted to justice and no wicked people killed?”

        I’m confused now. Are little children “wicked people” or who is that you’re referring to here? I think we’d all be, if not outright Christians, then at least members of an appreciation club if Yahweh smote the living shit out of mass murderers just as they were pulling the trigger (and it could be easily determined that a massacre would’ve taken place otherwise). He could still leave them alone after they’re dead, though. No need for that eternal torture business.

        “But you don’t really want that, do you? Having to repent and turn from your sins is a hard one, yes?”

        You seem to be labouring under the misconception that we basically share all your beliefs but are simply too stupid and/or sinful to take up on this amazing offer of eternal bliss just so we can get our freak on during the few odd decades of mortal lives we get. For that I have to commend you; I probably wouldn’t bother with people who I thought were that dumb and/or depraved.

        Regardless, I must inform that your assumptions are fatally flawed. It’s not that we like to sin THAT much (though I’m fairly certain most enjoy some sins to at least some extent) but that we think the promises of religion are both a scam and a product of wishful thinking. It has all the hallmarks of being a man-made myth-fantasy and all the claims it has had the misfortune of making about observable reality have pretty much turned out bunk. It’s very hard to give any weight to claims that fantasy goes on to make about supposedly unobservable stuff.

  • PrimeNumbers

    I can conceive of a greater God than the God of the Bible. Yahweh took 6 days to make the world, and was worn out after that and had to rest. My God took only 5 days, then made a cake to celebrate and threw a big party. He didn’t have to rest at all.

    • Jeff Hansen

      6 days to create everything. He then took 40 days to get those laws chiseled onto a few tablets. Maybe he was slowing down after a few thousand years. Then he demands a big slaughter of the Israelites down the hill for breaking a rule they haven’t yet had a chance to hear about.

      Yahweh is not a being than which no greater can be concieved. Even Zeus wasn’t this silly.

  • Roy

    Since you can conceive of God does that make you a theist now according to the ontological argument since it is possible that God exists (ie because it is not logically incoherent)? ;-)

    1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.

    2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.

    3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

    4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.

    5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.

    6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

    Where maximally great being = God = being which includes the properties of omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection for purposes of this discussion.

    • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com Angra Mainyu

      Just two cents:

      1. The OP only seems to claim that there is an object in the category ‘conceivable beings’ (which include actual and non-actual ones) that is greater than Yahweh in the relevant sense of ‘great’ (assuming there is such a sense).

      The OP does not seem to claim that among the objects in the category, one is the greatest.

      2. I can conceive of the following scenario:

      S1: Scientists got it wrong, and water is not H2O.

      S1 is conceivable and strictly logically possible, but not metaphysically possible.

      My point here is that even if “greatest conceivable being” is a coherent concept, it does not follow from that that it’s the same concept as ‘maximally great being’ using the latter term as Plantinga does; the former term is about conceivability, whereas the second is a modal concept.

      Even if, in the category of ‘conceivable beings’, there were one object that is the greatest, your argument does not show that it would follow that such entity actually or necessarily exists (that would require an Anselmian-like ontological argument, but you’d have to argue for it).

      • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless/ Reasonably Faithless

        Thanks for your thoughts, Angra. Your blog looks very interesting, and I think I will spend some time there. I hope you’ll feel free to contribute to anything you like here, too.

        Regarding your point 1, in the interests of keeping the OP short and sweet, I didn’t make explicit exactly what I was doing. The first line is just the definition of “God”, and is not meant to imply that I believe such a being exists (or can even be conceived – since I could equally well utter words that would imply that no such thing was possible).

        For point 2, “greatest” is indeed different from “maximal” (I plan to post about these two concepts in the context of partially ordered sets). And when “conceivability” is thrown in too, things get even more troublesome.

        • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com Angra Mainyu

          Thank you.

          I’ve been posting a bit two much in these past few days (holidays and no work, etc.), so I’ll have to reduce my posting, but I find your blog very interesting, and will try to contribute sometimes. :)

          Regarding my blog, thank you as well; I posted most of those arguments a while ago, and if I had to post them today, I would remove some things from and add a few others to some of them (e.g., I would improve my arguments about libertarian free will), but for the most part, my positions remain the same (even though I might change the tone of some of them).

    • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless/ Reasonably Faithless

      Nice try, Roy ;-)

      The first line of the argument is simply the generally accepted theistic *definition* of “God”, and stating that definition does not commit one to believing that it defines an actual real being.

      By analogy, if someone believed there was a biggest number, called a zillion, and that a zillion was in fact 83, I could make the following argument:

      1. A zillion is the biggest number.
      2. I know of bigger numbers than 83.
      3. Therefore, 83 is not a zillion.

      A less snappy version of the original argument might look something like:

      1. God, whether one exists or not, is defined to be a maximally great being.
      2. Yahweh, whether he exists or not, is not a maximally great being.
      3. Therefore, Yahweh, whether he exists or not, is not God.

      As Angra Mainyu has hinted at, there are doubts as to whether “greatest conceivable being” is a coherent concept, and I intend to post further thoughts on this in the future.

      Also, I have addressed the version of the ontological argument you stated in this post:

      http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless/2013/01/01/arguing-about-ontology/

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.john.7311 Michael John

    I like this argument, very simple and effective.