• Arguing about Ontology

     

    1.  Introduction

    In How to argue about gods, I stated my intention to construct a series on the arguments of natural theology.  This is the first post in that series, and it will cover the Ontological Argument, as defended by William Lane Craig.

    Before we begin, I’d like you to have a good think about your answers to the following questions:

    Q1.  Do you think it’s possible that God exists?

    Q2.  Do you think it’s possible that God doesn’t exist?

    Despite the simple language, there are a few terms (specifically, God and possible) whose precise meanings could potentially change your answers.  I’ll get to this shortly but, for the moment, it suffices to give your answers according to your intuitive understanding of the questions.  You might have answered Yes to both questions.  You might have answered Yes to one and No to the other; in this case, you probably already have your mind made up about the existence of God!  It seems obvious that there is only one prohibited pair of answers: you cannot logically answer No to both.

    The first thing to note when discussing the Ontological Argument is that there are actually several very different ontological arguments, and I will most likely consider some or all of the others in future posts.  (For a very thorough discussion, see Graham Oppy’s books Ontological Arguments and Belief in God and Arguing About Gods.)  But the argument usually known as The Ontological Argument goes back to St Anselm of Canterbury, and I will be focusing on an adaptation of Anselm’s argument presented by William Lane Craig in this lecture and this debate.  (Craig very rarely defends this argument in public debates; I’ve only seen it in that one debate, against Victor Stenger.  This debate was also noteworthy for Craig’s decision not to defend the Fine Tuning Argument; this is a pity because Stenger, a noted physicist, has written extensively on the Fallacy of Fine Tuning, and it would have been interesting to see Craig pit himself against an expert in the field.)  Craig’s formulation of the argument is very similar to Alvin Plantinga’s, and the critiques I present here apply equally well to Plantinga.

    2.  What does God mean?

    Before outlining the argument, Craig defines a key term:

    God is, by definition, the greatest being conceivable.”

    In an effort to help his audience grasp this concept, he adds:

    “If you could conceive of anything greater than God, then that would be God”,

    even though it makes precisely as much sense to say:

    “A zillion is the largest number.  If there was a number larger than a zillion, then that would be a zillion.”

    This makes me wonder if Craig truly understands the concept of Maximality, but I will speak more about this in a later post where I will also devote some attention to the troublesome notion of Greatness.  Craig then considers some of the consequences of such a definition.  To be the greatest conceivable being:

    “God would therefore be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good and would exist in every logically possible world.”

    According to Craig, anything less could not be the greatest conceivable being, and this seems reasonable to me.  (Perhaps I would object that it is problematic for Craig to use “good” as a measure of greatness here since, for example, in his debate with Sam Harris, he states that “God’s own holy and loving nature provides the absolute standard against which all actions are measured”, so that to say “God is maximally good” is just to say “God’s nature is maximally like God’s nature”.  I won’t dwell on this issue here, though, as it is not central to my argument.)  Note that a maximally great being might have other properties; for example, it might enjoy watching basketball but not tennis.  But the properties listed above are among the essential ones.

    It is very important to realise that many theists might believe in a God that would not conform to Craig’s definition.  For example, you might believe that the universe was created by a very powerful – but not all-powerful – creator; or you might believe that this being knows a lot – but not everything.  I will come back to this point a few times throughout the post.  Suffice it to say, even if I could successfully prove that there was no God, according to Craig’s definition, I may not have proved that your God doesn’t exist.

    Now that we have Craig’s definition of God in mind, there is one more term we need to consider before we move on to the argument itself.  In the above quote, Craig mentions logically possible worlds.  If you are not familiar with this notion, the Wikipedia page on Modal Logic provides a brief but technical overview; the page on Logical Possibility is helpful too.  For this post, it is enough to understand a “logically possible world” to mean a non-contradictory state of affairs in some self-contained realm of existence.  An even simpler way to understand the concept would be “a way the world could have been”.  Such a world could be very much like ours, or very different, even to the point of having different physical laws; but it must not have any logical contradictions built into it.  (Some philosophers, the Modal Realists, think that all possible worlds have a real existence, just like ours does, with possible worlds being somewhat like causally isolated universes in a larger multiverse.)

    It is now worth going back to questions Q1 and Q2 which, in Craig’s language, can be rephrased as follows:

    Q1.  Do you think it’s logically possible that the greatest being conceivable exists?

    Q2.  Do you think it’s logically possible that the greatest being conceivable doesn’t exist?

    Why not pause again to consider your answers to these questions.  Have your answers changed from before?  From this point onwards, when I refer to Q1 or Q2, it will be these rephrased versions that I have in mind.

    3.  Craig’s Ontological Argument

    Now it’s time to delve into Craig’s formulation of the argument.  This is how he puts it:

    1. It’s possible that a maximally great being (God) exists.
    2. If it’s 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. Therefore, a maximally great being exists in the actual world.
    6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.
    7. Therefore, God exists.

    (Note that Craig blurs the distinction between the terms “greatest being conceivable” and “maximally great being”.  Although there do appear to be some subtle differences, it will not be important to dwell on them here, so I will follow Craig and use the terms interchangeably myself.)

    As you can see, the first premise amounts to a positive answer to Q1.  And Craig correctly assures us that Steps 2-7 are “relatively uncontroversial”.  (The trickiest part of the argument is Step 3, which involves an application of what is known as S5 Modal Logic.  A fairly informal justification of Step 3 might go something like this…  Suppose a maximally great being B exists in some possible world W.  Then, by the consequences of the definition of maximally great as noted above by Craig, it would be true for anyone living in W to say “B exists in every logically possible world”.  Hence, it is true to say that B exists in every possible world.)

    So, as Craig notes, the whole argument hinges on the first premise, and he says:

    “The whole question is Premise 1.  Is God’s existence possible?  Well, what do you think?  The atheist has to maintain that it’s impossible that God exists.  He has to say that the concept of God is logically incoherent, like the idea of a married bachelor, or a round square.  But the problem is that the concept of God just doesn’t appear to be incoherent in that way.  The idea of a being which is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good in every logically possible world seems perfectly coherent.  Moreover, as we’ve seen, there are other arguments for God’s existence which at least suggest that it’s at least logically possible that God exists.  So I’ll simply leave it to you tonight.  Do you think that it’s possible that God exists?   If you do, then it follows logically that God does exist.”

    (I’ll come back later to the question of whether it is logically coherent to speak of an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being that exists in every logically possible world.)  Given that Craig points out that the whole argument comes down to Premise 1, you’d think he’d give a pretty strong defense of that premise, wouldn’t you?  But instead, he simply asks the question “What do you think?”, and just leaves it up to his audience members to intuitively decide.  (I’ll show in later posts that Craig relies on the gut feelings of his audience in every single one of his arguments.)

    Regardless of what you think about the first premise, if we grant the validity of S5 Modal Logic, the above argument serves as a proof of the following proposition:

    Proposition 1.  A positive answer to Q1 would entail the existence of God.

    4.  Equivocation

    For the time being, I’ll leave the question of whether we should accept Premise 1 or not.  But it is important to consider this statement from the above quote:

    “Moreover, as we’ve seen, there are other arguments for God’s existence which at least suggest that it’s at least logically possible that God exists.”

    Here, amazingly, Craig is equivocating on the word “God”.  The other arguments Craig refers to are:

    1. The cosmological argument,
    2. The fine tuning argument,
    3. The moral argument, and
    4. The argument from the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.

    (I explain the idea of equivocation in Section 2 of How to argue about gods.)  I say that Craig is equivocating in this statement because these arguments do nothing to establish the existence of the greatest being conceivable.  Even if we grant the conclusion of these arguments (and I do not intend to imply that I think there is good reason to do so), we would believe that there exists a being that created the universe, set its parameters, decided what would be right and wrong, and arranged for Jesus to rise from the dead.  The astute reader will notice that these conclusions do not entail that such a being is the greatest being conceivable.  As I mentioned above, you might believe that the universe was created by a very powerful being, but not an all-powerful being; you might call this being God, but Craig would not, at least not according to his definition that we are working with.  In particular, when Craig asks the question

    Do you think it’s possible that God exists?”,

    he is not asking the question

    Do you think it’s possible that the universe had a creator?”.

    He is asking the question

    Do you think it’s possible that an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being exists in every logically possible world?

    (I won’t speculate here as to whether it was Craig’s intention for his audience to mistakenly confuse these questions.)  It may also be the case that Craig implicitly equivocates on the word “possible” when he asks

    Do you think it’s possible that God exists?,

    or at least hopes his audience will confuse logical possibility with the more everyday meaning of the word possible when considering their answer.  An untrained audience is very likely to mistakenly interpret this question as being the opposite of “Are you certain there is no God?“, and Craig would know this very well.  Again, I won’t speculate as to Craig’s intentions, as this really is a side issue.  But I do intend to devote a future post to the idea of swapping between meanings of the word possible in order to “prove” some rather remarkable (and demonstrably false) things.

    5.  The Dual Ontological Argument

    As I have already stressed, Craig’s Ontological Argument assumes a positive answer to Q1 as its first premise.  But what happens if we assume a positive answer to Q2 instead?  This is what happens:

    1. It’s possible that a maximally great being (God) doesn’t exist.
    2. If it’s possible that a maximally great being doesn’t exist, then a maximally great being doesn’t exist in some possible world.
    3. If a maximally great being doesn’t exist in some possible world, then it doesn’t exist in any possible world.
    4. If a maximally great being doesn’t exist in any possible world, then it doesn’t exist in the actual world.
    5. Therefore, a maximally great being doesn’t exist in the actual world.
    6. Therefore, a maximally great being doesn’t exist.
    7. Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

    Wow!  The exact same logic implies that God doesn’t exist!  Let’s call the above argument the Dual Ontological Argument.  Again, the trickiest step in this argument is Step 3, and this time I think it is worth giving its proper justification:

    1. Suppose a maximally great being doesn’t exist in some possible world, W1.
    2. Let W2 be any other possible world.
    3. If a maximally great being exists in W2, then it would exist in every possible world (by Craig’s argument above).
    4. In particular, if a maximally great being exists in W2, then it would exist in W1.
    5. But this would contradict the assumption that a maximally great being doesn’t exist in W1.
    6. Therefore, a maximally great being doesn’t exist in W2.
    7. Therefore, a maximally great being doesn’t exist in any possible world.

    With this justification in place, we see that Steps 2-7 of the Dual Ontological Argument are exactly as uncontroversial as Steps 2-7 of Craig’s Ontological Argument.  In what follows, I will paraphrase Craig’s words from above (but ignore his incorrect statement about the relevance of his other theistic arguments):

    The whole question is Premise 1.  Well, what do you think?  The theist has to maintain that it’s impossible that God doesn’t exist.  He has to say that the very idea of there being no God is logically incoherent, like the idea of a married bachelor, or a round square.  But the problem is that the concept of there being no God just doesn’t appear to be incoherent in that way.  The idea that there is not a being that is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good in every logically possible world seems perfectly coherent.  So I’ll simply leave it to you tonight.  Do you think that it’s possible that God doesn’t exist?  If you do, then it follows logically that God doesn’t exist.

    It is important to remember that these words still refer to “God” as the maximally great being defined by Craig.  So the question

    Do you think it’s possible that God doesn’t exist?

    should not be confused with the question

    Do you think it’s possible that the universe didn’t have a creator?”.

    You could quite well think that the universe had a creator, but not think that this creator was all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good in every logically possible world.

    Again, whatever your opinion of the validity of its first premise, the Dual Ontological Argument certainly furnishes a proof of the following proposition:

    Proposition 2.  A positive answer to Q2 would entail the non-existence of God.

    6.  Does God exist?

    So far, we have seen that, assuming the validity of S5 Modal Logic, it is possible to prove the following two propositions:

    Proposition 1.  A positive answer to Q1 would entail the existence of God.

    Proposition 2.  A positive answer to Q2 would entail the non-existence of God.

    To me, the most interesting outcome of all this is that, since God cannot both exist and not exist at the same time, it is not possible for both Q1 and Q2 to have a positive answer!  And I have already noted that it is not possible for both Q1 and Q2 to have a negative answer.  So it follows that one, and only one, of Q1 and Q2 has a positive answer.  But which one?!

    It is perhaps worth stating the questions again:

    Q1.  Do you think it’s logically possible that the greatest being conceivable exists?

    Q2.  Do you think it’s logically possible that the greatest being conceivable doesn’t exist?

    Now, I don’t claim to know which of Q1 or Q2 has a positive answer.  But I do have a very strong leaning towards Q2, and I’ll attempt to argue my case shortly.  Note that, as I keep stressing, this doesn’t mean I believe the universe didn’t have a creator.  Although I don’t have a belief in a creator, I do not have enough information to form a reasonable belief that the universe doesn’t have one.  (For example, even if all the evidence pointed towards there being no creator, how could one rule out the possibility that the universe was created by an omni-shy being, who didn’t want anyone to know him, and therefore made it look like he didn’t exist?)  But I certainly don’t think it is obviously logically impossible, if the universe does have a creator, for that creator not to be maximally great.  As I have now said a few times, perhaps the universe has a very powerful creator, but not an all-powerful creator.

    So let’s try and decide between Q1 and Q2.  Let’s first note what a positive answer to each question would entail:

    Yes to Q1:  There exists a logically possible world in which there is an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being (which, by definition, must in fact exist in all logically possible worlds).

    Yes to Q2:  There exists a logically possible world in which there is no all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being (which, therefore, doesn’t exist in all possible worlds).

    It should be noted that the Evidential Problem of Evil directly confronts the former situation.  A proper treatment of this argument will have to wait for another occasion but, roughly stated, it asserts that the sheer amount of gratuitous (human and animal) suffering we observe in the world is incompatible with the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being who, supposedly, would want to reduce the suffering, would know how to do so, and would be able to do so.  As such, anyone that deems this argument successful could not give a positive answer to Q1.  Many philosophers consider the argument insurmountable.

    But let’s not dwell on the Evidential Problem of Evil because, as I said, now is not the time for a proper discussion of it.  Instead, let’s address Q2 directly.

    Does there exist a logically possible world in which there is no all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being?

    I don’t see why not.  What about:

    • a world in which there is simply nothing?
    • or a world in which there exists nothing but a single grain of sand?
    • or a world in which there is a single being incapable of creating anything?
    • or a world in which there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, but completely evil being?
    • or a world in which there are two beings, both of whom are always nasty to each other?
    • or a world in which there is an infinite collection of beings, each more powerful, knowledgeable and good than the last?
    • or a world with a universe created by a very powerful, very knowledgeable, very good being that is not, however, maximally great?

    None of these worlds appear to me to be logically impossible, and none of the beings described in these worlds are maximally great.  All manner of other logically possible worlds could be described in which there does not exist an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being.

    But these are just a few ideas off the top of my head that lead me to think that a positive answer can be more likely given to Q2 than Q1.  What must a theist do to justify a negative answer to Q2?  Well, as I have shown, if he would like to think that God exists, according to Craig’s definition, he must show that there is no logically possible world lacking an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being (and, further, that all logically possible worlds must have precisely the same maximally great being).  So not only must he show that each and every one of the worlds described above are logically impossible, he must in fact show that there are no logically possible worlds without such a being.

    So it seems most likely to me that the answer to Q2 is Yes.  And this, as we have seen, entails that there is no maximally great being – in our world or in any other world.

    7.  Conclusion

    So what are we to make of all this?  If my arguments are deemed sound, does this settle the God Question once and for all?  I do not think so.

    I believe that the problem with Craig’s Ontological Argument is that it requires too strong a definition of God.   In order to make the argument work, God must be assumed to be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good and to exist in all logically possible worlds.  But, as we have seen, the very possibility of such a remarkable being not existing logically entails its non-existence.  And it seems quite obvious to me that there could be a logically possible world without such a being.

    So, is there therefore no God?  Again, I don’t think I have answered this question.  But I think I have provided a strong case against the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good being that exists in all logically possible worlds.  And this might not be your God.  It certainly isn’t the God of Christianity, despite what most Christians would say.

    8.  Acknowledgement

    I benefited from a discussion with Paul Almond during the preparation of this post.

    Category: AtheismGodOntological argumentPhilosophyTheismWilliam Lane Craig

    Tags:

    Article by: Reasonably Faithless

    Mathematician and former Christian
    • Hi,

      Excellent post. (btw, in Craig’s website, there is a transcript of his defense of Plantinga’s argument ( http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/s4 ;transcripts #23, 24 and 25)

      My two cents:

      Regarding the dual argument, Craig actually replies to something essentially like that argument (in http://www.reasonablefaith.org/necessary-existence-and-the-ontological-argument, and the trascripts above), and he insists that the concept of a maximally great being does not seem remotely incoherent, and based on that implies that the possibility of a maximally great being (MGB) is more plausible than the possibility that such a being doesn’t exist, suggesting that the atheist is making implausible claims.

      But assuming that the concept of an omnipotent being is coherent (if not, neither is the concept of a maximally great being), then as you point out the concept of an omnipotent being that all knowing but completely evil (or any of your examples, among others) does not seem remotely incoherent…though some philosophers have argued that it is (e.g., Swinburne), but not persuasively. In any case, it’s not required to add omniscience and complete evilness. One can just point out that if the concept of an omnipotent being is coherent, then the concept of an omnipotent being that isn’t morally perfect does not seem remotely incoherent, and if an omnipotent being that just isn’t morally perfect is possible, then that would entail a MGB does not exist.

      Craig also considers the objection of a quasi-maximally great being (QMGB) (transcript #25), but denies that ‘our’ intuition of the possibility of a maximally great being is matched by an intuition that a QMGB is possible, since allegedly that objection begs the question, because it depends on the assumption that a MGB is not possible (of course, if that’s begging the question, for that matter the assumption that a maximally great being is possible begs the question, since it depends on the assumption that a quasi-maximally great being does not exist).

      Craig further argues that any intuition about a QMGB is parasitic upon an intuition that MGB is possible, and allegedly somehow that undermines any intuitions supporting QMGB. Of course, I have no such intuition about a MGB, but assuming that omnipotence is coherent, an omnipotent being who is not morally perfect seems coherent, not parasitically.

      Craig then goes on to add what he considers to be more support for premise 1. of the ontological argument, and mentions an argument from contingency, his metaethical argument, and an argument from abstract objects; but it would take too long to address those here.

      Side note: in the second page I linked to above, Craig also distinguishes (implicitly) between metaphysical possibility (aka ‘broad logical possibility’) and strict logical possibility (e.g., Craig’s comparison between married bachelor and married unmarried man); the ontological argument (Plantinga’s version, which Craig is talking about) is about metaphysical possibility.

      Yet, there is something weird in what Craig says about married bachelor. It does seem to be incoherent by the meaning of the words. What might be metaphysically impossible but strictly logically possible is, say, “Scientists got it wrong and water is not composed of H2O” (nothing incoherent, but there is no possible world at which that proposition is true)…

      • Hello Angra, many thanks for your detailed comments. I’ll have a look at the links. Yes, these are what led to the comment being held aside for approval. I haven’t read your second reply in detail – let me know if it’s identical, and I’ll delete it for you.

        About your two cents…..

        I realise that Craig doesn’t think a MGB is incoherent. But as soon as someone else says they don’t think the absense of a MGB is incoherent, there is simply a stand off, and more compelling reasons than “I think, therefore…” must ensue.

        There problem is that, since existence in *our* world is a (trivial) logical consequence of a MGB even being possible, one must satisfactorialy defeat the Evidential Problem of Evil.

        And yes, as you say, if a MGB seems coherent, then so too do various alterations, including omniscient, omnipotent but indifferent (or evil). As I point out here:

        http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless/2012/12/22/the-ontological-argument-meets-christianity/

        there are bigger problems if you also happen to think the MGB might be your own deity of choice. It is easy to construct a version of Yahweh that displays just a tiny bit more compassion than the one presented in the Bible.

        All this talk of things being parasitic is to commit the genetic fallacy. Our understanding of chemistry could be said to be parasitic on early (mis)understandings, but to dismiss it as such is ridiculous. In any case, suppose a QMGB really did exist, but not a MGB – the fact that the idea of a MGB was discovered first does not automatically entail that a QMGB does not exist. Craig’s argument here seems completely ridiculous.

        • Thanks for your comments.

          My second reply is similar, but not identical to the first one; it adds some comments about Craig’s attempt to support the first premise with other arguments without equivocating.

          Regarding the issue of parasitism, Craig seems to be arguing that given “our” intuitions about MGB (which allegedly give us justification for believing that MGB is coherent), we have good reasons to believe that QMGB is incoherent, since they can’t both be coherent, and the MGB is the original intuition.

          But of course, there is no such original intuition in my case regarding a MGB, and similarly there is nothing parasitic about the intuition (assuming omnipotence is coherent) about a being that is omnipotent but not morally perfect, or about your other examples. So, I agree that Craig’s argument on this holds no water.

          Side note: Regarding the evidential problem of evil, that’s a good point, and it’s interesting that the MGB needs to deal with that, but an omnipotent entity that isn’t morally perfect does not have to (nor does it have to deal with a ‘problem of good’).
          Also, if those positing a MGB also accept some more or less common principle of modal continuity, they have to deal with even an enhanced evidential problem, since (for instance) we may consider that there is a possible world in which all of space and time is filled with entities with the mind of human children who undergo horrible torment, and nothing more (any restrictions would violate continuity).

          • I definitely appreciate the idea that if we already think something is true, then we are being consistent in assuming that any conflicting idea is false. But the problem is that if all you have to go by is an intuition that something is possible, even if you can’t see exactly how, and, worse, can see some good reasons to suppose that it’s negation might in fact be possible, then it is only special pleading to insist on your gut feeling. It is confirmation bias, and no more. Such a person can believe whatever they like, but will not be able to convince any rational person that does not already agree with them to change their beliefs.

            Worse, if such an argument is deemed to be satisfactory, then a person such as Craig can not blame a person who thinks a QMGB is possible for outright rejecting the possibility of a MGB without any serious consideration. And this while all the while thinking that God (the MGB in question) will punish this unbeliever eternally for being precisely as rational as the believer.

            Good points about the evidential problem of evil. I think it is a very persuasive argument against a MGB, but I don’t see it as obviously problematic to think the universe might have been created by a less than perfectly moral being.

      • Just a point of clarification:

        Upon further consideration, Craig may well be distinguishing between strict logical possibility, broad logical possibility (augmenting the former with analytic equivalences, as he explains in his defense of the Kalam argument in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology; I would have called this strict logical possibility), and metaphysical possibility.

        But if so, then Craig’s claim that an atheist is committed to the incoherence of the concept of a maximally great being is still false. An atheist may (for instance) not take a stance on whether the concept is incoherent, or it’s coherent, but still such an entity is metaphysically impossible.

    • I tried to post before, but I guess my post got caught in a spam filter due to the links to Craig’s arguments, so I’ll post without links.

      Anyway, pretty good post. Just to add my two cents:

      Craig replied to something essentially like the dual argument, and insisted that the concept of a maximally great being does not seem remotely incoherent; based on that, he argues that the possibility of a maximally great being (MGB) is more plausible than the possibility that such a being doesn’t exist, suggesting also that the atheist is making implausible claims, though he seems to offer no good reasons for that.

      Craig also considers the objection of a quasi-maximally great being (QMGB), but denies that ‘our’ intuition of the possibility of a maximally great being is matched by an intuition that a QMGB is possible, since allegedly that objection begs the question, because it depends on the assumption that a MGB is not possible (if that’s begging the question, for that matter the assumption that a maximally great being is possible begs the question, since it depends on the assumption that a quasi-maximally great being does not exist).

      Craig further argues that any intuition about a QMGB is parasitic upon an intuition that MGB is possible, and allegedly somehow that undermines any intuitions supporting QMGB (I have no such intuition about a MGB, but assuming that omnipotence is coherent, an omnipotent being who is not morally perfect seems coherent, not parasitically).

      He then goes on to add what he considers to be more support for premise 1. of the ontological argument, and mentions an argument from contingency, his metaethical argument, and an argument from abstract objects.

      I would say that your replies in the dual argument seem sufficient and not “parasitical” at all; some philosophers have argued against the coherence of an omnipotent, omniscient, completely evil being, but not convincingly, and for that matter, assuming omnipotence is coherent, then a being that is omnipotent but not morally perfect does not seem remotely incoherent, and that’s not parasitical on any intuitions about the coherence of a maximally great being (which does not look particularly coherent).

      Regarding the other arguments, Craig claims on his website that the contingency argument supports the conclusion that there is an omnipotent being who is the creator of all other beings and exists necessarily, that his metaethical argument supports the conclusion that there is a being who is morally perfect and exists necessarily, and an argument from abstract objects provides support for the conclusion that there is a being who is omniscient and exists necessarily.

      From those arguments (which fail, but that’s too long to argue here) he would conclude that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being who exists necessarily, and that would be a MGB.

    • qbsmd

      If “maximally great being” has the property of being able to diffuse between causally isolated universes, as required by step 3, then it logically can’t exist by the definition of “causally isolated”. It seems equivalent to defining an omnipotent entity as something that can create a rock so big it can’t be lifted and then toss it around. That modal logic is allowed to get away with this just makes me suspicious of modal logic.

      • Think of different worlds as being “ways the world could have been”. For example, consider our current world except that you decided to move to Kenya when you were 19. It’s not as if this version of you could talk to the “real” version of you.

        But modal logic is indeed a strange to get your head around.

        • qbsmd

          “ways the world could have been”

          I don’t see how that changes anything. If the “maximally great” entity is one that can move from an imaginary universe to a real one, then it can’t logically exist by the definition of “imaginary” or “could have been”.

          Modal logic, at least as applied to the existence of a god, reminds me of the algebraic proof that 1=2 accomplished by dividing by 0 when no one’s looking.

          • Nobody ever said anything about something that can “move from an imaginary universe to a real one”.

        • qbsmd

          “Nobody ever said anything about something that can ‘move from an imaginary universe to a real one’.”

          You said “Think of different worlds as being ‘ways the world could have been’.” And “ways the world could have been” implies “ways the world could have been which are not the way it is”. The definition of imaginary, “existing only in the imagination or fancy; not real [dictionary.com]” applies here.

          “3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.” therefore results in MGB starting out in an imaginary world and ending up in the real world, as well as infinite other imaginary worlds. I admit to some confusion about what verb appropriately describes an entity born in an abstract possibility space escaping into reality, but otherwise I don’t understand your objection to my statement.

          • Reasonably Faithless

            “therefore results in MGB starting out in an imaginary world and ending up in the real world”

            No, it doesn’t mean that the MGB starts in some imaginary world, and then goes to the real one. It means that *if we knew* there was a MGB in some world then (through some reasoning process) *we would also know* that there was one in our world. Hopefully this clears it up.

            • qbsmd

              I guess I need to see a more formal and complete version of that reasoning process. My instincts say either (1) that modal logic is fatally flawed, (2) that modal logic is used inappropriately in the ontological argument, or (3) that the ontological argument is actually a reductio ad absurdum proving that a maximally great being as defined is logically impossible. I read the Wikipedia page on S5 modal logic, and it didn’t say anything I found controversial, so I’m not concluding (1). You said “Craig correctly assures us that Steps 2-7 are “relatively uncontroversial””, which I assume means most philosophers would disagree with (2). Therefore I have to conclude that option (3) is most likely.

            • Reasonably Faithless

              That’s actually a nice way to think about it. Because, suppose we deemed the Evidential Problem of Evil (or something else) to have successfully shown that an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being could not exist in *our world*. We could then add this as a premise, and use the same logic as the Ontological Argument as follows:

              0. A maximally great being does not exist in the actual world. (Assumed knowledge.)
              1. It’s possible that a maximally great being (God) exists. (Assumption for reductio.)
              2. If it’s 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. Therefore, a maximally great being exists in the actual world.
              6. But this contradicts 0.
              7 Therefore, Premise 1 is false.
              8. Therefore, it is not possible that a maximally great being (God) exists.

              This is not necessarily the most efficient way to do such a thing, but it’s valid – if you accept premise 0.

            • qbsmd

              Do you have a link to something that explains the modal logic reasoning more fully?

              I was actually thinking of something more like this:
              1. It’s possible that a maximally great being (God) exists (If read as “a maximally great being exists in some possible world”, at the very least it is concievable that someone could write an AI, embedded in a simulated universe, with the ability and desire to guide that universe toward some definition of perfection).
              2. It’s possible that a maximally great being (God) does not exist (Victor Stenger and Lawrence Krauss have made this argument, based on how a universe could self-start using known laws of physics).
              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. Therefore, a maximally great being exists in the actual world.
              6. But this contradicts asumptions.
              7. Therefore something about the meaning of “maximally great being” as used in this argument is inherently contradictory and impossible. The definition should be ammended in the same way theologians would not accept a definition of omnipotent requiring the ability to do some logical impossibility.

            • Reasonably Faithless

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_logic – this is pretty good in general for modal logic.

              Or did you mean can I explain the reasoning in the above argument more fully?

              And yes, one way theologians attempt to get around such difficulties (and with the problem of evil, for example) is to restrict the idea of omnipotence – and not just ruling out outright contradictions like making a stone too big for the god to pick up.

            • qbsmd

              Yes, I’d like to see the reasoning behind “if a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.” I can’t even imagine how any valid method of logical analysis could produce that.

            • Reasonably Faithless

              I explained this somewhat in Section 3 of the post.

              First of all, consider some property you might have – maybe you are tall. Then you (in the actual world, in which you exist) could quite rightly say “it is true that I am tall”.

              One of the properties of a maximally great being (whether one actually exists or not) is that it would exist in every possible world (or else it would not be maximally great). So, if there was a world in which a maximally great being existed, then that being could (in that world) quite rightly say to itself “it is true that I exist in every possible world”.

              Note that to say that you exist in more than one world is a very subtle thing. It doesn’t mean that, for example, you spend most of your time in this world, but sometimes spend a few weeks over summer in a different world. It just means that there is another way existence could have been in which something that could rightly be called “you” exists. eg the universe could be exactly the same as it is, but two electrons in a galaxy a long way from here were switched. In such a scenario, the “you” in the different universe would essentially be identical to the “you” in our universe – you’d be made up of the same particles, you’d do the same things. Or you could imagine a universe like ours, but at some point in your life, you made a different career choice and you ended up being an astronaut. It’s just a different way of describing reality in such a way that a person that corresponds to “you” exists. To say that you exist in every possible world is to say that no matter how reality could have been, there would *always* be a person that corresponds to “you”.

              (I have no idea how meaningful any of that will seem to anyone.)

            • qbsmd

              I’m going to generalize my previous argument. The result is a theorem proving that any entity, which by its existence in a possible world imposes contraints on what is possible in other possible worlds, cannot logically exist. Since Craig’s definition of MGB imposes such constraints, it is logically impossible.

              p1 ♦p ∧ ♦ ¬p (p is a truth claim that may be true or not in possible worlds)
              p2 (♦ h → □p) (the existence of h in any world requires p in all possible worlds)
              1 ♦¬p (p1, conjunction elimination)
              2 ¬ □p (1, modal logic equivalence)
              3 ¬♦ h (2,p2 modus tollens)

            • Reasonably Faithless

              I don’t disagree with your deduction – it is perfectly valid. But it is also perfectly consistent with both the Ontological Argument and its dual, since those arguments together demonstrate that your P1 is false when p stands for “God exists”.

              Or maybe you are thinking of something else? What do you take p and h to be to get a problem with the MGB?

            • qbsmd

              I left p and h generic to prove that any proposition which has the property of making something necessarily true or false merely by its possibility of being true is necessarily false. I conclude that if one accepts that it is possible that MGB might exist and might not, then the proposition “if MGB exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world” is necessarily false. I think that conclusion is also the analog of Kant’s “existence is not a predicate” response to the original ontological argument. Basically I have a problem with any argument trying to word-game things into existence.

            • Reasonably Faithless

              But this simply is not true. All your argument shows is that if p and h are propositions such that:

              (1) p is possibly true and possibly false, and
              (2) the possibility of h implies the necessity of p,

              then h is necessarily false. It absolutely does not show that it is impossible for there to be some proposition h whose possible truth entails the necessary truth of some other proposition p.

              It is simply the case that some propositions are such that either they are necessarily true or necessarily false – mathematical propositions are a prime example. As such, if p is any mathematical proposition (such as “1234567 is prime”), then the possibility of p entails the necessity of p. This is where the precise meaning of “possible” is important. In saying that “1234567 is prime” is possibly true, we mean that there is a possible world in which 1234567 is prime – and if this was the case, then 1234567 must be prime in every possible world. We don’t just mean “I don’t know if 1234567 is prime or not”.

              And there are some other propositions whose possible truth entails their necessary truth. And as I showed in this blog, two examples of such propositions are “There exists a maximally great being” and “There does not exist a maximally great being”.

    • Rosemary Lyndall Wemm

      Its just philo-theo-babble. You can use the same set of speculative fiats to argue for the existence of a maximally weak, maximally ignorant and maximally evil god – or snail – or cabbage – or Great Aunt Thelma.

      • Some parodies are possible. But maximally weak/ignorant/etc things are probably not susceptible to such an argument – for example, if you consider it weaker to not exist than exist, you might instead be able to “show” that a maximally weak being cannot exist (which, interestingly, might imply the existence of an infinite sequence of weaker and weaker beings).

        But, if you are prepared to accept the possibility of a maximally great being named Rosemary, then you would have to accept her necessary existence! Maybe you know her 😉

    • Chill Chick

      I believe it’s possible that God doesn’t exist because I’m not convinced that the concept of God is coherent. But also (and maybe I’m just revealing my ignorance here) I see a problem with the idea of a necessarily existent being. I can see how an abstract concept, such as a mathematical theorem, can exist in all possible worlds. But to say “Fred exists in all possible worlds” is problematic. And replacing Fred with a “maximally great being who must by definition exist in all possible worlds” only makes things more problematic. It smacks too much of the idea that God can be poofed into existence by verbal gymnastics.

    • Roy

      Just a few quick thoughts, considering what’s already been said:

      I think there was a minor typo in S5: “Proposition 2. A positive answer to Q2 would entail the existence of God.”

      In the re-arranged Craigan speech:
      “The theist has to maintain that it’s impossible that God doesn’t exist.”

      I always find I have to translate double negatives so I can get my head around them … ie, this statement could read:
      “The theist has to maintain that it’s possible that God does exist”

      So with my simplistic understanding, I think the atheist still has the burden of proof on this one, where “God [a maximally great being] exists” is logically incoherent.

      Re: Evidential problem of evil, I’d like to see a logical problem of evil, if you have one developed. If there is no logical problem, then the evidential problem is neither here nor there.

      For balance, and in your opinion, in what circumstances – does there exist a logically possible world in which there is an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being? (Thus also breaking the dual version?)

      • Reasonably Faithless

        Thanks for spotting the typo – that does kinda matter 😉

        That double negative cancellation is not correct. “I’m not not stupid” does actually mean “I’m stupid”. But the sentence you’re working on is not so simple. Have a think about it.

        Re burden of proof, if Craig wishes the Ontological Argument to succeed, then he must establish the first premise. His method of doing so is to say “The atheist must show this is false” – this is a very clear attempt to shift the burden of proof. Do you agree? On the other hand, I gave some clear reasons for why I believe the dual first premise is true. Again, have a good think about it, and if you still don’t agree, I’ll go into more detail.

        Naturally, I’ll be posting on the Evidential Problem of Evil at some point.

        Regarding your last question, I’m not even sure if omniscience or omnipotence are themselves logically possible. But, supposing they are, I see it as being logically possible for there to be an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being (ie for such a being to exist in some world – but I consider it impossible for such a being to exist in *our* world). But note that this would not be a *maximally great being* since, as Craig insists, maximally great entails existence in every logically possible world. As such, this (highly qualified) concession would not have any bearing on the dual argument. I think I’ve said enough to indicate that I consider a maximally great being to be logically impossible.

        • Roy

          Yes, you’re right about the double-negative point.

          I might respond to your other points at another time, but it’s late again and will need a few hours to think about what you’re saying 🙂

          Just a few questions though:
          * Why do you see omniscience/omnipotence as logically incoherent?
          * With “I consider it impossible for such a being to exist in *our* world” – have you moved to Atheism rather than agnosticism (ie, soft atheism)?
          * If premise 3 is invalid in the argument for the existence of a maximally great being, then it should also be invalid for the dual argument. Or perhaps I’ve missed something with late night non-clarity. I think we probably need to look at Platinga/Craig’s work re: why they see Premise 3 follows.

          Ie, if we put the objections to the logical incoherence of omniscience/omnipotence to one side for a moment, “I see it as being logically possible for there to be an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being (ie for such a being to exist in some world ..)” would mean that Premise 3 in the dual argument is false.

          • Reasonably Faithless

            OK, I’ll wait to hear from you re the other points. As for your questions (in order):

            * I didn’t say I did – just that I’m not sure if I accept that they are logically coherent.

            * I am (currently) a strong atheist with respect to the definition of “God” used by Craig as “an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being that exists in every logically possible world”. I’m also (currently) a strong atheist with respect to the definition of “God” as “an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being that exists in our world”, as I think the evidential problem of evil is insurmountable for such a being.

            * Step 3 in Craig’s argument relies on S5 modal logic. And yes, if this step is deemed unacceptable, then the corresponding step in the dual argument also dies. The question would then be “should we accept S5 modal logic?”, rather than “Are Plantinga or Craig doing something naughty?”

            Regarding your last paragraph, there is a subtle modal logic point here. The statement you have quoted does not undercut Premise 3 in the dual argument. That premise would only be undercut if I made the stronger statement (which I don’t make) saying that I see it as being logically possible for there to be an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good being that exists in every logically possible world. (This, of course is Premise 1 in Craig’s argument!)

            The problem essentially boils down to making God great enough for an argument like Craig’s to work, but not *so* great that observations make it unlikely that such a being could exist. Gotta find the Goldilocks Zone 😉

          • Nerdsamwich

            I’ll bite on the logical incoherence of omnipotence and omniscience. To my mind, they are mutually exclusive propositions.To be all-knowing is, well, to know all. Everything you will ever do in the future is a subset of “all knowledge”. However, to be all powerful, you must have the ability to do all. The set of all actions includes changing your future. You can’t know your future and be able to change it at the same time. Changing your future actions would make your future knowledge incorrect, and vice-versa. Ergo, you have mutually exclusive properties. You can’t even have separate entities who each possess one of the attributes, as they would still cancel each other out.

    • Peter White

      I find the WLC definition of God to be rather weak.

      “God is, by definition, the greatest being conceivable.”

      That limits his god to the depths of human imagination, which we know is not infinite. Perhaps there is a being greater than we can conceive and that would place his god no better than second.

      • Reasonably Faithless

        I completely agree. From reading the bible, it is absolutely trivial to conceive of a being greater than William Lane Craig’s *actual* God, Yahweh.

        http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless/2012/12/22/the-ontological-argument-meets-christianity/

        The “greatest conceivable being” and “maximally great being” definitions really are quite different – it is actually the second definition that makes the argument work, not the first. As you said, defining things in terms of imagination is very problematic – it raises debates about what it means to conceive something – can you really say “I can conceive of the greatest conceivable being”, or do you actually have to conceive of the being’s properties in order to know it is the greatest conceivable? There’s also the fact that in a set with some kind of ordering (such as greatness), there is not necessarily a single maximal element. I will probably say more about this in a future post.

    • Debating the ontological argument as well as theistic evolution with various Christians inspired
      me to come up with a syllogism that attempts to prove an all powerful, all knowing, all loving god cannot exist. I think there is enough that we can demonstrate from the actual world that certainly an all-good being is incompatible with it. I call it the Evolutionary Argument Against God.

      So the argument goes as follows:

      1. If God chose to use evolution as the process by which he created human beings and all other forms of life, then God knowingly chose a process that requires suffering that is logically unnecessary.

      2. If humans are the product of gradual evolution guided by God, then at some point during the process the soul appeared.

      3. Once the soul appeared, humans could be rewarded in an afterlife for the suffering they endured while they were alive.

      4. If higher level primates are capable of third level pain awareness (knowing they are experiencing pain) then our pre-human hominid ancestors also did and they did not have souls.

      5. This means God chose to create humans using a method that knowingly would involve conscious suffering that was not logically necessary.

      6. An all-good, perfectly moral God who is incapable of unwarranted cruelty would not create beings that could consciously suffer in a way that was not logically necessary.

      7. Therefore, the traditional notion of God who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good does not exist.

      As per the ontological argument, a maximally great being (MGB) must exist in every logically possible world. That means there can be no logically possible world in which this being does not exist, and as such, according to the argument, no such world could therefore exist that is not compatible with a MGB. But if the actual world isn’t then a MGB cannot exist.

      • Reasonably Faithless

        Thanks for that, Thinker. The argument is very interesting, and brings up some fascinating questions. Here are some thoughts on the premises:

        1. Seems right, although a theist might say that God chose the way that minimised suffering. However, I think that if God did have a choice to either use evolution or do something like Genesis 1, then I agree with this premise, and I think most theists should too.

        2. I think this is really fascinating in its own right. There must be a point at which one creature didn’t have a soul, but its offspring did. It’s not like you can have half a soul. And certain things, then, would be deemed perfectly acceptable behaviour for the parent, but not the child who could presumably be punished for them.

        3. A theist might object to this, but perhaps just the wording. No theist I know says that people are rewarded *for* the suffering. But a theist could certainly claim that eternal life might somehow compensate for suffering in this temporary life, and hence justify it. Johno at A Tippling Philosopher has posted something about this.

        4. I think this is OK. A theist might say that God gives a soul to any creature capable of third level pain awareness, but this would seem a bit ad hoc. It would also commit them to thinking that our close relatives (apes, etc) have souls, or else denying that they have third level pain awareness.

        5. Is this different to premise 1?

        6. OK.

        7. Yep, a contradiction between 5+6.

        I’d be interested to hear a tightened version in light of the above comments. Cheers!

        • Thanks for the reply. This argument is relatively new and will certainly need some fine tuning, but I think all of it’s premises can be rationally justified.

          1. For 1 no theist that accepts evolution can deny that it requires unnecessary suffering. Most animals species really existed simply as a means to our end, and most had to suffer.

          2. No theist can get their story straight on when the soul appeared during evolution, just ask a theistic evolutionist! But it had to come fully formed at some point, since most theists don’t believe in a half-soul.

          3. It’s not that we are rewarded for suffering per se, It’s that having a soul allows us the compensation of heaven that is supposed to somehow justify the suffering we endure here. Most Christians will justify human suffering with talks of heaven. But of course that leaves out all the pre-human hominids that didn’t have souls.

          4. Substance dualists think that our rational and moral abilities came suddenly when god breathed a soul into us, well most of them do. So animals could not have subsistent souls like they believe humans have.

          5. This is kind of a rehashing of premise 1 after 2-4 justify premise 1.

          It can be shrunk down to eliminate a few redundant premises, like for example this version:

          1. If God chose to use evolution as the process by which he created human beings and all other forms of life, then God knowingly chose a process that requires suffering that is logically unnecessary.

          2. An all-good, perfectly moral God who is incapable of unwarranted cruelty would not create beings that could consciously suffer in a way that was not logically necessary.

          3. Therefore, the traditional notion of God who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good does not exist.

          Or this version:

          1. If humans are the product of gradual evolution guided by God, then at some point during the process the soul appeared.

          2. Once the soul appeared, humans could be rewarded in an afterlife for the suffering they endured while they were alive.

          3. If higher level primates are capable of third level pain awareness (knowing they are experiencing pain) then our pre-human hominid ancestors also did and they did not have souls.

          4. This means God chose to create humans using a method that knowingly would involve conscious suffering that was not logically necessary.

          5. An all-good, perfectly moral God who is incapable of unwarranted cruelty would not create beings that could consciously suffer in a way that was not logically necessary.

          6. Therefore, the traditional notion of God who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good does not exist.

          So this argument attempts to use evolution and the ontological argument against the theist and I think there is no way for them to get out of it. Even if they deny evolution it still works. They’d have to deny all third-level pain awareness before humans had souls which is impossible because even W.L. Craig admits primates have them today. So I think it’s a sound argument. Your thoughts?

          • Reasonably Faithless

            I like the short version a lot. I think theists would need to appeal to inscrutable ways and divine mysteries. But I see it as a quite straight forward matter – could God have caused a single ape to experience just a moment’s less pain? If so, then it is possible to conceive of a greater being. To claim otherwise is quite a big call.

            Regarding the second argument, a theist might say that the finite suffering of pre-humans is irrelevant since they will disappear when they die, and their suffering will not last forever. (cf Craig’s talk of the futility of atheism.) However, a world in which this suffering (however meaningless it might appear) was reduce would still be a better world.

            Basically, I don’t really think there is a way to avoid this argument barring “invincible ignorance” (a lovely fallacy I only learnt about a couple of days ago).

            Also, John Loftus has written about this in his chapter “The Darwinian Problem of Evil” in “The Christian Delusion”.

            • Maybe I’m over confident, but I think this argument is rock-solid and irrefutable by any thinking theist who believes in the standard god concept. Even if you deny evolution it still works, that’s what’s amazing about it – evolution just makes the problem worse.

              I’ve been testing it out on a few Christian blogs but so far no one has challenged it.

              For prem 2 the mere existence of conscious suffering of pre-humans destroys the all-loving god since it exists for no logically necessary purpose, and is incompatible with his existence. It doesn’t matter at all how long it lasted. I would really like to see what tactics a theist could try to use to get around this argument. They’d probably have to pull some nonsense “science” that is utterly false or try to make up some reason why animal suffering or pre-human hominid suffering is somehow necessary. But I’ll have to wait to see.

              Anyway if you want to see each premise justified in more detail, check out my blog post on it:

              http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2013/05/my-evolutionary-argument-against-god.html