Tag Archives: Philosophy

Apologetics; The Ontological Argument for God…

I must admit, right off the bat that this philosophical argument for God, in its “simplistic” form is one of my least favorites, though when seen as a set of arguments for God, it makes much more logical sense.  As with the other two philosophical arguments I’ve already blogged on: The Teleological and Cosmological, this argument is presented as a “general” support for God, not religion specific.

St. Anselm is kind of the “go-to” philosopher for the Ontological Argument, and it revolves around that idea of God, “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”  Then, through different logical arguments winds up with the conclusion that God must then exist.

If God is defined, not as just a definition, but as a being that is the most perfect being in existence, or the greatest being possible, then the argument goes that He does indeed exist.  Why?  Because God is the greatest or most perfect being, and it is greater to exist than to not, therefore God must exist.

To put it simplistically; which would you rather have a million imaginary dollars, or a million real dollars?  Which is greater?

The big argument against the Ontological argument for God comes in the form of a question; Is existence a “predicate?”  A predicate is a defining property or, if you like, a defining characteristic or attribute.  Does the fact of existence actually add anything meaningful to the idea of God?

Well…that is a good question if we stop at Anselm’s first argument, but if we continue to look at his arguments it becomes clear that there is logical reason to see God’s existence a predicate.  This “second” argument of Anselm’s revolves around this notion; God is a greater being if He cannot not exist; if His existence is necessary.  If His existence is necessary, then it would indeed be a predicate.

Basically the logical idea boils down to two possibilities; since God is not a limited being, either His existence is impossible or it is necessary.  The existence of God is not impossible, therefore because of His nature and the nature of existence, His existence is necessary.

To put it in the words of Norman Malcolm (1963), “If God, a being a greater than which cannot be conceived, does not exist then He cannot come into existence or have happened to come into existence, and in either case He would be a limited being, which by our conception of Him He is not.  Since He cannot come into existence, if He does not exist His existence is impossible. If he does exist He cannot have come into existence (for the reasons given), nor can He cease to exist, for nothing could cause Him to cease to exist nor could it just happen that He ceased to exist.  So if God exists His existence is necessary.  Thus God’s existence is either impossible or necessary.  It can be the former only if the concept of such a being is self-contradictory or in some way logically absurd.  Assuming that this is not so, if follows that He necessarily exists.” (Knowledge and Certainty: Essays and Lectures)

Breathe.  Take your time and read it over again slowly…it definitely is a logical argument that can confuse if read too fast.  The first time I read the Ontological argument it felt as though someone was trying to pull the wool over my eyes, or just simply put one over on me.  It takes some time to really grasp the logical argument in all of this.

Scriptural backing for this philosophical idea from a Christian perspective?  I find the most compelling parallels in the very names of God, such as I AM that I AM, and also titles such as “The Almighty.”  The first shows God’s self-existence, and the second shows His supremacy over all things created.

Genesis 17:1 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God…

The idea of God as the ultimate being is readily apparent as well:

Revelation 1:8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.

His necessity is also clear, when we read of Him being The Creator of all things;

Isaiah 40:28 Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

So, both we as humans define God in a certain way even just on a philosophical level, and God Himself has revealed to us that He is indeed the greatest being possible, that His existence is necessary, and that He does indeed exist.

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Filed under Apologetics, Christianity, Logic, Names of God, Philosophy, Theology

Pascal’s Wager…Redux

If you want to get a large segment of fundamentalist atheists stirred up when you are dialoguing with them, mention good ol’ Pascal and his wager; it works almost every time. Quite frankly, I can’t blame them really, I used to react in a similar fashion as a believer, albeit with humor rather then mocking disdain. When I first read about and studied Pascal’s idea, I laughed. I completely understood what Pascal was getting at, but my first thought was that I could not believe that anyone would come to faith by it, and my second was; what faith would they come to?  Many of my college students ask the same thing in my Intro to Philosophy course.

However, over time, I’ve changed my mind. Why? Interestingly enough, I “met” someone online who came to believe in God because of the wager. And, the person is a well known (not extremely famous) actor from Hollywood. (He’s a full fledged and post-happy member of one of the smaller message boards I used to frequent daily, if not hourly.) He’s a “good” man; smart, witty, nice, great sense of humor, and very into politics…and happens to have come to belief via the wager.  So, if it turns out that there is but even one soul that winds up being saved because of the wager, it is worth it.

The second reason I no longer laugh good naturedly at the wager, is that I finally looked at it for what it was, and only as what it claimed to be within the limits of Pascal’s own philosophy (which I don’t entirely agree with). The key is remembering that it is supposed to be a wager…it is placing a bet. When placing a bet, it is logical to look at all known possible outcomes, factor in known variables, and then place your bet. Here’s a quote from Blaise himself,

“God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? …You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose… But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is… If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.”

So, to avoid Pascal’s fallacy of begging the question; you basically have two main splits: the side that says the world is purely materialistic; naturalistic philosophies come under this heading.  The other side says there is indeed something beyond the mere physical.  The first choice, or cut, is clear…if you believe something exists and nothing really does, you haven’t lost a thing.  So, you might as well come down on the side of “something.”

Once you are there, it is a logical matter of exclusivity.  Out of known religions (it doesn’t make logical sense to entertain unknown ones) which ones have deity/deities that desire acknowledgment, or perhaps worship, or else you get a bad ending?  We can cross many religions/spiritual beliefs off the list right off the bat; for example, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i, many of your native/aboriginal peoples’ beliefs…even Judaism, for Gentiles at least, etc…

Then, if I’m going to place my bet (which is basically one’s soul), then I’m probably going to do some research and see which faiths are still viable.  If God is God, you’d want to wager on one that can keep a religion going, or at least I’d logically rather bet on one that could… and the list gets narrowed down quite a bit.  Which religion has the most evidence for the truth of it?  Many claim to have sacred scripture; which of those has reliable, historical documents, if prophecies are contained therein, which have come true, etc…  Blaise Pascal, from all appearances, would have been betting on the Christian God, this is one of the reasons that many criticize Pascal’s wager, but I believe if people do the logical reasoning, it does come down to a clear choice.

Now, I don’t believe in God based upon Pascal’s wager, and I don’t recommend anyone else place all of their eggs just in that basket as Pascal left it; though if the logic works for you, by all means do!  But, his basic idea of betting on an outcome, does have logical grounds, if looked at as an actual gamble.  I don’t believe that Pascal’s wager, in and of itself, offers an airtight basis for believing, but I do think it is enough to make people think, at least it should; I think it is an interesting way to get people to at least contemplate the afterlife.  From there it is a matter of research, study, and yes, perhaps a bit of prayer.

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Filed under Apologetics, Atheism, Logic, Philosophy