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Friday, August 29, 2014

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 30

Mark 11:12, 13, 14, "And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he (Jesus) was hungry; and, seeing a fig-tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon; and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, as the season of figs was not yet come. And Jesus answered, and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee for evermore." See also Matthew 21:18-22. Jesus acted here neither as a Divine person, nor as a man in whom the Divine Spirit dwelt. For he surely might have known that the fig-tree bears its fruit only at the appointed season; nor would any discreet person cast a malediction on a tree merely for being thus disappointed. Moreover, if Jesus, by his mere word, was able to render a tree barren, might he not as well, by the power of his word, have made the tree bring forth its fruit at the bidding of the moment, in order to appease his hunger? I, having once made use of this argument with a Christian, he explained it away by asserting that the passage has only a spiritual signification, and that the fig-tree named was but a symbol used by Jesus to represent the Jewish nation, in like manner as the prophets designate them the "vine-tree," and that Jesus had cursed Israel for having rejected him as their spiritual teacher, I rejoined that, in our prophecies regarding the time of the expected and true Messiah, we are promised that in the days of the Messiah, knowledge and prophecy shall increase and prevail throughout the world; as it is said in Joel 2:27, 28, "You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and none else, and my people shall then never again be put to shame. And then I shall pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophecy." From this prophecy, it is clear that many of the indispensable conditions, requisite for the advent of the Messiah, had not yet been fulfilled, but were still to come.

Troki presents the common fig tree argument, stating that Jesus was too dumb to realize that it was not fig season when he cursed the tree. First, it seems bizarre that Mark would record this in his writings if Jesus did make such an obvious blunder. Secondly, it is easy to see, even before fig season, whether a fig tree will bear fruit. When the leaves grow on the fig tree, the precursors of the fig fruit also grow, as seen in this picture. Jesus would have seen that these mini-figs were not on the tree, and therefore the tree was not going to bear fruit.

And not only does Troki show his ignorance of how fig trees work, he also shows how his own countrymen were like the fig tree. Just as a fig tree has these precursor figs to indicate that later, the tree would produce a full harvest of figs, so too did the resurrection of Jesus show that he was a prototype for the rest of humanity. Just as he received an immortal body that was supernaturally powerful, we too can rest assured that we will eventually receive these kinds of bodies as well. While the full harvest has not taken place, Troki failed to see that Jesus gave us the down payment on the prophecies of Messiah, showing that the rest of these prophecies will be fulfilled by him at some point in the future.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 29

Mark 3:31-35, "There came then his brethren and his mother, and standing without, sent unto him, calling him; and the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold thy mother and thy brethren without seek thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren. For whoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother." The same subject occurs in Matthew, at the close of chapter 12; and in Luke 8:19. It appears from these statements, that his own mother, and brothers, and sister, would not believe in him, and be his disciples, and that he would not go to meet them who were of his own flesh. The allusion to mutual discord between them is confirmed by the statement in John 7:5, "For neither did his brethren believe in him." 

I have already looked at this passage in detail in the section about Matthew. In this passage, Mark is mentioning that the literal mother and brothers of Jesus did not believe in him. Therefore, Jesus called the people who do the will of God the true mother and brothers of Jesus. There is absolutely nothing in the context of the passage to support the idea that the mother and brothers were referring to anyone but Mary and her other biological offspring.

One can argue that these are cousins, even though Greek has different words for brother (άδελφος) and for cousin (ξάδελφος). There is nothing to indicate that they were adopted children, or step-brothers, or any of these other Catholic harmonizations. If we are to take the Bible at its word, we must understand that Mary most certainly did not remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus.

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 28

Mark 2:25, 26, "And he [Jesus] said unto them, Have ye never read what David did when he had need and was an hungered, he and they that were with him? How when he went into the house of God, in the days of Abiathar, the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat, but for the priests, and gave thereof to him that were with him." This passage is also to be found in Matthew 12:3-4, and in Luke 6:3-4; but all these authors have fallen into the same error, and labour under the same misconception. For this happened in the time of Ahimelech, the priest, and not in the time of Abiathar, as may be seen in 1 Samuel 21:1, "David came to Nob, to Ahimelech, the priest," etc. But Abiathar was one of the sons of Ahimelech, the son of Ahitub, who escaped and fled after David. Now, from the express question put to him, we see that David came alone to Ahimelech, and that no one was with him; "Why art thou alone, and no man with thee?" 
Finally, we get to Mark, considered the earliest and most theologically primitive of the four gospels. The scholarly consensus is that Mark was written before the other three gospels, and is therefore the most trusted by skeptical scholars.

Troki is referencing two passages in 1 Samuel and one in 1 Chronicles.

and Zadok the son of Ahitub and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar were priests, and Seraiah was secretary (2 Samuel 8:17)

Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David trembling and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” (2 Samuel 21:1)

And the scribe Shemaiah, the son of Nethanel, a Levite, recorded them in the presence of the king and the princes and Zadok the priest and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar and the heads of the fathers' houses of the priests and of the Levites, one father's house being chosen for Eleazar and one chosen for Ithamar. (1 Chronicles 24:6)

Let's take a look at some background of Abiathar. He was:
"The son of Ahimelech the high priest. He was the tenth high priest, and the fourth in descent from Eli. When his father was slain with the priests of Nob, he escaped, and bearing with him the ephod, he joined David, who was then in the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:20-23; 23:6). He remained with David, and became priest of the party of which he was the leader (1 Samuel 30:7). When David ascended the throne of Judah, Abiathar was appointed high priest (1 Chronicles 15:11; 1 Kings 2:26) and the "king's companion" (1 Chronicles 27:34)."
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia mentions Troki's argument as well.
to get rid of the testimony of Jesus (Mark 2:26) to the effect that Abiathar was high priest and that the sanctuary at Nob was "the house of God," it is affirmed that either Jesus or the evangelist is here mistaken. The proof alleged for this is that Abiathar's service as priest did not begin till at least a few days later than the incident referred to. This is merely finical, though it is an argument that is sometimes used by some scholars.
So, Troki is griping over a minor detail. Abiathar was the high priest, yet his service did not begin until shortly after the incident with the showbread. Notice that Jesus, in this passage, says that it was in the days of Abiathar, the high priest. He did not say that it was in the days that Abiathar held the office of high priest. Yet, it was certainly in Abiathar's days. So this objection is simply pedantic.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Answering Critics: Catholicism and Replacement Theology

As expected, my post on Catholicism and Rabbinic Judaism generated a bit of fanfare on Catholic sites. The main accusation is that I am not representing Catholicism correctly.

My main point with that article is that Catholicism is inconsistent when it comes to affirming an authoritative oral tradition. There are many groups today, such as the Mormon church, which argue that they are the true authoritative oral tradition, continuous with the religion of Abraham. Usually, the Catholic response is that these groups are Johnny-Come-Lately groups, which do not have the claim to antiquity the way the Catholic church does. The Rabbis can just as legitimately level that same charge against the Catholic church. If there was an authoritative oral tradition, it rested with the Sanhedrin, which rejected Jesus. Conversely, if the Sanhedrin, which rejected Jesus, was not the authoritative oral tradition, then there is no such authoritative tradition.

Replacement Theology
The first accusation is that I have misrepresented replacement theology. As Clarence Wagner has written, these are the premises of Replacement Theology:

1. Israel (the Jewish people and the land) has been replaced by the Christian Church in the purposes of God, or, more precisely, the Church is the historic continuation of Israel to the exclusion of the former. 

2. The Jewish people are now no longer a "chosen people." In fact, they are no different from any other group, such as the English, Spanish, or Africans.

3. Apart from repentance, the new birth, and incorporation into the Church, the Jewish people have no future, no hope, and no calling in the plan of God. The same is true for every other nation and group.

4. Since Pentecost of Acts 2, the term "Israel," as found in the Bible, now refers to the Church.

5. The promises, covenants and blessings ascribed to Israel in the Bible have been taken away from the Jews and given to the Church, which has superseded them. However, the Jews are subject to the curses found in the Bible, as a result of their rejection of Christ.

The issue with replacement theology is the claim that Jews are not chosen any longer simply by virtue of being Jews. In other words, Jews who do not believe in Jesus are not God's chosen people. In the Tanakh, Jews were considered the chosen people regardless of their obedience or disobedience. When the Jews were unfaithful, they would be punished or sent into exile. Yet, they remained chosen even if they rejected God and worshiped idols. 1 Kings 19 states that only around 7,000 people of Israel had not bowed the knee to Baal, yet the righteous and rebellious Israelites were equally bound to the Law of Moses in a way that the non-Jews were not. Unbelief did not render them as Gentiles, either spiritually or legally.

This is why I mention Exodus 12 in the previous post. The people of Israel are to observe the feast of Unleavened Bread as a statute forever. They are also to circumcise as a statute forever (Genesis 17). Catholicism does not require circumcision, and in the past has forbidden it (e.g. Council of Florence). Jews were required to keep these commands. Gentiles were not. These commands were eternal, and there were no conditions that would nullify these commands. So I would ask: are Jews in the Catholic church required to circumcise? If they are not, then how is that not nullification, even if it is nullification under a different word?

Let me answer that for you. It is nullification. To argue that Jews are not commanded to circumcise while maintaining that the circumcision command is not nullified is to engage in pilpul, a practice of harmonizing texts by creating distinctions that are not there.

Israel and the New Israel
Premise 4 states that the Church is now the legal entity of Israel, which inherits the promises given to Moses and to David. This monumental event occurred supposedly in Acts 2, when God gave the Holy Spirit to the church. This means that before Pentecost, unbelieving Jews were considered part of Israel, and at Pentecost, those Jews had all been unwittingly kicked out.

If this was the case, would you expect the New Testament use of the term "Israel" to refer to the church or to the Jews? Clearly, if this was the case, the term Israel would not only refer to the church, but might even be contrasted with the Jews, but a simple word search shows the contrary.
for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, (Acts 4:27)

And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. (Acts 5:21)

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved (Romans 9:27)

but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. (Romans 9:31)

But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Romans 10:21)

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, (Romans 11:7)

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. (Romans 11:11)

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25)

circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; (Philippians 3:5)

Take each of these verses, and try replacing "Israel" with "The Church" and see the absurdity that results. Did God put a partial hardening on the Church until a fulness of the Gentiles has come in? Or has the church failed to obtain what the elect have obtained? I thought the church was the elect; the regenerate and the saved.

Again, if replacement theology was true, we should not see any verses that refer to unbelieving Jews. The fact that we do shows that replacement theology is false.

The Church and the Sanhedrin
Some Catholics have argued that no Catholic would believe that the biblical support for the Sanhedrin tradition exceeds the biblical support for the church magisterium. The main passage that the rabbis use for their magisterium is Deuteronomy 17.
If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the LORD your God will choose. And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the LORD will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left.
So what does this passage explicitly teach? It teaches that God gave the Torah to be used as the law in the land. It explicitly claims that there will be judges who will decide authoritatively on it. It also explicitly claims that their decisions involve authoritative interpretation of God's law, and hence of the Torah. Jews were bound to do according to their decisions, and were not allowed to turn from the verdict.

The most explicit passage for the church magisterial authority is Matthew 16.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The explicit claims made are that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, and that Peter will be able to bind and loose things on earth, and it will be so in heaven. Notice that these claims are symbolic and vague. Does it mean that Peter will be given the right to judge people? Does it teach that Peter will be able to make authoritative interpretations, or that people are bound to his judgments? The text does not say. It also says nothing about whether Peter has the power to transfer this ability to anyone else, or to set up an authoritative organization, and it doesn't even say that this power was given exclusively to Peter. All of this has to be inferred.

This is what I meant by the Bible giving far more support for the oral authority of the Sanhedrin than it does for the Church. Deuteronomy 17 is explicit in its claims to judicial authority, while Matthew 16 uses vague imagery, and does not even make an explicit claim that he will have power over anyone else.

The Survival of the Jews
Some of the strongest evidence for the continuation of the covenant with the Jews, even unbelieving Jews, is that of all the ancient tribes, nearly all of them have lost their identity while the Jews still exist as a people group. This is not true of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. It is not true of the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the ancient Egyptians, or most of the ancient tribes.

So what are the elements that keep a culture together and avoid assimilation into a larger culture? Generally, this requires two factors: land and language. The Jews had not had a land since the early second century, and have not had a common language. Since the Babylonian exile, most Jews did not speak Hebrew, and Philo's writings imply that the Jews of Alexandria could not even read the language. Even the Jews who used Hebrew as a prayer language did not use it for communication, but used variants of the host culture language (e.g. Yiddish is nearly identical with Middle German). So the Jews had no common tongue or national land for nearly 2,000 years, and yet survived as a Jewish culture.

By all common sense, the Jews should have been assimilated into their host cultures shortly after the destruction of the Jewish state and dispersal of the Jews in 135. It makes sense to say that the Jews survived the exile to Babylon without becoming assimilated. This is because the Jews were exiled together, and because the exile was short, less than 100 years. No other tribal group has survived as that tribal group for so long without a land.

Frederick the Great challenged his chaplain to give in one sentence an unanswerable proof for the Bible. The chaplain replied "The Jews, sire."

Friday, August 8, 2014

History of the Ontological Argument

Most arguments will point to evidence in the world around us and conclude from that evidence that the best explanation is God. There is also a series of epistemic arguments which argue that one must posit God in order for humans to have true knowledge of anything. Ontological arguments, on the other hand, argue that non-theistic worldviews are incoherent, i.e. that asserting atheism is a bit like asserting that square circles exist.
The argument is subtle, not only with variations between the different authors, but variations in how the individual authors expressed this argument. Even the older versions of this argument are quite a bit stronger than modern philosophers realize, since the “canonical” critiques often overlook subtle and yet critical distinctions in the argument. This paper will first look at the argument through the eyes of Anselm, and through its development up to the version proposed by Alvin Plantinga. It will then look at the argument’s historical critics, and then evaluate the contributions of each person toward the development of the ontological argument.
            The original version of the ontological argument goes back to Anselm of Canterbury, specifically to his Proslogion. Anselm thought of God not just as the creator of the universe, but as a being so great, that no one could even think of something that is greater than God.[1] If someone could think of something greater than God, then the creature would pass judgment upon the creator.[2] God either exists in the thought alone, the way that unicorns exist only in the thought, or God exists both in thought and reality. If God only existed in thought, then we could imagine something greater: a God that exists in both thought and reality. Therefore, Anselm concludes, God cannot be thought of as not existing.[3]
            Anselm also cuts off a potential objection. He notes that the Psalmist states “The fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God.’” If God cannot even be thought of as not existing, then how is it that anyone could fail to believe that God exists? Anselm responds. “A thing is thought of one way which words signifying it are thought. It is quite a different way when the thing is itself understood.”[4] One can assert the words that there is no God, yet this is different than believing in the concept of a godless reality. “Those who say that God does not exist will give the words some other meaning or no meaning. God is greater than which none can be thought. Whoever understands this also understands that God exists in such a way that one cannot even think of him as not existing.”[5] Anselm draws a distinction between the words and that which the words designate. Anselm argues that it is the object that we call God that we cannot even think of as non-existent.
            Descartes gives a version of the ontological argument, introducing it in his Discourse on Method and then presenting it fully in his Meditations. In his Discourse, Descartes explains how he came upon the method that would lead to his Meditations. He wondered if he could think of anything more perfect than himself, and said that the fact that he doubted meant that he could not be the most perfect being. He concluded that this idea of a perfection greater than himself could not have been generated internally, and therefore had to be placed in him by a more perfect being.[6]
            In his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes gives a more detailed explanation in his third meditation. Descartes moves from belief in the self to belief in God. Descartes had been doubting his own existence, and after establishing that, wondering whether his own reasoning and sense experience were valid. He called in God as a guarantor of his sense experience, reasoning from the idea of God to the existence of God. Descartes argued that “something more perfect cannot proceed from that which is less perfect”[7] Even if one could imagine that such a being does not exist, one cannot imagine that his idea represents nothing real.[8] Descartes concludes “I perceive that the objective being of an idea cannot be produced by a being that exists potentially only, which properly speaking is nothing, but only by a being which is formal or actual.”[9] Perhaps as a result of intuition, Descartes infers the existence of a perfect being from its idea.
            Descartes further clarified his position in the introduction to the Meditations. He said that people often object that the idea of something more perfect than oneself entails that the idea is more perfect, much less that it represents an external object. Descartes replied that such an objection commits the fallacy of equivocation. If it is taken as an act of understanding, it cannot be said that the understanding is more perfect than him. If it is taken objectively, as that object which is represented by the act, would be more perfect.[10]
            In his New Essays, Leibniz gives a few of his opinions on the ontological argument as formulated by Descartes. In his opinion, the ontological argument is sound, but has hidden premises in it. It assumes that the idea of a perfect being is a coherent notion, that it does not imply a contradiction, and that such a being possibly exists. He mentions that we can conceive of a perpetual motion machine. We could describe such a device, even though such a device is impossible. Still, Leibniz concludes that “we are entitled to assume the possibility of any being, and above all of God, until someone proves the contrary.”[11] This seems a bit like a Moorean Shift, stating that the possibility that God exists seems more plausible prima facie and demanding that those who argue otherwise give an account for their view.
            Kurt Gödel was one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, and also had his own ontological argument for the existence of God. Godel gave a short logical proof of the existence of God. He argued as his premises that a property is either positive, or its negation is positive, and if two properties are positive, then the conjunction of the two properties is positive. God is defined as that which has every positive property. He also stipulated that all positive properties are necessarily positive, and that necessary existence is positive. Furthermore, all essences of something are necessarily equivalent. He also calls a positive property, one that is positive in the moral aesthetic sense, and as an objective feature of reality.[12] From these premises and axioms, it follows logically that all positive properties can be instantiated in the same thing, and that there is some being that has all these properties, which is what we mean by God.
            Plantinga’s argument uses modal logic with the possible worlds semantics invented by Saul Kripke. Plantinga bases his version of the argument from Norman Malcolm’s version.
Even if an essence entailing is maximally great in W is exemplified, it does not so far follow that this essence entails is maximally great in α. For all we have shown so far, this being might be at a maximum in some world W, but be pretty insignificant in α, our world. So the argument does not show that there is a being that enjoys maximal greatness in fact; it shows at most that there is a being that in some world or other has maximal greatness.[13]
What Plantinga is arguing is that there is a difference between stating that a maximally great being has necessary existence, and that a maximally great being has the properties of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence in every possible world. Perhaps such a being would be omniperfect in one world, and impotent in another. It would have the properties stipulated by Malcolm, and yet would fail to demonstrate that such a being exists in this world. Plantinga modifies this argument by stating that the property of being omniperfect can be called “maximal excellence” and that the property of maximal greatness is to possess maximal excellence in every possible world.[14] This gets around the flaw in Malcolm’s version.
            Plantinga then advances the argument as follows:
1.      The property has maximal greatness entails the property has maximal excellence in every possible world.
2.      Maximal excellence entails omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection.
3.      Maximal greatness is possibly exemplified.
This shows that there is some possible world where a being has maximal greatness, which then means that such a being has maximal excellence in every possible world. He argues that it might be a weak argument, since there is not much warrant for believing that maximal greatness is possibly exemplified unless one already believes that a maximally great being exists.
            Gaunilo was Anselm’s first critic. Despite being pious himself, he found difficulties, not so much with Anselm’s perfect being theology, but in his use of it to demonstrate the existence of God. Gaunilo gives a reductio argument against Anselm. The former argues that we often talk about nonexistent things. Perhaps God exists in the mind only in the sense that the fool understands what Anselm is saying. A picture first exists in the painter’s mind, and then in reality. There needs to be a distinction between entertaining an idea in the mind and understanding that the corresponding object exists, and Gaunilo argues that Anselm’s argument can be reduced to absurdity because it fails to take that into account. Furthermore, there seems to be no point in arguing that God exists if it is impossible to imagine that God does not exist. “For if God cannot be thought not to exist, then what is the point of launching this whole argument against someone who might deny that something of such a nature actually exists?”[15] Gaunilo hints that the ontological argument might be self-refuting.
            Finally, Gaunilo parodies the argument with his idea of a most perfect island, which cannot be imagined not to exist. Does this imply that such an island exists? Gaunilo also draws a distinction between objects that cannot fail to exist and objects that cannot be imagined not to exist. He says that he is not sure if he can imagine himself as non-existing, even though he thinks of himself as a contingent being.
            Anselm replies to Gaunilo. The painting is a bad analogy, since objects that begin to exist are contingent objects. “Whatever can be thought of yet does not actually exist, could, if it did come to exist, not existence again in reality and in the mind.”[16] This reply seems a bit different from the other reply, since it appears to be asserting that if God exists, he exists necessarily. This is different than saying that the concept of God entails his existence.
            Thomas Aquinas is one of the most eminent critics of Anselm’s ontological argument, responding in his Summa Theologiae.
[H]e who hears the name "God" may perhaps not know that it signifies "something greater than which cannot be conceived," since some people have thought of God as a body. Granting, however, that someone should think of God in this way, namely as "that being a greater than which cannot be conceived, "it does not follow on this account that the person must understand what is signified to exist in the world of fact, but only in the mind. Nor can one argue that it exists in fact unless one grants that there actually exists in fact something a greater than which cannot be conceived. It is, however, precisely this assertion the atheist denies.[17]
Aquinas did not believe that the ontological argument was helpful in establishing the existence of God. It, according to Aquinas, seems to beg the question against the atheist. Aquinas also argues that we seem to have a muddled and confused knowledge of God. It is one thing to know that someone is approaching, and another to know who is approaching. The fact that people have some innate sense of God does not mean that people have innate knowledge of an accurate view of God.
            Hume attacks several species of argument for the existence of God in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.
Nothing exists without a cause; and the original cause of this universe (whatever it be) we call God; and piously ascribe to him every species of perfection. Whoever scruples this fundamental truth, deserves every punishment which can be inflicted among philosophers, to wit, the greatest ridicule, contempt, and disapprobation. But as all perfection is entirely relative, we ought never to imagine that we comprehend the attributes of this divine Being, or to suppose that his perfections have any analogy or likeness to the perfections of a human creature. . . But let us beware, lest we think that our ideas anywise correspond to his perfections, or that his attributes have any resemblance to these qualities among men. He is infinitely superior to our limited view and comprehension; and is more the object of worship in the temple, than of disputation in the schools.[18]
Hume attacks the doctrine that God should even be seen as the most perfect being. His attack is twofold: first, that the arguments for God fall far short of establishing God as a perfect being; second, there is no reason to think that what humans believe to be attributes of a perfect being are in fact the actual attributes that would comprise a most perfect being. This is because Hume’s starting point is that “our ideas reach no further than our experience.”[19] We can know nothing a priori.[20] Since the ontological argument is an a priori argument, this objection would immediately dismiss all types of ontological arguments.
            Hume then attacks the ontological argument directly. Again, he asserts his empiricism before his analysis of the argument itself.          
Nothing is demonstrable, unless the contrary implies a contradiction. Nothing, that is distinctly conceivable, implies a contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as non-existent. There is no being, therefore, whose non-existence implies a contradiction. Consequently there is no being, whose existence is demonstrable.[21]
This is more of an assertion than an actual argument, but Hume buttresses this with an additional explanation. According to Hume, we could always conceive of the non-existence of any existing thing. The mind need not, and indeed has no justification, of believing that something that currently exists cannot cease to exist. Hume concludes that the term “necessary being” is either meaningless or at least cannot be given a consistent definition.[22]
            The Critique of pure Reason was a turning point in the history of philosophy. Kant’s key point is that the necessity of judgments is not the same is the necessity of things.[23] It may be necessary to think that a triangle is defined as that which has three sides. It is different to infer from this anything about reality. Kant argues that contradiction arises when we cancel a predicate that a subject needs in order to maintain its identity. Kant says that one can instead cancel the subject, no contradiction arises. If one cancels the idea of a triangle, the property of having three angles will be cancelled with it.[24] “To posit a triangle and cancel its three angles is contradictory; but to cancel the triangle together with its three angles is not a contradiction. It is exactly the same with an absolutely necessary being. If you cancel its existence, then you cancel the thing itself with all of its predicates; where is the contradiction supposed to come from?”[25]
            Kant then argues that God as a necessary and existing being is either analytic or synthetic. If it is analytic, then the argument becomes a tautology. Existence is conflated with possibility, and then inferred from possibility. If all positing is called “reality” then all one does by positing God is saying that one is positing what one is positing. Existence adds nothing to one’s thought of the object. If the property of divine existence is synthetic, then one can cancel existence without contradiction, since contradiction only arises when cancelling analytic properties.[26] “Being is obviously not a real predicate, i.e., a concept of something that could add to the concept of a thing. It is merely the positing of a thing or of certain determinations in themselves.”[27] This is the crux of Kant’s argument. He states that being, or existence, is not a property of anything. If it was, then the thing as it exists in the understanding would be different than the thing that is instantiated in reality. If that were the case, then we could never say that the thing in our concept has been instantiated in reality. Kant then states that if we were to make existence one of Kant’s a priori categories, then we would not be able to distinguish it from mere possibility. Kant states again that we cannot obtain possibility through anything other than the synthetic cognition. Kant concludes that “a human being can no more become richer in insight from mere ideas than a merchant could in resources if he wanted to improve his financial state by adding a few zeroes to his cash balance.”[28]
            In the spirit of continental philosophy, Hegel gives his thoughts on the matter. He opens by mentioning the Notion of God, which is meant as a sort of conception that we have regarding a perfect being, whereby Being is part of the conception.[29] Hegel also argues that the concept of God is how he seems to us in the finite spirit.[30] “The Notion of God is that of something boundless, not boundless in the bad sense, but rather as representing what has at the same time the most determinate character possible, pure self-determination.”[31] Unlike other arguments which proceed from the finite world to an infinite God, the ontological argument begins with this Notion.
            Hegel then begins his criticism of the ontological argument. “If God is defined as the Substance of all realities, then Being does not belong to Him, for Being is no reality. It makes no difference to the Notion or conception whether it exists or does not exist, it remains the same.”[32] He then states that in the ontological argument, the Notion of God and the existence of God form a single identity, so that God cannot be conceived without existing. “What is unsatisfactory in this view is that we have here a presupposition, and this means that the Notion measured by this standard of hypothetical necessity must be something subjective.”[33] Hegel argues that subjectivity is inherently finite, which is contradictory to the Notion of God as the infinite.
            The ontological argument has shown great resiliency to criticism, which explains its longevity. Anselm’s original version of the argument has merit, and would be worth pursuing in natural theology, even if later philosophers had not improved upon it. Many attacks came upon it, but none of the counter-arguments are decisive. No one has ever marshalled a reductio ad absurdum against it. The island parody was refuted rather quickly. There is a difference between talk about a greatest conceivable object within some category, and a greatest conceivable object simpliciter. The latter quantifies over the whole range of being, rather than just a subset of it. Furthermore, islands have great-making properties which do not have obvious maxima. No matter how many good things this island would have, one only need add an additional good thing and the island would be greater. This is not so regarding beings. Power seems to top out at omnipotence, for example.
The formulation by Descartes appears less like an ontological argument, and more like a transcendental argument for the existence of God. Descartes takes the reliability of our mental faculties for granted, and then posits God as a guarantor of this. This is different than using the divine properties alone as justification of the existence of this perfect being. He does, however, give a sketch of the ontological argument that is made complete by Leibniz.
Kurt Gödel paved the way for more rigorous versions of the ontological argument, such as those by Plantinga and Maydole. Gödel’s argument is formal, deductive, and valid. Hence, one cannot deny the conclusions without denying and justifying the denial of, one of the premises. One obvious path of attack is to deny the existence of positive properties, but this seems a bit desperate. Another route is to deny that every property is either positive or has a negation that is positive. Tautological properties such as “being self-identical” do not appear to be positive properties. Properties such as “being green” or “not being green” do not seem to be positive properties. If they were, one would be positive, but it is not obvious which one. Another criticism can be against Gödel’s logic. The second-order logic that Gödel uses is neither consistent nor complete, so one may still evade the argument by claiming that the ontological argument is more like a paradox of the system, the way that Liar and Curry paradoxes, as well as Russell’s paradox, arise as a consequence of this logical system.
Robert Maydole explains one of the more devastating critiques of Gödel’s argument. First, Godel’s argument shows that if there is a positive property, then every tautological property is also a positive property. Worse, Sobel gave an argument that Godel’s ontological argument leads to modal collapse, where all propositions become necessary propositions.[34] Gödel’s argument may be valid, but it is not sound.
Alvin Plantinga serves as the gateway into the most recent versions of the argument. His modal version is valid, and only the first premise, regarding the possibility of this maximally great being, is seriously challenged in the literature. The other premises are fairly uncontroversial. The real issue with Plantinga’s version is that the first premise is not that different from the conclusion of the argument. Indeed, the possibility of a maximally great being is logically equivalent to the existence of such a being.
Aquinas critiques the argument by stating that people can have misconceptions about God, but one might ask whether these misconceptions are really about God, and not about something else. If someone talks about the Titanic, and identifies it as a tin whistle that can be held in the palm of one’s hand, then that person is not really talking about the Titanic. Aquinas does help to draw a distinction between conceiving of something and imagining something. Conceiving means to form a coherent concept, while imagining generally involves forming images in one’s mind. One can conceive of highly complex structures without being able to imagine them. One can conceive of triangularity and yet not imagine it, since the idea is different than any particular triangle.
Hume’s critique is somewhat puzzling. On one hand, he wants to affirm that nothing in the mind exists which is not based on experience. On the other hand, he wants to draw general conclusions which cannot simply be known through repeat observation. Greg Bahnsen observes the trouble with Hume’s line of reasoning.
Hume’s strict empiricism landed into utter skepticism by his own admission. Hume’s philosophy led to skepticism about God, the external world, the existence of the self and all scientific reasoning. Even Hume’s attempt to explain why humans engage in inductive reasoning he said “by force of natural instinct or habit, they do this regardless of rational justification.” Even this attempt rests on the validity of inductive inference, now about human nature and the alleged workings of the human mind and habits. Furthermore, any attempt to mitigate Hume’s skepticism by turning toward a pragmatic interest in action and problem solving rather than theoretical demands of a philosophy, is not only a philosophical cop-out but itself rests upon the premise of experience and regularities in the behavior of nature and man, from which generalizations we are allowed to make successful plans of action. Even the pragmatic attempt to deal with Hume’s skepticism rests upon the very regularity of nature which Hume’s philosophy rules out as intellectual illegitimate. Hume’s anti-metaphysical empiricism proved to destroy objectivity, rationality and science.[35]
Hume’s skepticism becomes like the universal acid, which no one can ever use, since it dissolves any container. The inability for Hume’s empiricism to justify inductive reasoning, which is the foundation of knowledge on empiricism, makes the price of his worldview so high, that no one who holds to it could seriously do science. If the price of denying the ontological argument is total skepticism about the external world, induction, and the existence of the self, then the ontological argument has done its job in reducing atheism to absurdity.
            Kant’s critique of the argument is likely the most difficult to answer. It is more thorough, and does not beg the question in the same way as Hume’s critique does. Hume’s system was so thoroughly mired in skepticism, that no one could seriously live their lives as though they actually believed what he was teaching. Kant was much more subtle, and gave justification for how we could trust our a priori intuitions, at least regarding the world of appearance. The philosophical price of embracing Kant’s system was much smaller, and one could live consistently with it.
            It does seem to be the case that existence is not something we predicate of objects. To say “my car is blue, about 10 years old, stick shift, and existing” seems like an odd description. If the car did not exist, it would not have those other properties. One line of defense is to assert that all objects exist necessarily, but some objects have concreteness as a contingent property. One could then argue that to be concrete is greater than to be abstract, and the ontological argument evades Kant’s critique. Robert Maydole notes that “it is important not to conflate existence-in-reality with existence generally.”[36] Anselm believed that things that exist in the understanding exist just as much as things that exist in reality. In short, Anselm did not believe that existence was a predicate. Kant’s rebuttal is far from decisive, but it is still too strong to ignore. If existence in the understanding is a distinct property from existence in reality, then the ontological argument may be a form of equivocation, at least if the identity of indescernibles holds.
Plantinga also gave a devastating critique of Kant in God and Other Minds.  “Although the argument certainly looks at first sight as if it ought to be unsound, it is profoundly difficult to say what exactly is wrong with it. Indeed, it is doubtful that any philosopher has given a really convincing and thorough refutation of the ontological argument.”[37] He then mentions Kant’s critique, and notes that Kant never gave a rigorous enough definition of “is a predicate” in a clear enough way that existence cannot be a predicate, or even that Anselm’s version requires existence to be one. He also gives his criticism of Kant’s argument regarding God’s necessary existence being a synthetic truth.
But what could Kant possibly mean when he says that there is nothing "outside of" God that could be contradicted by the denial of His existence? Presumably it is propositions that could contradict it; and there are plenty of them that do so, whether or not God exists. Does he perhaps mean to say that no true proposition would contradict the denial of God's existence? But this would be to hold that God does not exist, which is certainly nothing Kant is prepared to affirm. Does he mean that no necessarily true proposition would contradict it? But surely this would beg the whole question; for the claim that the proposition God does not exist is not inconsistent with any necessary proposition, is logically equivalent to the claim that God exists is not necessarily true.[38]
Kant’s arguments seem less forceful when they are analyzed critically. Plantinga argues that it is Kant who begs the question in his attack on the ontological argument. Kant’s argument may be little more than an assertion that no propositions about what exists are necessary.
            Hegel builds on Kant’s critique, but adds little to it. His argument seems to assert its conclusions, rather than reasoning toward them. Hegel is already convinced that human thought is incapable of grasping the infinite, and hence, unable to deliver ontological arguments. He also assumes that the notion of greatness or of perfection are subjective notions, rather than human recognition of objective features of reality.
The ontological argument certainly had its challengers, but is still going strong today. The argument is rationalist in nature, which becomes the focus of its more recent critiques. They assume that humans do not have innate ideas, and hence are limited in thought to the deliverance of sense experience. Such epistemologies bear a burden of proof that must be met in order to guarantee the success of such counter-arguments. It seems difficult, even in principle, for epistemologies which deny absolute knowledge of such universals to lay claim to such absolute knowledge of such a universal principle as empiricism itself.
Modern builds of the ontological argument need to address Kant’s criticisms first and foremost. It was Kant who rightly stated that existence is not a predicate. Things cannot be stipulated into existence, and any viable version of the ontological argument must avoid this pitfall. The ontological argument cannot provide an airtight proof based on indubitable premises, since a determined critic, like Hume, can question even the reliability of our mental faculties. Instead, the argument will have to be based on premises which are more intuitively plausible than their negations. Plantinga has given us a sketch of such a proof, but there needs to be a stronger case for the possibility premise in order for the argument to have any reasonable strength. This will need to be the subject of future investigations.

[1] Anselm, Proslogion ch. 2.
[2] Ibid., ch 4.
[3] Ibid., ch 3.
[4] Ibid., ch 4.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Descartes, Discourse on Method, ch. 4.
[7] René Descartes, Discourse On Method and Meditations, trans. Elizabeth Sanderson Haldane and G R T. Ross Dover Philosophical Classics (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2003), 87.
[8] Ibid., 88.
[9] Ibid., 89.
[10] Ibid., 60.
[11] Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, New Essays On Human Understanding. Edited and translated by Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett. 1 vols. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, 219.
[12] Kurt Gödel, 1995, "Ontological Proof". Collected Works: Unpublished Essays & Lectures, Volume III, 403-404.
[13] Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity, Clarendon Library of Logic and Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974),  213.
[14] Ibid., 214.
[15] Guanilo.
[16] Anselm, Reply to Guanilo.
[17] Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part 1, Q2, A1.
[18] David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1779, edited with an introduction by H. Aiken, London: Macmillan, 1948, 13.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Hume, 16.
[21] Ibid., 45-46.
[22] Ibid., 46.
[23] Ibid., 564.
[24] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, ed. and trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood, The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 565.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid., 566.
[27] Ibid., 567.
[28] Ibid., 569.
[29] G.W.F. Hegel, Amplification of the Ontological Proof, from Wikisource 360.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Ibid., 361.
[32] Ibid, 363.
[33] Ibid, 364.
[34] William Lane Craig and James Porter Moreland, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 577.
[35] Greg Bahnsen, “The Debate that Never Happened,”
[36] Craig, 554-555.
[37] Alvin Plantinga, God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God, Cornell Paperbacks (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1990), 27.
[38] Ibid., 31.