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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Ontological Argument for the Triune God


The Ontological Argument is a purely a priori logical argument that operates like a mathematical proof. It derives the existence of a perfect being from the laws of modal logic themselves. It's a technical argument for the existence and properties of God. That's why this is my favorite argument for the existence of God, because it goes beyond fallible evidence and when understood correctly, is virtually impossible to argue against.

In the field of philosophical theology, there are two competing definitions of God. In creator theology, God is defined as "the creator of all that is not God." In perfect being theology, God is defined as "A Maximally Great Being" which means that God possesses all great-making, properties such as love, knowledge, and power, and possesses each in a maximal way. He also possesses no flaws, such as immorality. He would be all-powerful, all-loving, and all-knowing. I intend to show you three things about this Maximally Great Being:

This video will present and defend three points:
1. A Maximally Great Being Exists (hence, perfect being theology is correct)
2. Only one Maximally Great Being can possibly exist (hence monotheism is true)
3. A Maximally Great Being must be multipersonal (the being must exist in two or more persons)

Let's start defining things before we get into the argument. First up: possible world. A possible world is basically a hypothetical situation. Calling it a possible world is not to say that such a world actually exists. It's just a description of what reality might be; a way for philosophers to see what ideas are coherent and what ideas are not. If something is possible, then we say that it exists in some possible world.

In metaphysics, the term "possible" has a different meaning than in epistemology. In epistemology, you could look at a difficult math problem and say "it's possible that there is a solution for it" which is like saying "for all I know, there is a solution to this problem." In metaphysics, something is possible if it is logically coherent. For example, my wearing a red shirt is possible, but the existence of square circles is not metaphysically possible.

If something is possible, it exists in a possible world. Rolling a six on a die is one example. If something is necessary, it exists in all possible worlds. The laws of mathematics are examples of this. If something is contingent, it exists in some possible worlds but not in others. If something is impossible, then it exists in no possible worlds. A square circle would be an example of this.

Next up entailment. Entail means "to imply necessarily." For example, shape entails size. If something has a shape, it necessarily has a size. After that: Great-making properties. A great-making property is a property that it is better to have than to lack. A lesser-making property is a property that it is better to lack than to have. A neutral property is one that is neither. Maximal greatness is the state of having all great-making propertries, and to their maximal extent. It also means having no lesser-making properties. One of these properties is necessity. Nothing that exists contingently can be maximally great. This is not to say that something has to exist to be maximally great. Instead, if something maximally great exists, then its existence is either necessary or impossible.

Now one Immanuel Kant's objections to an obsolete version of this argument is that existence is not a property. This is true. And this argument does not assume that it is. It is immune to the classic criticisms of Anselm's ontological argument.

Necessity is a property. Existence is not. Necessity does not entail existence. Necessity just means that if something exists, it exists in all possible worlds. Numbers have this property.

Now on to the Ontological Argument itself. This argument has five premises, which if true, entail the conclusion.

Premise 1: It is possible that a Maximally Great Being (MGB) exists
Premise 2: If it is possible that a MGB exists, then a MGB exists in some possible world
Premise 3: If a MGB exists in some possible world, then a MGB exists in all possible worlds
Premise 4: If a MGB exists in all possible worlds, then a MGB exists in the actual world
Premise 5: If a MGB exists in the actual world, then a MGB exists
Conclusion: A MGB exists.

Premises 2 through 5 are pretty uncontroversial in academia. They are just restatements of the laws of modal logic, accepted by theist and atheist philosophers alike. The controversy is in Premise 1. Is it possible (metaphysically) that a Maximally Great Being exists. I think that on the face of it, we have good reason to believe that it is true. As long as the concept of a Maximally Great Being is coherent, and does not violate any known necessary truths, then Premise 1 is true. A school of philosophy called "natural atheology" has attempted to build arguments against the coherence of a Maximally Great Being, but this project has been all but abandoned. Richard Swinburne explains why in his book: The Coherence of Theism.

But I think we can advance an argument in favor of Premise 1, that will make it airtight. It was developed by Robert Maydole and is called the Modal Perfection Argument. Here is how it works:

1. If a property is a great-making property, its negation is a lesser-making property
2. Great-making properties do not entail lesser-making properties
3. Maximal Greatness is a great-making property
Hence, Maximal Greatness cannot entail its negation of non-Maximal Greatness.

It is perfectly within the laws of modal logic for a property (which is not a perfection) to entail its negation. If a property is an incoherent (or impossible) property (square-circleness is an example, so we'll call this S), then it's necessary that everything has the negation of S (we'll call this ~S) as a property. That's what it means for a property to be impossible. But if everything has ~S, that means that every property entails ~S. If it didn't, then something could have some other property and not have ~S, which means it would have S, which means S would be a possible property. But if every property entails ~S, then S also entails ~S. This is consistent with the Principle of Explosion, which states that if you assert a contradiction, you can logically infer anything from it.

Hence, if it is impossible that a Maximally Great Being exists, then necessarily, nothing has Maximal Greatness. Hence, all things have non-Maximal Greatness. Hence, all properties entail non-Maximal Greatness, including Maximal Greatness. But we just established that Maximal Greatness cannot entail non-Maximal Greatness.

For the minority of philosophers who deny the principle of explosion, here is another way to view the argument. If Maximal Greatness is an impossible property, then all properties entail non-Maximal Greatness. Hence, no property can be a great-making property. But this is absurd. It would mean that some properties such as goodness, intelligence, and wisdom are not better to have than to lack. So again, there is no way that Maximal Greatness is an impossible property.

But that would mean that its is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists. And therefore such a being exists in some possible world, and therefore in every world, and therefore in this world. And since some of these properties such as omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection entail personality, then it follows that this Maximally Great Being must be personal. But that's the definition of a personal God. Hence, perfect being theology is correct.

Let's go through a few of the common objections. The first is Dawkins' own delusional objection. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins attempts to use this argument to disprove the existence of God. He says that if God is the greatest possible being, then wouldn't it be greater for God to not exist and still bring the universe into being? But far from undermining the Ontological Argument, it shows its coherence.

To answer Dawkins: Greater? Maybe. Possible? No. For in what possible world does a non-existent being exist?

What about a Maximally Great Pizza or a Maximally Great Bird? The problem with positing anything physical, is that physical things are dependent on space for their existence. And we know from modern cosmology that space once existed as a singularity, and no bird or pizza in such a state would even be a bird or a pizza. So the idea of a necessarily existing physical thing is undercut.

But how do we know that only one Maximally Great Being exists? Some of the properties possessed by a Maximally Great Being cannot exist in more than one being in any possible world. Omnipotence is one example. If multiple beings are omnipotent, then a logical contradiction follows if their wills come into conflict. If one omnipotent being chooses to bring about a state of affairs where a green elephant exists, then such a state of affairs will be actualized. But if another omnipotent being in the same world wants to bring about a state of affairs where a green elephant does not exist, then that state of affairs will be actualized. So in this world, a green elephant would both exist and not exist, but no possible world can contain such a contradictory state of affairs. So no possible world can have multiple omnipotent beings. Hence, there can only be one God.

Alexander Pruss presents the same idea worded differently: "Omnipotence requires perfect freedom and an e fficacious will. But there cannot be two beings with perfect freedom and an e fficacious will. For if they are perfectly free, they will be able to will incompatible propositions to be true, and then one of their wills shall have to fail to be e fficacious. (This argument assumes that we are individuating beings in such a way that distinct beings with will have their own will. If God is a Trinity, the persons of the Trinity do not have distinct wills, and hence will not count as distinct beings in our sense.)"

Robert Maydole's solution is to add the premise:
4. Being Supreme is a great-making property
Since being supreme entails that all other beings are inferior, only one MGB can exist! Again, there can only be one God.

Finally, what about a unitarian or uni-personal God? I'm afraid such a being, too would not be Maximally Great. For at least one of the properties of such a being, love, is problematic. In order to be necessarily loving, God must be loving in all possible worlds. Since all that is not God is subject to the creative and destructive power of the omnipotent one, God can be the only necessarily existing being. This means that there are possible worlds where God alone exists. But is God loving in those worlds? It would make no sense to say that God is loving in a state of affairs where only he exists. Does he love himself? Self-love doesn't sound like love. Love has to be expressed between one person and another in order to be true love. But that means that God must exist in at least two persons, if not more. Hence, unitarianism is false.

I want to remind all my viewers that both of these arguments are logically valid deductive arguments. You cannot avoid the conclusion of this argument without denying at least one of the premises. And in order to justify that denial, you have to show that the negation is more plausible than the premise itself. But I think to any fair-minded individual, all premises presented are pretty obviously true. And with this sequence, we have a logical proof of the existence of God. The Triune God of Scripture lives, and atheism is toast.

Part 2 (The S5 Objection and de re modality) is here!