One of the most popular arguments used by theists, christian philosophers and apologists alike to try and prove the existence of God is the Ontological Argument. The Ontological Argument is a philosophical argument for the existence of God that uses ontology. Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence or reality as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. The Ontological Argument was originally put forward by Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th century.
There are several versions of the argument, but the most common goes as follows:
1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.
Pretty persuasive right? How can this be anything other than sound logic? Well, it isn’t actually. Let’s see why.
Problem I: Defining Things Into Existence
Before I tear apart the argument, I need to make something clear. Here’s a quote from blogger and Youtuber AnticitizenX:
“Definitional truth is not the same thing as descriptive truth, and different rules govern the validity of each category. But the moment I try to claim that something exists, I’m crossing over into a descriptive statement of reality where the epistemic rules are now totally different. So while philosophers may continually debate over what exactly all those rules are, at least some rules are pretty well established. Good descriptive statements must be coherent, consistent, and inductive; Good descriptive statements must have the power to explain a given phenomenon simply and effectively; and good descriptive statements must allow me to exercise some physical choice in the real world that leads to a desirable outcome.” – AnticitizenX – Word Games
In other words, you can’t just define things into existence and the Ontological Argument is actually nothing more than the idea that you can somehow “prove” synthetic propositions just by sitting in an armchair and thinking really hard about them. It’s a desperate attempt to conclude God with words rather than demonstrating him.
Just because I can define all the properties of a unicorn, doesn’t mean one actually exists in the real world. I still need to demonstrate that it does. The same of course goes for God. Under absolutely no circumstances will mere definition alone itself into physics presence in the actual world.
Problem II: A Maximally Great Being
Now let’s have a look at the first premiss:
“1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.”
“Greatness” is not an inherent physical property of things that we can objectively verify, so it’s absolutely nonsense to say that there can be such a thing as a “maximally great” being, because we have no means of objectively verifying such a being would we ever come across one. It’s like asking someone to come up with the biggest conceivable number. The second you think you’ve found it, all I have to do is add 1 to you number you have found and I have immediately found a bigger number. The same goes with a “maximally great being”. The second you think you came up with a maximally great being, all I have to do is come up with a being that has the same properties, plus the ability to beat yours with a stick.
Problem III: Necessary Existence
The main purpose of course of the first premiss is trying to show you that existence is greater than non-existence because contained within the very idea of God himself is the requirement that he must exist. As if the mere virtue of being incredibly awesome automatically implies physical presence in the real world. So the argument basically boils down to the following two premisses:
1. God exists necessarily.
2. Therefore God exists.
How is this any different from saying: “the bible is true, because it says that it’s true”? It’s not. It’s a logical fallacy called “Begging the Question”. Claim X assumes X is true. Therefore, claim X is true.
Problem IV: Existence is not a Predicate
A predicate is a feature or a characteristic of an object. It gives us information about an object. Existence tells us nothing about the characteristics of an object so it must not be a predicate. If I was to tell you a “boozy woozy” exists, you wouldn’t be able to recognize one when you see one. If I was to say that a “boozy woozy” is purple and has hair on it’s back, you’d have a better idea of how to recognize one when confronted with one.
Another example would be the one Immanuel Kant uses. 100 gold coins have the same predicates whether the exist in intellectu (in our mind) or in re (the actual world). The concept of 100 gold coins doesn’t change regardless of where they exist.
Treating existence as a predicate leaves us with a paradox. If I was to say that a “boozy woozy” exists, I am giving the “boozy woozy” the predicate of existence. If I was to say a “boozy woozy” does not exist, I am telling you that it lacks the predicate of existence. This of course is highly problematic for a thing must exist to do any lacking. A “boozy woozy” can only lack a predicate if it exists in order to lack it.
Statements like “God exists” don’t tell us anything new about God so existence can not be part of God’s essence. Kant therefore says that the statement “God exists” can never be treated as an analytic statement. Analytic statements can only describe ideas and not reality. It should therefore be treated as a synthetic statement for which we would require evidence of course.
Famous philosopher Bertrand Russel said that if existence could be treated as a predicate the following argument would be sound and logical.
1. Men exist.
2. Santa Claus is a man.
3. Therefore Santa Claus exists.
This of course is absurd.
Problem V: Eric the God Eating Pinguin
Now the following may seem a little tongue and cheek, but this is what happens when you use the argument against God.
1. It is possible that Eric the maximally great God eating penguin exists.
2. If it is possible that Eric the maximally great God eating penguin exists, then Eric the maximally great God eating penguin exists is some possible world.
3. If Eric the maximally great God eating penguin exists is some possible world, it exists in every possible world.
4. If Eric the maximally great God eating penguin exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
5. If Eric the maximally great God eating penguin exists in the actual world, then Eric the maximally great God eating penguin exists.
6. Therefore, Eric the maximally great God eating penguin exists and your silly God can not, because by definition Eric the maximally great God eating penguin eats God.
The Ontological Argument fails hopelessly even before it begins. It starts of with a synthetic proposition for which, to measure its truth value, we need to make a prediction for some kind of distinct, sensory experience. How can God exist if we can’t even detect him? How can we verify his properties? Christians can define God as a thing that exists, but that does not magically require objective reality itself to contain anything worthy of that label.