The Ontological Argument: Something From Nothing

What does heaven look like? Does the heaven imagined by Fred “God hates fags” Phelps match that of Mother Teresa, who said, “The world gains much from [the poor’s] suffering”? Do these heavens match that of Maximilian Kolbe, the friar who volunteered to die in the place of a stranger in Auschwitz? These are three Christians with three possibly incompatible views of heaven.

Suppose the properties of Paradise are what we imagine them to be. The British comedy Red Dwarf explored this idea of the perfect life in one episode. In “Better than Life,” the three characters enter a total immersion game that’s better than life. They get whatever they want—food, cars, cash, girlfriends, power. Things go wrong when one of the characters can’t accept good things happening to him and corrects the balance by imagining his father’s disapproval, then being saddled with a nagging wife and seven children, and finally that all of the characters are buried up to their necks with jam on their faces, about to be eaten by ants.

This was just a television show, but if you reject the idea of imagining into existence the properties of a perfect life, you won’t care for this Christian apologetic argument.

Ontological Argument

Here’s the original argument as formulated by Anselm of Canterbury a thousand years ago. First define “God” as the greatest possible being that we can imagine. Next, consider existence only in someone’s mind versus existence in reality—the latter is obviously greater. Finally, since “God” must be the greatest possible being, he must exist in reality. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t meet the definition of the greatest possible being.

But this is crazy talk. How is this not wishing something into existence as with the Red Dwarf episode? If we can simply think God into existence, can we think other perfect things into existence as well?

This is a little like Zeno’s paradox. The conclusions of neither Zeno’s paradox nor the Ontological Argument seem to follow, and yet the error isn’t obvious.

Rebuttals to the Ontological Argument

But perhaps our intuition fails us here. Let’s be more rigorous and explore some rebuttals.

1. Does the thing exist or not? The most obvious flaw is that the first step defines an imaginary being—God is the greatest possible being that we can imagine. But in step three, we are now talking about beings that exist. The definition of “God” from the first step no longer applies. We’re switching definitions mid-argument.

2. “Greatest” is subjective. This was the lesson from the Better Than Life game. Consider a few examples: I like sugar in my tea, you like your tea straight, and the Mormon either has iced tea or avoids tea altogether. “The greatest cup/glass of tea” is not definable.

Or religion: Muslims say that their religion is best because it’s a monotheism. Christians say that their Trinity is better. Which is greater?

Or warfare: was the English victory at Agincourt or the Greek holding action at Thermopylae greater? Was Hannibal’s generalship greater than that of Julius Caesar? Chinese strategist Sun Tzu said that the greatest battle is the one that was avoided. So then is the greatest superhero the one who kicks the most butt or the one whose diplomacy avoids the most butt kicking?

Is the greater god the omnipotent one, or is he the one limited in power but who overcomes his limitations and nevertheless gets things done by cooperation? The Buddhist has yet another approach and will argue that the greatest being has “completely purified his mind of the three poisons of desire, aversion, and ignorance.”

One Christian imagines Buddy Christ and another a severe and unfriendly Yahweh—which one is better? Joel Grus said, “Yahweh doesn’t have a rocket-powered jetpack, and a deity with a rocket-powered jetpack is easily ‘greater’ than one who doesn’t have it.” “Greatest being” is like “the highest integer”—you can always go a little higher.

The first point in the argument—“God is the greatest being that we can imagine”—is not well defined, just like there is no “greatest presidential candidate.” These are subjective categories.

3. What’s better—the God of the OT existing or his not existing? Obviously the latter! We can puzzle about the existence of the greatest possible being, but the reprehensible Yahweh of the Old Testament clearly isn’t it. (More here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

At best, the Ontological Argument is yet another deist argument; that is, it argues for an unspecified deity rather than the god of the Bible. If it were convincing, the Christian would still need to argue for which god.

4. The greatest possible being can’t create. The greatest possible being is perfectly satisfied and has no needs. No needs means no motivation to change or create, so it can’t be the creator of our universe.

5. The Ontological Argument invites its negative version. If we’re just imagining things into existence, other things will come through that door.

Define “God” as the worst possible being that we can imagine. Next, consider existence only in someone’s mind versus existence in reality—it would obviously be worse if this being actually existed. Finally, since “God” must be the worst possible being, he must exist in reality.

6. Questions about existence. Philosophers for the last millennium have wrestled with the Ontological Argument with no consensus. David Hume observed that to think of a unicorn (for example) is to think of it existing. Adding a second step after we’ve thought of a unicorn, “Okay, now think of it existing,” is meaningless. The same is true of God—the idea of God is the idea of God existing, and the argument no longer works.

Immanuel Kant argued that existence is not just another property like “blue” or “has four legs” that you can imagine (or not) about something. Theologian J.W. Montgomery agreed, “If one removes all the genuine properties from something, one does not find that existence remains; existence is the name we give to something that has properties” (Tractatus Logico-Theologicus, 119).

7. The Ontological Argument creates a moral conundrum. Here’s a nice refutation from commenter Greg G.

  1. The greatest possible being would also be a morally perfect being.
  2. A morally perfect being would prevent all unnecessary suffering.
  3. For suffering to be necessary, it must achieve some purpose, and this purpose must also be logically possible to achieve.
  4. The morally perfect being (being the greatest possible being) would also be omnipotent. An omnipotent being is able to do every logically possible thing, so it could achieve every purpose alluded to in #3.
  5. But if the morally perfect being could achieve every purpose by itself, achieving it through suffering is unnecessary.
  6. That means that all suffering is unnecessary, which means it is impossible for a being that is both omnipotent and morally perfect to exist in this world.
  7. Therefore, the greatest possible being can’t exist. QED.

Wrapup

Imagine that you’re balancing your checkbook. You’re tallying up a list of figures and then stare at your calculator. Wow, you actually have a million dollars more than you thought—happy day!

When most of us reach a conclusion that seems to be crazy, we suspect that there’s something wrong with our analysis. Wishing God into existence is one of those too-good-to-be-true arguments that demands skepticism.

Let me admit that this post isn’t thorough and can only explore the ideas behind the Ontological Argument. Eager Christian apologists through the centuries have proposed many variations, taking a discarded version and giving it low-profile tires, spinning rims, and a new paint job. If you slap down one argument, they’re sure to demand that you evaluate all the others.

Are any of these variants valid? Do they prove God’s existence? I doubt it, but think of what this says about the arguments supporting Christianity. Must you really resort to such esoteric and impenetrable arguments to show the existence of a caring god who desperately wants you to know about him?

The Ontological Argument is effective because it violates Hoare’s Dictum. It’s complicated enough that there are no obvious errors. That’s its strength—not that it’s correct but that it’s confusing.

“That than which nothing greater can be conceived”
is most likely an empty set.
Draw conclusions accordingly.
— Joel Grus

.

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 9/24/14.)

Image via Wikimedia, CC license

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Bob Jase

    Anselm couldn’t have imagined 99.99999% of the technological/scientific advancement made since his lifetime. Therefor by his logic they do not exist.

    So much for the OA.

    • Who’d have thought that the human mind was so important? Luckily we’ve thought of God so that he exists. What if we’d never thought of him? We wouldn’t have thought him into existence.

  • John MacDonald

    I like the analogy to the afterlife presented in the Star Trek Voyager series where one of the omnipotent, immortal beings wanted to commit suicide because he had been everything and done everything and so had become intolerably bored. Heaven better have a helluva band!

  • ThaneOfDrones

    The very first refutation of the ontological argument, Guanilo’s perfect island, a reduction ad absurdum from the 11th century. Replies to it smack of special pleading.

  • Doubting Thomas

    I like sugar in my tea….

    Burn in hell, heathen!!!

  • Doubting Thomas

    What I find most telling isn’t that someone once made an argument that is this ridiculous, but that apologist to this day still use an argument that is this ridiculous.

    • eric

      Since god is the greatest thing one can imagine, then the most ridiculous argument one can imagine must support his existence. Because if the most ridiculous argument supported another deity, God would be in that one way lesser.

      🙂

    • Brian Curtis

      The problem with philosophy is that even the bad ideas stick around forever.

  • eric

    2. “Greatest” is subjective.

    Even worse, some ‘greatests’ are contradictory; you can’t be tallest being and shortest being at the same time, for example. In God’s case, believers regularly ascribe to him both perfect mercy and perfect justice. But those are contradictory things; justice is rewarding/punishing people exactly as they deserve, while mercy is punishing people less than they deserve. Contradictory.

    And how about greatest at forgiveness? Seems contradictory with the notion of anyone remaining in hell.

    Another related one; greatest at forgiveness is also arguably contradictory with greatest at keeping ones’ word, as the first time someone does something you’ve vowed to punish and then asks you to forgive them, you’re stuck in a paradox.

  • Graham Heron

    I can imagine a being more powerful than iron chariots.

    So that means …..?

    Give any of us some modern weapons, WE ARE GODS.

  • G.Shelley

    1) “First define “God” as the greatest possible being that we can imagine”
    A) Define “Greatest” then define “imagine”
    By “imagine” do you mean actually conceive of the properties of the being, or just use the words “I have imagined it”. This being, being imaginary, doesn’t have any actual attributes, just a set of labels
    Once you have imagined your being, I will imagine a being that is almost exactly like yours, just a little bit better. As I have just imagined something better than your god, your god is no longer the greatest “imaginable”, so doesn’t exist

    • carbonUnit

      Every time I hear the song “I can only Imagine”, I just have to chuckle to myself and think “damn right!”

  • Ficino

    I thought that to treat existence as a perfection messes up logic big time.

  • Steve Tiger

    The conclusion of the Ontological Argument has been debated from the start, but what the Argument definitely proves is that Bible-God is NOT God. According to the Argument, God is the ultimate greatness, such that nothing greater can be conceived. Bible-God makes errors, expresses regrets, and has serious anger-management issues. Inasmuch as we can conceive of a greater being as one with all of Bible-God’s powers and none of his flaws, Bible-God does not fulfill Anselm’s definition of God.

  • Michael Neville

    I can imagine the perfect $10 million. One aspect of its perfection would be it residing in my bank account. I look in my bank account and it isn’t there. Therefore the perfect $10 million does not exist.

    • ThaneOfDrones

      The perfect $10 million actually goes to $11 million.

    • George Pestik

      You forgot to include the accrued interest?

    • Kevin K

      It’ll be in your bank account shortly. Just as soon as the Koch brothers are done using it.

    • Greg G.

      The perfect $10 million would be the $10 million I borrowed from you. I would owe it to you but not have to pay it back. Since it is a loan, I wouldn’t have to pay taxes on it.

  • George Pestik

    Question: Are hell and heaven real?
    I die and find myself suffering in hell. I ask myself why am I here? I remember being told numerous times that my sins will condemn me to hell for eternity. I realize I could have avoided this condemnation if I had led a pure life. I then think this is all true and I must share my hard found truth will the living but there is no way to do this! I then ask what good is a lesson learned if it has no application? The answer is hell is an illusion created to instill fear for the purpose of control and exploitation of the living. The same logical exercise applies to the man made notion of heaven. Conclusion: Neither heaven or hell exist!
    QED

    • eric

      The answer is hell is an illusion created to instill fear for the purpose of control and exploitation of the living.

      Well, yeah. For an excellent sci-fi treatment of that particular theme, I highly recommend Iain Bank’s Surface Detail.
      Synopsis: most galactic civilizations create virtual heavens where their citizens’ mind-patterns can dwell after their bodies die. But one also creates a virtual hell and sticks some of their dead citizens’ mind-patterns there. While most other civilizations say that’s their business, one, The Culture, objects on moral grounds. A secret war ensues. Read the book to find out what happens. 🙂

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    The Ontological Argument contains well concealed special pleasing in the first premise (in WLC’s format). The best way I’ve seen it addressed that doesn’t require a long diatribe is to ask this question:

    “If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, it’s possible that the being does not exist, right?”

    Anyone with even a shred of honesty will concede an affirmative answer. From there just follow the proof as is. This is WLC’s verbatim, with the only change being the concession above.

    P1: It is possible that a maximally great being does not exist.

    P2: If it is possible that a maximally great being does not exist, then a maximally great being does not exist in some possible world.

    P3: If a maximally great being doesn’t exist in some possible world, then it doesn’t exist in every possible world.

    P4: If a maximally great being doesn’t exist in every possible world, then it doesnt’ exist in the actual world.

    P5: If a maximally great being doesn’t exist in the actual world, then a maximally great being doesn’t exist.

    C: Therefore, a maximally great being does not exist.

    This makes plain that, what appears to be a tentative assessment of possibility in P1 is anything but. Once you accept the affirmative side of the possibility coin, you are unwittingly conceding the entire argument.

    IMO, this is a better illustration of the argument’s flaws than maximally great islands or cookies because it retains the same subject and topic, while showing that what is ostensibly the same premise leads to an entire different conclusion.

    • Susan

      The Ontological Argument contains well concealed special pleasing (emphasis mine) in the first premise (in WLC’s format).

      There is such a thing as a good typo.

      • JustAnotherAtheist2

        Ha! I’ll go fix now.

    • Grimlock

      I like that response. It’s a nice way to bring forward the equivocation that at least some apologists rely on to justify the first premise, namely the use of the word ‘possible’.

      The usual counter-response that I see to that response is that the other apologetics arguments (e.g. cosmologica, teleological, etc.) provides reason to accept the premise that god is possible. Which can be easily countered by asking which of the apologetics arguments contains in its conclusion anything about a metaphysically necessary being. To which… crickets.

      There are a couple of other responses that I’d love to try on apologists who like to trot out the modal version:

      1) Gratuitous evil is possible -> there exists a possible world in which gratuitous evil exists -> there exists a possible world in which god doesn’t exist -> god doesn’t exist.

      Denying this premise seems a bit of a stretch.

      2) Explicate the initial premise in non-technical terms to see how it’s an unreasonable premise to expect an atheist to accept: There is a way the world can be such that there exists a god that also exists in all the other ways the world can be.

      3) Say that it is epistemically possible (i.e. given our knowledge, it could be the case that god exists) that a maximally great being exists, and watch the apologist try to bridge the then unbridgeable gap between premises 1 and 2.

      4) Assume that both a world without a god and a god with a god is logically possible, i.e. exists in some proper subset of logically possible worlds. (A set where, presumable, the S5 axioms does not hold, as it seems sketchy to say that every logically possible world is accessible to every other logically possible world.) Then one would need to consider whether our world is in the subset where god does exist or the one where god does not exist. But that’s not something the ontological argument can help us determine, but rather other arguments. Thus, the ontological argument seems redundant.

      Grim

    • eric

      If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, it’s possible that the being does not exist, right?”

      Anyone with even a shred of honesty will concede an affirmative answer.

      I believe this is not quite philosophically right. ‘Maximally great’ beings are generally equated with necessary beings. Thus any nonzero possibility means they must exist in all possible worlds. If it is possible at all, then it is not possible that it doesn’t exist.

      • JustAnotherAtheist2

        That’s pretty much the point. Phrasing the proof in this manner leaves theists with two options:

        1) Concede that whatever flaw generates the non-preferred conclusion also generates the preferred one.

        2) Concede that the “possibility” in P1 is a ruse to sneak in existence.

    • Greg G.

      As Grimlock says, there is equivocation on the word “possible” in the first two statements. In the first statement, “it is possible” is a statement of ignorance as it is not known whether it is actually possible or impossible. In the second statement, “possible” is used as if it is actually possible for one to exist.

      For example, Abraham Lincoln could have said, “It is possible that humans could travel faster than the speed of sound.” Lincoln also could have said, “It is possible that humans could travel faster than the speed of light.”

      Neither sentence would be wrong in Lincoln’s time as it was not known that humans could travel faster than sound and it was not known that it was impossible to travel faster than light. Neither sentence was saying that it was actually possible, only that it was not known to be impossible.

      That is how “possible” is used in the first sentence so it cannot established the second statement because we don’t know that it is possible or impossible. Is the first statement true like the speed of sound or false like the speed of light?

      But then we can skip to the end and throw the Problem of Evil or the Problem of Suffering at it. A maximally great potent being would be able to do anything suffering or evil could logically do, so there is no need for them, and a maximally great benevolent being would not allow unnecessary suffering or evil to exist, yet suffering and evil exist in this world, so no maximally great being exists in at least one possible world.

      If the maximally great being does not exist in one possible world, it does not exist in all possible worlds.

      If the maximally great being does not exist in all possible worlds, it cannot exist at all.

      Therefore we now know the first statement is false because it is not possible for a maximally great being to exist in some possible world or any possible world, just like we know it is not actually possible to travel faster than light.

      • JustAnotherAtheist2

        There is some fuzzy math in the usage of “possible”, but I disagree with some of your description. Your example refers to physical possibility whereas the proof is utilizing logical possibility. So travelling faster than light actually is still “possible” because there is nothing self-contradictory about it. It can’t happen in this universe, of course, but it can be imagined to occur in another universe, which is all logical possibility requires.

        As such, once P1 is granted, P2 is merely expanding on the definition. Like before, “possible world” doesn’t mean realities we know could exist, just those that aren’t self-contradictory enough to say they couldn’t exist.

        Edit: accidentally hit submit before finishing, but I’m running out of time so I’ll add more later.

        • Grimlock

          I read Greg as getting at the difference between epistemic and modal uses of the word “possible”. The point is then that granting that something is epistemically possible does nothing for the modal ontogical argument.

          Therefore I don’t think it’s relevant that the analogy appeals to physical possibility instead of logical or metaphysical possibility. (I believe the argument appeals to metaphysical possibility, not logical possibility.)

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I just looked up “metaphysical possibility” and the definition was what I meant by “logical possibility”. Is there a distinction? Am I misusing terms?

          The point is then that granting that something is epistemically possible does nothing for the modal ontogical argument.

          I get that, and I agree with it, but…

          Therefore I don’t think it’s relevant that the analogy appeals to physical possibility instead of logical or metaphysical possibility.

          This I disagree with. Since P1 presumably utilizes metaphysical possibility, P2 is mere definition expansion and not the point where the equivocation occurs.

          It’s….um…. possible that I am wrong. If you think so, I’d appreciate an explanation.

        • Grimlock

          I will not confess to being an expert on the subject, but my understanding is that metaphysical possibility is a proper subset of logical possibility. Also, that physical possibility is a proper subset of logical possibility. Though I share the doubt expressed by Massimo Pigliucci a few years ago ( http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2014/03/what-does-it-mean-for-something-to-be.html ) that perhaps what is called metaphysical possibility always reduces down to logical or physical possibility.

          A typical claim would, I think, be that a guide to metaphysical possibility is what is conceivable. Which is a bit vague, if you ask me.

          Anyhow, my impression is that the modal ontological argument of Plantinga appeals to such a metaphysical possibility. I suspect that this is because physical possibility is a bit too restrictive, while logical possibility seems too wide. For it would be far too easy to deny that god is physically possible, while claiming that a being that is logically necessary exists seems far too ambitious.

          I’m not sure if this was clarifying or muddied the waters.

          Regarding the equivocation, or possible equivocation, I suspect that we might be making different points. I’ll try to add some nuance to what I think is the case, which might not be what Greg thinks.

          Consider P1,

          It is possible that a maximally great being exists.

          This can have multiple meanings. It could mean
          P1* given our knowledge, it could be the case that a maximally great being exists, or
          P1** there exists a possible world where there exists a maximally great being.

          What I think is the equivocation is that there is often not established with sufficient clarity that P1** is what we’re talking about here, while P1* is what I think most people would interpret P1 to be talking about. In other words, P1 seems more reasonable if one misunderstands what the premise is stating, and thus the argument is more convincing if it (not necessarily intentionally) relies on an equivocation of the word “possible”.

          So while the leap from P1 to P2 is not (always) formally an equivocation, it can be perceived in such a way as to be such an equivocation.

          Makes sense?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I have some thoughts on the P1 discussion, but for now I’m more intrigued by the first half of your reply. ☺️

          It seems like you are saying both metaphysical and physical possibility are contained within logical possibility, but I’m struggling to grasp this. Wouldn’t physically possible entities necessarily be metaphysically possible? How could something be physically possible without also being conceivable?

        • Grimlock

          I might have phrased myself badly. I agree entirely when you say,

          Wouldn’t physically possible entities necessarily be metaphysically possible? How could something be physically possible without also being conceivable?

          So let me try to rephrase.

          (i) Everything that’s physically possible is metaphysically possible
          (ii) Some things that are metaphysically possible are not physically possible
          (iii) Everything that’s metaphysically possible is logically possible
          (iv) Some things that are logically possible are not metaphysically possible.

          Or alternatively; the set of physical possibilities is a proper subset of metaphysical possibilities, while the set of metaphysical possibilities is a proper subset of logical possibilities.

          Though, again, I’m not really sure if what’s metaphysically possible is robustly defined. What is physically possible seems to be limited by laws of physics (skipping the discussion of whether these laws are normative, descriptive, or whatever), while what is logically possible seems to be limited by laws of logic. I am not aware of any sets of laws of metaphysics. (This is, in part, Pigliucci’s point that I linked to above.)

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          This is, in part, Pigliucci’s point that I linked to above

          I have to confess that I haven’t checked the earlier link, but this is what I was thinking as well. I didn’t think of it as a problem, per session, it’s just the way it is. All we know at this point is what is possible in our universe and what seems sufficiently self-contradictory to be impossible in any domain. Whether a “metaphysical” possibility allows for some of the latter but not all is wholly unknown and useless to even consider.

          What makes it even less valuable is that, if we were able to discover domains that allowed for additional logical possibilities, they would immediately becomes merely physically possible. So, metaphysical possibility – as something distinct from logical possibility – is necessarily unknowable, making the term functionally pointless. Perhaps it could retain some utility as the set of things physically possible in other domains, but that is not what it is trying to be.

          At least, that’s how it seems to me.

        • Grimlock

          I’m inclined to agree with all of that.

          As for the link, I just added it in case anyone was curious. I would highly recommend that blog in general, though it’s no longer active.

      • Joe

        I bet Lincoln wished he could travel faster than a speeding bullet.

        • Raging Bee

          Speeding?! It wasn’t going any faster than any of the other bullets!

      • … I should have read further. I think this was it.

        • Greg G.

          I had an earlier version of it about a month ago that you commented on. I added “the speed of sound” and “Abe Lincoln” to this one in hopes of clarifying it.

      • Richard Carrier states it this way: “Plantinga has hidden a second existential fallacy in his ontological argument, by confusing “possible” as an assertion of ignorance with “possible” as an assertion of existence.”

        Source: https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/13681

    • Tommy

      Here’s one: “You can conceive a maximally great being that exists in all possible worlds, I can conceive of a maximally great being that exists in all possible and impossible worlds. Therefore, your maximally great is not maximally great. Checkmate, theist!”

    • al kimeea

      The OArg slides from imagination to reality = imagination. I’ve always thought this argument could be used to talk anything into existence. Your version leaves no wiggle room. . There should be no need to talk this holey thing into being in any case, but it’s all they’ve had for the last little while.

    • Is this the modal logic argument? It never made any sense to me (for starters, P2). I believe I remember reading an analysis which clarified the issue (was it the use of one word with different meanings in different places?), but I forget what it was. Does this ring a bell?

  • RichardSRussell

    Still puzzling over the significance of what appears to be a cherry-condition cream-colored 1967 Cadillac El Dorado in the accompanying picture.

    If there really is such a thing as something from nothing, I’d sure take one of those! (Even if its fuel efficiency was measured in gallons per mile.)

    • Doubting Thomas

      It’s what Bob imagines as the perfect car, hence it has to exist.

    • Pofarmer

      https://s13252.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/1523307736e7dff9f98764daIMG_8975-940×565.jpg

      One of my friends in high school had one of these. Had a big ole 500 and something cubic inch engine in it. Thing was a land yacht.

      • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

        501. My dad’s ’72 Coupe DeVille had the same engine.

        • Pofarmer

          Were those based off of a 454 Chevy or were they their own thing?

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          They were their own thing, right down to a different firing order.

          The rest of GM V8s had a firing order of 1-8-6-4-3-5-7-2

        • Lerk!

          1-8-4-3-6-5-7-2 is what I remember from my ’69 Cutlass S (Olds 350). I totaled that car in 1980, and I still remember the firing order! (I also remember the VIN on the ’85 Corvette I had — but not the firing order.)

          Just looked it up, and that’s the listed order for several GM V8s, but they list Olds as “counter-clockwise” and the others as “clockwise.” Does that mean they numbered the cylinders in reverse? (That firing order is ’67 and up Oldsmobile.)

          Oh, this one’s cool! 1-12-8-11-7-14-5-16-4-15-3-10-6-9-2-13 (2003 Cadillac V-16. I don’t even remember such a beast.)

          My mom had a ’73 Sedan de Ville with a 472. 8 mpg city, 10 mpg highway. 27.5 gallon tank and it still wouldn’t go very far!

        • My father had a Caddy with a 4-6-8 engine that would supply fuel to as few cylinders (4, 6, or all 8) depending on the demand. Not very reliable, as I recall.

      • Tommy

        Pimpmobiles are the best.

    • The hover text is “Nice fins!” The connection is fuzzy, I’ll admit, but I had to have some sort of image. What I was going for was something superficial–fins and arguments for God. You could have fins actually do something useful (like on a rocket), and you could have a seriously good argument (that actually reaches a compelling conclusion), but you have neither.

  • John MacDonald

    I just checked out the Wikipedia page for the Ontological Argument (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontological_argument ) and it described Descartes and Leibniz arguing about a supremely “perfect” being, not the supremely “great” being of Anselm. It’s been decades since I read Descartes or Leibniz, but the idea might be that they are talking about a fully “complete” being, because “perfectio” in the Latin means “complete”. So there is a sense in which an “absolute” God who does not exist would be self-contradictory (incomplete). But I think Kant is right that existence adds nothing to the essence of a being. For instance, a table may be hard in its “essential” aspect, and badly positioned in its “existential” aspect. Clearly “existence,” the “existential aspect,” is irrelevant to “what” a being is. So, as Kant said, existence does not add one penny to the perfection (completeness) of God or any other being.

    • Ficino

      Yes, what would you be saying if you said you had a hundred dollars, but then you got a hundred dollars that existed? What sense is there in saying you have a hundred dollars that don’t exist? The existence isn’t a perfection that makes the hundred dollars more perfect when it exists than is the hundred dollars that don’t exist. Either you have a hundred dollars or you don’t. The hundred dollars that don’t exist is just not anything at all. There is no third thing, a hundred dollars that don’t exist but somehow are a hundred dollars.

      • John MacDonald

        I think the error Descartes and Leibniz were making was this line of thought:

        “If you are thinking of a fully complete being (an Absolute God), then it must exist, because if it is only a concept in your mind, it lacks objective existence, and so is not fully complete, but rather incomplete. An absolute God who does not exist is a contradiction in terms (a fully complete being who is also lacking/incomplete”)

        I think Kant’s objection is exactly right, but I can see why Descartes and Leibniz would have made the error.

    • al kimeea

      “For instance, a table may be hard in its “essential” aspect, and badly positioned in its “existential” aspect.” Hence, feng shui.

      • Kevin K

        Plato would like to invite you to his cave.

    • Kevin K

      Changing the modifier doesn’t really kick the can down the street any further, because the problem with the concept is in the inductive leap that comes after. Whether the being is supremely perfect, supremely great, supremely evil, or supremely mediocre, that privileges nothing with regard to its actual existence. Imagining is not the same as existing — else we’d all be waving our magic wands around and playing games of quidditch on real flying brooms.

      • John MacDonald

        I said that I agreed with Kant that existence is not a “real predicate,” which is to say doesn’t pertain to the “res.”

        • Carol Lynn

          But does it care who I have sex with if whether it has existence isn’t a ‘real predicate’?

        • Michael Neville

          Whether or not it exists has nothing to do with its unhealthy obsession with sex.

        • Carol Lynn

          What *exactly* is obsessing if ‘it’ doesn’t exist?

        • Michael Neville

          It isn’t the putative supernatural critter that’s obsessed with sex but rather its usually self-appointed spokespeople. They’re the ones with the obsession.

          Have you ever noticed that when some godbotherer claims to “know the mind of God” that God has exactly the same opinions and prejudices as its mouthpiece? Do you think this is a coincidence?

        • Carol Lynn

          That was a very odd way to phrase a very reasonable opinion. I’ll never make a philosopher.

        • Michael Neville

          For me the road to atheism began when I researched one bit of religious dogma. I discovered it came into being through a commonly used theological process called “making it up”. I’ve found that “making it up” accounts for a lot of theology, the study of what an imaginary critter (or critters) are thinking.

        • Grimlock

          I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I’m pretty sure it’s because most believers, and not just the godbothers, tend to attribute their own opinions (not to mention moral judgements) to the god(s) in which they believe. I think this is whence I get that opinion: http://www.pnas.org/content/106/51/21533

          I’m also pretty sure that’s not precisely what you were getting at, though.

        • Greg G.

          Never mind. I didn’t click your link but it was the same thing I linked.

        • Greg G.

          Deleted, hit wrong “Reply”, then noticed my comment had the same link that I didn’t click.

        • Otto

          This seems to make some logical sense in that when we think about someone else we have a concept of an ‘other’; we can think about what they look like, what they have said to us and what they have done. How could we possibly do that with God?

        • Greg G.

          It would be interesting to ask about fictional characters. What would Hercule Poirot think about this?

        • Otto

          I would also be curious if there is a difference between characters from books and characters that are in movies. Does adding a specific visual element change anything?

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower
  • Brian Curtis

    The Argument from Causation is simple smoke and mirrors anyway.

    “In my philosophy, I declare that everything must have a cause. I call that cause God.”
    “OK, then what caused God?”
    “In my philosophy, I make a single exception to the rule I made up. God doesn’t need a cause because I say so. There, my impeccable logic has proven God.”

    • al kimeea

      The old “uncaused cause” trick. Third time this month.

      • Joe

        The “uncaused cause with the exact same attributes as the God I happen to worship”, more like.

        • Greg G.

          The uncaused cause who made arms so that the hands are naturally near the genitals and dares you to touch it.

        • Joe

          That’s the one. He (because he’s a man, naturally, not some kind of mystical being that transcends earthly notions of gender) waited 14.5 billion years to design our bodies like that, after being the first cause.

        • Susan

          He (because he’s a man, naturally, not some kind of mystical being that transcends earthly notions of gender)

          Well, He’s BOTH because metaphysics.

          waited 14.5 billion years to design our bodies like that, after being the first cause

          AND tortured life forms to death standardly (and still does) and when doing so, created huge numbers asexually and other huge numbers with a huge female to male bias. Also, we don’t seem to be special in any sense, just members of a species that is part of the spectrum of life forms on our planet.

          But yeah. It’s just like “God” is described in the Bible(s) must be the explanation.

          Every time a christian says “we look at the same evidence but we interpret it differently”, I want to ask them what evidence they are looking at.

          Sometimes I do, but less directly.

          Next time, I will ask them bluntly exactly what evidence they’re looking at when they explain that Yahwehjesus is the best explanation.

        • Ficino

          Over on Dave Armstrong’s blog the same issues are being debated. The Brian Davies/Edward Feser answer is given as sufficient to solve the logical problem of the PoE. God’s not being a moral agent is said to solve the existential problem of evil.

        • Susan

          God’s not being a moral agent is said to solve the existential problem of evil.

          The classic blend of Thomism, vague terminology and Divine Command Theory.

          It solves nothing.

          But they will pretend it does and frown on us for being too unsophisticated to understand why.

    • Ficino

      Christian apologists will probably retort that the lead premise is not, everything must have a cause, but everything that has some property, e.g. “begins to exist” or “is able not to exist” or the like.

    • Kevin K

      You’ve basically encapsulated the entire debating history and several books by William Lame Craig. (Except for the end-game “I know Jeebus works in my heart.”)

      • And it took WLC 2 doctorates to come up with that. It’s almost like he didn’t need them.

  • carbonUnit

    Ontological Coffee (surprisingly, a quick search could find no evidence of a shop using this name)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvaja9AE2rs

  • Hans-Richard Grümm

    There is a problem right at the beginning of the OA: “the greatest being that we can imagine”. This looks very much like “the greatest natural number that we can think of” (if we can think of N, we can think of N+1).

    IOW, there is no reason to postulate that the set of “beings that we can imagine”, ordered by greatness, has a greatest element.