The Modal Ontological Argument? It Needs a Good Thrashing.

The Modal Ontological Argument? It Needs a Good Thrashing. January 22, 2019

This Christian apologetic argument is the one that I most often see put forward as the one that will put cocky atheists in their place. And for you Christians, once you’ve gotten past the beginner arguments like the Design, Cosmological, and Moral arguments and then master intermediate ones like the Fine-Tuning, Transcendental, and Ontological arguments, it’s time for advanced arguments like the Modal Ontological argument. Or at least that’s how it’s presented.

The best thing I found about this argument was that it was complicated—not that it was correct or informative but that it was so effective a smokescreen that I needed hours of research before I felt that I really understood it. And it’s only five lines long.

While it concludes, “therefore, God exists,” it doesn’t actually tell us that. Not only am I telling you this, but Alvin Plantinga, the author of one popular version, will tell you this as well. And you’ll see it, too, by the end of these two posts.

I’ll try to cover every point thoroughly with simple language, so this may be a little slow for some readers.

The modal ontological argument

First, some definitions.

Definition 1: a Maximally Excellent Being is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good.

Definition 2: a Maximally Great Being (MGB) is a Maximally Excellent Being that is necessary (that is, it exists in every possible world).

It’s a little more formal to use MGB rather than “God” for our analysis, but the Christian apologist obviously thinks that they’re synonymous for this discussion. Note also that the MGB is simply the typical list of godlike properties with necessity thrown in. That will be important later.

Here’s the William Lane Craig version of the argument:

Premise 1. It is possible that an MGB exists.

Premise 2. If it is possible that an MGB exists, then an MGB exists in some possible world.

Premise 3. If an MGB exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

Premise 4. If an MGB exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.

Premise 5. If an MGB exists in the actual world, then an MGB exists.

Conclusion 1. Therefore, an MGB exists.

Conclusion 2. Therefore (since MGB is just another name for God), God exists.

The argument is valid (the formal logic is correct), and premise 1 seems easy to grant, even for atheists. Sure, it’s possible that a maximally great being exists.

However, Premise 3 is crazy—we’re going to go from “Sure, maybe an MGB exists” to “an MGB definitely exists in every possible world.” This is the logical equivalent of the “then a miracle occurs” step in Sidney Harris’s famous cartoon.

You’ll soon see that that initial reaction is backwards—Premise 3 actually works, and 1 is the tricky one.

The prisoner and the surprise sentence

Quick intermission: Did you hear the story of the guy sentenced to execution?

The judge, in a whimsical mood, wondered why sentencing someone to death must always be so gloomy. Can’t we have a little fun with it? “Executions are always at sunrise,” he said to the prisoner. “Your sentence will be one day next week, but you won’t know which day. It’ll be a surprise.”

As the prisoner sat dejected in his cell, he soon realized that the judge’s odd requirement gave him a loophole. After all, if they hadn’t come for him by Thursday morning, then he would know that it would be Friday. And Friday’s out because it would violate the judge’s demand that it must be a surprise.

Looking at the remaining days, he couldn’t be executed Thursday using similar reasoning. And so on, through the days of the week.

The guards woke him from a contented sleep just before sunrise on Wednesday morning to be executed. He was completely surprised.

The Christian’s confidence in the modal ontological argument is like the prisoner’s confidence in his analysis. The Christian probably doesn’t completely understand the argument, but it’s put forward by famous Christians like Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, so must be solid.

Our Christian apologist is in for a surprise.

Take 2: one small change to the argument 

The ontological argument starts with the claim that God is possible and then concludes that he exists. But what kind of black magic is this?! That doesn’t make sense.

Things are clearer if we take the argument exactly as defined above and make one change: replace “Maximally Great Being” with “griffin” (a griffin is a lion/eagle chimera).

Premise 1. It is possible that a griffin exists.

Premise 2. If it is possible that a griffin exists, then a griffin exists in some possible world.

Premise 3. If a griffin exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

Premise 4. If a griffin exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.

Premise 5. If a griffin exists in the actual world, then a griffin exists.

Conclusion 1. Therefore, a griffin exists.

A griffin doesn’t exist in our world, but (premise 1) it’s possible that it exists. That is, it’s possible that physics and evolution in a different world would be such that a griffin was an outcome. But the argument fails on premise 3. No, even if griffins exist in some possible worlds, that doesn’t transport them to any other non-griffin world.

Then how could the argument work for an MGB?

Premise 3 makes no sense for griffins or indeed for any ordinary thing . . . but it does for an MGB. To understand this, let’s focus on where the action is, just the first three premises.

Premise 1. It is possible that an MGB exists.

Premise 2. If it is possible that an MGB exists, then an MGB exists in some possible world.

Premise 3. If an MGB exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

The reason that premise 3 works is a word that you may not have taken notice of in the definition of MGB, the word necessary.

Let’s step back. Things are either necessary or contingent. For example, lions and griffins are contingent. Their existence depends on how the world is. In our world, lions exist and griffins don’t, but another possible world could’ve had it the other way around.

Mathematical truths, by contrast, aren’t contingent, they’re necessary. The statements 1 + 1 = 2 and 1 + 1 = 7 aren’t dependent on the way the world is. One is true and one is false, and those truth values are unchanging across all possible worlds.

An MGB is necessary by definition (scroll back up and see). Like mathematical truths, “an MGB exists” is either true or false, but that truth value is unchanged in all possible worlds.

If an MGB is possible (premise 1), then it must exist in one or more possible worlds (premise 2). But if it exists anywhere, it must exist everywhere, since it is necessary (from the definition of MGB). Said another way, an MGB is all or nothing—because it’s necessary, “an MGB exists” is consistently either true or false everywhere. It can’t be true in some fraction of the possible worlds and false in the rest, just like “1 + 1 = 7” can’t be true in some fraction of the possible worlds and false in the rest. Since we’ve shown that if an MGB exists in some possible world, then it must exist in every possible world (and that’s premise 3).

We’ve seen that premise 3 actually makes sense. Next up: we’ll see how premise 1 doesn’t make sense, how the entire argument is circular (and so fails), plus a few other problems.

Concluded in part 2.

.

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  • Len

    From the Wikipedia link:

    On S5 systems in general, James Garson writes that “the words ‘necessarily’ and ‘possibly’, have many different uses. So the acceptability of axioms for modal logic depends on which of these uses we have in mind.”

    That looks like it’s saying that the argument seems to work because some of the definitions may change while in use or that words take a different meaning than expected.

    • Raging Bee

      How many Christian arguments AREN’T based on that principle?

      • Susan

        How many Christian arguments AREN’T based on that principle?

        I honestly can’t think of one.

        Any takers?

        I’m serious. We should check them one by one.

        The KCA.

        The Fine-Tuning Argument

        The Argument from Morality

        The Argument from Logic

        The Argument from Mathematics

        (That’s five, including the Ontological Argument)

        Everything about A/T Metaphysics. (that’s at least six).

        I could go on.

        Can anyone here (christian or atheist) think of one that doesn’t rely on equivocation?

        • Otto

          TAG?

        • Susan

          TAG?

          Yikes. I forgot about that one.

        • ThaneOfDrones

          Burning people who disagree with us

        • Susan

          Burning people who disagree with us

          Yikes. I forgot about that one too.

    • Yep, the definition change for “possibly” is key to the deception. Discussed in detail in part 2.

      • Otto

        Conflation is the biggest tool in the apologists box. It is something those of us who were Christians knew was a problem but we couldn’t quite put our finger on it at the time.

        • al kimeea

          it’s in every woomeister’s toolbox

  • Tawreos

    Wouldn’t a lion be necessary to make a griffin since the hindquarters are from the lion?

    • JustinL

      That’s just our world’s understanding of the creature. In a world with no lions, the hindquarters of a griffin would just be the hindquarters of a griffin.

    • as Justin noted, mythology has invented chimeras that are hideous combinations of 2 or more animals (centaurs, whatever Pan was, etc.), but evolution on a possible world could’ve worked differently. In that world, a “lion” would be a hideous combination of the body of a griffin but no wings and a big furry head.

  • Raging Bee

    Another dodgy thing about this argument, is their implication that there’s some sort of difference between “every possible world” and “the actual world.” Like maybe they’re unintentionally admitting that those “possible worlds” they’re blithering about aren’t really real? That certainly seems to undercut the whole thing, since what happens in imaginary worlds can’t be extrapolated to the real world.

  • Raging Bee

    Also, “it’s possible” =/= “it’s true and proven.” Or even relevant. Sure, it’s possible there’s werewolves in some possible world — but that doesn’t mean we have to give silver bullets to all of our cops.

    • I Came To Bring The Paine

      Also, imaginary worlds are both possible and impossible worlds. If God exist in all possible worlds, then that also means God exists in imaginary worlds.

      • Greg G.

        If the MGB doesn’t exist in some imaginary world, it is because that imaginary world is not possible.

    • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

      Yup. This argument collapses for me at Premise 2. And once an argument fails like this, I see no need to proceed any further with it.

      And to be honest, once I saw that Bob was going to be using one of Plantinga’s arguments, I nearly pulled a “Stopped reading there” in my head.

      • Greg G.

        Me too. I argue that “possible” in Premise 1 means it is not known to be impossible. In Premise 2, it means it is actually possible. That is a non sequitur of equivocation.

        • Grimlock

          Agreed. Any defense of the modal ontogical argument aimed at layfolks that doesn’t explicitly make it clear what it means by “possible” is at least implicitly relying on equivocation.

        • This is what kills me about atheists. You just sashay into a philosophical argument that is well known to be in the domain of S5 modal logic and then wonder why the words don’t look familiar.

          If you don’t know what words like “necessary” or “possible” mean in S5 modal logic, until you’ve learned the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, then you aren’t worthy to debate this, one of the finest arguments God has given.

        • TheNuszAbides

          Courtier to the hilt!

  • Raging Bee

    Also, MGBs are pretty ill-defined — so it’s possible that MANY different MGBs exist in several possible worlds. So which one do we have to worship and suck up to in “the actual world?”

    • Greg G.

      Being maximally great includes being omnipresent. It’s not omnipresence unless it is in all possible worlds.Maximally great also includes omnibenevolence and omnipotence. A single instance of non-benevolence means “almost omnibenevolent” which means “not omnibenevolent” and “not maximally great”.

      Suffering exists in this world, which implies that there is no being that has both the capability of preventing all suffering and enough benevolence to do so, therefore there is no maximally great being in this world, which means there is no maximally great being anywhere. Premise 1 is false.

      • I Came To Bring The Paine

        Checkmate, theists!

      • Len

        Yes but mumble mumble mysterious ways mumble we can’t know the mind of God (except when I say we can) mumble you don’t understand mumble. Convinced?

        • Raging Bee

          Wow, I’m convinced! Take me to church, I’ll mumble like a dog…

      • So what I hear you saying is that if there are multiple MGBs, they each exist in every world?

        Cage match of the Omnipotent Beings! I’d pay $25 to watch that on Pay-per-View.

        • Greg G.

          There can be only one. Perhaps in a previous reality, if they cut another great being’s head off, they absorbed all their powers. The last one would then have all the power. No, wait. That was a movie or a TV show or something.

          There could be great beings that exist in one or a few universes, but they aren’t maximally great unless they exist in all.

          If two MGBs conflicted, one or both could not be maximally great. If they did not conflict in any way, they would be one. Or I miss my guess.

        • Oh, yeah. I remember those rules from that MGB Theory class, but it was so long ago. Thanks for the reminder.

        • Greg G.

          I got a B in the class because I copied off you.

        • That’s your own fault, pal. You should’ve picked someone who had been paying attention.

        • Brian Davis

          If they are omnipotent and wholly good then we’d all have free front row seats.

        • Len

          Bugger, missed it. I was tuned to the wrong world.

        • 3vil5triker .

          Or you can watch an arcade mode playthrough of the fighting game “Fight of Gods” on YouTube. If that’s your cup of tea I recommend Maximillian Dood’s channel.

          https://youtu.be/NdLrAaGmPyc

          Like all other religions that preceded it, this is the ultimate fate for Christianity: source material for fiction and entertainment.

    • Sample1

      Bingo. This argument doesn’t prove their particular monotheistic god in the slightest.

      But I’ve found that apologists love it when non believers bring that objection up. Why? Because it allows the apologist to keep talking. They want to talk about gods. Any gods at first. They think that is their foot in the door; to bring deism to theism.

      I generally avoid it, but the intellectually honest apologist (I have not had good luck finding those) will concede that and stop.

      Mike

      • Grimlock

        I wonder if there might be a complementary reason for why apologists seem to like that rejoinder.

        Suppose someone brings up the modal ontological argument, and an atheists brings up a couple of objections. Then the atheists also remarks that “anyways, the argument doesn’t prove the Christian god at all”. What will the (dishonest) apologist do? Why, ignore the objections, focus on the last remark, and act as if the atheist granted the soundness of the argument in question.

        (This might have been what you had in mind, simply phrased with different words.)

        • Sample1

          Good question and it’s something only a believer or former believer will understand.

          First, a real apologist is a zealot. His mind is fixed through indoctrination, brainwashing, catechization…whatever. I’m talking about the true believer, not someone on the doorstep to philosophy. Not a fence sitter.

          There is a solid reason why we have words like brainwashing. Because it exists. Legitimate apologists are always somewhere on the spectrum of indoctrination. Now maybe it can be countered all human beings are on a spectrum of something akin to manipulated information bias. Fine. But you and I are not on the religious spectrum and we have good reasons to accept there are rational aids one can learn to protect oneself against bias. None of that exists for the apologist except in the sense their rational aids are used within an a priori closed system. This is why we have different systems of religious apologetics and hence different faiths but not different systems of reason and hence not different systems of scientific literacy.

          Second. The Christian apologist always believes it is the Holy Spirit doing the work. They are cooperators with HS but that’s as far as they may claim credit. The credit is invidious.

          Anytime a believer perceives or aquires the opportunity to communicate with anyone else (theist or atheist or polytheist) they chalk that opportunity as evidence for the Holy Spirit in their life. I’m not joking. This is why many of us struggle with giving a believer any platform whatsoever to explain themselves. It’s no different than giving a drug user a microdose. It’s a hit for the apologist. This reinforces their faith and they use that to reinforce their cult even if the non believer presents what we would call a defeator counterargument. Yes, it’s really that bad. Those of us who choose to engage the apologists probably do so for the lurker benefit. That’s my rationale.

          Third. The apologist sincerely believes he has to weaken your perceived position of strength: evidence/scientific method. They do this because it is how other apologists of different religions do it to them. Protestants try to weaken leadership continuity (apostolic succession) and the Eucharist. Both of those points are strong staying beliefs for the Catholic. And it’s hard to attack head on for the Protestant. So they weaken them by other ways, biblical, humans are fallible, etc.

          The apologist can’t attack scientific literary and reason head on so they go after a non believer philosophically and try to weaken him there. They have the belief that if a non believer can be weakened philosophically, it may erode the non believer’s trust in their reasoning skills. And once that is suspect, the apologist can springboard to their arguments.

          They always want to use philosophical conundrums or uncertainties to draw you to their own closed system of logic.

          But if all that fails, they think two things. One, they believe the HS is guiding them to you (evidence is that you are engaging) and two, failure with you means success with themselves and with their fellow cultists. It’s not failure because you gave them a platform. That’s all they want at first. And it’s always a win for them.

          Like I said, it’s invidious.

          Mike
          Edit done. Minor.

        • Grimlock

          I think you make many excellent points. But I wanna try to focus on where we might differ, or where I might have misunderstood your point.

          The way you describe apologists seems perilously close to a No True Scotsman – a self-identifying apologist who does not fit with your description of an apologist, is that really a True Apologist? I’d say so.

          Your descriptions matches the behavior (though not necessarily the intentions) of several apologists that I’ve encountered (particularly the subset that is Catholic apologists). But I can’t help but believe that there are apologists who don’t consciously choose to use the tactics that you describe.

          I should note that I found most of what you wrote most agreeable. Particularly this,

          They always want to use philosophical conundrums or uncertainties to draw you to their own closed system of logic.

          was very well put indeed.

        • Sample1

          Thanks for the feedback. Before going further, can I ask if you’ve ever been a believer?

          Mike

        • Grimlock

          Not in any meaningful sense. I grew up in a mostly secular society, and none of my friends or family growing up were noticeably religious. Though the culture shows some signs of a Christian heritage, and a significant part of the population as a whole (perhaps a quarter) is Christian.

          Unless my memory fails me, you were religious, and I suspect live and lived in a more religious society. I willingly concede that this makes you far better equipped to understand the minds of believers.

        • TheNuszAbides

          My reading (also from a former-theist background) of Sample1’s use of “legitimate” (which did momentarily raise an eyebrow) is that it specifies those who ‘do apologetics’ actually motivated by the supernaturalist narrative – e g. that immortal souls are at stake, the creator of All The Things is hoping for at least some humans to behave in particular ways. In this regard, nobody would call Tim O’Neill a “defender of the faith” even though he focuses on ‘bad atheist arguments’ and leeway for believing in not-quite-falsifiable things – i.e. he [explicitly] doesn’t Believe, so though his apologia might touch on “why they Believe”, he is motivated by concerns of fairness, freedom, rationality or whatever, but not driven by an underlying profession of faith.

          In the absence of flawless mind-reading technology, ‘illegitimate’ apologists would include the hypothetical subset who are deliberately manipulating their audience for entirely base motives. This is a variation on ‘poe’, if you will – but rather than intending parody they merely intend to profit off of credulity, no more, no less.

          If you re-engage perhaps he will confirm/deny/clarify further.

        • Sample1

          I think I see the point about the NTS concern you’re trying to make.

          I’m not trying to limit the exercise that is apologetics to a definition that excludes those who call themselves apologists. Tim O’Neill, for instance, is an apologist yet an atheist. Apologetics also isn’t necessarily constrained to religion so I wouldn’t exclude them either.

          I’m using modifiers like “true” or “real” or “legitimate” in front of the word apologist for two purposes. One, it’s to emphasize a distinction between religion and other subjects with true and real and legitimate mimicking how Christians talk. The other purpose is to acknowledge that there are true, real and legitimate apologists, and a spectrum of behaviors exist for them. O’Neill on one end and brainwashed believing zealots at the other perhaps. Brainwashed is an antiquated term but I still use it from time to time. It resonated with me at one point in my life as a believer. And it always gnawed at me a little bit. It’s a good descriptor to make my opinion clear.

          …a self-identifying apologist who does not fit with your description of an apologist, is that really a True apologist? I’d say so.

          I can agree with you. I’d also like to meet those! The ones I’m talking about are simply the ones I’m describing. They exist. In no way am I trying to define precisely what all apologists are. We have dictionaries for that.

          Does this explanation help? If we take away the modifiers I feel the specificity is lost.

          Mike

      • Len

        It’s “possible” that an intellectually honest apologist exists on some possible world.

  • Polytropos

    For the modal ontological argument to be convincing, I think you have to conceptualize the MGB as some sort of transcendent neo-Platonic Form. It’s not surprising this idea appeals to Christians, given the neo-Platonic influence on Christianity, but is god as described in the Bible even an MGB in the first place? That’s debatable, even if we ignore all the other problems with this argument and Forms generally.

    • Good points. I discuss God vs. MGB in part 2. Think of your concerns and add them to the comments for part 2 if I miss them.

      • Polytropos

        Will do.

    • Grimlock

      Also, doesn’t this make the modal framework of possible worlds somehow ontologically prior to God?

      At least that’s a concern I’ve seen some theists raise with the argument.

      • Polytropos

        I think so. Proponents of the argument tend to say the MGB has to be the creator who made all the possible worlds, but I’ve never seen anyone satisfactorily explain how that has to be the case. It only really follows if you already presuppose the MGB existed before the universe and created it.

        • I Came To Bring The Paine

          Yeah so let’s clarify the bullshit argument:

          1.) It is possible that a MGB exists.
          2.) If it is possible that a MGB exists, then it exists in a world that it created.
          3.) If a MGB exists in one world that it created, then it exists in any world that it created.
          4.) If a MGB exists in any world that he created, then it exists in this world that he created.
          5.) If a MGB exists in this world that he created, then it exists.
          Conclusion: Therefore, a MGB exists.

          The bullshit argument is now crystal clear.

        • Polytropos

          The more you clarify, the sillier it gets.

  • Kev Green

    Isn’t the reverse argument equally valid? (i.e. fails or succeeds on the same grounds)

    1. It’s possible that no MGB exists.

    2. If it is possible that no MGB exists there exists a possible world where no MGB exists.

    3. If even one possible world exists with no MGB then no MGB exists in any possible word.

    4. If no MGB exists in any possible world then no MGB exists in the actual world.

    5. If no MGB exists in the actual world, no MGB exists.

    Conclusion: No MGB exists and since MGB = God, God doesn’t exist.

    Wow! I just proved God doesn’t exist in a way that even WLC can’t argue with. 🙂

    • Someone’s been paying attention! I give that in the next thrilling episode, which I call “part 2.”

      Stay tuned!

    • Grimlock

      The typical response that I’ve seen to the reverse modal ontological argument is appeals to how the other theistic arguments support (1) of the normal ontological argument. Thereby making the normal argument more compelling than the reverse.

      I leave it as an exercise for the reader to spot the flaws with that approach.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Yup. This is my favorite response because it exposes the hidden, dishonest commitment beneath the apparently innocuous “possible” in P1.

  • RichardSRussell

    I have long contended that it’s impossible for an omni-anything being to exist, because those ultimate powers can always be pitted against each other,* and one† of them must lose. Therefore the very idea of such an entity is logically impossible right from the get-go.

    ––––––
    *or even against itself: “Can God make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?”

    †at least one; maybe they take turns losing.

    • Yep. I discuss this in part 2.

    • ThaneOfDrones

      My favourite conundrum: could an all-powerful God create a rock so heavy that hitting Himself in the head with it would explain the change of personality He underwent in between the Old Testament and the New Testament?

    • Kevin K

      Rock-paper-scissors …

      • carbonUnit

        … lizard Spock

  • Rudy R

    The theists definition of a MGB is nothing more than a thought experiment and probably not rooted in reality, because the actual being could be Marginally Great and not capable of creation ex nihilo.

    • Susan

      the actual being could be Marginally Great and not capable of creation ex nihilo.

      Any being that created natural selection ex nihilo still isn’t marginally great.

      It’s a monster.

      That’s when they’ll ask me who am I to judge it bad?

      I’m a moral agent.

      Who are they to judge it good, let alone, perfectly good?

      They don’t care. As long as they go to heaven. Hundreds of millions of years of unspeakable, unfathomable suffering are fine with them.

      ‘Cause they go to heaven.

      I don’t know how to talk to these people, frankly.

      They tend to ban me when I don’t accept their cold-blooded responses.

      • Len

        Strange, because the bible says we understand good & evil with the best of them (Genesis 3, last few verses).

        ETA: No, I don’t believe that but they do (if they believe the bible).

      • Doubting Thomas

        That’s when they’ll ask me who am I to judge it bad?

        And I would ask who are they to judge me as unworthy of making judgements?

        I think tit-for-tat stupidity is a reasonable response in that situation.

  • WCB

    Rene Descartes in his letters to Mersennes claims God creates the laws of the Universe, of math, the metaphysical necessities of the Universe. He could make 2 + 2 = 5 if God so desired. and of course, God is defined as perfectly morally good. Of course a perfectly goo God would want to eliminate moral evil, being good, perfectly good. Since God makes all the rules that is not impossible, it is in fact necessary. God could give man a free will, as god enjoys, and good moral nature, perfectly moral as God enjoys. Man the could freely choose to do only moral good. No excuse as to why that cannot be so by theologians is dead on arrival. God makes the rules. But we don’t live in that world of a perfectly moral God who makes the rules and would use his powers to eliminate moral evil.

    I call this the Problem Of Super-Omipotence.

    This established naturalism. God is not necessary, since naturalism creates the world and limits any possible God.
    Or contra Christian revelation, God is not good. Or doesn’t care about us, again, contra Christian theology.
    Descartes claims are one of those things that once you have read them, you cannot unread them. Descarte’s claims entail some rather problematic conclusions, taken to their logical end, that call the most expansive theological claims about the nature of God into question.

    Descartes To Mersenne, 15 April 1630
    However, in my treatise on physics I shall discuss a number of
    metaphysical topics and especially the following. The mathematical truths
    which you call eternal have been laid down by God and depend on him
    entirely no less than the rest of his creatures. Indeed to say that these truths
    are independent of God is to talk of him as if he were Jupiter or Saturn and
    to subject him to the Styx and the Fates. Please do not hesitate to assert and
    proclaim everywhere that it is God who has laid down these laws in nature
    just as a king lays down laws in his kingdom.

    • Len

      2+2=5 is clearly true. As long as you count 1, 2, 3, 5, 4, 6, 7, ..

      If you change the definition of words, then anything is possible.

  • HematitePersuasion

    I suspect MGB itself may be self-contradictory, looking forward to part II!

    • Brian Davis

      An MGB is certainly not rigorously defined. What does “wholly good” mean?

      • Jack the Sandwichmaker

        Apparently it means it drowns its creation and asks for child sacrifices as a test.

        • I Came To Bring The Paine

          And also sacrifices itself to itself to save humans from itself.

        • Jack the Sandwichmaker

          I don’t have a problem with God playing at suicide to (partially) satisfy his rage. It’s what he does with his rage when it’s not satisfied that bothers me.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Because it couldn’t just forgive and thus required a blood sacrifice.

        • Jack the Sandwichmaker

          Can an omnipotent being make himself so mad that he can’t forgive himself?

        • epeeist

          Or make a puzzle it can’t solve?

      • Fair question, and Yahweh is far more ambiguously defined.

      • al kimeea

        wholly good = only driven on Sundays

        • Brian Davis

          That wouldn’t be wholly good. That would be good 6 days per week, and a tool of Satan on the 1 day you want it to start.

  • skl

    However, Premise 3 is crazy—we’re going to go from “Sure,
    maybe an MGB exists” to “an MGB definitely exists in every
    possible world.”

    It might work if you added “omnipresent” to Definition 1: “Maximally
    Excellent Being is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and
    wholly good.”

    ETA:
    On second thought, it seems to me the quality of omnipresence is already assumed within the quality of omnipotence.

    • Len

      That’s covered by the word “necessary” in the definition of the term. If you define something as existing everywhere, then don’t be surprised that it’s later used as if it exists everywhere. But that doesn’t mean it actually does exist everywhere – just that it’s defined as such

      • skl

        I think the quality of omnipresence
        is already assumed within the quality of omnipotence.

        • You may be alone in that assumption.

        • skl

          If I thought that I, a non-omnipotent one, have the power to be in
          my neighborhood, but the omnipotent one doesn’t…
          then, yes, I think I’d be very alone in that thought.

        • TheNuszAbides

          Should I wait until it’s not skl bringing it up? Because that assumption makes sense to me if the definition of “omnipotent” isn’t weirdly/paradoxically limited. Or at least omnipotence should include the ability to effect (or prevent) change at any distance – conveying *practical* omnipresence even if CreatorBoss has a core locality or light-bee or whatever somewhere …

          (Added to which, omniscience should likewise allow perception/comprehension of all points in space-time, etc. … Though just using ‘comprehension’ I think I’ve hit upon a fun new (for me) rabbit-hole: how about a Yahwehjesus who *knows* everything (possesses All the Informations) but cannot necessarily *comprehend*, e.g., why some puny mortals don’t want a relationship with this or that character from Scripture …)

        • Even a stopped clock is right sometimes.

        • Greg G.

          skl is not like a stopped clock. He is like a clock that actively avoids having the correct time.

        • I’m imagining a cockroach skittering away from the light.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      Nope.

      Presence is what the apologist is attempting to *establish*.

      That’s assuming the conclusion, if you import that into your axioms.

      • skl

        It seems to me the quality of omnipresence would be a
        necessary part of the quality of omnipotence.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Power and presence are two different attributes.

        • skl

          If you think that you, a non-omnipotent one, have the power
          to be in your neighborhood, but the omnipotent one doesn’t…
          then I think you’d be very alone in that thought.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          The possibility of presence does not *require* presence.

    • I’m using the argument as stated by apologists.

      • WCB

        It depends then on which apologists you choose. One of the oldest theological dogmas of Christianity is the simplicity of God. God is simple, not made of parts and his substance and essence are one and the same. This avoids having an outside metaphysical principle to explain where these essences come from and how they come to be essences of God’s substance. God then can be claimed as the foundation of all existence, the ultimate brute fact.

        This God’s attributes are all necessary attributes. Which has caused a lot of head scratching about just what those attributes are. Is God impassible, lacking emotions or not? Is God necessarily omnipresent? Inside or outside of time? How does the doctrine of God’s simplicity plus aseity figure into all of this? God’s simplicity and his aseity as part of his simplicity gives us God’s necessary existence, ontological proof by another name. I have seen a few cockeyed a priori proofs over the years relying on the simplicity of God as a foundation. It is a good fit for TAG and pre-supposionalism.

        • God is simple from a mechanical standpoint because he’s not made of mechanical matter. That doesn’t make him “simple” in my mind, though. I’d like to see the blueprints–then we can decide if he’s really simple.

          I see your point about the confusion of deciding on God’s properties. Not inventing God in the first place seems to nicely solve that problem.

    • TheNuszAbides

      Look, everyone! skl had a second thought!!

      If that ain’t miraculous …

  • Jack the Sandwichmaker

    I can’t imagine even people who believe in God can look at that proof and not feel that it’s wrong.
    That’s not proof that it’s wrong, logic isn’t always intuitive, but it seems strange to want to kick around a “proof” that feels like garbage.

    • I suppose that queasy feeling is often tamped down by the credentials of the apologist who’s using it.

      • Raging Bee

        Yabbut what if you get the same feeling about the credentials?

      • Susan

        I suppose that queasy feeling is often tamped down by the credentials of the apologist who’s using it.

        How are they not exactly like tobacco lobbyists?

    • Raging Bee

      Yeah, I remember getting that feeling about every “proof” of God’s existence I ever heard, even when I believed/wanted to believe.

    • Grimlock

      I’ve seen several theists reject this argument on the grounds of a) understanding it, and b) being intellectually honest.

      • TheNuszAbides

        Do any of those make an effort to engage the others who misunderstand or are dishonest? (If yes, please invite the former here when the latter turn up [again].

        • Grimlock

          Eh, I don’t remember either way, I’m afraid… But generally, I rarely see theists try to correct theists, and the same with atheists. Which I think is too bad.

    • carbonUnit

      My impression of the sequence brings the phrase “creeping crud”to mind.

    • I’m amazed that Plantinga says that it doesn’t work and yet other apologists still use it.

      • Greg G.

        It is the cumulative weight of all those arguments that don’t work that makes them work. Checkmate, athiest!

  • Jack the Sandwichmaker

    Conclusion 2 is also unfounded. The Christian God is not Maximally great.

    • Hold that thought and see if it’s adequately covered in part 2.

    • ThaneOfDrones

      The great bait and switch: The all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God is a construct of Western philosophy, and has nothing whatsoever to do with YHWH, the tribal god of the Jews described in the Bible.

    • Kevin K

      Else he’d be at my front door with a pizza and a 6-pack. Of good beer, not that Bud Light shit.

  • Damien Priestly

    I don’t see how you get from Premise 1…” It is possible…” to the conclusions…”Therefore it [God] exists”.

    The logic makes no sense. Like saying : It is possible that Dragons exist somewhere…therefore Dragons must exist for everybody.

    • Greg G.

      If a being doesn’t exist everywhere, it is not maximally great. The definition makes it exist in all possible worlds. So if you can find one possible world where there is no maximally great thingy, then it doesn’t exist anywhere as a maximally great thingy.

    • Raging Bee

      Yeah, basically it’s a much wordier, more grown-up-sounding version of “BUT YOU CAN’T PROVE GOD DOESN’T EXIST ‘CAUSE HE’S GOD NEENER NEENER NEENER!!!” They’re basically down to “Yabbut God might exist in some alternative universe you can’t imagine, and you can’t prove me wrong!”

    • Michael Murray

      I think you have to watch very carefully at the point he places the pea, I mean the word “necessary” in the
      the first premise. So the first premise is actually “It is possible that necessary dragons exist somewhere”.

      • Len

        It’s all word games. Define something to mean what you want, then use that (unproven) definition to “prove” anything you like.

      • Raging Bee

        They do seem to overuse the word “necessary.” Sort of like all those car ads that talk about “available” four-wheel-drive and other features. Like, we’d expect a car to have features that weren’t available?

        • TheNuszAbides

          But flight planning software is still on order!

    • Grimlock

      You could think of it like this:

      Imagine that you got four boxes. In each of these boxes, you have a bunch of socks.

      Suppose I then define a special kind of sock; the Supersock. This sock has the following properties:
      1) It is red, with pink stars on it.
      2) There is such a sock in each of the four boxes.

      Now, either there is a Supersock in each of the boxes, or there is no Supersock at all, right? Because of (2).

      Consider the following argument:
      Premise: There exists a Supersock in one of the boxes.
      Conclusion: There exists a Supersock in all of the boxes.

      Right? Because once I allow that a Supersock exists in one of the boxes, it has to exist in all of the boxes.

      The use of “possibility” and “necessary” is like that. God is defined as being “necessary” (i.e. if it exists, it exists in every “world”). Then grant a premise that says that God exists in one “world” (i.e. that God is “possible”). Then it follows (from the definition of God as existing in every possible world) that God exists.

      • Jack the Sandwichmaker

        As if, once you get someone to grant that the Supersock is possible because they didn’t notice property 2, you remove their ability to object to the premise later.

        • Grimlock

          Indeed.

          It’s easy to assume that when we say that something is possible, we mean that as far as we know, this ain’t impossible. But in the modal argument, saying that something is possible (i.e. that something exists in at least one possible world) is equivalent to saying that the Supersock exists in one of the boxes (and therefore in all of them).

        • Otto

          Exactly…that premise completely unsupported and without cause to accept. It is a sneaky way to smuggle the concept in.

        • TheNuszAbides

          in the modal argument, saying that something is possible …

          I’m guessing here (lacking formal training): does the context (s5 modal logic?) automatically grant anything that’s proposed “possible” for the sake of gedankenexperiment?

        • Grimlock

          Just to make it clear, I’m not an expert at this, but rather an interested layperson.

          does the context (s5 modal logic?) automatically grant anything that’s proposed “possible” for the sake of gedankenexperiment?

          Sort of, but not really?

          If you say that something is possible in this particular context, what you’re saying is that the world could have been like this. For instance, you might say that unicorns are possible, in that the world could have been in such a way as to contain unicorns.

          But when we say that unicorns are possible, we typically mean that, as far as we know, there might be some unicorns running around somewhere.

          The modal ontological argument relies on the former meaning. It doesn’t work on the latter meaning.

          I have no idea if this made things more clear. I struggled a bit to phrase myself clearly here, and ended up rewriting this comment three times. I found the video referenced by Bob at the end of the follow-up to this post to be a very good explanation of what’s going on in this argument.

          On an unrelated note, why is it that things sound so much more philosophical in German?

      • carbonUnit

        But does it make sense to limit an all powerful God to one world? I would expect the creator of Everything to be always at the top of all possible realities. (The Supersock is outside the boxes.) See my post questioning ‘worlds’.

        • Grimlock

          I think that epeeist answered you succintly about the idea of worlds.

          When it comes to limiting God to one world, don’t think of this as worlds, as in planets or universes. But rather as ways in which reality could have been. The way reality could have could, plausibly, not have included Earth. So the existence of the Earth is possible (in that it exists in one way that reality could’ve been), but it’s not necessary (in that it must have existed in every way that reality could’ve been).

          There is (maybe, depends on whom you ask) only one actual way that reality is, but in every possible way that reality could’ve been, the idea is that God must have existed. So God isn’t limited to just one “world”. Well. In a manner of speaking.

          Does this make sense?

      • Cryny

        Wouldn’t this require a whole separate argument explaining why God is defined as necessary? That seems like the biggest leap here.

        • Grimlock

          I don’t think so. The defender of the argument can choose to defend their terms however they like, as long as they’re clear about what they’re doing.

          Not all theists will agree with that definition, though.

    • Len

      Wait – what? You mean (you believe) they don’t?

    • Greg G.

      The problem is getting from Premise 1…” It is possible…” to Premise 2… “If it is possible..”

      There is an equivocation on the word “possible”. In Premise 1, it means we don’t know whether it is actually possible or actually impossible. In Premise 2, it means it is actually possible. For example, Abraham Lincoln might have said, “It is possible for humans to travel faster than the speed of sound,” not because he would have known that but because he didn’t know whether it was impossible. But he might also have said, “It is possible for humans to travel faster than the speed of light,” for the same reason.

      It is a statement of ignorance turned into a statement of knowledge which does not follow.

      But we can still use the argument to prove that it is not possible that an MGB exists. Either unnecessary suffering is permitted which means the Being is not powerful enough to prevent it or caring enough to do so, therefore it is not maximally great in one way or the other. If suffering is necessary, then it must be able to do something the Being cannot, so it cannot be maximally great. Therefore, no MGB exists in this universe, therefore it does not exist in all possible universes, therefore it does not exist in any possible universe, so it is necessarily non-existent. We can then restate Premise 1 to “It is not possible that an MGB exists” so the argument collapses.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    i really LIKE this ‘logic’ I can use it to prove that my imaginary invisible pet dragon exists and that everybody should therefor follow every I say because I am Fluffy’s chief Disciple. All KNEEL BEFORE ME AND BE HUMBLE!

    • Raging Bee

      That’s especially important during Samhain, when the veil between all possible worlds is thinnest.

      • Cozmo the Magician

        I’m waiting to sneak over to the world where I am a billionaire. See, I can’t get arrested for taking MY OWN money… can I? That greedy other me owes me a ton of lucre.

        • Raging Bee

          Well, if that greedy other you had you cloned as a spare-parts bank, you’d certainly have all the right biometric markers to get access to his assets…

      • Greg G.

        Halloween and Groundhog Day are the midpoints between the winter solstice and the equinoxes.

    • ildi

      This reminded me of Galadriel: ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR!
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAb6z4evmuE

      • Raging Bee

        I thought she was just trying to warn Frodo to give up his crush on her before he gets hurt…

      • Len

        Pretty much any LOTR clip proves pretty much any point you’re making.

        • ildi

          That, and Game of Thrones.

    • Len

      I’m convinced.

      • Cozmo the Magician

        Fluffy already knew you were going to say that O_o

        • al kimeea

          Tell us more!!!

  • Otto

    The argument is valid (the formal logic is correct), and premise 1 seems easy to grant, even for atheists

    I have a problem with this. While I grant that it might be possible, I will also note that it might be impossible. The bottom line is we don’t know, and therefore I don’t think it is correct to grant that premise.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Yes, it equivocates refined and colloquial usages of “possible”. It may have originally been a sincere mistake, but at this point it’s profoundly dishonest.

  • WCB

    The ontological “proof” merely straps perfection to existence. If God is not existent, God then is not perfect. God might exist but not be perfect.
    To have a perfect existent God needs evidence, as a proposition. Without that evidence I am perfectly able to claim God does not exist and is not perfect. The various problems that a perfect God gets us involved in, free will vs omniscience, problem of evil et al seems to point to a God that does not exist and is not as claimed, perfect. Trying to use ontological proofs to avoid dealing with these issues is special pleading at best.

    • ThaneOfDrones

      Things are the exact opposite in the real world. For example, there is no such thing as a “perfect triangle” in the real world. An actual existing triangle is never perfect. Its sides must be perfect straight line segments, but in the real world such a thing does not exist; there is always granularity in an existing line segment at the atomic – or even the sub-atomic – world. So that which is existent cannot be perfect.

      • Len

        Blimey! At least you didn’t use the magic word “quantum”.

    • TheNuszAbides

      Is any apologetic [more specific than deism] anything more than special pleading at best?

  • Susan

    What about a necessary griffin?

    • Taneli Huuskonen

      It’s analogous to an MGB.

      • Len

        What about my necessary tequila?

        • Taneli Huuskonen

          Figuring that out is an exercise for you.

        • Greg G.

          It depends on what you want to be. One tequila is necessary to be attractive. Two tequilas are necessary to be irresistible. Four tequilas are necessary to be bullet-proof.

  • Joslyn Renfrey

    Fundamentally this argument is that God is so omnipotent that it can define itself into existence, even when it might not exist.
    Which leads to a kind of principle of explosion if any omnipotent god of our imagining can do this trick.

    • Grimlock

      I don’t really think that’s an accurate description of the argument.

      Instead, I’d say that Craig’s version of the argument is an excessively padded version of this argument,
      1. A maximally great being is possible.
      2. A maximally great being exists.

      Where (1) is basically a rephrasing of (2).

  • Michael Murray

    So I figure there must be a driveway somewhere with an MGB in it because there are pictures of them on google. But when I go and look in my driveway I’ve still only got a Camry and a Yaris. What am I doing wrong ?

    • Raging Bee

      Your Original Sin led you to be born in a fallen world where the Prosperity Gospel doesn’t work. But that’s okay, because there’s a possible world where it does work. So shut up and stop being so angry at God.

    • ThaneOfDrones

      MGBs do not exist in driveways. They exist in ‘the shop’. Since you need a car you can actually drive, rather than one that is constantly in the shop, you do not own an MGB. I personally would not say that you are ‘doing it wrong’.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      You must seek MGB-GT, instead!

      😉

    • Otto

      Those things are a bitch to maintain.

      • al kimeea

        two guys were driving through town in an MGB with the top down, having a nice chat

        as they approached an intersection, the passenger says “Hey, red light!”

        the driver looked at his dash and ran the light…

        true story

        • Greg G.

          the driver looked at his dash and ran the light…

          It’s OK because that is how his brother drives. He stops at green lights because his brother might be coming.

        • TheNuszAbides

          true story

          authored by an eyewitness?

    • al kimeea

      nothing as MGB are spawn of Satan, with their devilish carbs…

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Premise 4 If an MGB exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.

    But – what if the actual world is not possible?

    https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.mp-cdn.net/d1/64/760d21cf5a118e9ca3a4dd61cd7c-is-ray-comfort-a-hate-mongering-idiot.jpg

  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    Premise 1. It is possible that an MGB exists.

    It struck me that this emphasizes the *possible* part, while downplaying / hiding the *necessary* part.

    So for me, Premise 1 fails right there.

    Others who are better at logic will no doubt have better reasons to dismiss it.

    ETA: Whoops! That’s what I get for commenting before reading the entire post.

    • al kimeea

      It’s just talk and regardless of any obvious reasons to dismiss the logic, the apologist now must show this MGB is the one they worship of all the variations on that theme, both serious and satirical.

      ETA: maybe I shoulda read the next two comments

    • Damian Byrne

      “It struck me that this emphasizes the *possible* part, while downplaying / hiding the *necessary* part.”
      Exactly. I took part in a formal debate on this very topic and this is essentially how the I showed the argument to not work. I basically just exposed this hiding. I rewrote Premise 1 by simply spelling out the acronym used. Note that I used ONLY what my opponent gave me.
      So I went from
      “Premise 1. It is possible that an MGB exists.”
      to
      “P1) It is possible for a maximally great being exists. ”
      to
      “P1) It is {either true or not true} for a maximally great being to exist ”
      to
      “P1) It is {either true or not true} that a {being that cannot fail to exist} exists. ”

      Anyone spot the problem yet? 😉

  • My main problems with this are: to assume omni*** -as far as I know, that is something that does not appear in the OT-, and of course and especially that the entity has to be the NT one and not any other entity totally unrelated.

    • Kevin K

      Good point. Even if this argument didn’t suck balls, it hasn’t even begun the work of describing which of the several thousand candidates is the “one true” god. Or whether the notion of a single god is “necessary”. Gaia and Chaos were complementary pairs in the Greco-Roman creation story — seems to me that doesn’t violate any “modal” logic.

  • Kevin K

    No-God, how I hate arguments that start out with “It Is Possible”.

    It is also possible that I will become center fielder for the Yankees, or grow an extra leg. It’s “Possible” that Loch Ness Monster exists, or aliens with anal probes. Those at least have the advantage of being proposed as being made of quarks and leptons (last I heard, no one is proposing anal-probing aliens are interdimensional beings made up of dark energy, but I probably just sent someone down that rabbit hole).

    • TheNuszAbides

      but I probably just sent someone down that rabbit hole

      Pardon me while I start work on some Expanse protomolecule fanfic …

  • carbonUnit

    Premise 3. If an MGB exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

    I’m curious about the scope/history of the ‘world’ concept here. I would expect the domain of a god to be a universe, so world = universe? But why not have a god that is always ‘at the top’ of all possible realities, presiding over the multiverse? It seems like the concept of multiple universes/parallel realities is relatively new scientifically, coming out particularly with quantum theories like many-worlds. (Correct?) But what of other worlds BionicallyBiblically? [stupid spell check] It feels like the scope of that might have originally been planets but more recently been upgraded to match the scientific. Or did this argument come into use ‘recently’ to deal with/take advantage of scientific multiverse concepts??

    • epeeist

      I’m curious about the scope/history of the ‘world’ concept here.

      It hasn’t anything to do with multiverses and the like. It is a formal semantics for modal logic introduced by Saul Kripke and developed by David Lewis.

      One thing that I will be interested to see is whether Bob tackles the ontological status of possible worlds.

      • No, I don’t go there. Comment on that as necessary after you read part 2 (up now).

    • Greg G.

      If there are worlds in other universes, then they are possible worlds. If a being exists in all but one world, it is not maximally great.

  • Ficino

    It seems to me that the conclusion has not been proved, because the argument lacks a premise that establishes that there exists an x such that it exists in every possible world. There has to be an affirmative particular premise in order for an argument to deduce the existence of a particular. But the argument as set forth above lacks an affirmative particular premise; it only premises that it is possible that an MGB exists. The Existential Fallacy is a fallacy where you deduce the existence of a particular from universal premises. What is going on here is a variant of that, deducing the existence of a particular when the existence of a particular has not been premised, only the possibility of a particular’s existence.

    So the particular affirmative conclusion does not follow, and the argument fails, as I see it. The conclusion should be, “it is possible that MGB exists [throw in as many worlds as you want].”

    ???

    • Grimlock

      I wonder if perhaps the first premise is this affirmative particular premise?

      Considering that possible, in this context, means exists in a world [1]. So the first premise is simply stating that there exists in some world [2] a maximally great being that exists in every world.

      [1] Technically, I think that A is possible in W if A exists in W* that is accessible from W.
      [2] A metaphysically possible world. Whatever that means, and however that might be distinct from a physically possible or logically possible world.

      • Ficino

        Grim, your rewording seems simply to eliminate premise 1 in the OP and lead off with the consequent in premise #2. But then, since the MGB will necessarily exist in some world if it exists in every world, your rewrite seems to me to cash out as though the first premise is: a MGB exists in every world. But since G already includes “necessary,” you are reducing this form of the MOA to the bare assertion that the MGB exists. Nothing is left to do the work of supporting deductions except as a tautology, i.e. If the MGB exists, then the MGB exists.

        Vincent Torley posted some other criticisms of the MOA over on Strange Notions:

        http://disq.us/p/1z67k5f

        • Grimlock

          Precisely.

          The argument only has one real premise, and the rest flows from the definitions and axioms in S5 modal logic.

          (2) is just (1) where the meaning of “possible” is made explicit. As Torley noted in that remark (amd multiple commenter here have remarked), (1) seems to imply an epistemic meaning of possible, while in reality it deals with metaphysical possibility.

          (3) follows from (1)/(2) and the definition of MGB as being “necessary”.

          (4) follows from (1), the definition of “possible” and MGB as “necessary”, and the implicit assumption that the actual world is in the set of metaphysically possible worlds.

          I have absolutely no idea why anyone bothers with (5).

          The thing is, this argument only requires one premise, and the conclusion follows in the sense that it’s a fairly trivial rephrasing of the premise. Craig uses an needlessly padded argument. Plantinga is way more straightforward, and his phrasing is rather like this:
          1. It’s possible that a MGB exists.
          2. A MGB exists.

          To my eyes, the modal ontological argument looks like something cooked up at a student pub after four beers. (Nothing wrong with that.) A funny use of modal logic, but ultimately useless as anything but a nice illustration of modal logic.

        • Jack the Sandwichmaker

          I don’t think you even need the premise, just the definition. An MGB is defined as necessary, therefore it exists.

        • Grimlock

          Not really. That sounds rather like Anselm’s argument (with which I am not familiar), but it doesn’t work at all in the case of the modal argument. You need some way to establish existence, and a definition of an entity isn’t enough.

    • Kevin K

      I always learn something when you chime in. And this time, I actually followed the whole thing without having to re-read 10 times!

      Either I’m getting smarter, or you’re getting better at dumbing things down. 😉

  • Jemolk

    I wouldn’t grant premise 1 regardless of the equivocation on ‘possible’ here. I’m already on record as saying an omnimax deity is impossible because it fundamentally contradicts either its own properties, known reality as well as any theoretical escapes even up to solipsism, or both. It is impossible for there to be an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being AND a world that contains the experience of suffering that we feel here all too often. Such a being and our experiences of the world are mutually exclusive.

    • Greg G.

      That is my argument, too. Suffering means you can use the argument to work backwards to show that it is impossible for any MGB to exist. If there is suffering in some possible world, it means there is no entity that is both sufficiently potent to prevent suffering and sufficiently benevolent to prevent suffering. If the MGB doesn’t exist in one possible world, it does not exist in all possible worlds so it cannot exist in any possible world.

      • TheNuszAbides

        I think authoritarian-theists who encounter such a position are frequently/constitutionally unable to grasp that it is not pretending to solve the ‘free rider problem’ (which YahwehJesusPanopticon *is*) … somewhat like the stupefyingly common YEC misapprehension that Darwin is “our” equivalent of a prophet and/or author of Godless Scripture …

        • hrurahaalm

          …What? Like a free rider problem for deities?

        • TheNuszAbides

          I think I was confusing it with the fallacy that goes something like “without [belief in, obedience to] CreatorBossPersonalityPower, everyone will want to rape and murder and stuff.”
          Hyperpessimist moralist version? More accessible to the “even if there’s no there there …” camp, those who have a little tolerance for cognitive dissonance.

    • hrurahaalm

      an omnimax deity is impossible because it fundamentally contradicts either its own properties

      True.

  • eric

    I’ve always thought of it premising the conclusion it wants to prove. Specifically, sticking the notion ‘if it exists in one world, it necessarily exists in all’ into the definition ‘maximal being’ means that you’re premising the being’s existence, not giving a solid argument for it.

  • primenumbers

    Premise 1 merely asserts that which is desired to be proved. For the argument to make sense, they’d have to prove a MEB, not a MGB.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “The Modal Ontological Argument?”

    I am not interested in any arguments for a god. I am interested in seeing evidence to prove that a god exists.

    To prove a god exists:

    1) define the god in a clear meaningful way

    2) after accomplishing step1,present evidence for the existence of the clearly defined god

    • al kimeea

      and after all this time, it’s still just someone flappin their gums

      • TheNuszAbides

        Butbutbut what if they dress up in gold?!?

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower
      • TheNuszAbides

        “I heard that! Who said that?”

  • LastManOnEarth

    “Possible” is the weasle word. What is the relationship of “possible” to necessary, contingent and necessarily-false things?

    Until “possible” is suitability defined there isn’t any reason to continue past premise 1.

    In any case, since necessity directly implies existence, accepting definition 2 renders the argument circular.

    The purpose of defining MGB at first appears to be to make the syllogism less wordy, but rhetorically it functions to hide the payload past the first two premises. Once you unpack it, premise 1 devolves to “a [particular being] that must exist in all possible worlds is possible”, and we have no reason to grant that.

    After all, we can apply the syllogism to N (Nessie, the Lock Ness monster) and NN (Necessary Nellie). Surely we can agree that NN is possible, no?

    • eric

      Possibility and necessity are defined as logical negatives of each other in modal logic. Thus ‘necessarily p’ is equivalent to ‘not possible that not-p’, and ‘possible p’ is equivalent to ‘not necessary that not-p’.

      Most people would probably agree that ‘it’s possible that not-Nessie is true’. So Nessie is not a necessary being. Theologians using the ontological argument add the premise that God can’t merely be like Nessie – if He exists at all, He must be necessary. Which I personally think is building the conclusion (‘He exists’) into the argument’s premise, rendering it circular, but there you go.

      • LastManOnEarth

        ^But God IS like Necessary Nessie, since Necessary Nessie is, by definition, necessary.^

        In any case, how does a Definition differ from a Premise?

        It seems that defining something as Necessary is making an unfounded assertion about all possible worlds. At best it proposes a hypothetical all-possible-worlds that is not necessarily the actual all-possible-worlds and fuck I’ve just gone permanently cross-eyed.

  • Silverwolf13

    Golf is known to exist on one world.
    Therefore, golf must exist on all worlds.
    Golf exists on Mars.

  • Phil

    “I refuse to prove that I exist,'” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”
    “But,” says Man, “The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”
    “Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

  • WCB

    Descartes in a letter to Mersenne claims God lays to the laws of the Universe like a king lays down his laws. So it is possible that in some world, 2 + 2 = 5 or any sum you desire to pick. And to further complicate matters, David Lewis and others think possible worlds of modal logic are not abstractions, but are as real as this one. So it is not only possible that 2 + 2 could equal 5, but 2 + 2 actually = 5 somewhere in God’s Universe. At the hands of philosopher – theologians, possible is a slippery subject. And a massive gap in which to cram anything they want, including God. So what does the word possible mean now in light of such metaphysical airy-fairy nonsense?

    • igor

      Given there are (at least) several different definitions of Possible World, the apologist must provide a statement that defines Possible Worlds as used in the argument.

      If the argument can justify the usage of a definition that excludes the Actual World that we inhabit and if the apologist uses a definition that includes the AW, then it may be the case that the apologist has been sneaky.

  • Damian Byrne

    “The argument is valid (the formal logic is correct), and premise 1 seems easy to grant, even for atheists. Sure, it’s possible that a maximally great being exists.”

    No, actually the argument is invalid. It depends on the usage of “Possible World” and what the apologist says the MGB is. I took part in a formal debate on the subject. My opponent gave a pre-amble, where he discussed “Possible Worlds” and gave the example of it is possible Donald Trump is the President and it is possible Donald Trump is not the President.
    Okay, so it’s not necessary. Things are still up in the air as to which possible world is actual, then right? If one honestly didn’t know who the president was, you would have to do some investigation to find out, and then one possible world would be the actual world, and the other possible world would not be.
    Not so with the MGB. The MGB is NECESSARY, says my opponent. It cannot fail to exist. This means that all that talk about possible worlds and especially “it’s possible that a maximally great being exists” goes right out the window.
    This is what I call the trick of the MOA, the sleight of hand. If ever it’s given to you, if ever an apologist brings it up, ask him/her, nail him to the mast as to the usage of Possible World. Ask him if he’s going to stick to possible worlds, where things or propositions may or may not be true. If he says he’s going to stick to it…then the MGB is NOT necessary. There are possible worlds where there are no MGBs and thus, the MOA refutes itself.
    If he doesn’t stick to Possible Worlds…then it’s a con. A sham.

    • igor

      Your argument here shows why I question the meaning of Possible Worlds as used in this argument.

      My take is this – Possible Worlds is a collection of eligible PW. Normally an eligible PW is a PW is logically possible. For this argument I add that an eligible PW must also permit that an MEB can be defined to exist in the PW. If a PW does not permit that an MEB can be defined to exist, then the PW is not eligible.

      If the Actual World (that we inhabit) is a candidate PW, then (a) is it logically possible? (yes) and (b) does it permit definition into existence of an MEB? (no). So the AW is not eligible to be a membwr of this collection of PW.

  • Edward Oliva

    So the argument is, without all the condescending phrasing, that if something seems possible in concept then it exists. So therefore unicorns and three headed lizards exist. Such BS.

    • Add a little faith in Jesus S5 modal logic, and all things are possible.

  • Phil

    Surely it works if you take the opposite view. It is possible that an MGB doesn’t exist. Then it is necessary that it doesn’t exist in all worlds etc etc.?? Therefore a god doesn’t exist?