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apologetics, the ontological argument

Counter-Counter Apologetics 2: Gross Misunderstandings of the Ontological Argument

In this second in my series countering counter-apologetics, I will examine arguments that are supposed to counter the Ontological Argument, which I personally believe is both logically valid and unavoidably true.

There are two main sources I will use to show the anti-theistic counter. Iron Chariots and Richard Dawkins. It is telling that I personally believe that Iron Chariots, a Wikipedia-offshoot site for counter-apologetics manages to make a better case than Richard Dawkins.

The Ontological Argument comes in a very wide range of forms. There is no way I could discuss all of them individually in a limited space, so I won’t. What I will do is simply lay out a very basic template that underlies most ontological arguments, show the counter-arguments and counter those.

The Ontological Argument is basically as follows:

1. It is possible there is a being that is the greatest conceivable being.

2. That which exists in reality is greater than that which exists in the understanding.

3. Therefore, the greatest possible being must exist in reality by definition.

This is by far the most basic possible way I could strip the argument down. I’d like to put a mini disclaimer here and say I am no professional philosopher, so I may have taken too many of the finer points out of the Ontological Argument, but I think this is the best summing up.

There are a few ways that anti-theists attempt to counter this argument, by making a parody of it, by challenging the first premise, or by judging it as unintelligible.

I will deal with the latter argument first. The challenge is made that the Ontological Argument is unintelligible. This is, I believe, the general point Richard Dawkins is trying to make in his amateurish attack on theistic arguments in The God Delusion. He points to a few things in order to try to get around it. The first is reducing the argument to the “language of the playground (104).” I might point out that I would gladly put his entire book in such language, because I wholly agree with him when he states that “I am a scientist rather than a philosopher (107).” Poking fun at an argument is an interesting tactic, but wholly ineffective. I honestly have nothing more to say about this first apparent attack, because all it shows is Dawkins’ own ineffectual method of argumentation: discarding the rules of philosophy in favor of elitest bickering.

His second attack is stating that, “The very idea that grand conclusions could follow from such logomachist trickery offends me aesthetically, so I must take care to refrain from brandying words like ‘fool (105).'” Dawkins breaks his own rule several times, not using the word fool, but berating the religious in general throughout his book. Further, the fact that logic offends him aesthetically speaks volumes for the amount of mastery he has over philosophy. His claim that an argument such as the ontological one is “trickery” really does nothing to the argument, because once again it’s not actually an attack on any of the premises, but rather simply being offended by a logically sound argument.

In his third approach, Dawkisn simply tries to point to the argument as unintelligible by quoting a story of a debate between Euler and Diderot, in which Euler was said to have stated “Monsieur [sic], (a+b^n)/n=x therefore God exists!” I’m not entirely sure I’m drawing the correct conclusion from Dawkins random placement of this quote in his supposed dismantling of various theistic arguments, but it seems he’s comparing the Ontological Argument to just pulling random things out of a hat. Unfortunately, that is not the case, because the Ontological Argument is logically valid, and the only way to get around it is to challenge a premise, which Dawkins either can’t, due to his ineptness with philosophy, or won’t, due to his general misrepresentation of theism in general, do.

Further, how exactly is it that the ontological argument is unintelligible? It states simply that it is possible to think of a being that is the greatest of all. That’s not so hard to comprehend. The argument doesn’t depend on us being able to conceive of this being in its entirety, just to have a concept of possibility. This idea that God is possible is intelligible to even those children who would use the “playground language” dawkins attempts to reduce the Ontological Argument to. The other points of the Ontological Argument follow, so the argument itself is intelligible.

Iron Chariots takes a different route, presenting some of the more interesting challenges to the Ontological Argument (in fairness to Dawkins, he did show a parody of the argument, but I don’t think it’s any better or worse than those presented at Iron Chariots).

The Ontological Argument is generally thought to be most susceptible to parodies. This is essentially taking an argument and constructing a new argument with the same logical structure to come to an absurd conclusion.

Iron Chariots presents three parodies. They are all almost identical, so I shall show the two classic versions:

“Unicorns:

  1. Let us define a unicorn as a magical equine being that has one horn, and that exists.
  2. By the above definition, such a being must necessarily exist.
  3. Therefore unicorns exist.

Shangri-La:

  1. Shangri-La is the greatest place on earth.
  2. A place that exists is greater than one that doesn’t.
  3. Therefore, Shangri-La exists. (Iron Chariots) “

The problem with these parodies is that they seem to miss the entire point of the Ontological Argument, which is that it is discussing a necessary being. Unicorns, by definition, are contingent beings. That is, their existence is not necessary, they are not necessary in our universe for our universe to be as it is. The same goes for locations such as Shangri-La. The theistic God, however, has tied into the concept necessity. According to theism, God is not a contingent being, but a necessary one. Therefore, these parodies don’t actually do anything to the Ontological Argument because they missed one of the core premises. Now I will concede my mini-Ontological Arugment doesn’t explicitly state necessity, but other versions do. It can also be shown through logical analysis that these kind of paraodies are invalid.

The final attempt at invalidating the Ontological Argument is another parody, known as “Gasking’s Proof”:

  1. The creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable.
  2. The merit of an achievement consists of its intrinsic greatness and the ability of its creator.
  3. The greater the handicap to the creator, the greater the achievement (would you be more impressed by Turner painting a beautiful landscape or a blind one-armed dwarf?)
  4. The biggest handicap to a creator would be non-existence
  5. Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the creation of an existing creator, we can conceive a greater being — namely, one who created everything while not existing.
  6. Therefore, God does not exist.

There are many problems with this attempt to parody the Ontological Argument and prove God doesn’t exist. These are all problems with the premises. Premise 1 states that the creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable. How so? Are there not achievements that could be greater? Could not the greatest achievement be creating infinite universes? For the sake of argument, however, I’ll concede step 1. Premises 3 and 4, I believe, has the greatest problems. Premise 3 assumes that doing things with a handicap makes something logically greater. I’d love to see a proof of this. The premise makes an appeal to common sense, but that is invalid in logic. I’m not at all convinced that having a handicap and doing something makes that achievement itself greater. This is made more problematic by the fact that premise 1 points to the universe as being the greatest achievement. This would seem to mean that an achievement is a finished product, not the steps leading up to the product.

For example, the Cubs winning the World Series after over a century without doing so may seem a greater achievement than the Yankees doing so, but it would be hard to show that logically, for both have the World Series as the finished product. I’m willing to grant premise 3, however, just for the sake of argument.

Premise 4 is where the argument really breaks apart. How is it that non-existence is a handicap? Handicaps can only be applied to things that do exist. To imply that something has a handicap assumes implicitly that it exists. Thus, premise 4 essentially says that a being both exists and does not exist, which is logically impossible. I assume that this premise was in order to counter the idea that existing-in-reality is greater than existing-in-understanding, but note that both of these are existing. In other words, the choice in the Ontological Argument is not saying that something that doesn’t exist exists, just that something that exists-in-the-understanding rather exists-in-reality. Premise 4 is therefore completely invalid both logically and in relation to the Ontological Argument.

I may talk further about Ontological Arguments, but that’s what I have for now. As William Lane Craig states, the Ontological argument leaves anti-theists with no way out. If the concept of the theistic God is even possible, than God exists, necessarily.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

49 thoughts on “Counter-Counter Apologetics 2: Gross Misunderstandings of the Ontological Argument

  1. Your argument implodes on using the word ‘necessary’. You have stated (without providing any reason for me to accept it) that God is somehow necessary. If you do this, then you are presuming the existence of god right from the get go. All you have done then is to create a tautology.

    Sorry, the ontological argument is still the worst of all apologetic arguments, though the evolutionary argument against naturalism is trying to get that distinction for itself. Nothing we can imagine need have any relation to reality. That is the ultimate failing of the ontological argument.

    Posted by Shamelessly Atheist | August 5, 2009, 11:10 PM
  2. Ah, the classic “begging the question” objection to the Ontological Argument. The question of necessity is simply tied in with the idea of God. That is, if God exists, He exists necessarily. It is not saying that God exists necessarily, only that in the case of His existence, that existence is necessary.

    1. If God exists, He exists necessarily
    2. God exists
    3. Therefore, He exists necessarily.

    In the Ontological argument, it asks one to conceive of the greatest possible being. The conclusion is that the greatest possible being exists. The only fair way to describe the greatest conceivable being is as God, for if anything were higher than that which we call God, we’d then call that being god.

    Further, one can remove the idea of necessity and still leave the ontological argument completely intact. Not only that, but the parodies would still be invalid, as the first begs the question and the second actually fails on a number of points, the main one being the fact that it doesn’t actually parody the ontological argument, as the first premise of the ontological argument speaks of existence-in-the-understanding.

    Further, even a correct parody:
    1. It is possible to conceive of a greatest possible place
    2. Existence is a great making property
    3. Therefore, the greatest possible place must exist

    This fails as a parody because, as I heard one response to the parody go, one can always conceive of an island with even more dancers, more happy people, more things to do. In other words, premise 1 is false, whereas in the ontological argument, the first premise is that it is possible to conceive of a maximally great being. This entails an entirely different concept from a physical place. The parody thus does not follow the rule of logical parodies in that it doesn’t use the same concepts. A place is not ontologically the same as a being.

    Interesting that you consider the ontological argument the worst. Apologizing for your opinion does nothing to validate it. Further, your only real argument, that “nothing we can imagine need have any relation to reality” seems rather unrelated. I’d like to see whatever argument you’re trying to make actually outlined in some way that could be analyzed.

    Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 6, 2009, 1:59 AM
  3. “Nothing we can imagine need have any relation to reality. That is the ultimate failing of the ontological argument.”

    Can you provide proof of something imaginary that does not in fact relate to reality?

    Even a unicorn has an anchoring in reality… it is a composition of multiple realistic features: a horse and a horn. You’re really only left with the option of attacking the OA’s first premise and say that the Greatest Conceivable Being is in fact nothing more than a composition. Good luck with that proof! Even then, the OA could counter with a “Greatest Possible Being that Is Not a Composition” and on it would go… good luck.

    Posted by Open2Truth | August 6, 2009, 3:28 AM
  4. Excellent stuff. Since I’m really not an apologist but am intrigued by the philispohical arguments for God’s existance, I must say that I’m impressed. I will come and visit again (and thanks for visiting my simple, practical theology webwsite -:).

    Posted by Linden Wolfe | August 7, 2009, 1:26 AM
  5. “the first premise is that it is possible to conceive of a maximally great being”

    1. I’d call that less a premise, more an assertion. Maximally great from whose point of view? Just like more dancers would make the island better for some people, it might make it worse for others. See also a ‘maximally great’ being. Some people might not think it so great – ‘the being is too homophobic!’ vs ‘the being isn’t tough enough on gays!’. When you conceive of a ‘greatest possible being’, what you’re actually doing is projecting values you think are important into a all-powerful being. One man’s ‘greatest possible being’ would be a super liberal, another’s would be like an all-powerful Rush Limbaugh.

    2. Basically, the argument gets little respect because it is trying to define something into existence.

    3. “It asks one to conceive of the greatest possible being. The conclusion is that the greatest possible being exists”

    But even in a ‘hypothetical universe’ where no God exists, one could still conceive of a ‘greatest possible being’. There’s no logical connection between ‘I can conceive of a greatest possible being’ to ‘this being exists’.

    “The choice in the Ontological Argument is saying that … something that exists-in-the-understanding rather exists-in-reality”

    Again this is assertion. As Shamelessly Atheist points out, you’re claiming that something that we imagine must exist in reality – at least if that something is God. But you don’t say why.

    4. “That which exists in reality is greater than that which exists in the understanding”

    Define ‘greater’ in this context. The handicap response DOES reply to this. If existing in reality is ‘greater’ than existing in understand, then the latter is therefore ‘lesser’, and must therefore be a greater handicap. If your response is “How is it that non-existence is a handicap?”, then you must also allow “How is it that non-existence is lesser”? Or you are switching your definitions of greater and lesser from clause to clause.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | October 30, 2009, 2:23 PM
    • Actually, it seems you have a number of misconceptions about what the various terms in the argument mean.

      I’ll respond in order:
      1. Your comments first reflect an utter misunderstanding of what a Maximally Great Being entails. I’m not “projecting values [I] think are important to an all-powerful being,” but simply defining what a maximally great being is. As many others, you have not been fair to the ontological argument at all in this area. The examples you came up with are ridiculous as they are entirely subjective. We’re talking about an objectively maximally great being. That entails simply omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, etc. The Greatest Possible Being (Maximally Great Being) is, by definition, the greatest possible. Something cannot be greater than something that has all power. It’s impossible. Something cannot have more knowledge than something that knows everything. Again, this is impossible. To even suggest that these things are simply arbitrarily attached is to ignore the terms involved and be dishonest with what the argument is stating.

      To put this in perspective, you state “…projecting values you think are important to a [sic] all-powerful being.” This is at best false and at worst dishonest. Can you name a being that has more power than “all” power? Can you name a being that has more knowledge than “all” knowledge? It’s not possible and it is completely false to say that this is arbitrary. Your counter-examples of the greatest possible being being a super liberal or an all-powerful Limbaugh completely miss the point. Ontologically speaking, the Maximally Great/Greatest Possible Being is not arbitrary to our preferences, but simply maximally great. Omni-benevolence may not entail everything that I wish it did, but that only effects my subjective view. Objectively, the Maximally great being is maximally great.

      This of course is not to mention how completely arbitrary liberal and conservative are. PersonA can be liberal by PersonB’s perspective, but conservative by PersonC’s perspective. These terms don’t apply to the maximally great being because the maximally great being is simply maximally great objectively and ontologically speaking, not subjectively speaking.

      2. The argument gets little respect because people ignore or misrepresent the concepts contained in it (as seen above).

      3. There is if you consider at all the modality and necessity involved in the argument, something which you have apparently done. We’re discussing a being with de re necessity. Consider a being, A, which exists in one possible world. If A is the greatest possible being, then A has de re necessity in ever possible world, as the greatest possible being. Therefore A exists in every possible world. If such a being exists in any world, it exists in all worlds, simply by de re necessity.

      Your accusation that I’m saying something we imagine must exist in reality is false. We’re discussing de re necessity here. I understand I didn’t write this into my post, but I was trying to keep it below a heavily scholarly level. But if you want to debate me on this, I am glad to do so. The being we’re discussing has de re necessity, and so if it is even possible that this being exists in a possible world, it exists in the real world, necessarily.

      4. Something that has no properties is logically nothing. I will admit that I wish I worded this part differently, and my next post on the ontological argument (forthcoming in the next few weeks, depending on how busy I am) will address this in greater detail.

      The handicap response does not reply to this because, again, it attempts to say that something that does not exist can do something. This is impossible. If something does not exist, it does not have properties. If something has no properties, it is logically nothing. To argue about nothing is not only ludicrous but pointless. The handicap example is logically flawed and frankly, impossible. To even suggest that something that doesn’t exist (and therefore has no properties) can somehow be discussed is ludicrous. We can’t talk about things that don’t have properties.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 30, 2009, 7:37 PM
  6. The de re/de dicto necessities do make a huge difference in the understanding of the ontological argument. J.W., a valiant effort in trying to make the argument more accessible, but it seems you may have to really expand on it. Good thing you’re working on another post!

    Posted by Paul | October 30, 2009, 8:48 PM
  7. “it attempts to say that something that does not exist can do something. This is impossible. ”

    So your God is restricted by the rules of logic?

    “Consider a being, A, which exists in one possible world.”

    Does ‘my imagination’ count as a possible world?

    “That entails simply omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence”

    How is ‘omnibenevolence’ not a value judgement on your part? You value benevolence, but why does this make it ‘maximally great’.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | October 31, 2009, 9:31 AM
    • Is this really your response to my rebuttal?

      “Restricted” is always such a strange term to use for saying God works logically. But the attempt at rebuttal here doesn’t actually do anything to the quote you pulled from me. In that quote I simply say that it is impossible for something that does not exist to do something. This is completely obvious. If something doesn’t exist it has no properties, including modal properties, and so something that doesn’t exist could not have the modal property “Creator of the world.”

      Your imagination is not a possible world because your imagination is in the actual world. A possible world is one other than our own. We can imagine them, but to say our imagination is a possible world is a misunderstanding.

      Omnibenevolence is something that is part of the greatest possible/maximally great being because:
      1. The maximally great being is, by definition, maximally great
      2. Therefore, the maximally great being is sovereign
      3. Sovereignty, in the case of the maximally great/greatest possible being means that this being is independent of all things for its existence, and depended on by all things for their existence
      4. Therefore, this being is autonomous
      5. Therefore there is no value judgment that stands above this being from which one can call it “evil”

      In other words, if the greatest possible being exists, then there is no autonomous standard of ethics by which it might be judged. For something to be evil, there must be some standard of ethics whereby the thing in question can be judged evil. But there cannot be an objective standard of good and evil to judge the being who is the source of all things (this argument is from Stephen Parrish, “God and Necessity”).

      So the reason this being has omnibenevolence is not because I value it (though I do) and somehow try to arbitrarily assign it, but simply because if this being exists, then, necessarily, whatever its values are simply are the standard.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 31, 2009, 2:58 PM
  8. “Therefore there is no value judgment that stands above this being from which one can call it “evil””

    And equally therefore, surely there can be no value judgement to call this being ‘good’ either. If you can only judge this being to be good by its own standards, then it’s a circular argument to call it ‘ultimately benevolent’. It is an unfalsifiable premise to call it good if there is no act that it could perform that would invalidate the claim. ‘Ultimately benevolent’ thus becomes a meaningless lable.

    “Is this really your response to my rebuttal?”

    J.W., I don’t get the point of a rhetorical question like that – it makes you come across as rude. I am asking honest questions in order to get a clearer picture of your point, which you admit yourself you haven’t expressed very clearly. I am sure it is possible for you to clarify without sneering or using “language of the playground” yourself.

    Does your argument also work in reverse? That is to say:

    1. It is possible there is a being that is the least conceivable being.

    2. That which exists in understand is lesser than that which exists in the reality.

    3. Therefore, the least possible being must not exist in reality by definition.

    4. Therefore the SECOND ‘least possible being’ then becomes the least possible, and therefore also does not exist in reality.

    5. …and so on, through to the third, forth and fifth ‘least possible being’ until the only thing left in the universe becomes both the greatest and also the least conceivable thing.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | October 31, 2009, 4:02 PM
    • Quite simply, the greatest possible being is the standard. It’s not circular, it just follows logically. This is something that is of utmost importance, so I will expand a little. It seems a lot of people have trouble fitting their minds around this concept (including me when I was first studying this idea).

      I’ll demonstrate with an example based on the concept of the greatest possible being (I’m just going to use GPB to refer to maximally great or greatest possible being from now on). Let us say that there is a being, A, by whom some world, W is created. Further, A is sovereign in W. Now a being is sovereign if there is nothing upon which that being relies upon, and everything else relies upon that being. It follows from this that there is no moral standard upon which A relies upon for moral judgments. Further, it follows that if A is sovereign, moral standards rely upon this being. Therefore, if A is sovereign in W, A is omnibenevolent, for everything relies upon A, including moral judgments. To call something evil would require a judgment outside of A from which A could be judged, but this is impossible based on the concept of sovereignty.

      My question did seem rude on second glance, but the reason I stated it as such is that I was surprised that rather than addressing the more central issues such as the GPB’s de re necessity, it seemed my response was simply cherry picked for a few minor details. I suppose I was implying “Is that all?” Because I did feel my central points were completely ignored. I apologize if that came off wrong.

      The argument does not work in reverse for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that the least possible being does not have de re necessity, which is central to the GPB. The second reason is that your argument as stated is logically invalid. 1. states that it is possible there is a LPB (here saying least possible instead of conceivable as you stated to keep it consistent), 2. states that something that exists in the understanding is less than that which exists in reality–there is a huge problem here, as everything that exists in reality must be able to exist in the understanding. For example, the computer I’m typing this on exists both in the understanding and in reality.

      But I think what you may have meant to say was 2*: “That which exists only in the understanding is lesser than that which exists in reality.” This strengthens your argument. And I agree with it.

      3. follows, as far as I can tell. But premise 4 and 5 are where your argument falls completely apart. It does not follow that because the least possible being exists only in the understanding (1-3), another being is then the least possible being. We have just agreed that the least possible being [may only] exists in the understanding. That doesn’t somehow magically make a being that exists in the real world the new LPB, it merely says that the LPB exists only in the understanding. Just because it exists only in the understanding doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist at all, only that it doesn’t exist in reality. Thus, it can still fulfill the role of LPB, and nothing else can follow from 1-3. And if you rewrite your argument to say the LPB in reality, then by definition, it would have to still exist in reality. Therefore, I must conclude that your argument is logically invalid.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 1, 2009, 6:21 AM
  9. “To call something evil would require a judgment outside of A from which A could be judged, but this is impossible based on the concept of sovereignty.”

    And as I explained, it would also be meaningless to call in benevolent.

    Hypothetically, if a psychopathic God created humans, tortured them for 70 years, then killed them and sent them all to an eternal pergatory, in a ‘might is right’ way you claim one is still forced to call this dictator God ‘benevolent’, simply because he was sovereign.

    The term benevolent thus becomes completely divorced from any evaluation of the acts it carried out. What value then would the term have?

    “this argument is from Stephen Parrish, “God and Necessity”.

    I am well aware of it – it is also put forward by many others such as Frank Turek and William Lane Craig. It is debunked in many places too, particularly well in Nicholas Everitt’s book The Non-Existence of God, in the ‘Argument from Morality’ section.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 1, 2009, 12:04 PM
    • I am not claiming might is right, that is nothing but a straw man argument against the GPB. Further, your example seems to imply that there is some kind of moral standard from which the GPB can be judged that will call such an act evil, which is impossible logically.

      I cannot rebut a counter-argument I haven’t read so I’m not going to argue against whatever Everitt has written unless you choose to quote him.

      There are others who have attempted to “debunk” the morality aspect of the GPB, such as Gale in On the Nature and Existence of God.

      Now, I’ll restate the point so that it is hopefully more clear. The GPB is the greatest possible being by definition. Therefore, “This being’s values are the ‘highest’ or most fundamental in every possible world. How can it then be maintained they are evil? (Parrish, 102)” Now let’s break it down:

      1. A is maximally great
      2. Maximal greatness entails that A has all great making properties
      3. Moral excellence is a great making property
      4. Therefore, A has moral excellence

      Whatever world being A exists in, it necessarily has moral excellence, which is entailed by the concept of the GPB.

      If the GPB exists, then its value system is ultimate in all possible worlds. There are no ethical values that are superior to the GPB’s. The GPB is necessarily the standard of moral excellence. This follows from the concept of the GPB.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 1, 2009, 6:29 PM
  10. “The GPB is necessarily the standard of moral excellence.”

    1. So if the GPB told you that torturing babies was morally correct, you would just shrug your shoulders and accept it? In fact you’re saying you would have no logical ability to do anything BUT accept it?

    2. It comes up against another version of euthyphro’s dilemma.

    3. “Moral excellence is a great making property” Says who?

    4. You’re still basically saying ‘I’m defining a hypothetical being with the following qualities’, but not saying why this hypothetical being must necessarily exist. If you have another reason why it must, fair enough, but the necessity is not being demonstrated by your ontological argument.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 2, 2009, 10:34 AM
    • 1. This is the crux of the issue, which ties into #2. The problem you’re saying here in 1. is that you’re making a value judgment based on the real world. You’re saying that “torturing babies” is morally wrong. I agree wholeheartedly. But you’re trying to use this against the concept of the GPB, which is not possible. If the GPB exists, it exists in all possible worlds, including the actual world. Thus, if the GPB exists, it exists in this world. If the GPB exists in this world, then the GPB’s morality is the highest, objective morality in this world by definition. Therefore, to make a judgment such as “torturing babies” is morally wrong depends on the GPB’s morality. We can say quite clearly that torturing babies is wrong based on the objective morality of the GPB, whose values are the highest in all possible worlds. But if the GPB does not exist, then it doesn’t exist in any worlds at all, by necessity. Thus, to make such a value judgment about it is to do what you’re accusing me of doing, which is randomly assigning values to a being.

      Let me state it differently:
      1. The GPB either exists in all possible worlds, or not at all, necessarily.
      2. If the GPB exists, it exists in the actual world.
      3. Therefore, if the GPB exists, its moral values are, by necessity, the highest in the actual world (for if we could conceive of a higher set of values, then the GPB would no longer be the GPB, because its values were lesser than some other values).
      4. Thus, if the GPB exists, then the moral judgments we make are dependent on the GPB’s morality. But if the GPB does not exist, then we have no idea what its morals are, because it either exists in all possible worlds or none at all. And if it exists in no possible world, then it simply doesn’t exist and has no properties, so we cannot discuss its morality.

      So if the GPB exists, then the moral judgments we make in this world are dependent on it. There simply is no such hypothetical situation as “if the GPB told you that torturing babies was morally correct…” because either the moral judgments we make in this world are dependent on this being, or that being has no properties at all. To ask such a question as you do in number 1. is to judge the GPB by its own standards. It would not command us to torture babies, because if it exists, it exists in this world, and in this world we know that torturing babies is objectively wrong, so we have some sense of what the GPB’s morality is, and it could not be otherwise.

      3. This is actually not an argument I need to expand on, as I believe it’s unimportant in light of my response to 1. above. Looking back, I never needed to make that argument.

      4. That’s because the ontological argument I was offering is the layman’s version. I didn’t want to get into the headier stuff. The version I prefer is the modal “victorious” version argued by Plantinga, and a further version produced by Parrish. Plantinga’s version is better known:

      1. The proposition there is a maximally great being is possible in the broadly logical sense
      2. There is a possible world in which there is a maximally great being
      3. Necessarily, a being with maximal greatness would be necessarily existent and would have (at least) omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection essentially
      4. What is necessary does not vary from possible world to possible world
      5. Therefore, a being that is necessarily existent and essentially omniscient, omnipotent and wholly good exists (Generally from “God, Freedom, and Evil” or “The Nature of Necessity”)

      Parrish’s version:

      1. The concept of the GPB is coherent (and thus broadly logically possible)
      2. Necessarily, a being who is the GPB is necessarily existent, and would have (at least) omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection essentially.
      3. If the concept of the GPB is coherent, then it exists in all possible worlds.
      4. But if it exists in all possible worlds, then it exists in the actual world.
      5. The GPB exists (God and Necessity, 82)

      Now of course when it says “essentially” they’re talking about it in the modal sense. Further, necessity here is referring to de re necessity.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 3, 2009, 5:34 AM
  11. “in this world we know that torturing babies is objectively wrong”

    This is pure assertion. You are starting with the assumption that you later try to prove.

    “There simply is no such hypothetical situation as “if the GPB told you that torturing babies was morally correct…” ”

    You are dodging the issue because it is inconvenient to you. You can’t say ‘there is no such hypothetical situation’. That’s the whole point of a hypothetical situation – it’s hypothetical.

    Imagine you and I are in heaven, God appears and says ‘torturing babies is good’. Is your reaction:

    1. ‘Oh no, God likes torturing babies!’
    2. ‘Ah well, I guess torturing babies is ok then’
    3. ‘Fetch me a baby, I better get started.’

    For me it would be 1. According to your argument it would have to be 2 or 3.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 3, 2009, 8:10 AM
  12. Sure. I’m interested to know what your response would be. If it’s number 1, then you’re with me – I’m against torturing babies, even if a God told me it was OK. This is due to me having empathy with other humans, understanding what it is like to suffer, not wanting other humans to suffer, and figuring that baby torture leads to damaged children, growing up to be damaged adults, reducing the sum total of human happiness in the world, and happiness is something I value. All this would hold true regardless of whether a God exists, and regardless of the opinion of a God if one DOES exist.

    Say we changed ‘baby torture’ to slavery. A couple of hundred years ago possibly the majority of Christians in America would say “in this world we know that slavery is objectively OK.” They were quite sincere, and quite sure that the bible sanctioned it. When you start talking about what you believe to be ‘objectively right or wrong’, it sounds like you’ve stopped making a ‘logical argument’, and started talking about your own values. I might AGREE with those values, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve made a logical case, only that you and I share values.

    By the way, whenever I’ve heard Alvin Plantinga’s arguments before, they’ve been about trying to ‘logically prove’ that evolution is impossible. He pretty much lost credibility with me on this one, as it is an argument riddled with false assumptions.

    “2. There is a possible world in which there is a maximally great being”

    Did we already establish that by ‘possible world’ you do NOT mean ‘something I imagined’? If so, I really don’t know what this is supposed to mean. How does he know this possible world exists? If it doesn’t exist, then it has no affect on reality.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 3, 2009, 4:35 PM
    • Excellent, thank you for providing a more in-depth answer that gives me some kind of basis to discuss things with you.

      I will first note a few things:
      1. I never said that one must believe in God (or the GPB, though it seems obvious they are interchangeable) to know moral truths, I’m not sure if you’re suggesting I did, but it seems at least close to that assumption in your first paragraph here
      2. I’m not sure how I feel about Plantinga’s argument against naturalism. I think it’s an interesting thought, but not necessarily logically valid. I personally think that Michael Rea provides a much better critique (not refutation, mind you) of naturalism. My outlining of his work and comments are here. But regardless of Plantinga’s other arguments’ validity or lack thereof, that really has nothing to do with his ontological argument. I’m not sure what you’re trying to suggest by bringing something unrelated into the mix. People can be wrong about some things and right about others (and here I’m not saying Plantinga’s wrong, merely that I haven’t fully formed an opinion of his argument against naturalism).
      3. It seems you are confused by what “possible world” means. It is not “imagination.” I was suprised earlier that you didn’t comment further, and now I see why. Perhaps you thought that you had either refuted me or somehow confirmed something. I believe I said before that we can certainly imagine possible worlds. This doesn’t mean that they are purely imagination, nor does it mean that they do or don’t exist. A possible world is, in the simplest sense of the term: “[A] possible state of affairs of some kind.” One possible world, for example, could be a world in which my name is not J.W. but in fact W.J., but exactly the same in every other way. Other possible worlds can be completely different in many ways. These “possible worlds” need only to be possible in the broadly logical sense (in that they cannot contain contradictions, which would make them impossible worlds, etc.). So I must correct you on this view. I’m not sure how much you study modal logic, so I don’t want to patronize, nor do I want to be overbearing with terms that would lead this discussion far off track. It’s certainly possible to imagine states of affairs, but we’re talking about broad logical possibility here, so that is dependent on logic, not imagination.

      Now the attempt at a dilemma you provided previously:
      “Imagine you and I are in heaven, God appears and says ‘torturing babies is good’. Is your reaction:

      1. ‘Oh no, God likes torturing babies!’
      2. ‘Ah well, I guess torturing babies is ok then’
      3. ‘Fetch me a baby, I better get started.’”

      What it seems you’ve done is either ignore or misinterpret what I said earlier. You see, if the GPB exists, then it exists in this world, necessarily. If it doesn’t exist, it doesn’t exist in any possible world (including our own), necessarily. So if it is possible this being exists, it does exist in this world. Now if it does exist in this world, then by definition it is the GPB. It simply follows that the GPB is morally excellent in this world. For let’s say that there is some kind of moral value b that the GPB is subject to, and sometimes errors on the wrong side of this moral value. Well, clearly, the GPB is not actually the GPB in this case, for it is subject to b and morally errors sometimes. We could just as easily imagine an actual GPB which b is subject to in the sense that the GPB determines b not arbitrarily, but necessarily.

      Thus, the GPB is (in part) that by which all moral values are determined, necessarily. If the GPB exists, there is no moral value b that the GPB lacks or errors in the “wrong” about. This is necessarily true, because, as discussed above, if this were not the case, the GPB would not be the GPB, but rather a GPB that did not lack b would be the GPB.

      So your dilemma, or whatever you would like to call it–the options you presented to me simply do not apply. For the case of the real world is either: the GPB exists or the GPB does not exist. But if the GPB does exist, then morality is objectively just as it is, and there is no way for us to think of some moral judgment by which we can somehow judge the GPB as being “wrong.”

      Your slavery example is interesting, as you’re actually referring to a case of objective morality in the inverse sense–one in which people were mistaken. I’m not sure, but it seems you may be confused as to what I mean when I say “objective” morality. Let us say that it is the case that all humans believe that murder is at the least a morally neutral act. Belief one way or another does not determine the right and wrong of this action, but in the objective sense, murder is simply always wrong. Now it may be the case that I am wrong about some moral judgment (we’ll continue to use b for the sake of consistency). Let us say that I believe b to not be the case. I am sincere and I believe I have a Biblical basis for this argument. But in the objective sense, b is the case. My belief or lack of belief in the objectivity of b doesn’t actually affect b itself, only my own morality. But it is the case that the GPB would not be mistaken or error in the case of b, necessarily. We aren’t debating Christian values here, nor are we debating whether or not Christians have been wrong in the past or if they are correct today. What we are debating is whether or not the GPB is the determiner of all moral values and whether or not it is maximally excellent. It is the case that the GPB is both of these, as part of the GPB’s “essence” in the logical sense.

      Now note that I don’t believe it is important to sift through individual cases of morality and argue that the GPB is on one side or the other. It is sufficient to say simply that for any moral value b the GPB will never be determined by b but will possess, always be “right” in the objective moral sense, and essentially posses b as part of its being, regardless of what Christians or non-Christians believe.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 3, 2009, 6:29 PM
  13. A possible world is, in the simplest sense of the term: “[A] possible state of affairs of some kind.” ”

    The reason I was trying to acertain whether you meant ‘imagination’ was because I can’t see the relevance otherwise of ‘possible worlds’. You mean like ‘parallel dimensions’? I can’t fathom how it makes any difference to the argument.

    “So if it is possible this being exists, it does exist in this world.”

    I don’t see why this distinction is necessary. I never suggested that a God might exist in some ‘other world’ but not in ours. A God either exists or he doesn’t.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 3, 2009, 7:02 PM
    • By “possible world” I don’t mean parallel dimensions, I mean exactly what I stated: A possible state of affairs. It is possible that the world we are in could have been different. There are potentially nearly infinite different possible worlds. I’m not saying any of these possible worlds exist (in fact, I doubt that any world but our own does exist). The possibility that is being discussed is in the logical sense. It is possible that, say, I had a laptop instead of a desktop computer to write this on (oh how I wish!).

      The second distinction is necessary because some would postulate that there are multiple Factually Necessary Beings that are individually the GPB of different worlds

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 5, 2009, 9:45 PM
  14. “So if it is possible this being exists, it does exist in this world. Now if it does exist in this world, then by definition it is the GPB.”

    What I mean is that in the above quote, I don’t see what you saying apart from “So if the GPB exists, then it is the GPB”. What extra information are you getting across in your quote than in my summary?

    “Your slavery example is interesting, as you’re actually referring to a case of objective morality in the inverse sense–one in which people were mistaken.”

    My point was that ‘I believe x is wrong’ is not a logical argument.

    “But regardless of Plantinga’s other arguments’ validity or lack thereof, that really has nothing to do with his ontological argument.”

    Point accepted. I’ve heard people often conflate the two. If you don’t, then fair enough.

    “I never said that one must believe in God (or the GPB, though it seems obvious they are interchangeable) to know moral truths”

    But you are saying that if one holds a view on a moral truth, and a God contradicts it, then you must discard your view for his. My point is that because I don’t look to a God to conclude my moral truths, I therefore don’t see Him as their source. I can conceive of a God who holds different moral opinions to me. I don’t see why it is not feasible that a God that holds views YOU view morally objectionable could have created the universe.

    I don’t believe that a God could have created a universe with different logical absolutes, or with different prime numbers. I cannot therefore see him as their author. Similarly, I don’t hold the moral values I have due to anything specific that a God may have created. It follows that I don’t feel I owe my moral values to a God, and could therefore disagree with a God’s moral values.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 3, 2009, 7:19 PM
    • Yeah that first part was unclear. I’m simply saying that if the GPB exists generally (in any possible world), it is the GPB in this world also.

      Fair enough on your point.

      Ah, now I see where you are coming from in what you’re saying. Thanks for the clarity. It is possible that the GPB’s objective morality is different than what I perceive, but that is not a strike against the GPB, but against me. I’m not sure how it’s a point against the GPB’s logical existence of whether or not my morals match with its. Now, I believe in Divine Command/Natural Law ethical theories (which would then suggest that we can at least mostly base our own morality off that of the GPB), but that is an entirely separate debate, and not one that I feel needs to be delved into here.

      What is true is that whatever the GPB’s ethical stance is on any particular issue is the definition of what is ethical on that issue, necessarily. Whether or not we can discern this stance is a different debate, but to argue for or against various moral issues and which side of the fence the GPB would stand on said issue misses the point entirely, as the GPB’s morality is, necessarily, the morality of whatever world it exists in.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 5, 2009, 9:57 PM
    • I meant to also state that it is indeed possible to disagree with a “God’s moral values” but that actually has no effect on the moral values of the GPB, which would, by definition, be perfect. Further, I would not suggest one need to believe in God in order to be a moral person or have the “correct” morals.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 5, 2009, 9:58 PM
  15. Godel’s ontological argument and Plantinga’s ‘Victorious’ argument are both addressed (and I believe debunked) here:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ontological-arguments/#GodOntArg

    Excerpt:
    “Plainly enough, if you do not already accept the claim that there is an entity which possesses maximal greatness, then you won’t agree that the first of these arguments is more acceptable than the second. So, as a proof of the existence of a being which posseses maximal greatness, Plantinga’s argument seems to be a non-starter.

    Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Plantinga himself agrees: the “victorious” modal ontological argument is not a proof of the existence of a being which possesses maximal greatness. But how, then, is it “victorious”? Plantinga writes: “Our verdict on these reformulated versions of St. Anselm’s argument must be as follows. They cannot, perhaps, be said to prove or establish their conclusion. But since it is rational to accept their central premise, they do show that it is rational to accept that conclusion.”

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 6, 2009, 12:49 PM
    • I love the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy! It is generally a valuable resource :).

      Now, I must admit I am confused about why it is you direct me towards a so-called debunking of Godel’s ontological argument (usually called Godel’s Proof). I never brought it up, nor do I use it. I personally find it too complicated to be of much use in general debate. It should be noted that even the version they represent in the SEP there isn’t the whole thing. A more complete analysis of his proof and argumentation (and the validity or lack thereof) can be found in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Now I’m not really wanting to argue one way or another about that proof, for I never actually brought it up, or even implied it. I consider this a non-issue. If you’d like to try to use Godel’s proof, than we can certainly discuss it, but I never addressed it, nor do I intend to further.

      As far as their analysis of Plantinga’s Victorious Modal argument goes, it seems this is another of the cases where the limitations of such a system become evident. The quote from Plantinga is from his book The Nature of Necessity and is taken certainly out of context, though what the author is trying to use the quote for is perhaps valid. Plantinga does indeed acknowledge that it may not prove God but rather justify belief in God. This is, however, an entirely separate debate. What justifies belief in anything? It’s not a debate that I want to get into here.

      Now, what I find most alarming about what the author of this attempt to debunk the ontological arguments has done is try to compare Plantinga’s ontological argument to the 2+2=5 or God exists argument. Plantinga himself addresses a similar situation–arguments can be valid, but not good. He uses a mathematical example himself in God, Freedom, and Evil in order to show that one can construct a valid argument that isn’t actually worth anything. It seems quite unfair to Plantinga to try to reduce his argument in this way.

      Further, it should be noted the author doesn’t actually do anything to try to find logical fault in the argument, but relies on his/her mathematical example, a quote from Plantinga, and an inversion of the argument to make it, quote “pretty clear” that Plantinga’s argument is invalid. Nice try, but it takes more effort than that to get by a logically valid argument. One must argue against one of the premises.

      In Plantinga’s case, the argument hinges on the statement that it is possible that maximal greatness is instantiated in some world. From Plantinga’s argument, it follows that if the GPB is possible, it exists necessarily. It is only if there is no possible world in which the GPB may exist that would prove the GPB doesn’t exist.

      The author of this entry really does nothing to Plantinga’s argument but say the things that I’ve seen others who try to argue against it do, which is make statements that they can’t back up (“It is pretty clear [it] does not show what he claims that it shows”). Again, nice try, but one has to actually address the argument rather than ignoring it and presenting straw men.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 6, 2009, 5:25 PM
  16. “I meant to also state that it is indeed possible to disagree with a “God’s moral values” but that actually has no effect on the moral values of the GPB, which would, by definition, be perfect”

    Then the definition is an incoherent one. You might as well define a number X as being a Prime that is divisible by two, and then say ‘By definition it must be divisible by two’.

    “It is possible that the GPB’s objective morality is different than what I perceive, but that is not a strike against the GPB, but against me.”

    So in answer to my earlier question, if God tells you to torture babies, you’d assume the fault was on your part that the activity filled you with distaste.

    What do you even mean by ‘perfect moral values’? Saying ‘The most moral thing to do in this situation’ infers a criteria.
    1. The best option if we want to maximise happiness of all concerned?
    2. The most FAIR option?
    3. The option that will promote a set of values agreed on by all concerned?

    The whole concept of ‘perfect objective morality’ doesn’t make sense.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 6, 2009, 12:57 PM
    • Well again as far as discerning the GPB’s moral values, that is an entirely different debate. It’s not one that has anything to do with the coherence of the GPB.

      You are also continuing to misrepresent or at the least misunderstand what I am saying. The GPB, by definition, would be the criteria from which the morality of some act would be determined. Please stop twisting what I’m saying. I have continually stated that the GPB is the definition, because if the GPB were analyzed by some other ethical code, that would mean the GPB is not the GPB in that there is some moral code that is higher than it.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 6, 2009, 5:27 PM
  17. “From Plantinga’s argument, it follows that if the GPB is possible, it exists necessarily.”

    That’s the argument he TRIES to make, yes. But as before, he’s trying to define something into existence. It makes to sense to say that because something is POSSIBLE therefore it MUST exist. This is similar to how they invent the ‘Infinite improbability drive’ in the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

    It’s like me defining an argument as ‘One that beats JWWartick’s argument’, and then claiming that ‘by definition you cannot beat that argument, whatever it is’. You can’t set up a bunch of definitions for an entity, and include ‘must necessarily exist’ as one of the definitions, and then try to build on that.

    “I have continually stated that the GPB is the definition, because if the GPB were analyzed by some other ethical code, that would mean the GPB is not the GPB in that there is some moral code that is higher than it.”

    I have address this, and I haven’t twisted your words or misunderstood you. I’ve explained that the whole notion of ‘morally perfect’ or ‘higher moral code’ is incoherent, as it implies a criteria, and is therefore not objective.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 6, 2009, 7:08 PM
    • Again, you haven’t actually addressed the validity of Plantinga’s argument at all. Unless you want to dispute the validity of any one part of the argument, I really don’t have any way to respond to your speculation on what definitions may or may not mean. Of course, Plantinga’s argument relies on de re necessity, not on “definition,” though, admittedly, “definition” is one way to try to explain such a concept in layman’s terms. If you would like to address any issue having to do with his actual argument rather than offering straw men arguments that attempt to emulate it or try to state as brute fact that he’s wrong, I simply cannot respond. His argument stands so far, as you have not actually attacked any part of it.

      You are misunderstanding though. The GPB would be the criteria, it would not be judged by some other criteria.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 7, 2009, 4:36 AM
  18. “You are misunderstanding though. The GPB would be the criteria, it would not be judged by some other criteria.”

    Then we’re at a stalemate, as I believe you don’t understand MY point. You defining a GPB as being ‘moral’ doesn’t make him my moral arbiter. You could invent another word for the set of rules he could claim we should live by, but that wouldn’t make these rules ‘moral’. And I’ve explained several times why I don’t think ‘inventor of the universe’ = automatically moral.

    Imagine 3 acts that you consider immoral (eg slavery, torture, murder). Now imagine an all-powerful being alone in the universe who considers those acts to be moral. Now imagine that being creates us. According to you, those acts are now moral acts, or at least you are no longer in a position to call those acts immoral. I strongly disagree.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 7, 2009, 9:17 AM
    • Well again you’re asking me to evaluate the GPB’s moral and ethical stance, which is not what this debate is about, at all. As far as I know, we’re debating the coherence of the concept. It doesn’t really matter whether or not you believe the GPB is your moral arbiter or not, the GPB simply would be morally excellent (as outlined before).

      Unless you are implying that your own morality is the definition of what is moral in the universe, the bottom line is that the GPB would, by definition, be the “arbiter,” if you will.

      I know I’ve said this before several times, so rather than simply engaging in an argumentum ad nauseum, I’ll ask you a question:

      What kind of logical flaw can you find in the statement: “The GPB must be morally excellent, for if there was some ethical or moral standard that was higher, then a being which possessed that moral or ethical standard would be greater, therefore it would be the GPB (as long as it possessed all the other qualities).”

      You keep trying to give me cases having to do with a moral evaluation of the GPB. My point, however, is not tied in with an evaluation of its morals, but simply saying what I just stated above. Now, if you want to evaluate its morals, I, as I said before, believe in divine command/natural law, so I do believe we can discuss God’s morals because I believe we have various ways of knowing about them. But this is not what we are debating. What we have been debating is whether or not the GPB would be morally excellent, which it would be.

      Unless you find a logical flaw in the above, my point does stand. Providing potential case studies about the GPB’s morality doesn’t do anything to it logically, it only engages us in a debate in which we try to use our subjective moral codes to make judgments about certain actions and decide which way the GPB stands on an issue. Thus, that engages us in a debate that is not attached to the GPB, which is maximally excellent, as seen above.

      I don’t need to debate you on various moral acts and whether the GPB stands on one side or the other, as that has nothing to do with saying the GPB is morally excellent (again, unless you are trying to imply that you yourself are the determiner of all that is moral). What it does have to do with is one’s own ethical theory and what that means in relation to the universe.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 7, 2009, 1:42 PM
  19. The author of this entry really does nothing to Plantinga’s argument but say the things that I’ve seen others who try to argue against it do, which is make statements that they can’t back up (“It is pretty clear [it] does not show what he claims that it shows””

    If that’s all you saw, then I think you weren’t reading it properly.

    So again, another stalemate.

    I believe you have your faith, and you are looking for ‘logical justifications’ for it. You will cling to these whatever evidence or reasoning is offered to you. All of these ontological arguments are attempts to ‘prove’ something without recourse to empirical evidence. Therefore they fail.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 7, 2009, 9:19 AM
    • Present me with an argument against actual points in Plantinga’s argument, and then we can debate something. But simply saying that “you can’t define something into existence” both a) sets up a straw man argument in place of Plantinga’s argument, and b) doesn’t actually do anything from a logical standpoint.

      Further, the author of that entry fails to actually address the issue of necessity other than saying:
      “Under suitable assumptions about the nature of accessibility relations between possible worlds, this argument is valid: from it is possible that it is necessary that p, one can infer that it is necessary that p.”

      This doesn’t do anything at all to Plantinga’s argument, and the statement that he/she follows it with is what is at issue, that the modal truth of this statement could be debated. Unfortunately, he/she doesn’t engage in this debate, and therefore has done nothing to refute it.

      Further, the author inverts the argument:
      ” 1. There is no entity which possesses maximal greatness.
      2. (Hence) There is no possible world in which there is an entity which possesses maximal greatness.”

      Both Plantinga and I acknowledge this is absolutely true. It doesn’t, however, actually address his argument.

      So I don’t believe we’re at a stalemate. I’m challenging you to actually debate one of his premises, and you have not.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 7, 2009, 1:49 PM
  20. “2. There is a possible world in which there is a maximally great being”

    Even if we allow this assertion, why not instead say ‘There is a possible world in which there is NO maximally great being”, and then proceed from there to claim that if it doesn’t exist in one ‘possible world’ then it must be so that it doesn’t exist in any?

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 7, 2009, 11:24 AM
  21. “What kind of logical flaw can you find in the statement: “The GPB must be morally excellent, for if there was some ethical or moral standard that was higher, then a being which possessed that moral or ethical standard would be greater, therefore it would be the GPB (as long as it possessed all the other qualities).”

    I HAVE actually already answered this. The logical flaw is that ‘morally excellent’ and ‘higher moral standard’ are incoherent statements. Morals depend on criteria, so it would depend on what the criteria are. It would be like saying ‘maximally perfect film’, or ‘maximally beautiful’. What criteria are you judging the film on?

    If you and I can agree that we value, say, human life and happiness, then we can then debate which course of action will maximise happiness and best-preserve human life. But that’s only GIVEN the criteria that we have agreed on. It is SUBJECTIVE on that criteria and therefore not OBJECTIVE.

    Premise 4 of the argument: “What is necessary does not vary from possible world to possible world”

    Whence this assertion? And how does it affect premise two that “There is a possible world in which there is NO maximally great being”. This premise is no more an assertion than saying there is a possible world in which there IS a maximally great being.

    And ‘possible worlds’ is a bizarre idea anyway. You said you don’t mean parallel universes, you just mean ‘it might be true’. There aren’t an infinite number of ‘possible worlds’, as far as we know there’s just this one. Conjecture about other ones is just that – conjecture.

    So all Plantinga can say is that in the reality we know, he thinks that it’s possible that a MGB exists, and he can’t even say why he believes that.

    “Further, the author inverts the argument:
    ” 1. There is no entity which possesses maximal greatness.
    2. (Hence) There is no possible world in which there is an entity which possesses maximal greatness.”

    Both Plantinga and I acknowledge this is absolutely true. It doesn’t, however, actually address his argument.”

    You’re saying that acknowledging that “There is no possible world in which there is an entity which possesses maximal greatness” doesn’t address his argument? Isn’t that the opposite of what you were arguing?

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 7, 2009, 4:20 PM
    • You never answer my statement that the GPB would be the criteria. I’m not sure why.

      Indeed, our judgments would be subjective. Hence the reason that, as I said, the GPB’s morality would be objective, because, necessarily, it is maximally excellent.

      Now as far as your comments on “possible worlds” go, it seems you may not have studied modal logic in any kind of fashion, not trying to issue an ad hominem attack, but rather simply stating that there really isn’t much I can say for you that I haven’t said already. In the broadly logical sense, possible worlds are quite worthy of discussion. I’m not sure you’re understanding the definition I’m offering. We aren’t talking actuality but possibility. Unless you would like to argue that our world is necessarily just the way it is (which of course has a whole lot of problems, especially depending on your worldview), then there are quite clearly possible worlds, which I (and I believe you) don’t believe actually exist, but could have. Possible worlds are the way things could be or could have been, and the only way to argue that there is no such thing is to assert, as I said, that the world is necessarily just as it is and could not have been otherwise.

      I have stated before that the GPB either exists necessarily in all possible worlds or not at all. The argument that I cited is saying that, though in a slightly different fashion. If there is no entity that possesses maximal greatness, then there is no possible world in which there is such an entity. That is true, and necessarily so. The argument hinges on whether or not the GPB is possible.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 7, 2009, 6:14 PM
      • also, step 4. I stated was from the original argument. I was clarifying that you didn’t address that before offering your comment.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 7, 2009, 6:16 PM
  22. “also, step 4” which comes AFTER step 2, doesn’t it?

    “We aren’t talking actuality but possibility.”

    “You never answer my statement that the GPB would be the criteria. I’m not sure why.”

    You clearly asked me to point out the flaw, I clearly did so.

    It’s a nonsense to talk about ‘if something exists in a possible world’. We’ve got OUR world, and we’ve got POSSIBLE worlds. To talk about something ‘existing’ in a possible world is to say ‘existing in a world that doesn’t exist’. That’s not the same use of the word ‘exist’ as when you say that it exists in our world – the real one.

    “This fails as a parody because, as I heard one response to the parody go, one can always conceive of an island with even more dancers, more happy people, more things to do. ”

    So you’re saying it is beyond the capability of God to creat a ‘greatest possible place’?
    1) Isn’t this then a limit on his power,
    2) Where does this leave heaven.
    3) If he CAN create one then premise 1 of the parody argument still holds: “It is possible to conceive of a greatest possible place”

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 8, 2009, 8:25 AM
    • I promise I’ll be getting back to you at some point. The semester is catching up with me.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 10, 2009, 6:55 PM
    • I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make in discussing step 4.

      The GPB simply would be the standard of right and wrong, from which all moral choices were determined. When you ask me to evaluate various moral situations based on your own moral values, you’re missing the point, unless you are suggesting that you yourself are the determiner of objective moral values.

      Are you saying that all possible worlds are empty?

      Also your critique of the use of “existence” here once more (as you’ve done in every previous instance) ignores the concept of necessity entirely. Until you actually address this issue, and possibly brush up on modal logic (i.e. what it is to say there is some possible world), I believe my points stand quite unharmed.

      With “great making properties” there has to be some kind of obvious point of termination. In the case of omniscience, this is obvious: for a being to be omniscient, the being must simply believe all true propositions and believe no false statement. In the case of omnipotence, the being can simply do everything that is possible in a logical sense. But is this the case with the “greatest possible place”?

      1) What objective standard is there for a “greatest possible place”? In the case of the greatest possible island, it seems that one could always imagine an island with more beautiful women (or men) and more wonderful exotic plants. Or, if one is to argue that greatest possible is simply “just right” or “perfect”, then who determines objectively how many women/men or plants are needed to be “perfect”? The greatest possible place has no objectivity, and cannot serve as a “great making” property.
      2) My theological background does not conceive of heaven as being some kind of wonderland in the skies, but the “new heaven and new earth” promised by scripture. But this kind of deflects the question, I was just clarifying. Perhaps there is some kind of logically conceivable “greatest possible place,” but I propose:
      a: the greatest possible place does not possess de re necessity, as the GPB would, because of the varied modal aspects when conceiving of a place verses a being
      b: if the greatest possible place did exist and could be proved through some kind of argument such as the parody, then the GPB argument would also be valid, and the greatest possible place would therefore be contingent upon the GPB for its creation, as with all other things

      also, in response to “Isn’t this then a limit on his power,”: the GPB is omnipotent in the sense that it can do all logically possible things, so if the greatest possible place is not a logically possible place, then no, the GPB would not and/or could not create it.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 12, 2009, 4:56 AM
  23. “When you ask me to evaluate various moral situations based on your own moral values, you’re missing the point”

    And I’ve explained this several times, and believe you have completely failed to understand MY point. So again stalemate.

    “Also your critique of the use of “existence” here once more (as you’ve done in every previous instance) ignores the concept of necessity entirely. Until you actually address this issue, and possibly brush up on modal logic (i.e. what it is to say there is some possible world), I believe my points stand quite unharmed.”

    No, I asked someone to look over your posts who has a thorough education in modal logic, and they said you were talking nonsense too:

    “I don’t think [JWW] had any particularly good points, although he is very wordy about it. My first thought reading it was “begging the question.” Then I saw the part where [JWW] was eager to address the idea that he was begging the question, but the only thing he did was throw more words at it (i.e., “necessary”).”

    So, I guess we’ll leave it there.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 12, 2009, 7:01 AM
    • I’m surprised that this authority to whom you appeal (which was anargumentum ad verecundiam, which means I have absolutely no reason to accept your point, at all) had no better rebuttal than that which you outline. You quoting him/her has no meaning to me, or to this debate.

      Further, how do you use a standard against something that is the standard?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 12, 2009, 6:34 PM
  24. “You quoting him/her has no meaning to me”
    What it means is that I don’t accept YOUR “argumentum ad verecundiam” – that there’s a hidden understanding of logic that I lack.

    “Further, how do you use a standard against something that is the standard?”

    I’ve answered this already JW. If I explain again why your very question is incoherent, I’ll be repeating myself. I accept that you either can’t understand or wish not to.

    Posted by Andrew Ryan | November 12, 2009, 7:28 PM
    • I’ve continually asked me to give me some kind of logical argument, but simply pulling a statement out of the argument doesn’t make an argument. I have no idea how to respond to something like

      ““2. There is a possible world in which there is a maximally great being”

      Even if we allow this assertion, why not instead say ‘There is a possible world in which there is NO maximally great being”, and then proceed from there to claim that if it doesn’t exist in one ‘possible world’ then it must be so that it doesn’t exist in any?”

      When that very question is literally addressed by myself in both the argument itself and other responses.

      or

      ‘”Premise 4 of the argument: “What is necessary does not vary from possible world to possible world”

      Whence this assertion? And how does it affect premise two that “There is a possible world in which there is NO maximally great being”. This premise is no more an assertion than saying there is a possible world in which there IS a maximally great being.’

      Which makes my argument a straw man. You either restate my point and change the words to make it something to tear apart or write out a response to something I have already addressed.

      Also, the GPB, as I’ve stated, is the standard. Let’s look at it from another view, because in all honesty I am either missing the point you’re trying to make or you’re missing mine. Let us say that I, being J.W. Wartick, am the standard of what is “J.W. Wartick.” Now, anyone/thing that is supposed to be “J.W. Wartick”-like is therefore measured against me. So it would be ludicrous to then say “Well, what makes J.W. Wartick himself J.W. Wartick-like?” Because I would be the standard by which that question would be judged.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 12, 2009, 9:54 PM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: God and Necessity « - November 15, 2009

  2. Pingback: The Ontological Argument: Therefore God Exists « - March 30, 2010

  3. Pingback: Gasking’s Proof – What Does It Prove? « Unworthy Yet Redeemed - August 12, 2010

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