Q&A 2: The Ontological Argument, Logic, and… Aliens?

by Max Andrews

Q&A GraphicQuestion 1:

I am interested in becoming a Christian apologetic but these couple questions are kind of a stumbling block for me. Do you think you could answer these questions for me so I could understand Christianity more?
1.What is the ontological argument? To mean it seems like a lot of lip service. Basically tell me if I’m wrong the ontological argument is that if you think something exists it does or if your mind can imagine something it exists? It doesn’t make sense to me.  A perfect concept does not prove a perfect being.
2. I was watching a philosophical interview with Greg Koukl who was talking about abstract uncreated beings. From what I got out of it uncreated beings do not exist and God created everything even Numbers But if that’s the case then how can God be bound by logic? Like the answer to the question can God make a rock to be he can’t lift? One would say that God can do anything LOGICALLY possible and since there are no rocks he can’t lift then the question is logically impossible. So how does this make sense? Do you know about created and uncreated abstract beings and can you explain more about the study of them and what they are?
3. What do you think about the theory that Jesus was an Alien and Aliens created the earth and life on it? You can’t really refute it because of Decartes evil demon theory
(here’s a Link if you never heard of it)http://www.hiddenmeanings.com/Sermon6962112009.htm
please reply
Billy

Question 2:

Hi, I just saw your new Q and A section and decided to drop a question. Is there a reply to the various, so called “Parody Objections” to arguments such as The Modal Ontological Argument? For example, the objector claims that the Modal OA can be used to show the existence of a Maximally Evil Being, or a Maximally Great Island. If Ontological Arguments can be used to show the existence of multiple Gods or absurdities, then OA’s, modal or otherwise, must be unsound.

I don’t have any specific parody-arguments at hand though, but I think Oppy has made several. There’s also the objection that Plantinga’s Modal OA is circular in terms of modal logic, but I guess that’s an issue for another Q and A. As a layman, I’m currently working through the following paper, which you may want to check out.

http://www.yujinnagasawa.com/resources/devil.pdf

Thank you for your consideration,

Zia

Answer:

Billy and Zia,

Since you both brought up the ontological argument together I’ll address them both at the same time. I’ll be upfront about my position on the ontological argument. I think it works, but I think it’s too easy. Then again, shouldn’t God be as obvious as this? On the other hand, God is quite hidden from us and we need to preserve God’s hiddenness as well. It’s a paradox I find myself in. Zia, I was actually going to recommend The Many Faced Argument by Hick, a, and McGill. I was accepted to the University of Birmingham to study for my PhD under Nagasawa but I have deferred my position there and I’ll be going to the University of Edinburgh instead.

Anselm defined God as ‘that which nothing greater can be conceived.’ There’s four major points Anselm makes. (1) God is unique. (2) God is necessary–not logically necessary but metaphysically necessary (beings, esse). (3) This was originally a meditation–a conceptual process. It’s an ordering of concepts that orders into an act of worship. It was philosophizing the meaning of Scripture into an act of worship (‘the fool says in his heart there is no God’). It’s an understanding of Scripture and meditation is an act of worship seeking to understand. This is where we get Anselm’s famous dictum, fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding.

(4) “You only have to hear and understand the words.” It was claimed that Anselm’s ontological argument (probably) begs the question.

  • Let a unicorn be a magical horse with a horn protruding from the forehead.  Let a unicornex be an existent unicorn.  No non-existing thing is a unicornex.  So, it’s true by obversion, some existing thing is a unicornex.  This is what Rowe believes Anselm is doing by just defining God into existence.

Infinite source implies an infinite mind. However, defining God as infinite would be circular if the only infinite is God. You need to know the meaning of the words and not the referent. Is this based on idea/intuition? Revelation? Reasoning? No. This is not what Anselm is saying. Anselm is not supposing upfront that you are not assuming what this definition refers to. Once you get the definition of a word then it relates to reality (starting a priori). Definition only requires the recognition of the meaning of words in a particular order. Remember, definition is not attached to the real world at first, it is a priori–it does not have a point of reference in the definition (to the real world). Anselm’s principle is that to exist in reality is better than to exist in the mind (or to exist only in the understanding). The reality of something has causal capacities–beings, esse. This is where Immanuel Kant makes his objection, that existence is not a predicate/property. However, if God is simple then God is his essence and his essence is to exist.

Here is Anselm’s argument:

  1. God exists in the understanding
  2. God is a possible being
  3. If X exists only in the understanding and is a possible being, then X might have been greater
  4. Suppose God exists only in the understanding
  5. God might have been greater (2, 4, 3)
  6. God is a being than which a greater is not possible
  7. So, a being than which nothing greater is not possible is a being which is greater is possible
  8. Since 4 led to a contradiction 4 must be false
  9. God exists not only in the understanding alone—God exists in reality as well
    • Existence in reality is a great making property
    • The argument is a reductio ad absurdum. To prove X assume ~X.  Show how ~X leads to a contradiction or patent falsehood.

Ganuilo’s objection: Gaunilo proposes the idea of a perfect island. “I can conceive of a perfect island so this perfect island must exist.”  The problem with this is that the island could, actually, always be improved.  How many palm trees? How big is the island? How nice is the weather?  Inevitably, when you start adding every great making property to the island you will get to Anselm’s notion of God.

What about the evil God?

  • The early church father Augustine considered evil to be the absence of the good just like darkness is the absence of light.  Under this view the good has a genuine ontology.  There are certain metaphysical components to goodness that begs for their grounding, hence the moral argument.  If evil is a negation of the good, or a privation of the good, then there is no need for an ontological grounding or source since it bears no metaphysical components as a negation of the good.  This need not be special pleading since this is analogous to light.  Light has particular properties where the absence of a photon needs no explanation since their isn’t anything to have any properties predicated to.  An appeal to supersymmetry does not suffice since the analogy works as the absence of something or the negation of existence [of the particle].  Thus, the negation or absence of good is evil.  This, of course, does not exclude room for amorality.  A rock is amoral since it bears no moral properties.  Since a rock is not good it does not mean it is then evil.  An agent is the only source or bearer of morality and thus any negation of good action (thought, deed, etc.) by an agent is then evil.
  • Thomas argued that everyone always does what they believe is right.  This has obvious knee-jerk reactions but let’s seriously consider this.  No one does something because they know it’s wrong.  They may know something is wrong and still do it but they have an overriding belief that they are doing the wrong for the right reason.  For instance, I know it’s wrong to speed 30mph over the speed limit but my violation of this rule is for a greater good or it’s the right thing to do since I’m taking a gunshot victim to the hospital.  Or, I willingly plagiarize or cheat on a test because I believe it’s the right thing to do in order for me to get a good grade.  The Third Reich and Hitler believed that the massive murdering of the Jews and homosexuals was the right thing to do.  The principle stands with whether the action is actually right or wrong but the motivation for any action is always believed to be right.
  • If this principle is true, how does this look with the evil God?  If this God acts in any way then he would have to always act in an evil way (assuming he can never act in a good way since he would have to be the ontic grounding of all evil).  We would have to assume that the evil God believes it to be the right thing to act in an evil way.  Consider the converse, that the evil God believes it is wrong to act in an evil way.  The latter seems to be incoherent for why would the evil God act in a way he knew was wrong?  The former seems to be right in the sense that the evil God considers it to be good or right to act in an evil way.  But how is this not equally incoherent since it seems to be an actualization of a contradiction?  If the evil God believes acting in evil ways is the right thing for him to do then this evil God has a radical ontology–Occamism at best.  But if this evil God is an Occamist God then what’s to say this same being cannot ground good in himself?  The problem is that any type of actualization of a contradiction and Occamism is incoherent.

I’ll write Plantinga’s out in an easy way to follow before I show its validity, Zia.

  1. The property of being maximally great is exemplified in some possible world.
  2. The property of being maximally great is equivalent, by definition, to the property of being maximally excellent in every possible world.
  3. The property of being maximally excellent entails the properties of omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection.
  4. A universal property is one that is exemplified in every possible world or none.
  5. Any property that is equivalent to some property that holds in every possible world is a universal property.
  6. Therefore, there exists a being that is essentially omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect (God).

Now here’s Plantinga’s argument broken down to show its validity. (See Robert E. Maydole’s chapter “The Ontological Argument” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (553-592 [see 590 for step by step deduction]).

Let,

Ax =df x is maximally great
Bx =df x is maximally excellent
W(Y) =df Y is a universal property
Ox =df x is omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect

Screen Shot 2012-12-13 at 5.19.57 PM

Billy, now back to your second question. Here’s the question to spare everyone from scrolling back and forth:

2. I was watching a philosophical interview with Greg Koukl who was talking about abstract uncreated beings. From what I got out of it uncreated beings do not exist and God created everything even Numbers But if that’s the case. then How can God be bound by logic? Like the answer to the question can God make a rock to be he can’t lift? one would say that God can do anything LOGICALLY possible and since there are no rocks he can’t lift then the question is logically impossible. So how does this make sense? Do you know about created and uncreated abstract beings and can you explain more about the study of them and what they are?

I’m a nominalist when it comes to abstract entities. I don’t think they exist at all. Ususally, the idea that God created the numbers is associated with conceptualism, which exists in the thinking [divine] mind. [Neo-] Plantonism would suggest that abstract objects are just as eternal as God. But there are certain problems with that (i.e. the existence of the number three and the trinity). It would be independent of God. So, the problem doesn’t really show its face in the nominalist camp.

Concerning God being bounded by logic–I always come across these questions when I teach logic to my intro. to philosophy students. Theologically, logic is a necessary consequent of the divine Logos, the mind of God, the reason and rationale, the second person of the Trinity. So, think of logic as a necessary consequent of the existence of the Logos. It wouldn’t do justice to God to say that God can make contradictions obtain. We do not glorify him in saying that such absurdities are actualized. For God, a four angled triangle is an absurdity just as much as it is for us.

Concerning omnipotence, I’d say that God can do all things which are feasible for him to do. Feasibility brings in his supererogatory goodness and human free actions. For instance, God would not create a world of only self-mutilating bunny rabbits. Given his antecedent goodness God would not actualize that world. So, omnipotence isn’t merely limited by what’s logically possible but also by what’s feasible.

Your final question, 3:

3. What do you think about the theory that Jesus was an Alien and Aliens created the earth and life on it? You can’t really refute it because of Decartes’ evil demon theory
(here’s a Link if you never heard of it)http://www.hiddenmeanings.com/Sermon6962112009.htm

Concerning Descartes’ evil demon, which was later developed by Hilary Putnam as a brain in a vat, which then became the Matrix, I’d refer you to a paper by Duncan Pritchard, “Anti-Skepticism and the Value of Knowledge.” Iris:  European Journal of Philosophy & Public Debate 4/2 (2009): 419-428.

Pritchard’ goal in this work was to demonstrate that skepticism [and radical skepticism] are not necessarily hopeless epistemic theories but are in crisis and need series reevaluation.  He bases he argument against brain-in-a-vat (BIV) skepticism via the entailment of closure for knowledge (which was nothing more than a modus ponens).  He takes an evidentailist approach by suggesting that one is unable to know the difference between a BIV experiences and a corresponding non-skeptical experience.  The example of experiences used is that he has two hands and that he sees that he has two hands.  By nature, a BIV is handless and would not be able to equate the experience where seeing his hands entail his hands exist.  This is used as evidence against being a BIV because it’s not even possible for a BIV to know what hand-experiences are (the basis for his entailment). I’m an evidentialist with my epistemology and I think my evidentialism can solve this problem.

Was Jesus an alien? Well, he was not from this world, but that’s not where that article is coming from. They’re referring to Jesus as an extraterrestrial alien. There are no accounts of UFO’s in the Bible nor are there depictions of aliens. The Ezekiel passages are prophetic visions given to Ezekiel for revelatory purposes. Two problems, if it’s a subjective vision then it’s not referring to an actual object in the sky. If it’s an objective vision then it’s referring to something anyone else could have seen. The latter doesn’t seem to be the case. That website uses a numerological hermeneutic (i.e. 8 means this, 88 means that…). Anytime you see a numerological hermeneutic you can stop taking the argument seriously. The whole thing is ad hoc conjecture and doesn’t explain anything. If Jesus were an alien then how was he conceived by the Holy Spirit by a virgin, grew up to perform miracles in a religio-historical context, make claims of divinity, and die for the atonement of sinners. It just doesn’t make sense.

I’m all in favor of diversity of thought. In the worlds of Milton, truth will rise through the free exchange in the marketplace of ideas. However, this alien bit doesn’t even deserve to be near the marketplace.


13 Comments to “Q&A 2: The Ontological Argument, Logic, and… Aliens?”

  1. Thanks for the reply. Also, concerning the island parody, Nagasawa argues that it is not really parallel to the ontological argument. The OA concerns itself with the greatest possible being out of any and all beings, whereas the island argument is a narrower scope, it only considers a particular class of beings.

    • Hi Zia!

      I would also like to add that positing anything physical is an error by the objector. Physical objects depend on space for their existence and hence fail to maintain maximal greatness in at least one respect because their existence is contingent upon space.

  2. Just a quickie; Anselm fails validity because what “exists in the understanding” is never the thing itself, but a signifier or proxy for that thing. If you think like a computer programmer, his mistake is very obvious, and causes his argument to crash. Plantinga’s argument never gets past point 1, as it effectively begs the question.

    • Shane,

      How exactly does Plantinga’s MOA beg the question? All deductive arguments have the conclusion embedded within the major premise–such is the nature of every deductive argument. It only begs the question if one *only* believes P1 to be true because he already accepts the conclusion, but with Plantinga’s MOA, this just isn’t the case. So in order to show the MOA to be false you have to show that a MGB is metaphysically impossible, which has not been done.

  3. Anselm isn’t saying there’s an ontic status for that which exists in the understand, that’s why he says for it to actually exist in reality is better. He’s referring to conceivability–one can have a coherent comprehension of it. How does Plantinga beg the question and how is it different from my response to the Rowe’s claim that Anselm suffers the same?

  4. Quickie again, Max – I think you are mistaking the argument for its structure. Go back over Plantinga’s argument (as you have framed it), and if by premise 2 you have not spotted the mistake/misdirection, I think you need to sleep on it a bit and think about it again in the morning.

    As for Anselm, you’re simply wrong, and appear not to have understood the problem. It’s a word game, and does not permit you to reach a conclusion about reality. The ontic status of “what can be conceived” is critical to the argument; once you realise that that is a con, the argument crashes.

    Again, when dealing with both these flawed arguments, I would encourage you to think like a computer programmer.

    • Shane,

      What about Plantinga’s formulation?

      (MGB = Maximally Great Being, SPW = Some Possible World, APW = All Possible Worlds, AW = Actual World)

      1) It is possible that a MGB exists.
      2) If it is possible that a MGB exists, then a MGB exists in SPW.
      3) If a MGB exists in SPW, then a MGB exists in APW.
      4) If a MGB exists in APW, then a MGB exists in the AW.
      5) If a MGB exists in the AW, then a MGB exists.
      6) Therefore, a MGB exists.

      There is nothing question begging about this argument. P1 is the focal point of this argument, and we’ve simply seen no good reason to doubt the possibility of a MGB.

  5. Max, there are a number of problems with Plantinga’s effort. In fact, it’s riddled with problems. Let’s look at a few quickly. Firstly, if we can’t *exclude* the possibility of a “maximally great being” existing, that is not the same as saying that there is a possible world in which a MGB exists. But the problem (secondly) comes where Plantinga shifts the ontological positioning of his MGB. Note that he starts out by proposing the existence of APWs without reference to his MGB (this is very clearly implied, but not stated, and since many philosophers are happy with the notion of APWs we don’t need to get our pants in a twist). He then references SPW that contains his MGB – i.e. he has explicitly rendered his MGB ontologically *dependent* on that SPW (forgive my poor grammatical rendering of these concepts; I’m sure you’re keeping with my drift on this). Let’s call this world the MGB exists *in* PW1.

    So we have:
    APW –> PW1 –> MGB-in-PW1

    What he then does is pull a cheat by simply asserting that the MG bit of his MBG can jump out of the ontology and apply to APW, but that is at the very best a sleight of hand. If you’re running an ontological argument you simply can’t do that. But of course he thinks he *can* do that because he has pretend-defined it into MG.

    This renders Plantinga’s argument absurd. Here is an example of reformulating it.

    1. It is possible that a maximally in-a-box frog (MBF) exists.
    2. If it is possible that a MBF exists, then a MBF exists in SPB (some possible box)
    3. If a MBF exists in SPB then a MBF exists in APB (all possible boxes)
    4. If a MBF exists in APB then a MBF exists in your shoebox
    5. If your shoebox exists, then a MBF exists. (5b. You have a shoebox)
    6. Therefore a MBF exists.

    Which is quite evidently silly. I would suggest that Plantinga’s effort is likewise silly, and you shouldn’t waste your time on it, or Anselm’s effort either.

    • Firstly, if we can’t *exclude* the possibility of a “maximally great being” existing, that is not the same as saying that there is a possible world in which a MGB exists.

      If you cannot exclude the possibility of a MGB existing then that’s logically equivalent of saying it’s possible that a MGB exists, which is saying there’s a possible world in which MGB exists… This is just false.

      But the problem (secondly) comes where Plantinga shifts the ontological positioning of his MGB. Note that he starts out by proposing the existence of APWs without reference to his MGB (this is very clearly implied, but not stated, and since many philosophers are happy with the notion of APWs we don’t need to get our pants in a twist). He then references SPW that contains his MGB – i.e. he has explicitly rendered his MGB ontologically *dependent* on that SPW (forgive my poor grammatical rendering of these concepts; I’m sure you’re keeping with my drift on this). Let’s call this world the MGB exists *in* PW1.

      I’m not understanding your abbreviations. If by APW you mean all possible worlds then it’s true that if a MGB exists in one pw then it follows that MGB exists in all pw. Why? Because existence is greater than non-existence. SPW = some possible world? You’ve actually got it backwards. Plantinga starts with some possible world and then shifts to all possible worlds because existence is greater than non-existence and if that’s true it follows that MGB exists in all possible worlds.

      So we have:
      APW –> PW1 –> MGB-in-PW1

      What he then does is pull a cheat by simply asserting that the MG bit of his MBG can jump out of the ontology and apply to APW, but that is at the very best a sleight of hand. If you’re running an ontological argument you simply can’t do that. But of course he thinks he *can* do that because he has pretend-defined it into MG.

      Again, you never defined your abbreviations but if I interpreted them correctly then you’re missing one. So, how is existence being greater than non-existence (entailed by MGB having maximally great properties) slight of hand? It’s modal logic and it works. I have never read a philosopher who denies this. Everyone I’ve heard of and read (professionally) must deny premise 1, that MGB is possible, because the whole argument is valid and it follows. So, one can do this because it follows logically…

      This renders Plantinga’s argument absurd. Here is an example of reformulating it.

      1. It is possible that a maximally in-a-box frog (MBF) exists.
      2. If it is possible that a MBF exists, then a MBF exists in SPB (some possible box)
      3. If a MBF exists in SPB then a MBF exists in APB (all possible boxes)
      4. If a MBF exists in APB then a MBF exists in your shoebox
      5. If your shoebox exists, then a MBF exists. (5b. You have a shoebox)
      6. Therefore a MBF exists.

      Which is quite evidently silly. I would suggest that Plantinga’s effort is likewise silly, and you shouldn’t waste your time on it, or Anselm’s effort either.

      I really hope you’re not being serious because this is horrible. This demonstrates that you never understood the first premise to begin with and you’re making a horrible example of Gaunilo. At least his objection was interesting. This is just bad. Gaunilo proposes the idea of a perfect island. “I can conceive of a perfect island so this perfect island must exist.” The problem with this is that the island could, actually, always be improved. How many palm trees? How big is the island? How nice is the weather? Inevitably, when you start adding every great making property to the island you will get to Anselm’s notion of God. (Now just substitute perfect island with your frog…)

  6. Shane,

    It appears that what you really struggle with is not the validity of the argument but perhaps the mode of which we use. By this I simply mean that you have a problem with moving from Logic to the real. However, I see the ontological argument as perhaps the most fundamental axiom that can show that by the definition we have of God, it leads to him existing necessarily (within the logical world at least). Now, from what it seems you have trouble moving from the world of logic to the real world. That is why you reference a computer program. But I must say, even the algorithms embedded within the confines of an Operating System, or a simple game of Chess, are applicable to the real world. I can use an Operating System, I can apply the logic to a game of chess, and so on.

    An even more pressing matter deals with the language. Heidegger believed that language was not just the arbitrary use of utterances, instead it is a tool to represent reality itself. If that were the case, and when I say “There is a duck”, I am making a reference to reality itself, acknowledging all the attributes of that statement, (i.e. there is, and ducks are those objects which are white, quack a bunch, etc.). What makes Anselm’s version, or the original version, more interesting is the language. One may say, “God [if he/she were to exist] is a being on which no greater can be CONCEIVED.”

    Alright, I can conceive of this being, all infinite, powerful (from my perspective), morally perfect, and the list goes on. Well in order for that being to be all powerful, even from my own perspective, rests on the great making principle that it must exist. From our own perspectives, since we know we exist, then in relation to us this being would only be greater if it existed in reality as well.

    Beyond that, I believe everyone has the argument down along with the contemporary versions. But, to tie this together, the language is what is so important here. Something special about the way we bring these words together and the way they relate to one another. Almost every great “problem” in logic is a word game. One simply cannot squeeze between the net of the issue on the grounds of it being word games, or semantics. God by definition within the conceptual ability of human beings is a being of which none greater can be conceived. Traditionally this is accepted, “even the fool knoweth in his heart.” And if language, is the tool that is of reality itself, then we would be in the wrong to say that this conception were not true.

    Maybe moving from logic to reality is a troubling step, often framed with trial and error. But we make this jump everyday of our lives. For instance, technology is perhaps the epitome of making the jump from logic to the real. And computer programmers do this everyday! For instance, the conceptual use of ideas brought together the Iphone, Ipad, and other great products. The conceptual work of artists brought to life Peter Jackson’s adaption of The Hobbit. We can so conceive, and we can so make the move from the understanding to the real. In fact, this example was used by Anselm though most neglect it.

    So in relation to God, why not have the conception and why not move from logic to real? Though I mentioned things that can be seen and touched, perhaps a timeless figure like God does in fact exist, and we have such a simple axiom to show it.

    It all comes down to moving from the logic to the real, does a deductive syllogism say something about reality or it just a construct of the human mind, riddled with word games?

    See also, Kurt Gödel’s version, its enticing.

    See also, Descartes’ version, illustrates it using mathematics.

  7. For some reason Shane responds to Max when I make a post about Plantinga’s MOA and I feel a tad slighted. I’m not terribly hurt as his maximally great in-a-box-frog example was just an exercise in absolute misunderstanding of the argument.

  8. What’s interesting is that you haven’t actually touched the proof in the post. Mind you the spaces are necessary quantifiers that didn’t get converted. Go for it.

Leave a Reply