A Simplified Ontological Argument

Ok, plunging merrily back into the mess, ignoring all criticism and petitions for mercy…

I thought it might be nice to wrap up with a version of the ontological argument that most of us might have a chance of actually following. I readily admit the last several took a lot of concentration, interest, and probably off-line study, and that no doubt detracts from any persuasive power they might have. Let’s try a simpler one:

Simple ontological argument for the existence of God:

Let’s try it backwards. Rather than thinking about why things exist, let’s consider, for a moment, why things DON’T exist. I submit the following list is exhaustive.

1. Things don’t exist for one of two reasons.

A. Circumstances weren’t right. B. They are logically impossible.

Some quick examples. In the first category we can put the (nonexistent) 50’ statue of King George in New York harbor. In order for such a statue to have existed, there would have to have been various historical, political, artistic and other causes. If these causes don’t exist – then neither does this hypothetical statue. But IF all the causes where there – if, for example, there had never been a revolution, and someone found it politically expedient to honor King George, AND had the funding, AND had the approval, AND the materials were available, AND the artist did the work, AND the construction crew put the thing together… Then there WOULD be a 50’ statue of King George in New York harbor. If all the circumstances are there, then nothing can prevent the existence of such a statue.

I’ll revert back to square circles as an example of the second category.

Now then, let’s return to our definition of God and finish up the formal argument. God is that being than whom no greater can be conceived – or, in Godel’s terms, God is the sum of all positive properties. A positive property is any aspect of existence which ADDS to existence (rather than subtracting from it) AND is actually possible. One of the most important of these positive properties is that God has “necessary existence.” He exists not because of any cause or circumstance, but in and of himself.

Ok, the formal argument.

1. Anything which does not have a reason for NOT existing, exists.

2. There are only two reasons for not existing: Lack of sufficient causes, or logical impossibility.

3. God, being defined as having “necessary existence”, could not fail to exist due to lack of sufficient cause – he HAS no cause and needs no cause.

4. God is not logically impossible.

5. Therefore God must, in fact, exist.

Next, some possible objections.

I. Does not having a reason for NOT existing really mean something exists? Can’t something lack any reason for non-existence, but simply… not HAPPEN to exist?

No, because this is really just a restatement of reason A. Not “happening” to exist really means the circumstances weren’t right, so something which doesn’t “happen” to exist really is lacking some cause. About the only exception we could present would be random quantum events, which are sometimes said to be “causeless”. As I have argued before, however, quantum events DO have probabilistic causes (which are sufficient to explain their probabilistic existence.) Just in case it is still difficult to grasp the necessity of something existing if the causes aren’t lacking, let’s go back to our statue of King George. Let’s suppose no cause was lacking. Can you imagine a situation in which there was political support for a giant statue of King George, and the mayor of New York proposed a 50’ statue, and land was purchased for a 50’ statue, and an artist designed a 50’ statue, and materials were gathered for a 50’ statue, and construction workers built a 50’ statue according to the design, and the design was such that the laws of physics permitted the statue to remain standing, and no force had destroyed or worn down the statue, and no one had destroyed or defaced the statue… and yet – the statue did not exist??

P.S. – And whatever you can think of as a possible reason for it’s non-existence, simply add that to the list of “causes”. Now try again. Repeat ad infinitum. Get the idea?

II. Can’t this argument prove ANY “necessary being?” (aka the moldy cheese in Brian’s fridge rebuttal)

No. If you will follow closely, I’ll try to show that God, and ONLY God, can assuredly thought of as being logically possible, while the other candidates for godlike beings, such as the moldy cheese in Brian’s fridge, can NOT be assuredly thought of as logically possible.

Remember we said that a “positive property” was any property that added to “being” or “existence” and is actually possible. Let’s suppose we were to make a hypothetical list of “positive properties”. We have already argued previously that one of them is “necessary existence”. Another positive property would presumably be “exists in Brian’s fridge at 12:00 a.m. GMT Feb 18, 2003” There would be many many others. If we made these into a huge “checkoff list”, God’s list would look like this:

1. Necessary being? Yes.

2. Exists in Brian’s fridge? Yes. (God is, after all, everywhere, even in Brian’s fridge)

3. Exists at the North Pole? Yes.

4. Has positive property #4? Yes.

5. Has positive property #5? Yes.

….. (long list)

N. Has positive property N? Yes.

God has all positive properties. Now then, Brian proposed a different definition. He proposed (to reduce the ontological argument to absurdity) a god-like being with necessary existence, which consisted entirely of the moldy cheese in his refrigerator. After all, you can DEFINE a term however you’d like, as long as you use it consistently. The suspicion Brian had is that we are sneaking the proof of God into our definition – hence his contrary example. Let’s build the checkoff list for Brian’s cheese.

1. Necessary being? Yes. (We were allowing Brian to make this assertion)

2. Exists in Brian’s fridge? Yes.

3. Exists at the North Pole? No.

4. Has positive property #4? No.

5. Has positive property #5? No. ….. (long list)

N. Has positive property N? No.

There are, of course, other positive properties Brian’s cheese has, but the important thing is that it LACKS some positive properties, such as existing at the North Pole.

Now then, let’s ask our question again – WHY doesn’t it exist at the North Pole?

Well, there can only be two reasons, as we said – Lack of sufficient causes, or logical impossibility. There’s nothing logically impossible about existing at the North Pole, in and of itself. So, does it lack the property of existing at the North Pole because of lack of sufficient causes? Sounds good – but WAIT – we already said in point #1 that Brian’s cheese was a NECESSARY BEING – which means it HAS no causes. If it has no causes, it can’t LACK any causes – including the causes that should have caused it to be at the North Pole. The whole thing dissolves into a logical contradiction.

Hence, the only logically necessary being is one with ALL positive properties – because there are no causes lacking which would explain it’s LACKING any positive properties.

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