Ok, so seeing as the Ontological Argument is so terrible and won’t take long, I’m going to preface this with a bit of a jibe at Conservapedia. If you read the blogs you’ve probably heard by now that they’ve decided to rewrite the Bible to get rid of all the liberal bias contained within it. It’s pretty ludicrous but nothing particularly new, there are plenty of translations out there with their own theological bias and this is just one more. One little thing though. If we’re taking Conservative to mean an effort to maintain the past and oppose reform, then isn’t this action quite distinctly un-Conservative of them? I mean it’s bordering on liberal to just change the Bible. Also, they say it would take one person a year to do it, which is obviously going to be spread across a lot of people. But if anyone can edit it (in fact it’s likely a Poe that started this whole thing), then how are they going to be sure that only Bible experts are going to translate? There aren’t all that many people fluent in ancient languages.
Anyway onto the Ontological Argument. The argument was devised by St Anselm, and I’m ashamed to say that my school was named after this dweeb. One day I decided to look up who he was and when I came across this argument, it was a real facepalm moment, even though I was still a Christian. Here’s how it goes:
1. God is defined as the greatest individual that can be conceived.
2. A God that exists is greater than a God which does not exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.
Just go and read that again, hopefully you won’t need to read the rest of this post. Amazingly I’ve heard this argument used within the last couple of years. A friend of mine who isn’t a Christian but has been known to consider the first cause argument quite persuasive wrote an essay for his philosophy course agreeing with it, and somehow got a good mark. I read it afterwards, it was bollocks!
Anyway there are several lines of argument against this travesty of logic. Let’s start with the most obvious. Being able to conceive of something does not mean that it exists. Sounds pretty obvious but Anselm was one of those people who claimed faith comes before reason, which tends to lead to circular reasoning. What this argument does is assert God to be perfect, and then claim existence to be a perfect attribute, effectively asserting that God exists in the first premise! When what we should really be doing is taking a list of all the things that can be conceived, next to that taking a list of everything that exists, and then cross-checking the lists to find the Highest Common Factor (in terms of perfection), which then we know exists. This would be something like… Oreos, I dunno.
Secondly, since when is existence a greater attribute than non-existence? I don’t think you could even call existence an attribute at all since things that don’t exist don’t have any attributes. That’s a premise that you would have to justify. But besides that, I can conceive of plenty of things better than the Christian God. One who’s not such a prick for a start! So suck on those mouldy apples, Anselm, my God is more perfect than yours and therefore by your logic exists.
Another thing is, we could prove the existence of anything! Every God who is claimed to be perfect exists, even the ones who say the other ones don’t exist. Babe Ruth is apparently the greatest baseball player ever. But I can conceive of a baseball player who was better than Babe Ruth, and since existence is a greater attribute than non-existence, then a baseball player better than Babe Ruth must exist!
There are plenty of parodies of this argument but this is my favourite, which I robbed off Iron Chariots (which, by the way, is an excellent resource both for counter-apologists and for religionists who want to strengthen their arguments). It’s called Gasking’s Proof:
- The creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable.
- The merit of an achievement consists of its intrinsic greatness and the ability of its creator.
- 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?)
- The biggest handicap to a creator would be non-existence
- 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.
- Therefore, God does not exist.