Ontology (Part 3) – The Ontological Argument: Is There Additional Confirming Evidence For The Concept Of A Maximally Great Being? (for those interested in philosophy/theology)

TERMS

“Maximal excellence” exists in any being who possesses the three “excellent-making properties” of:
1. omniscience,
2. omnipotence and
3. moral perfection.

“Maximal greatness” exists in any being who possesses these properties in EVERY possible world. “Maximal greatness” is the same as saying “greatest conceivable being.”

“Possible Worlds” refers to various descriptions of reality that could conceivably or potentially exist. Each description is comprised of a set of propositions. Propositions must be true and must not conflict with one another. There are aspects of this existence that could have been configured differently. If we change a proposition, that is a different possible world or description of reality. This present reality that we live in is not the only one that could possibly exist.

“A priori” (ah-pree-óry) – a person arrives at a rationale or conclusion without having to experience it (“prior to”).

“A posteriori” (ah-póss-teer-ee-ory) – a conclusion derived from actual observation or experience (“after”).

THE ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT FOR GOD’S EXISTENCE

Now that we understand the concepts of a “possible world” and a “maximally great being,” let’s examine the ontological argument:

1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
2. If it’s possible that a maximally great being exists, then it exists in some possible world.
3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
Conclusion: Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

PREMISE 1 OF THE ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

Premises 2 through 5 are not very controversial, but premise 1 is where the controversy resides. If you can make a credible case that God’s existence is “possible,” then most professional philosophers will concede that God’s existence is probable. So most of the controversy centers on premise 1.

A PRIORI EVIDENCE

In part 2 of the ontological argument, we discussed a number of a priori evidences for premise 1. For example:
• the intuitive coherence of the phrase “maximally great being,”
• the lack of “intrinsic maximum values” in the excellent-making properties of parodies that are created by detractors of the argument,
• the mutually exclusive nature of Christians’ “maximally great being” and atheists’ “quasi-maximally great being.”

Even though these a priori evidences provide significant support for premise 1, we want to examine some a posteriori evidences that also provide warrant or justification for premise 1.

A POSTERIORI EVIDENCE

Remember that premise 1 states, “It is possible that a maximally great being exists.” So in addition to the intuitive evidence or justification described in our last blog, is there any a posteriori evidence for premise 1?

Regarding a posteriori evidence, Alvin Plantinga tells us that we first we need to carefully think about premise 1 and the alleged objections to it. Then we need to consider the connection between premise 1 and other propositions that we consider to be true or false. Examine the premise in the context of other truths that we know about. If we still find premise 1 to be compelling, then it is rational to accept it as being true.

So how would we do that? Well, remember that we asked you to study the other arguments for the existence of God before reading the ontological argument. So let’s think about the other four arguments for the existence of God that we’ve already examined. In each of those arguments, we established certain propositions as being either true or false.

LEIBNIZ’S ARGUMENT FOR A NECESSARILY EXISTING BEING

In G.W. Leibniz’s contingency argument, there was evidence for a maximally great being:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or as a result of an external cause.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.
4. The universe has an explanation of its existence.
Conclusion: Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God.

So Leibniz’s argument very clearly establishes the fact that there is a metaphysically necessary being who is the ultimate reality of this existence and the explanation for everything that exists other than himself.

THE MORAL ARGUMENT FOR GOD AS THE SOURCE OF MORAL VALUES AND DUTIES

In addition, the moral argument provided further justification for the idea of a maximally great being:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

So the moral argument provides us with sound reasoning to support the idea of a God who is the ground of moral values and moral duties.

One of the interesting things about such values and duties is that some of them seem to be true in EVERY possible world. Naturalist and science philosopher Michael Ruse states, “The man who says that it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says that 2 + 2 = 5.” In this case, Ruse is equating a moral statement with a mathematical statement. Based on this, if a mathematical truth that “2 + 2 = 4” is true in every possible world, then a moral truth that “it is wrong to rape little children” is also true in every possible world.

If there are moral values that are true in every possible world, then those values are “necessary truths.” If the moral argument is correct in saying that God is the source from which such moral values and duties arise, then it logically follows that God is a necessarily existing being who must be found in every conceivable or possible world (i.e., every description of potential reality).

CONCEPTUALISM

Conceptualism maintains that God is the source of abstract objects such as numbers or propositions. The conceptualist argument might sound like this:

1. Abstract objects are either independently existing realities or else concepts in some person’s mind.
2. Abstract objects are not independently existing realities.
3. If abstract are concepts in some person’s mind, then an omniscient, metaphysically necessary being exists.
Conclusion: Therefore, an omniscient, metaphysically necessary being exists.

How do conceptualists draw that conclusion? Because such abstract objects would have to exist in every possible world and would therefore be metaphysically necessary.

Also, there are too many abstract objects for all of them to be found in the mind of any finite person. Only an omniscient mind could retain so much information and act as the source of that much information. So if abstract objects are not independently existing realities but instead are concepts in some person’s mind, then that mind must be an omniscient, necessary being. So such a being exists.

So conceptualism provides an argument for an omniscient and metaphysically necessary being.

SUMMARY

So these other arguments provided us with three things:
1. Leibniz’s argument made clear that there is a metaphysically necessary being who is the source of all reality other than himself.
2. The moral argument clearly established that there is a metaphysically necessary being who is morally perfect as well as the standard and source for all moral values and duties.
3. Conceptualism provides us with a metaphysically necessary being who is omniscient.

If we put all of these arguments together, they provide very sound reasoning to think that a maximally great being actually exists who is metaphysically necessary, omniscient, omnipotent and morally perfect.

So these kind of arguments provide sound reasoning to conclude that premise 1 of the ontological argument is probably true: “It is possible that a maximally great being exists.”

If that is the case, premises 2 through 5 are hardly ever challenged by atheist pundits.

IS THE ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT “QUESTION BEGGING”?

An argument is based on question begging if your only reason for accepting a premise in the argument is that you already believe the conclusion. In effect, this is circular reasoning. The reason you believe the premise is that you already believe the conclusion.

Atheist detractors of the ontological argument sometimes accuse Christians who present the ontological argument of “question begging” or “circular reasoning.” They will sometimes say:
“Premise 1 of the ontological argument says it’s possible that a maximally great being exists, but the ontological argument did NOT convince Christians. Before they ever read the ontological argument, Christians were already convinced that its conclusion was correct by these other arguments and so they just ASSUMED that the argument’s conclusion was correct. This is circular reasoning.”

CHRISTIANS’ RESPONSE TO THE ACCUSATION OF “QUESTION BEGGING”

Natural theology is an approach that attempts to base conclusions on observations of the physical reality we observe around us. In this particular case atheist detractors appear to be thinking about natural theology in too linear a manner. The series of arguments for God’s existence have been compared to a chain, and critics frequently assume that all five arguments we’ve presented here are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. But that is not a good analogy.

Instead, we might think of all five arguments for God as a coat of chain mail in which all of the links reinforce one another. With that better analogy in mind we can think of the arguments we’ve presented as a “cumulative case for theism” that hopefully will lead readers of this website to conclude that it is probable that God exists.

THE ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

Once again, here is the complete argument:

1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
2. If it’s possible that a maximally great being exists, then it exists in some possible world.
3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
Conclusion: Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

CONCLUSION

In light of the fact that our other arguments provide corroborating evidence for the idea of a “maximally great being,” it seems that there is plenty of a posteriori justification to conclude that the concept of such a being is coherent and plausible.

Despite the fact that we looked for corroborating evidence in the various arguments on this website, the ontological argument is not question begging. It is an independent argument that makes a sound case for God’s existence even if we only consider its intuitive coherence and its clearly defined maximum values for excellent-making properties.

Based on that alone, the ontological argument makes a coherent and plausible case for the existence of a maximally great being.

Based on the ontological argument, it seems probable that a maximally great being exists!

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