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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Visualize in your mind a geometric shape: a square. What image comes to mind? If you are actually visualizing a square you will see a two-dimensional shape with four right angles (90 degree angles) and four sides of equal length. If you don't have four right angles but have sides of equal length, you don't have a square - you have a parallelogram. If you don't have sides that are equal in length but have four right angles, again you don't have a square - you have a rectangle. In fact, unless you have a two dimensional shape with the aforementioned properties, you simply don't have a square - you have something else - because the definition of a square requires four sides of equal length and four right angles.

Now, consider the number three - not the written Roman numeral, but the actual idea of three things - and it doesn't matter the nature of the three things being counted (be they physical, non-physical, ideas, etc.). To go from two things to four things, three of the things has to be crossed to get to four. It is difficult to imagine three not existing. Nothing less than three can fill the role of three.

Several months ago, I wrote what I considered to be a fun little post about Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction, and the statement by the brilliant Stephen Hawking about the nature of multiple universes.  He said that in the billions of universes that exist in the multiverse, at least one of those other universes will exist a world in which Zayn Malik did not leave One Direction, and so the band is still together in that universe. But I can imagine a possible universe where Zayn Malik is no longer a member of One Direction - in fact, I can imagine a universe where Zayn Malik never existed at all. But I cannot imagine a world in which a square has less than four equilateral sides and four right angles. No matter what universe the square exists in, it must have those characteristics to be a square. No mattr what universe we look at, there must be a notion of three and it cannot not be.

The idea here is that there are certain things that are necessary to exist. Numbers, geometrical shapes, and the laws of logic are all examples of things that must exist in any universe that must exist. They are "necessary" to any possible universe. And it is this same necessity that is at the heart of Alvin Plantinga's ontological argument.

Except among a few hardcore atheists, there is no question that Dr. Alvin Plantinga is one of the foremost philosophers in the world when it comes to religion. In reviewing his 15 page CV (which can be found here), I note the only negative that appears is the unfortunate fact that he received his Bachelor's Degree from the University of Michigan. But other than that, he is the author of multiple books and articles, and has been part of a large number of Named Lectureships at universities ranging from Oxford, Glasgow and Cambridge to Wheaton, Princeton and of course, The Ohio State University. No less than Time Magazine has identified him as "America's leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God."

Plantinga's argument reads like this:

Premise 1: It is possible that God exists.
Premise 2: If it is possible that God exists, then God exists in some possible worlds.
Premise 3: If God exists in some possible worlds, then God exists in all possible worlds.
Premise 4: If God exists in all possible worlds, then God exists in the actual world.
Conclusion: If God exists in the actual world, then God exists.

Now, I am not particularly a fan of ontological arguments because it strikes me as too much like playing with words. However, ontological arguments are a form of argument that bring out truths that can be discerned through the use of reason alone. So, they are worth reviewing as a means of reaching people who can relate to an argument from true reasoning alone and are not limited in their viewpoint to the tiny percentage of evidence found in material objects.

The key to the argument is Premise 1. It notes that it is possible that God exists. Whether it is possible that God exists depends upon what is meant by the word God. Here, the term is very much related to the idea of "necessary" demonstrated above. Zayn Malik may, depending on your taste (or lack thereof), be a great entertainer, but he is certainly not a necessary being to the universe. It may dismay some teeny-boppers, but the universe would be largely unchanged if Zayn Malik never existed. Not so for God as used in this argument. Here, God is defined as a maximally great being, i.e., a being that has all of the qualities that would make him maximally great. One quality that a maximally great being must have to be maximally great is the quality of being necessary. A God who is on the level of Zayn Malik, gifted though he may be, is hardly one who would be considered maximally great. Instead, a God who is as likely to exist as to not exist - a being on the order of Zayn Malik, Invisible Pink Unicorns, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, or any other magical creature dreamed up in the clever but infinitely limited minds of those who oppose God - are not maximally great.

God, if he exists as a maximally great being, must be at least as necessary as logic, numbers and geometric shapes. Certainly, the Bible teaches that God is such a maximally great being because it says all of creation is in existence only because of Him. (John 1:1-4) Thus, to truly be maximally great requires that God be necessary. Is it possible that such a God exists? Of course. And if it is possible that such a God exists, he necessarily exists in all possible universes including the one which we inhabit.

Below is a video that examines Plantinga's ontological argument a bit more closely. I recommend watching it and giving it some consideration. If you have trouble with it (as most do), take some time to really consider the discussion. It is a rather interesting look at an argument really worth considering.

     *I

I personally found the video to be helpful to be able to explain the argument. I hope you find it useful and perhaps it may make a difference in your thinking.

12 comments:

excellent article, nice try, but even though I agree iwth the argument bot going to sell p3 to atheists.

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excellent article, nice try, but even though I agree iwth the argument bot going to sell p3 to atheists.

Actually, your non-acceptance of P3 is due to your failure to understand the argument. If, indeed, God as a necessary being exists in any possible world, then God must exist in all possible worlds, due to his necessity. As BK points out, it comes down to the definition of God, and God is defined by religionists as a necessary being. If that's true, then I have no problem with P3.

On the other hand the argument itself seems altogether unnecessary. It might just as well say this:
P1: A necessary being is defined as one that exists in all possible worlds.
P2: God is defined as a necessary being.
P3: Therefore, if God exists as defined, then God exists in all possible worlds.
P4: Therefore if god exists, then God exists in the actual world.
Conclusion: If God exists, then God exists.

That is the summary of Plantinga's argument, which amounts to a tautology.

This points out the problem of dismissal of the atheists' counter argument in the video. The narrator doesn't understand what they are saying. They DID NOT define their unicorn as a contingent being. Their definition includes existence. Something that exists by definition, exists necessarily, in precisely the same way that God exists necessarily. That is to say that it exists by definition. The atheists' argument goes right over the head of the religionist, who fails to understand that it is logically incoherent to think that you can define something into existence. And Plantinga is smart enough to avoid the assumption of existence by definition, as you can see by his conditional conclusion ("If God exists ..."). But most religionists fail to see that this makes his whole argument nothing more than a tautology.

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Im-skeptical, Not bad, but I think that your argument is flawed because P4 does not follow from P3, and P5 doesn’t follow from P4. Let’s look at your syllogism:

P1: A necessary being is defined as one that exists in all possible worlds.
P2: God is defined as a necessary being.
P3: Therefore, if God exists as defined, then God exists in all possible worlds.
P4: Therefore if god exists, then God exists in the actual world.
Conclusion: If God exists, then God exists.

Now, the protasis of P3 is “if God exists as defined”, and the apodosis is “God exists in all possible worlds.” In a typical deductive argument like you are presenting, the protasis of the following premise is a restatement of the apodosis of the preceding premise. Thus, P4 should begin, “If God exists in all possible worlds,” but you have reduced it to “If God exists.” Likewise, the protasis of the conclusion should be “If God exists in the actual world,” not merely, “If God exists.” So, what you have done is created this “tautology” by dropping terms of the argument that you have made. If you had spelled it all out, your conclusion would be “If God exists in the actual world, then God exists.” That isn’t tautological at all.

Interestingly, if you had made the argument correctly, you would have had an interesting argument for the existence of God. Let’s restate it in a more natural way:

Premise 1: A necessary being is one that exists in all possible worlds.
Premise 2: God is a necessary being.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, God exists in all possible worlds.
Premise 3: Anything that exists in all possible worlds exists in the actual world.
Premise 4: If God exists in all possible worlds, then God exists in the actual world.
Conclusion 2: If God exists in the actual world, then God exists.

I dropped your “defined as” language in your P1 – P3 because it is unnecessary (therefore, it does not exist in all possible worlds, and is not needed in this argument). Also, your note that P3 begins with the word “therefore” which, of course, makes it both conclusion 1 and the first premise of the second syllogism. So, I simply made it clear that your P3 was really Conclusion 1. I also added for clarification Premise 3, and added the language that you left off your protases from P4 and your Conclusion. Now, you have an interesting argument for the existence of God which turns on the truth of Premise 2 and Premise 3.

You then mistakenly conclude by claiming that the three skeptics on the video were not wrong because “Something that exists by definition, exists necessarily, in precisely the same way that God exists necessarily. That is to say that it exists by definition. The atheists' argument goes right over the head of the religionist, who fails to understand that it is logically incoherent to think that you can define something into existence.” Something is not “necessary” because I define it to be “necessary” nor do ontological arguments define God into existence. Something is necessary because it is such that it cannot be otherwise. God, if he exists, must be necessary. A unicorn, flying spaghetti monster, etc. are not necessary no matter how you define them.

Plantinga’s conclusion begins with “If” for the same reason that the ontological argument you helped me create, above (I think I will call it the im-skeptical/BK Ontological Argument). We say it because it is part and parcel of what came earlier in the argument. In Plantinga’s case, it was premise 1 that began with “if”, so you cannot drop it later without being accused of dropping an important qualifier. Likewise, the im-skeptical/BK Ontological Argument also has “if” at the outset of Premise 3, and if I were to drop it later on you would certainly accuse me of fudging the argument (and I would, in fact, be doing so).

In my syllogism, I included the words "as defined" because they are essential to the argument. These words are clearly important for Plantinga's argument because without that qualifier, the whole argument is meaningless. God's existence is assumed to be necessary, because that's the way he is defined, and the entire argument is based on that fact. So any time Plantings says "God exists", he actually means "God exists as defined", and the same is true of my own formulation.

With that in mind, my P4 follows from my P3, and the conclusion follows from P4 (and you might note that I have little patience for spelling out minor steps that are obvious. I'd rather just get to the point. It is true that anything that exists in all possible worlds must exist in the actual world, and so must exist.) But at the same time, by including that qualifier in the argument, it still leaves open the alternate possibility - that God might not exist as defined (ie. either God is not necessary, or god doesn't exist at all).

Now, lets examine your formulation. Your P2 is unqualified. You don't even allow for the possibility that God might not exist as defined (ie. as a necessary being). You are saying that God is in fact necessary, and the immediate implication is that God exists. Do you can just dispense with the rest of the argument. You are done. But don't you think this begs the question?

I was trying to give Plantinga the benefit of the doubt by assuming that he does not beg the question as you have done. But that entails that the argument be formulated with the qualifier carried all the way through to the end. And if you want to avoid begging the question, you have to allow for some other possibility (as in God might not be a necessary being). Then if you can show that the alternate possibility isn't coherent, you will have succeeded in proving something. And this is something that neither you nor Plantinga has accomplished. But as it is, you are simply declaring that God exists as a necessary being, and there is no need to argue the point any further. Everything after your P2 is superfluous.

Okay, I know you are committed to the idea that Plantinga's ontological argument defines God into existence, so I see why you are insisting that it is an important part of your syllogism. Personally, I don't see it. First because the ontological argument doesn't define God into existence. Second, because you can add that to any argument.

P1: All men are defined as mortal.
P2: Socrates is defined as a man.
C1: Therefores, Socrates is defined as being mortal.

Yeah, it works, but it doesn't really add to the argument unless your point it to emphasize the definitional nature of any God and necessary beings, but all arguments depend upon definitions so you can add it to any argument. But since it is your argument, if you want to keep it weak, that's your prerogative.

As far as the im-skeptical/BK Ontological Argument, I don't agree with your criticism, but I do agree that by responding to your criticism the argument could be made better. So, I am refining it to read:

Premise 1: A necessary being is one that exists in all possible worlds.
Premise 2: If God exists, then He must be a necessary being.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, if God exists, then He exist in all possible worlds.
Premise 3: Anything that exists in all possible worlds exists in the actual world.
Premise 4: If God exists in all possible worlds, then God exists in the actual world.
Conclusion 2: If God exists in the actual world, then God exists.

Thank you for helping me refine it.

Premise 1: A necessary being is one that exists in all possible worlds.
- Fine.

Premise 2: If God exists, then He must be a necessary being.
- I will take this to mean that you are defining God as a necessary being. Therefore, in all subsequent cases where you say "if God exists" I must take that to mean "if god exists as a necessary being".

Conclusion 1: Therefore, if God exists, then He exist in all possible worlds.
- Only on the condition specified above. As I said, If God exists but is not a necessary being, then this conclusion is false.

Premise 3: Anything that exists in all possible worlds exists in the actual world.
- Fine.

Premise 4: If God exists in all possible worlds, then God exists in the actual world.
- Fine.

Conclusion 2: If God exists in the actual world, then God exists.
- OK. But remember, the existence of God here is predicated on God being defined as a necessary being. It could still be the case that God is not actually a necessary being, or that God simply doesn't exist. (In other words, it could be the case that your definition doesn't reflect reality.) In either case, this argument proves nothing. It boils down to: "If it is the case that God is a necessary being, then God exists." That's the same problem that Plantinga's argument has. There is nothing in your argument or his to substantiate the notion that God ACTUALLY IS a necessary being. That is nothing more than an assumption that both of you make. But I have no reason to accept it as true. I don't think God exists at all.

Thank you for the analysis. Of course the truth of the syllogism turns on the truth of the premises, and that is where the debate lies. I assert in the syllogism that if God exists, He must be a necessary being. But, of course, you are correct in saying that I haven't proven that he is a necessary being. That's the debate, isn't it? I say He would need to be a necessary being and you reject that. Maybe I need to write more about "necessary beings" in a future post.

He must be a necessary being. But, of course, you are correct in saying that I haven't proven that he is a necessary being. That's the debate, isn't it? I say He would need to be a necessary being and you reject that. Maybe I need to write more about "necessary beings" in a future post.


no. that is true by definition, .,that is not defining God into existence, it;s merely a fact that the concept of god we advocate is that of necessary being, you don't have to prove God is a necessary being, the whole point of the argument is that if you understand the meaning of the terms you know God can't fail to exist,

God does not come into existence because I dimness him as existing the terms indicate the kind of thing that has to exist.

Phil Stilwell said...

What is the evidence that something existing outside our universe is not impossible?

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