• Alwia

A Fool’s Guide to the Existence of God- Part one, the ontological argument

It’s no secret that many individuals around the world are gradually losing touch with religion, spirituality and God.  This is bound to happen, because unfortunately many believers around the world have no idea why they believe in God in the first place. This is especially dangerous for those living in the West who lack the knowledge needed to to defend their belief in God in a logical and intellectual manner; especially in the face of atheism. I’m not here to preach or convince anyone of the existence of God. I’m writing this post for the simple reason that believers are often patronised and mocked by some non-believers and nothing frustrates more than having my intelligence undermined by a sarcastic atheist.

In fact, a few other things frustrate me too. Like ignorant believers who make all the rest of us look stupid for believing in God or even worse, ignorant sarcastic atheists who know nothing about the complexities of the debate surrounding the existence of God.

So let me enlighten both sides, and what better way to start than with this regal face:

St Anselm of Canterbury who devised what we call now the ‘ontological’ argument for the existence of God.

So what’s really cool about this argument is that it arrives to the existence of God simply by analysing the actual concept of God. This is called an a priori and analytical argument, which is a fancy way of saying that the argument is not based on observations of the world or our experiences.

And the argument goes like this:

Anselm’s First Argument

1-      God is by definition that which nothing greater can be conceived. This definition is understood by believers and non-believers.

2-      It is one thing to exist in the mind alone and another to exist both in the mind and in reality.

3-      It is greater to exist in the mind and in reality than to exist in the mind alone.

4-      Therefore, God must exist in reality as well as in the mind. If God did not, then we could conceive of one who did and he would be greater than God.

Anselm here is moving from the idea that the existence of God is de dicto necessary – which means he necessarily exists in the world of language and then moves on to argue that God is de re necessary – as in he literally exists.

Anselm’s Second Argument

  1. God is the greatest possible being (nothing greater can be conceived)

  2. It is greater to be a necessary being (a being that cannot not be) than a contingent being (a being that can cease to exist-basically a being that can die)

  3. If God exists only as a contingent being and can therefore be imagined not to exist, then a greater being could be imagined that cannot be conceived not to exist.

  4. This being would then be greater than God.

  5. God is therefore a necessary being.

The argument can take some time to digest but is good at showing the illogical nature of disbelieving in the existence of God. But it has its weaknesses and it’s only fair that I mention them too:

1-      For one, it’s not necessary to buy into the classical Judaeo-Christian and Islamic definition of God. It’s possible to believe that God is not perfect or all powerful. And so you could imagine a greater God without falling into a contradiction.

2-      The philosopher Gaunilo also argued that if somebody was to describe the most perfect island lost somewhere and untouched by man and then state that it must exist because of its perfection you would be a fool to believe him.

3-      Kant argued that adding reality to a concept does not make it any better. For example describing somebody as tall adds to our understand of that person but describing somebody as existing does not.

4-      Hume also argued that you can describe something using every single detail possible but you will still have to go beyond the description to see whether or not it exists.

So in conclusion a thing cannot be defined into existence.

The debate goes on, and it would take several posts just to discuss this one argument. You’ll find that throughout these posts, each argument has its weaknesses. No one argument for the existence of God can support belief on its own. But together they offer a more compelling argument, which is why its important to have an idea of each of them. There is one important point though that needs to be highlighted presently which is:

God does not exist tangibly in the physical world and therefore there can never be actual scientific or physical evidence for His existence.  There can be signs in the world that lead us to Him, but God cannot be found in the way you can go out and find a species of bird. What this means is although believers cannot offer physical evidence for God’s existence, atheists also cannot physically  prove that he does not exist, because God is beyond the physical world and so out of the reach of science.

This is important to remember. The game that is being played here is a game of looking for signs, interpretation and philosophy. An atheist who is completely confident that God does not exist, has not understood this.   You should keep this in mind when thinking about the arguments I’ll be addressing. Keep an open mind, analyze both sides of the argument and decide for yourself which side  has ‘less weaknesses’, as even the counterarguments have weaknesses of their own.


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