The Ontological Argument is a method by which one could prove the existence of God by appealing to the very nature of God as a Maximally Great Being.  Alvin Plantinga, one whom which I think has formulated the most convincing argument, constructed it in this manner:

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
  2. A maximally great being has to be omniscient, omnipotent, and holy.
  3. If [1 and 2], It is possible that a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
  4. If [3], It is possible that a maximally great being exists in all possible worlds.
  5. If [4], It is possible that a maximally great being exists in the actual world.
  6. If [5], therefore, a maximally great being exists.

This argument is terribly confusing at first.  Of all the arguments for the existence of God, I find the Ontological Argument to be the most difficult to grasp and yet, once one understands it, I think it is very likely that he’ll fall in love with this argument like I did.  In fact, I think this is the single most powerful intellectual argument for the existence of God.

While William Lane Craig will disagree with me on this, it seems to me that Premise 3 of the argument is the most controversial one.  The third premise aims to show that existing in reality is a “great making” property and therefore, to exist in reality makes a being greater than to simply exist in the mind.  So much so that if one could conceive of a maximally great being in his mind, by definition of maximally great, one has to also affirm that this maximally great being should exist in reality.

Some who aims to discredit this argument would often use one of the two popular recourse.

The first is to parody the argument by imagining a maximally great island (ex. Gaunilo’s refutation of Anselm’s Ontological Argument).  What proponents of this refutation fails to recognize however is that a “being” as a noun attributed by “maximally great” is not the same as an “island”.  What the theist can do to counter this argument is to simply raise questions/doubts about the existence of such an island.  You see, the second premise of Plantinga’s argument sets the measuring rod upon which one can draw the line between maximal greatness of a being and its lesser alternatives.  Holiness, Omniscience, and Omnipotence are “great making” properties by which is inattributable to the maximally great island.  Further, it seems to me that it is impossible to conceive of a maximally great island.  For instance, is a maximally great island the most conducive for vacation? Or should it have the best beach? Or the best business opportunity? Or the greatest amount of concentration of wildlife?

There really isn’t a clear measuring rod by which one can deduce the existence of such.  Thus, in order for such parodies of the Ontological Argument to find validity, their proponents have to show what are the means of measurement to differentiate maximal greatness from its inferior alternatives.

Another means by which one can try to avoid the Ontological Argument is to reverse it by saying:

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being does not exist.
  2. If [1], It is possible that a maximally great being does not exist in all possible worlds.
  3. If [2], It is possible that a maximally great being does not exist in the actual world.
  4. If [3], therefore, a maximally great being does not exist.

The limitation however of this line of defense is that it fails to understand that premise 3 of the Ontological Argument assumes that existing in reality is a “great making property.” A maximally great being cannot be maximally great if it doesn’t exist in reality because it is possible for one to conceive of such a being that does exist in reality and therefore the latter is obviously a greater being than the former.

Thus, this defense shoots itself in the foot by failing to recognize the intent of the argument it attempts to refute.

To me personally, the Ontological Argument is a crown jewel.  It is the most amazing argument for the existence of God in that it is simply inescapable.  It is, even more amazingly, the glue that binds all other arguments for God’s existence together.  By other arguments I mean the cosmological, the teleological, the moral and the argument from miracles.  Of course, there are more less popular arguments.  But those four, including the Ontological Argument, are overall the most compelling.

Yeah, this is a bit of technical babbling from me.  But sometimes, it helps to put one’s thoughts into words.

 

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