Monday, April 11, 2016

Non-Belief, Pt. 16: The Maximally Great Ontological Argument

As William Lane Craig puts it:
1. It is possible that a maximally great being (God) exists.
2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being 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. Therefore, a maximally great being exists in the actual world.
6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.
7. Therefore, God exists.

As I understand it, that's basically Plantinga's version of the ontological argument for the existence of God. I don't know if it's become more popular these days, or if I've just happened to run into it more often lately, but I thought I'd post a few comments.

Note that I'm not a philosopher, and I've had absolutely no training in philosophy. Still, that's never stopped me. Heh, heh. Anyway, I previously commented about "Proving God through Philosophy," and I stand by what I said there.

Frankly, it sounds ludicrous to me that there's an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent Creator of the Universe - a god who really, really wants us to believe that he exists - but you can find zero evidence of that, no evidence that he does anything at all in our universe, and all you've got are word games to convince people otherwise.

How can this even make sense to you? If that god existed, we wouldn't be arguing about it. If that god existed, we'd have abundant evidence to that effect. If that god existed, he'd make sure that we knew it and that we knew which god it was. (We could still reject him, so don't give me any of those ludicrous 'freewill' arguments.)

However, today I'm going to comment on this particular argument - again, from my layman's perspective. I make no pretense to be an expert here. Far from it!  But I've been hearing this argument a lot lately, and it just makes no sense to me at all. (If you disagree, please comment.)

1. It is possible that a maximally great being (God) exists.

Right from the start, I disagree with the premise because Craig, and other apologists, haven't demonstrated that it's true.

To begin with, how is he defining "great" here? If we look at two different people, which one is "greater" than the other? Do you think that any of us would agree about that? "Great" in what way? No one is greater than every other person in every possible way. (That would be an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence, certainly.)

Obviously, "great" is an extraordinarily vague word. "Great" can mean many different things. Unless you define it in such a way that we could come to a consensus about who is the "greatest" person on Earth, for example, isn't it too vague to have any real meaning at all?

After all, this is supposed to be a proof. How can you prove anything at all when we don't even know what you mean (not with any kind of precision, at least)? Craig is just defining his god as the "maximally great being," but that doesn't actually tell us anything. It certainly doesn't demonstrate that it's true.

But there's an even bigger problem with that statement. Craig hasn't demonstrated that it is possible that a "maximally great being," whatever that means, exists.

Human beings regularly confuse the word "possible" with the more accurate statement, "I don't know if it's possible." Not everything is possible.

Personally, I don't know if the existence of a "maximally great being" is possible or not. Partly, that's because I don't know what is even meant by that, not with any precision at all, but also, it's because he hasn't demonstrated that it is possible.

So, right from the start, I can't accept his premise. And thus, there's really no reason for me to continue here. If his premise is flawed, the argument fails. But I'll continue, anyway. I won't let you off the hook that easily. :)

2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.

How does he know that?

Craig doesn't go into that (not at this link, at least), but only says that "a being is greater if it exists necessarily rather than contingently." In other words, a being is "greater" if it actually exists. (Of course, if it doesn't exist, it isn't a "being" at all, so that's a meaningless statement.)

This is just playing word games, isn't it? I don't grant the premise, but if I did agree that it was possible, that would only mean that it was possible for a maximally great being to exist... somewhere in reality.

It wouldn't mean that such a being did exist. And it wouldn't mean that there are necessarily multiple worlds, either.

Note that we don't know if our universe is the only universe, and it's very common to confuse different meanings of the word "universe" (sometimes, we use "universe" to mean "everything that exists," which may or may not include more than our own universe).

A "possible world" is,... what, a universe that may or may not exist? Again, he hasn't demonstrated that other universes are possible. They might be possible, or they might not be possible. I don't know, and he doesn't, either.

I don't know. I suppose I might accept "hypothetical universe" as a substitute phrase? That, at least, indicates that such universes are pure speculation.

If, on the other hand, he means "world" to mean "everything that exists," then he hasn't said anything that he didn't already say in statement #1. He's just repeating what he claimed then, and I'll refer you to my response to that.

3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

This seems to make absolutely no sense whatsoever. He's saying that, if it's possible for a maximally great being to exist, then a maximally great being does exist? That's just ludicrous.

Of course, I haven't agreed that it is possible, since I don't know if it's possible or not. But if it's possible for leprechauns to exist, does that mean that they do exist, then?

If it's possible for unicorns to exist - and it is possible, as far as I can tell, since we could probably genetically-engineer horses using technology that exists today - does that mean that unicorns do exist? Of course not!

This makes so little sense that I have to wonder how anyone can make such a claim. I assume that it's based on his definition of "maximally great," but again, that's just defining a god into existence, not demonstrating that a god really does exist.

4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
5. Therefore, a maximally great being exists in the actual world.
6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.
7. Therefore, God exists.

The rest of these are just conclusions resulting from those first three flawed premises. Since I don't accept any of them - for the reasons I stated above - I certainly can't accept the conclusions based on them.

But how can anyone  takes this argument seriously? That's what I wonder. I suppose it sounds impressive, if you don't think about it much (and you really, really want to believe that your god exists). But I just can't imagine how anyone can take it seriously. How can even William Lane Craig take it seriously? (Admittedly, he doesn't have anything else, huh?)

Besides, note that, even if it were true, it wouldn't get Christian apologists very far. For me to accept Christian mythology, they would have to demonstrate (1) that a god exists, (2) that it's their particular 'God' which exists, and (3) that they know what that god thinks and wants from us human beings.

So, even if this argument were valid, at best it would only get them one-third of the way (and that's putting it generously!). Even if this were true, it would only get them to deism, not Christianity. A generic 'god' isn't what any of them really care to prove - it's certainly not what Craig wants to prove - and it wouldn't have any implications for our world and our society, anyway.

***

Hmm,... just for fun, maybe I'll try my own ontological argument:
1. It is possible that a maximally great turd exists.
2. If it is possible that a maximally great turd exists, then a maximally great turd exists in some possible toilet.
3. If a maximally great turd exists in some possible toilet, then it exists in every possible toilet.
4. If a maximally great turd exists in every possible toilet, then it exists in your toilet.
5. Therefore, you need to flush your toilet.

___
PS. Note that my other posts in this Non-Belief series can be found here.

2 comments:

Russ said...

Honestly, I agree that you could draw the line at point 1.

However once you get past point 2, the rest of the argument works. It's the first two points that throw it off..

Perhaps with a re-wording it would become viable?

1. It is possible -With evidence- that a maximally great being (God) exists.

For fun, let's allow Holy Books as evidence.

2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible timeframe.

With three words, we can support a line of logic through the argument.. and ensure the end of days are -very- interesting.

7. Therefore, -all the- Gods exists.

Bring the Popcorn as Yahweh, Allah, Zeus, Odin, and hosts of others settle in for a grudge match of who claims which un/true believers for which afterlife.

WCG said...

Heh, heh. Nice!

It's true that "maximally great" (whatever that's supposed to mean) doesn't seem to imply just one being.

If there's a maximum on how "great" a being can be, do you end up with a whole bunch of gods stuck together at the dead-end of "great"?