Thursday, April 14, 2005


"The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'"
Psalm 14:1

"If the absolute, underived, independent and perfect being does not exist, then man's universal necessary concept of God (the most profound and fundamental concepts of which He is capable of thinking) is null and void. Therefore, man's mind is illogical and ineffective in its very make-up. If that is true, then all of man's thinking is insane and futile. Can we accept that? If we conclude that mankind is rational, is it possible that so universal concept as that of God be based on illusion?" - from my Christian Evidence class notes, Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver.

Thanks to Anselm of Canterbury, England (1033-1109) for developing what is called the Ontological Argument. In simplest terms, it says that God exist because man has the idea of God. If God did not exist, then man would not imagine Him. To illustrate, try to think of the seventh sense. What is it? You can't imagine it because it doesn't exist. The most man can come up with in this area is somehow related to what man already knows. Imagine what aliens might look like and they are usually described with similar features of human life: a head, eyes, arms, legs, etc. Skeptics respond by saying that the concept of God arises from the imagination, nothing more. Let's look at the Ontological argument in quick successive points, and then we'll come back and elaborate on each step.

1. God is the being than which nothing greater is possible or imaginable.
2. It is true that the idea of God exists in your mind or thought.
3. It is possible that God may exist in reality.
4. If God exist in the mind, and may have existed in reality, then God might have been greater than He is.
5. Therefore God (that exist now in the mind) is a being which a greater IS possible.
6. This is not possible because God is the being than which none greater is possible.
7. Therefore God exists in reality as well as in the mind.
(borrowed from

First, let's begin with a discussion over the definition: "a being than which nothing greater is possible." Men have had lesser gods, by why when informed, would anyone settle on anything less than perfection? The God who is fair and perfect in judgment is superior to a god that womanizes and is given to temper tantrums. God, as defined by Anselm, is greatest in every way; He is more perfect than anything. Some attack the argument at its base by saying that the same reasoning could be used to justify the greatest potato, or golfer, or island. They mock and insist that simply imagining something doesn't make it real; that because they imagine a potato "than which nothing greater is possible", that it does not make for the actual existence of a "super potato". The problem with this attack is that we could never really know if we had found the "super potato". Thomas Aquinas answered this objection stating that "necessary existence" (required of God to be a being than which nothing greater is possible, DM) cannot apply to ordinary (finite, DM) things because they go in and out of existence.1 A finite being like an island or a potato, going in and out of existence, has contingent existence. Aquinas means that these things are fixed and have limited traits. It would be illogical to apply the essential qualities of God to something of this physical realm. Imagining the "super potato", it would be reasonable to assume that it would still be a potato, and would thus have the function of a potato. What else would we imagine of it? Would it be big enough to feed the world? Would it never rot? Would it cook itself? Would it stop all disease? Would it judge the world in righteousness! This method of attacking the Ontological argument, of applying it to contingent beings, is that we CAN'T really imagine a super potato, a super golfer, or a super island "than which nothing greater is possible." If any one of these things actually rose to the definition which Anselm gave to God, then the potato, golfer, or island would be God. There cannot be a potato God that is equal to God. Physical things like potatoes, golfers, and islands pass in and out of existence and they cannot possibly rise to the definition of something "than which nothing greater is possible." Thus we come back to the definition. Since God is the being than which nothing greater is possible, then God has no rivals.

Second, the Ontological argument addresses the fact that man has within himself the notion or idea of God, a single God. Historians such as C.S. Lewis, W.F. Petrie, and Sir William Ramsey all testify that in the earliest civilizations, monotheism predates polytheism. This is notion or thought of God includes the ideas of perfection in justice, love, power, etc,. Here, the notion or idea of God is being distinguished from the possibility of God actually existing. It is not arguable that within man is the persistent belief in God. That man is "incurably religious" is seen as evidence that man does have within him the notion of God. The skeptic might deny that he has ever had within himself the idea or notion of God. But denying the existence of God, which is what the skeptic does, is different than denying the notion of God: he has the notion of God.

Third, it is possible that God may or might exist in reality. Where point 2 discussed how God exists in man's thoughts, this third point explores the possibility that God may exist in reality. Why do we say that God "may or might" exists in reality? Because actual existence is better than a notion or thought. If God exists in the mind, then we have to allow for the possibility that he exists for real. If the definition of God is valid, that he is a being "than which nothing greater is possible," then existence is better than a concept. On this point, there is certainly reason to believe that God is more than just a notion, a myth, a fanciful idea. Man, predominantly speaking, is "incurably religious" and does have within himself the idea of God. Maybe this belief is provoked by the apparent order and design found in the world. Anselm was first moved to his conclusion after reading the words of the Psalmist: "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" We also have Psalm 19:1 and Romans 1:20ff which speak of what men already know: God is evident by observing the visible world.

Fourth, the argument builds on the idea that actual existence is greater than a thought--a real banana is better than the notion of one. Now, if God exists only in the mind, and if God might have existed in reality, then God "only in the mind" is not as great as He might have been by actually existing. The argument turns on the idea of "necessary existence." If God is the being "than which nothing greater is possible", then existence must be one of the attributes. The greatest possible being does not pass in and out of existence: his eternal nature requires "necessary existence", which is essential if He is also to have other perfect attributes. The greatest concept of God is one that exists in reality. God must therefore exists in reality and in the mind.

The Ontological Argument has many critics. It is not as easy to explain and understand as are the Teleological or Cosmological arguments. But the Ontological argument is bolstered by these other arguments that show that life arising by purely naturalistic means is improbable.

1 Ontological Argument, on March 22, 2005

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