The Ontologi-Kalam-alogical Argument

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

May 2, 2016

Is it logically possible that God exists? That is to say, is the concept of God logically incoherent or not? God is defined as “something which nothing greater can be conceived.” Or rather, in more idiomatic English: “God is the greatest conceivable being.” With this definition in mind, is there anything logically incoherent about the concept of a greatest conceivable being or a maximally great being (MGB)? Is the definition of God on the same logically fallacious level as married bachelors and triangles with four corners, or is this idea a logically coherent concept.[1]

Many atheists attempt to demonstrate that the idea of God, as a MGB, is logically incoherent once we factor in the existence of evil in the world. In fact, in the latest Batman v Superman movie, Lex Luthor confidently proclaimed: “If God is all-powerful He cannot be good, if God is good He cannot be all-powerful!” I previously demonstrated the flawed thinking in that argument in Lex Luthor’s Lousy Logic.

Most honest atheists in academia today have come to see the that evil does not logically disprove the existence of God (in fact, evil proves the existence of God demonstrated in the “Lex Luthor” article). Thus, they are willing to concede that God possibly exists (even though they do not think He probably actually does). In fact, even Richard Dawkins affirms the possible existence of God and exclaims: “THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE.”

Why does Dawkins say there is probably no God?[2] Because the concept of God is logically coherent; that is to say, it is possible that God exists.[3] There are many logically coherent (possible) things that probably do not exist. Things like unicorns and dragons could possibly exist, but we have good reason to think they probably do not. It is possible that extra terrestrial life exists in the universe. This is why SETI spends so much time trying to discover intelligent alien life. Be that as it may, there might be reason to think that although E.T. life is possible, it is (scientifically speaking) not probable. However, since unicorns and aliens are logically coherent concepts, it is correct to say that unicorns and aliens exist in “possible worlds.” Things like married bachelors, since the concept is logically incoherent, do not exist in any possible world. This leads us to the Ontological Argument.

The Ontological Argument

Many people today disregard the conclusions of the Ontological Argument (OA) for God’s existence because they claim it is based on “philosophical rhetoric,” or because they believe it is nothing more than a “logician’s trick.” Even as a Christian theist, I once thought the same thing about the OA, but I have recently had a change of heart (or mind). This is because I cannot find any logical errors within the argument. In fact, the OA is more philosophical proof that God exists!

There are several forms of the OA, and they usually focus on the idea of the possible existence of a “maximally great being” (what most of us call “God”). The argument usually looks something like this:

1- It is possible that God (Maximally Great Being) exists.
2- If it is possible that God (MGB) exists, then God (MGB) exists in some possible worlds.
3- If God (MGB) exists in some possible worlds, then God (MGB) exists in all possible worlds.
4- If God (MGB) exists in all possible worlds, then God (MGB) exists in the actual world.
5- If God (MGB) exists in the actual world, then God exists.

(Click here to listen to Inspiring Philosophy explain the Ontological Argument.) 

The OA is logically valid, and I am convinced that those rejecting it do so for either emotional reasons (they do not want God to exist) or because they misunderstand things like “possible worlds” or the rules of modal logic. Some squabble that this is “too easy” or “too good to be true.” My response is that if it is not true, it should not be this easy — as all parodies of the OA fail. Moreover, the OA is even stronger after examining arguments such as the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument and the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Consider the Kalam: it consists of two simple premises which reach a logically deductive conclusion. It goes as follows (click the argument below for more information):

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

1- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2- The universe began to exist.
3- Therefore, the universe has a cause.

This argument seems relatively uncontroversial; that is, until one makes rational inferences based on the logical conclusion. The universe is all space-time (including time and space), and all of its contents. It logically follows that whatever caused all of time and space to begin existing cannot exist in time or space logically prior to the existence of time and space. That is to say, causally (not chronologically) before time came into existence, the cause of time was timeless, and existed apart from time.

What’s the big deal? Well, if the cause of the universe (all time and space) existed apart from time, then, logically, the cause of the universe has no beginning (because a beginning necessitates time). This means that the cause of the space-time universe exists eternally.

It seems that things that actually exist eternally (with no beginning) must also exist necessarily. This is because the cause of spacetime would at least exist necessarily in an ontological sense and could not fail to exist apart from (dynamic) time. John Hick has demonstrated that a necessary thing must have the following essential properties:

– Eternal (with no beginning)
– Uncaused
– Indestructible
– Incorruptible

If time does not exist, then this cause of space-time can never be destroyed or corrupted since destruction and corruption are things that happen within a changing state of affairs which are not compatible apart from dynamic time. Since things do not happen apart from time (decay, for instance), then nothing could keep this cause of spacetime to begin existing as it never began to exist, and apart from time, nothing could stop this cause of the universe from existing.

With this in mind, consider what follows from three metaphysical principles we can derive from the Kalam:

1- Out of nothing, nothing comes — therefore, something exists necessarily.
2- An infinite regress of past events is impossible — therefore, there must have been a first event resulting from a static state of affairs.
3- Apart from time events do not happen unless a personal agent freely chooses to acttherefore, a personal agent exists necessarily.

With these metaphysical principles in place, it seems the cause of the space-time universe is metaphysically necessary. With this in mind, a reconstructed Ontological Argument based on the Kalam is as follows:

The Ontologi-Kalam-alogical Argument

1- It is logically possible that the cause of the universe the Kalam argues for exists (in a possible world).
2- If it is possible that the Kalam’s cause of the universe exists, then this cause exists necessarily in some possible world.
3- If this cause exists necessarily in some possible world, then this cause exists necessarily in all possible worlds (i.e., mathematical truths, logical laws, shape definitions, etc).
4- If this cause exists in all possible worlds, then this cause exists in the actual world.
5- If this cause of the universe exists in the actual world, then this cause of the universe (God) exists.

The “Onto-Kalam” argument hinges on premise (1) as the rest of the premises follow the rules of modal logic. For one to deny the logical conclusion of this argument, they must think that it is logically *impossible* for the cause of the universe (God) to exist. They must demonstrate this to be on the same logically fallacious level as married bachelors or three sided rectangles (like Lex Luthor tried, but failed, to accomplish). Until that is accomplished, one can logically conclude that God exists.

The Ontological Argument reminds me of quantum mechanics (QM). When I first started studying QM I rejected it as it seemed to violate my intuition, but the more I study QM the more it makes logical sense.[4] Similarly, at first glance the Ontological Argument is not convincing. However, if there is nothing logically incoherent with the concept of a being who cannot be improved upon, then this being logically would exist in all possible worlds, and that includes the actual world. Moreover, after first considering the cumulative case of the other arguments for the existence of God (the Kalam in this case)[5], one can see that the concept of a necessarily existing being is logically possible (if not probable) as a deductive argument has been made! Therefore, even if the Ontological Argument does not feel right, it is still logically valid and sound. Thus, one has good reason to reject their subjective feelings and follow the logical evidence wherever it leads.

Stay reasonable (Philippians 4:5),

Tim Stratton


NOTES

[1] In order to properly understand the Ontological Argument, it is vital to comprehend the difference between logical possibilities and metaphysical possibilities. Some, like Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, refer to this difference as “broad” and “strict” logical possibilities. This means something could be logically possible, but not metaphysically possible (or in Plantinga’s nomenclature, it is strictly logically possible but not broadly so). For example, as Randy Everist told me via email: “The ontological argument proves that it is broadly impossible for any world to exist apart from the existence of God; however, there is nothing strictly incoherent with the statement: ‘God does not exist.'” For further study, read William Lane Craig’s article: “Struggling with the Ontological Argument.”

Randy Everist clarifies:

“Strict logical possibility is achieved so long as there is nothing self-contradictory about it. Craig’s example is “the prime minister is a prime number;” this is strictly logically possible, but once we understand the terms involved, we quickly realize there is no metaphysically possible world in which a prime minister is a number; this is not really possible after all.”

Similarly, through the OA & KCA (or LCA) we see that it is metaphysically/broadly impossible for any strictly possible world to be actualized without an actualizer (MGB/God). So, it is logically possible that atheism is true in a strict sense, but once we understand all of the terms involved, it is IMPOSSIBLE (broadly speaking) for God not to exist if any of these worlds were to actually exist. It logically follows that if any world actually exists (including the one we actually exist in), then God exists.

[2] Here is what I call, “Richard Dawkins’ Ontological Argument“:

1- “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
2- Therefore, it is possible that God (Maximally Great Being) exists.
3- If it is possible that God (MGB) exists, then God (MGB) exists in some possible worlds.
4- If God (MGB) exists in some possible worlds, then God (MGB) exists in all possible worlds.
5- If God (MGB) exists in all possible worlds, then God (MGB) exists in the actual world.
6- If God (MGB) exists in the actual world, then God exists.
7- Therefore, God exists (Thank you, Richard Dawkins)!

[3] Some objectors to the Ontological Argument do not deny that the existence of God is possible, but rather, they question the modal intuitions that undergird it. These skeptics think that a person who does not already accept the conclusion of the OA will not have sufficient justification to say that God is really possible. This seems unreasonable. Although our modal intuitions are not infallible, they are really good guides to life. Moreover, without good reason to reject our modal intuition, it seems to be a form of ad hoc/special pleading. As Randy Everist has noted, “We use our modal intuitions all the time, in everyday circumstances. Why only now, at the question of God, do we abandon them, or say they are not reliable guides to truth?”

Read more regarding this specific issue in Randy Everist’s article: “What About Modal Intuitions?

[4] To begin a study regarding quantum mechanics, I recommend, “Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness,” by Bruce Rosenlum and Fred Kuttner of the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC).

[5] I actually think combining the Ontological Argument with the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument works better and is stronger than combining it with the Kalam. However, I like to start with the Kalam for two reasons (before moving to Leibniz):

1- The Kalam is easier to understand than the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument.

2- “Ontologi-Kalam-alogical” is so much fun to say! 🙂

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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