Did Anselm Get It Right?


#1

Just curious. Does anyone think St. Anselm’s ontological arguement successfully proves the existence of God?

Kordially,

Karl


#2

I do not. I am sure that there are some people who do.


#3

I think that it does when read in the context of the whole of the writing that it is encapsulated within. If you read the whole of the Prosologium the Ontological Argument is filled in.


#4

Hey bowser and mosher,

I’'ve been intrigued by Anselm and his argument for some time. He was successful in at least limiting the argument to one of meaning. He eliminated both empirical atheism and theism as possibilities. The only thing left to argue about is whether the idea of God makes sense. If it does, then one has to conclude that God exists necessarily. I would say, though, that Anselm didn’t quite get the job done with respect to proving his concept of God is meaningful. But I think that later philosophers were successful in doing so.

Bowser, I agree with Mosher that one has to read the whole of the Proslogion to get at Anselm’s strongest argument.


#5

I think St. Thomas Aquinas gave a better proof.


#6

Well, actually, it would be great if one of you could present the good (that is, enhanced by whatever other things in the Proslogion you find enhancing) form of Anselm’s argument. I’m only familiar with one version of his argument, and I don’t have the time to read the whole Proslogion right now. That done we might be able to discuss the argument; as it stands we can’t, since what the argument is, is not clear.


#7

[quote=EnterTheBowser]Well, actually, it would be great if one of you could present the good (that is, enhanced by whatever other things in the Proslogion you find enhancing) form of Anselm’s argument. I’m only familiar with one version of his argument, and I don’t have the time to read the whole Proslogion right now. That done we might be able to discuss the argument; as it stands we can’t, since what the argument is, is not clear.
[/quote]

the topic is controverted, but i think he might be talking about norman malcolm’s (there are others who agree, but he’s the most prominent) reading of the text, which locates what he considers to be the strongest argument in the Proslogion III - it’s a modal argument concerning necessity and possibility.

i don’t have the text to transcribe - either malcolm’s or anselm’s - but you might have some luck finding it (malcolm’s article was published in the Philosophical Review in 1960).

in a nutshell, though, malcolm argued that god’s existence is either necessary or impossible, and is impossible only if logically contradictory. and it isn’t, so he necessarily exists.


#8

Thanks John,

in a nutshell, though, malcolm argued that god’s existence is either necessary or impossible, and is impossible only if logically contradictory. and it isn’t, so he necessarily exists.

Anselm and his modern defenders like Malcolm and Hartshorne begin by saying that the only satisfactory way to think of God from a religious standpoint is to attribute greatness to Him. IOW, as my kids used to say: “He is the bestest!” If someone were greater then we would have to worship him instead. He has to be the greatest conceivable being. He has to be unsurpassable by anyone except Himself.

There are then two modes of existence, necessary (has to be) and contingent (possible could not be). Only the former is consistent with greatness. So God necessarily exists.

One can reject our presuppositions, but the position taken is not atheism as traditionally understood but the belief that the very idea of God doesn’t make sense. It does therefore seem that Anselm was successful in clearing a lot of ground in that he eliminated two possibilities: empirical atheism and theism. If the premises are correct, then these two positions must be confused. IOW, it wouldn’t make sense to find no objection to the idea of God but find the factual evidence to be lacking or negative (empirical atheism). Or find atheism to be logically unobjectionalbe but find that the factual evidence favors theism (empirical theism).

IOW, if belief in God’s existence makes sense, unbelief does not. those are the only two choices we are left with.

kordially,

karl


#9

I don’t think anyone has, or will, prove the existence or non-existence of God through any form of logical argument or philosophy. I’ve seen “proofs” for both the existence and non-existence but they’re all flawed at some point.

I always found philosophy of religion more interesting when it dealt not with the existence (or otherwise) of things, but the meaning of beliefs/dogmas/statements, and whether sets of beliefs/dogmas/statements could be logically cohesive - regardless of whether the unprovable beliefs were actually true.


#10

Hi Asteroid,

what is flawed about the ontological argument in its modal form?


#11

For those who don’t know the ontological argument it is the following:

That than which nothing greater can be concieved must exist.
God is that than which nothing greater can be concieved.
God must exist.

The problem with this is that it implies a necessity of a being that than which nothing greater can be concieved and even the relevant text in the Proslogion is inadequate in addressing this objection.

Another poster stated that St. Thomas did a much better job. I agree. In fact, I would say that St. Thomas has definatevely proved that God exists by necessity. However, it is not any of his so called “five ways of Thomas” that does this. Rather, it is the unity of the the five ways that seal the argument. Taken as individuals each has problems but those very problems are addressed in the other ways.


#12

I’ll get to more details of the modal arguments as soon as I can, but this is a busy week for me, so it could be a few days. That aside, I want to say: the words “greatest” or “best” or “most perfect” have been thrown around a lot. What do they mean?


#13

I love the ontological argument, but what St Anselm is saying essentially is that the existence of God is self-evident. I don’t believe that St Thomas found it adequate. In question 2 article 1 he writes:

A thing can be self-evident in either of two ways: on the one hand, self-evident in itself, though not to us; on the other, self-evident in itself, and to us. A proposition is self-evident because the predicate is included in the essence of the subject, as “Man is an animal,” for animal is contained in the essence of man. If, therefore the essence of the predicate and subject be known to all, the proposition will be self-evident to all; as is clear with regard to the first principles of demonstration, the terms of which are common things that no one is ignorant of, such as being and non-being, whole and part, and such like. If, however, there are some to whom the essence of the predicate and subject is unknown, the proposition will be self-evident in itself, but not to those who do not know the meaning of the predicate and subject of the proposition. Therefore, it happens, as Boethius says (Hebdom., the title of which is: “Whether all that is, is good”), “that there are some mental concepts self-evident only to the learned, as that incorporeal substances are not in space.” Therefore I say that this proposition, “God exists,” of itself is self-evident, for the predicate is the same as the subject, because God is His own existence as will be hereafter shown (3, 4). Now because we do not know the essence of God, the proposition is not self-evident to us; but needs to be demonstrated by things that are more known to us, though less known in their nature–namely, by effects.


#14

[quote=mosher]For those who don’t know the ontological argument it is the following:

That than which nothing greater can be concieved must exist.

Problem 1:

There is no good reason for this statement. WHY must it exist? I posit that it doesn’t have to. And just because I could perfectly conceive of something of which there was nothing greater does not mean that thing necessarily exists.

Just because we can posit the idea of an infinite God does not mean that the infinite God has to exist. The idea exists, but the God might or might not.

God is that than which nothing greater can be concieved.

Problem 2:

I cannot conceive God. I can only conceive an idea of God which, no matter how clever I am, is highly imperfect. Therefore something greater than the God I conceive could be conceived.

Problem 3:

I am now conceiving a being greater than God. I am conceiving a being greater than all since it not only from eternity brought forth the God of this universe but it from eternity brought forth the eternal Gods of all the other parallel universes that I am currently conceiving.

Yes, my conception of this ultra-powerful being is very imperfect. But so is my conception, or anyone’s conception, of God.

God must exist.

Conclusion

Since premise one is fundamentally flawed and unproven, and since premise two is fundamentally flawed on at least two grounds (our imperfect conception of God, and our being able to conceive, no matter how imperfectly, a being greater than God), the whole argument and original conclusion collapse.

Yes, I know my problem 3 sounds silly. Then again, have you read the discussions and stories people have come up with when discussing Anthony Flew’s Falsification Hypothesis? They are amazingly whacky and made college philosophy essays fun.

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#15

[quote=asteroid]I don’t think anyone has, or will, prove the existence or non-existence of God through any form of logical argument or philosophy. I’ve seen “proofs” for both the existence and non-existence but they’re all flawed at some point.
[/quote]

It certainly is possible to prove the existence of God. What, for example, are the logical flaws in the Five Ways described by Aquinas in the Summa? Aristotle, Aquinas, Augustine, etc. all proved God’s existence from His effects, a posteriori. While this does not prove all that Christians believe of God, it proves several important things. Namely, that God is necessary, immutable, eternal, uncaused, and His own act of existence. Consider Aquinas’ proof from Efficient Causality:

P1a) a given thing, A, is either caused or uncaused.
P2a) if A is caused, then A is caused by something other than A, namely, by B.
P3a) A is caused.
P4a) Therefore, A is caused by something other than A, namely, by B.

P1b) a given thing, B, is either caused or uncaused.
P2b) if B is caused, then B is caused by something other than B, namely, by C.
P3b) Bis caused.
P4b) Therefore, B is caused by something other than B, namely, by C.

P5) If ultimately there is no being, Z, that is an uncaused cause, then causality is impossible.
P6) Causality is possible.
Therefore, There is ultimately a being, Z, that is an unaused cause. (This is what we call God).

What is the flaw in this logic? Yet it demonstrates the logical necessity, if causation does exist, for a being that is an uncaused cause of all things.


#16

Well… let’s say that that thing, Z, turns out to colliding branes, or fluctuations in a quantum vacuum - whatever theoretical physicists are talking about these days. Would it really be reasonable to call such a thing God? Would it have a mind? Would it have desires and a will? There’s a major gap between the conclusion of this argument and even some sort of deism.


#17

[quote=EnterTheBowser]Well… let’s say that that thing, Z, turns out to colliding branes, or fluctuations in a quantum vacuum - whatever theoretical physicists are talking about these days. Would it really be reasonable to call such a thing God? Would it have a mind? Would it have desires and a will? There’s a major gap between the conclusion of this argument and even some sort of deism.
[/quote]

With all due respect, are you an expert in quantum mechanics? I am not. But I do know a little bit about it. And I know a little bit more about logic. NOTHING can reduce itself from potency to act. A thing that is potentially hot cannot become hot unless an agent heats it. A thing at rest cannot be induced to motion except by an agent in motion already. Hence Newton’s law of inertia. Would it be reasonable to call the Unmoved Mover a mind? Aristotle apparently thought so. He was not spiritual man, but he reasoned to the logical necessity of a Prime Mover as the ultimate source of all change and efficient causality, calling it “the Self-Thinking Thought.” Muddying the water with terms borrowed from Quantum Mechanics does little to engage the topics of philosophy and metaphysics, which underlie any meaningful science. In fact, I usually find that people who use them usually don’t understand them and use them more to bedazzle than to demonstrate anything substantial.

Like I said in a previous post, philosophy cannot prove everything that Christians hold about God. It is beyond philosophy because God is infinitely beyond us. We cannot understand him a priori, that is from His essence. We can only understand him from His effects, a posteriori. So to prove the Trinity, for example, is beyond the power of the human intellect. Read some Thomas Aquinas (I suggest ‘On Being and Essnce.’) or C.S. Lewis (I suggest ‘Miracles’) If you do, you will find that a convinced atheist is every bit as closed minded and dogmatic as a fideist.


#18

[quote=KBarn]With all due respect, are you an expert in quantum mechanics? I am not. But I do know a little bit about it. And I know a little bit more about logic. NOTHING can reduce itself from potency to act.
[/quote]

I am not an expert in quantum mechanics, nor, for that matter, in much of modern theoretical physics. But I do know a little. And I too know a little more about logic. Tell me - what logical system - I’m most familiar with classical logic, but I know a little about others - includes that last statement as an axiom or a theorem?

A thing that is potentially hot cannot become hot unless an agent heats it. A thing at rest cannot be induced to motion except by an agent in motion already. Hence Newton’s law of inertia. Would it be reasonable to call the Unmoved Mover a mind? Aristotle apparently thought so. He was not spiritual man, but he reasoned to the logical necessity of a Prime Mover as the ultimate source of all change and efficient causality, calling it “the Self-Thinking Thought.”

It seems to me that you’re arguing that every event has a cause, or that events can’t happen without causes, or something to that effect. Am I right? Incidentally, Aristotle thought a lot of stuff, including that his system of syllogistic logic was all there was to logic. But maybe he had a good argument here. So maybe it would be a good idea to present the argument, instead of appealing to authority.

Muddying the water with terms borrowed from Quantum Mechanics does little to engage the topics of philosophy and metaphysics, which underlie any meaningful science.

In one sense, yes, we’re going to need to look to philosophy to justify the methods of science. But when we start talking about cosmological arguments, then terms from theoretical physics - speculation about just what went on way back when - become mildly relevant.

In fact, I usually find that people who use them usually don’t understand them and use them more to bedazzle than to demonstrate anything substantial.

Okay.


#19

I am not arguing that every event has a cause. That is self-evident, otherwise the law of noncontradiction would be violated because a thing cannot be potential and actual in the same species at the same time. A thing cannot be cold (potentially hot) and actually hot at the same time. My argument is that the chain of causation that we witness daily is grounded in something which is itself an uncaused cause. I have no need to summarize Aristotle because the above (St. Thomas’ argument) actually does that, more or less. I am simply suggesting, yes, from tradition that a man need not be religious in any sense of the term to believe in God. Aristotle was not a religious man. To him, however, God (the Unmoved Mover and Self-Thinking Thought) was a logical necessity, the ground of all change and efficient causality. And while we Catholics believe that He is more than that, we admit that much of what Aristotle attributed to God was true, that reason can confirm what revelation proclaims.


#20

[quote=EnterTheBowser]Well… let’s say that that thing, Z, turns out to colliding branes, or fluctuations in a quantum vacuum - whatever theoretical physicists are talking about these days. Would it really be reasonable to call such a thing God?
[/quote]

no, perhaps not, but what’s your point? what causes the branes? what causes them to collide? what causes the fluctuations in the quantum vacuum? assuming you believe something like the copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics to be the best, what is it you find more appealing about that particular hermeneutic over and against, say, a bohmian hidden variables approach (not that they’re necessarily incompatible…)?

[quote=EnterTheBowser] Would it have a mind? Would it have desires and a will?
[/quote]

i’m pretty sure you and i have covered this ground before, but, yes, the uncaused cause must reasonably be supposed to have a mind and will: if not, then since the initial conditions for the existence of the universe have been around for all eternity, then the universe must also be eternal. but the universe cannot be eternal, since the expiration of an infinite number of sequential temporal moments is absurd…

[quote=EnterTheBowser]There’s a major gap between the conclusion of this argument and even some sort of deism.
[/quote]

there’s a (major) gap between the premises of any argument and its conclusion…again, what’s your point?


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