Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Irrefutable Ontological Argument for G-d

I like to read sophisticated arguments for G-d's existence. The Prosblogion is one of the better places to get these. It's a philosophy of religion site for real philosophers, the kind who do hard-nosed logical reasoning. These guys are good and I respect them a lot.

Here's "An Irrefutable Ontological Argument" from Mike Almeida, who is one of the ring-leaders over there.

I mean to beg no questions in claiming that (1) is an easily observed a priori truth.

1. <>(Ex)(x is maximally excellent & x is necessarily existing).

I do not take the proposition that x is maximally excellent to (obviously) entail that x is omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent or creator of everything that exists. I take (1) to entail that there is something that necessarily exists and is such that there is nothing that is more excellent (than it).

Still, observing that (1) is true is important. Now we avoid altogether the hackneyed objection that, “well, it is possible that a maximally excellent being does not exist, too”. The only question in dispute is what are the maximally excellent compossible properties.

But that too is an avoidable question. There are only certain sets of properties that we are actually concerned about and we can, without begging any questions, focus on them. Observe that it is equally undeniable that there is some degree K of knowledge that (more or less closely) approximates omniscience, some degree P of (essential) power that approximates omnipotence, some degree G of (essential) goodness that approximates (essential) omnibenevolence such that Px & Kx & Gx are compossible with necessary existence, Nx. So, the only question that is open is what is the greatest degree of each that is compossible with necessary existence. Let’s put it more exactly, quantifiying over degrees of such properties and beings that might possess them.

1. <>(EK)(EP)(EG)(Ex)([]Kx & []Px & []Gx & Nx)

(2) states that there is some maximally excellent set of compossible properties. Since those properties are compossible, they are obviously instantiated in some world. But then the being that instantiates those properties actually exists. Such a being actually exists, but what being is it? We can rule out human beings, each of whom has those properties to some degree, but none of whom necessarily exists. We can rule out any natural being, since every natural being contingently exists. We can rule out abstract beings such as numbers, properties, propositions and the like, each of which has necessary existence but none of which has the remaining properties. It’s beginning to look like any being satisfying all of those properties would have to be non-natural or supernatural, since there is no natural being that has the property of necessary existence and there is no abstract object that has the properties P, K, or G. Call that being God-.

Notice the difficulty in attempting to refute that there is such a maximally excellent being. You would have to show that every interesting degree of K, P and G fails to be compossible with N. I submit that there is no reason to believe that there isn’t some interesting degree of those properties that is compossible with necessary existence. Now imagine believing that this supernatural being God- exists, but refusing to believe that God exists. That would be strange.

Addendum
I think several commentators have misread the initial premise and not quite followed the argument thereafter. The proposition in (1) states (just) that there is some necessarily existing thing, and this thing is, in some deliberately unspecified sense, a maximally excellent thing. I’m happy to say that it is at least as good as any other necessarily existing thing. Maybe none of them has any value at all. So, if there are abstract objects that are at least as good as any other necessarily existing thing (maybe at least as good as any other abstract object), then (1) is true.

That’s the first step in the argument. I explicitly skip all talk of the value or greatness of this being. I say “the only question in dispute is what are the maximally excellent compossible properties” and quickly add “but that too is an avoidable question”.

The argument is now captured in one question: what is the greatest degree of Px, Kx, and Gx that is compossible with necessary existence? That’s all I ask. I note that I’ve never seen an argument that shows (or even attempts to show) that every interesting degree of Px, Kx, and Gx is incompossible with Nx.

My conclusion is effectively that the psychological obstacles that (I think) inhibit nontheists from believing in God are removed once the nontheist believes that there is something God-ish in existence. And I do think that most of the reasons that keep nontheists from believing are psychological reasons (not epistemic ones).
I don't buy this argument, but I don't quite have the language to express why. I just don't see why Almeida's first proposition is acceptable on its face. Almeida concludes that "that the psychological obstacles that (I think) inhibit nontheists from believing in God are removed once the nontheist believes that there is something God-ish in existence."

But here's the problem: I don't believe there is something God-ish in existence. I think it's false to suggest so because calling something "God-ish" is nothing other than an imposition of human-derived values and qualities onto/into the universe.

If Almeida is trying to reach people who want to believe, then I guess I see where he's going. To believe in God you have to believe in the natural existence of qualities like benevolence, knowledge, justice, and so on. And you have to believe that these qualities are stable. These are nice fairy tales and quite sophisticated, but as always reality butts in and levels it all. I fail to see any reason behind the natural, as opposed to the social, existence of the so-called Godly qualities.

Almeida's final statement bothers me because it presumes that non-theists should believe - that belief is the natural, default or desired state, and it would happen only if some psychological obstacles were removed. I don't think this is true at all. I look at my 6-year-old daughter accumulating religious doctrine, including xian doctrines on Satan, and I see the whole religious worldview as potentially derailing her ability to address reality rationally. Religious belief, and its accompanying way of looking at the world, does not come about naturally, it gets introduced and drummed into people. There's only something God-ish in existence after a God concept gets fed into a person.

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