Comments on "ontological"

[Hide] original entry

Consider, if you will, an argument for theism than which no worse can be conceived.

What would such an argument be like? Well, arguments that merely fail to provide any support whatever for their conclusions are two a penny; a worst conceivable argument for any proposition must surely be one that actually conclusively refutes the proposition it's meant to support.

Now, the worst conceivable argument for theism clearly exists in the understanding. But it cannot exist only there, for so bad an argument is of course worse (because more destructive) if it is actually made; so if it existed only in the understanding then a worse would be conceivable, which is a contradiction.

Therefore, there is an argument for theism which is in reality a conclusive refutation of theism.

But a belief that can be conclusively refuted is false. Therefore there is no God.

Note: Yes, of course the above is entirely ridiculous, and in particular I am of course not suggesting that it actually offers the slightest reason for rejecting theism.

On 2009-12-06 at 01:43:13, mathew said:

Oh, that's awesome.

On 2009-12-06 at 17:14:14, g said:

Thanks! It seems (after the fact) such an obvious line to follow that I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that someone's done it before. But I did do at least a quick google without finding prior art :-).

On 2009-12-08 at 11:41:11, James Cranch said:

(In the following comment I shall adopt a stylised and incorrect meaning of the word "prove".)

In the past I had experimented with replacing "good" with other adjectives (or adjectival phrases) in the ontological argument.

I enjoyed pointing out to people that if you replace "good" with "horrible", you can prove that the most horrible possible entity exists. Those religious people who believed the ontological argument nodded sagely and said that that must be the Devil. I asked which of God and the Devil (in the forms proven to exist) was the more powerful. I smelled a contradiction somewhere in their answer.

But I also tried things like replacing "good" with "reminiscent of how Marilyn Monroe would have looked had she lived until 1997" and managed to prove that Marilyn Monroe didn't die in the early sixties.

It's a very powerful tool for proving things.

On 2009-12-08 at 20:44:37, g said:

The idea of using ontological arguments to "prove" the existence of entities maximizing all sorts of objective functions has been around for a while. (The earliest known objection to the ontological argument, I think, is from a chap called Gaunilo who used it to "prove" that a Most Perfect Island exists. Why an island? Search me.)

Another nice variant I've seen goes something like this: As the ontological argument obviously shows, there is a most perfect conceivable being. But now, consider: traditionally the creation of the universe is reckoned one of God's greatest and most impressive feats. But an impressive achievement is generally thought even more impressive when it is achieved despite some very difficult handicap. So God (being as perfect as is conceivable) must have created the universe despite the greatest conceivable handicap, which is surely that of total nonexistence. Hence, God created the universe but does not exist.

Of course flimflam like the ontological argument isn't anyone's real reason for believing in God. Which would do more to bolster up my faith in human reasonableness if the real reasons weren't so often just as unsatisfactory.

On 2009-12-27 at 16:16:09, James Cranch said:

I don't doubt you're correct. But has any serious study been done to find what peoples' reasons are, at least in the UK? Or at least, to find what people claim as their reasons (which is a very different thing)?

The common ones that I've heard fall into two categories: "I read the Bible and became convinced through internal evidence that it was completely true", and "Of course he exists; I chat to him all the time". But my sampling procedure, which is to ask friends occasionally, is rather biased.

Post a comment:

Name:(will be shown with comment)
Email:(will be kept private)
Web page:(optional; will be linked from your name)
Secret word:(the secret word is two plus two)

You may use Markdown to format your comment, or just include HTML tags. All comments are moderated, so don't waste your time trying to abuse this.