Archive for January, 2011

The Ontological Proof of the Existence of God?

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Anselm of Canterbury

I had a discussion tonight with the Professor. The Professor said that there is an ontological proof of the fact that there is a most perfect being (meaning God, of course).

Ontological proof? I thought, that already doesn’t sound too good.

“Look,” he said, “to prove it, let’s assume the opposite, that there is no most perfect being, in which case it means that there is another most perfect being, which is the proof that there is a most perfect being.”

“Huh?”  I hiccupped. “This is pure nonsense.”

“You don’t understand. If there is no most perfect being, then there must be a more perfect being, but since there can be no more perfect being than the most perfect being, this then is the proof that there is a most perfect being.”

“It’s still nonsense. Let’s say, ‘the most perfect being’ is A, and that it exists, is e. So you want to prove A(e). So you say, If not A(e), then B(e) – (where B is an even more perfect being), but since B cannot exist because nothing can be more than the most, then A(e) is true. And you say, this is an ontological proof, the proof of existence, that the existence of A is being implied by your argument. But there is no implication here whatsoever! No proof!”

“You think you are smarter than the great philosophers of the past 600 years? They see it as proof.”

“If so, they are wrong. This is no proof. The first statement, that a most perfect being exists, is a belief. Second, the negation of the existence of a most perfect being, could awaken the thought of a less perfect being just as well, which of course, does not imply whether a less perfect being exists or not. Also, I can conceive of a more perfect being than the most perfect being (which is indeed a paradox), but let’s not go into that now. Suffice to say, that by saying, there is no most perfect being, nothing is implied.”

“You are stupid,” says the Professor. “If you assume there is no most perfect being, then this implies that there is an even more perfect being, and this cannot be, so this is the proof, there must be a most perfect being.”

“OK. Let’s start from the bees and flowers. Your argument is like this: you want to prove that A exists. How? By assuming not-A, you say, if not-A, then B. B is impossible, so A must be true. It’s like saying, let’s prove that you are the smartest person in the world, by assuming that you are not the smartest person in the world which, according to you, implies that there is someone that is smarter, which cannot be true, so this is the proof that you are the smartest. Now what’s the difference between this argument and yours? The structure is the same, I only replaced the contents, but kept their structures. When you look at it this way, you see it is nonsense, because when you stated, ‘there is a most perfect being,’ you already believe in it, and need no proof of it. Logical proof is not dependent on beliefs, and if it relies on these, then it is not logical proof.”

“You don’t understand.”

“The negation of something that awakens a let’s say, an impossible association in your eyes, is no proof of the existence of this something you negated. Let’s say, you argue that there is ontological proof of the existence of the biggest number. Using your arguments, let’s say, there is no biggest number, which immediately awakens the association of there being a bigger number, which is not possible, so this the proof that there exists a biggest number?”

“You don’t understand.”

“If what you said was proof, then anything, but anything could be ‘proven.’ And then, ‘proof’ would be meaningless.”

“You don’t get it.”

And on and on it went…