If it is even possible that God exists, then it follows logically that God does exist. Today, Barry Cooper walks us through Anselm’s famous argument for the existence of God.
If you’re currently standing up, you might want to sit. If you’re already sitting, you might want to lie down. And if you’re already lying down, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe take a couple of Advil.
Because you and I are going to think . . . about thinking.
Specifically, you and I are going to think about the ontological argument, which is an argument for the existence of God.
Ontology is the study of being. It attempts to lift up the rug of our lives and shine a light on what’s underneath. It exposes the unspoken assumptions that our lives rest upon. Studying ontology is a little bit like watching one of those behind-the-scenes documentaries, except that the subject is your own being.
So, what is the ontological argument for the existence of God?
It’s an argument that was first suggested by the Italian monk Anselm in 1078. Anselm was indifferent to Christianity as a younger man, but he was to become the archbishop of Canterbury and one of the church’s greatest theologians. By the way, he was also known for his concern for the poor and was an outspoken opponent of the slave trade. But he’s perhaps best remembered for being the originator of the ontological argument.
And here it is. Anselm said, if it is even possible that God exists, then it follows logically that God does exist.
Here’s what he meant. God can be defined as a “maximally great being.” Maximally powerful, maximally knowing, and maximally moral. A perfect 10 in every respect. If you can think of another being who is more powerful or more knowing or more moral, then that being is God instead. By definition, God must be a “maximally great being.”
Now, here’s where it gets interesting.
A being is greater if it actually exists than if it doesn’t exist.
So, suppose that this being, of which none greater can be conceived, didn’t exist. Well, that would mean that we can conceive of a greater being—one who did exist would be greater than one who didn’t exist. So, the being of which none greater can be conceived must actually exist; otherwise, it wouldn’t be maximally great.
Now, some philosophers have said that Anselm’s argument doesn’t quite work for them as far as they’re concerned. So they’ve modified it slightly, and they’ve done that by using the concept of “possible worlds.” The actual world is just one of all possible worlds. The actual world, of course, is this one, the one in which you are currently listening to this particular episode of this particular podcast, while presumably nursing a significant headache.
This, unfortunately enough for you, is the actual world. A possible world is one way things could have been, if things had been different.
Now, even if we’re atheists, most of us would agree that it’s possible—just possible—that there is a maximally great being. That means that in one possible world, there really is a maximally great being.
But if it really is a maximally great being, it would have to be that way not just in one possible world but in all possible worlds. By definition, a being cannot be maximally great in only one possible world. It can only be maximally great if it is so in all possible worlds—including the actual world.
Therefore, God must exist in the actual world.
That, dear listener, is the ontological argument for the existence of God. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for a lie down.