Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ontological Argument for Existence of God

The first ontological argument for existence of God was developed by the Benedictine monk of Canterbury Anselm who was born in 1033 and died in 1109. Now before you understand his argument in his own words it’s important to understand what ontology means. Ontology in simple terms is a branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being.  
Saint Anselm (1033-1109)

This is how St Anselm explains his argument for existence of God  

The fool said in his heart, ‘There is no God,’ but certainly that same fool having heard just what I said, “Something(God) greater than which cannot be thought," understands what he heard. What he understands is in his thought, but it cannot exist only in thought, for if it only exist in thought it could also be thought of as existing in reality which is greater.

In simple words he is trying to say that what exist only in mind is less than what exist in mind and also in reality. Since God is the greatest being He can not just exist in mind, it will have to necessarily exist in reality too. 

He developed his argument which is deductive. A deductive argument is one that starts from certain hypothesis or premise which are true or considered to be true and logically draws conclusions based on those premiss. 

An example of Deductive reasoning is as follow, 

Premise 1: All men are mortal
Premise 2: I am a man
Conclusion: Therefore I am mortal

St Anselm's real argument has been set forth in two parts.

Premise 1 : By definition God is the greatest conceivable being. 

The first statement is the definition of God which is the assumption on which the whole argument rests. It is of course valid proposition that if you want to understand God or want to argue whether God exist or not than first you will have to define what God means. Without this definition nobody can prove whether God exist or not. Thus St Anselm defines God as most of us understand God. According to him God is an all powerful, all knowing, all moral being. In fact God is something that has infinite qualities and nothing is greater than God.

All of us would have to agree on this definition of God. In short this is what we mean by God.

Premise 2 : If he only existed in mind he would not be the greatest being. 

Now if someone says that okay I agree with you that this is the most comprehensible and valid definition of God, but it can be simply an idea that exist only in my mind and may not exist in reality.  

To counter this argument St Anselm says that since God is the greatest being it cannot just exist in our minds because if it was a mere figment of our imagination than it would not be the greatest being. From this proposition he concludes that

Conclusion: God must exist in reality.

Premise 1: God is the greatest conceivable being

Here St Anselm says that God is the greatest conceivable being i.e. is we cannot conceive of an entity greater than God, because if there was a an entity greater than God than that entity would become God or would be considered as God.

Now a layman can argue okay, I agree with you that God exist in my mind and also in reality because by very definition it is the greatest conceivable being. But how do you explain that the existence of this being is not dependent on certain conditions. As you will agree with me that whatever living or non living entity that we see exists only under certain conditions. If those conditions are not met or are disturbed in some way than those entity also gets disturbed and sometimes even get destroyed. Thus how do you know that God is not dependent on any such condition? 

Premise 2: If God were contingent, he would not be the greatest.

For this argument St Anselm says that if God was contingent that is a mere possibility or something dependent on certain conditions  than again it would not be the greatest being or all powerful being.  

Conclusion: But God is necessary, so he exist as necessity. 

Thus God is not contingent or unnecessary or a mere possibility thus  God exist necessarily.

Now if a person tries to argue that there is a possibility that there may exist many different kinds of worlds and also many different kinds of virtues beyond my imagination, so how can you be so sure that God will exist in those worlds and would have all those inconceivable qualities. The answer to this argument is again the definition of God that God has infinite virtues and it exists in infinite possible worlds, because it is the greatest conceivable being. If it existed only in our real world and not all the possible worlds then He would not be the greatest being.

In the end a frustrated atheist may say that I do not want to hear anything about your definition of God. It seems to be too fantastic,  incoherent, and illogical idea. Now, what you say to that? Is it a valid argument or just frustration?


Anastasia F-B said...

You have opened the house of Anslem very well. Now let me introduce two guests – David Hume and Immanuel Kant. :-)

Yogendra Rawat said...

Thanks Ana,

I would meet them. They have passed in to eternity, but have left their trails so i think can find them. And I am sure they would be please to meet me for we are birds of the same feather, only thing is I am flying alone. Will tell you when i reach there.

nothingprofound said...

Excellent introduction to Anselm's argument. Philosophy is a labyrinth with many entrances but no exit.

Yogendra Rawat said...

Hi Marty,

It's true that philosophy is complicated and there is every chance of getting lost in this labyrinth of ideas, but that's what make it so exciting. I have already entered in to it and I would try to find my way out.

Flameheart said...

Interesting. So in a way, because there is a definition of God, there must be a God...

Maybe the reason God is so hard to understand and is such a mystery is because he [it] is infinite, and our minds can only grasp the finite.

The acknowledgement that God is hard to understand is an acknowledgement that there is something that can not be understood. So, Something higher then ourselves must exist, and by definition that is God.

Hope I made some sense... :)
Really thought provoking.

Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating argument to meditate on and, when properly understood, is highly conducive to a mystical experience, I think :o)

Arran Ferguson said...

The Ontological argument works well in theory but when you apply it to the real world it is hard to believe it as it is based around premises. Maybe that's my lack of true faith, I don't know but that's an issue I have with a priori arguments for the existence of God; they just lack evidence which is the only substantial reason I would have faith in God.

PS as an A level student this is a massive help!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Thankyou very much for the clear explanation, it had saved me a lot of confusion.

Anonymous said...

life saver!

- A2 Student who left revision till the last minute.

Anonymous said...
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waterfall moungtai said...

although only the existing things in the qorld we are not capacity to think of how can we think of what is not really existed.

Unknown said...

If there's nothing greater than you then who created everything else?

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