The Krueger-McHugh Debate: Theism or Atheism (2003)

Christopher McHugh


Second Rebuttal by Christopher McHugh

In this second rebuttal, I will offer refutations (limited by the length restrictions) of Krueger's objections to the version of the ontological argument that I have presented. It will be shown that Krueger's comments are nugatory because they are based on a severe misunderstanding of the nature of the argument.

Krueger questions my view that at least some things (like necessary truths) exist necessarily. He writes:

"Truth and existence are different things, and to prove the former is not to prove the latter, or at least argumentation would be required to show otherwise... I think McHugh's move from "statement t is true" to "there is an object t that is real" is unjustified."

It is hard to understand why Krueger sees truth as not having being. Necessary truths are either something or nothing. If they are something, then they have being. I cannot think of a possible world in which necessary truths, like A=A, do not exist. In any case, my point about there being necessary entities, like propositions and other abstract objects, is only to show examples of necessary beings other than God. Even if there were no other necessary beings, the ontological argument would still stand by itself. These comments of Krueger's do not really call the argument into question. We will now review the basics of the proof, and turn to Krueger's substantive criticisms.

In my argument, I define the property of being Godlike as follows: Something is Godlike if and only if it has at least the following negative properties essentially:
 (1) Non-contingency
 (2) Non-dependency
 (3) Not being subject to contingent laws
 (4) Not being natural
 (5) Not being a logical law, a number, a mathematical truth, a Platonic form or some other abstraction [by "other abstraction," I simply mean other entities like propositions, properties and whatnot that philosophers commonly consider necessarily existent. I am merely trying to get at the point that God is not something akin to a proposition or a number.]
 (6) Not being spatiotemporal
 (7) Non-finitude
 (8) Not being deficient in any sense [There is a need to emphasize that the negative notion of non-deficiency is not to be mistaken for our positive idea of perfection. Non-deficiency is simply the elimination of all privations and evils. Something that is non-deficient is not something for which a greater can be conceived, but this does not imply a determinate positive idea of perfection. God is without any privation or evil, but also transcends our limited and imperfect idea of what it means to be perfect or good.]

The question to be considered is whether or not there is a being in the actual world that exemplifies the property of being Godlike. Since a Godlike being is, by definition, non-contingent, it follows that the existence and non-existence of such a being cannot both be logically possible. So, if we can find some way to warrant the conclusion that it is logically possible for there to be something Godlike, then we have a strong argument for the existence of such a being.

Krueger claims that my first premise (q->Nq) is unjustified, and that more argumentation is needed to give it support. This is clearly a confusion of Krueger's part, because in my version of the ontological argument, one of the defining properties of what it means to be "Godlike" (according to the way that term is being used in the proof) is the property of "non-contingency," and the existence of something non-contingent is either logically necessary or logically impossible. Consequently, premise (1) is necessarily true because it is merely a recognition that we are dealing with something that is defined to be non-contingent. It simply states that "If there is a Godlike being, then there necessarily is such a being." Note that this is not the same as defining a Godlike being into existence; it is merely a statement that IF there is such a being, then there necessarily is such a being. It is very important to be aware of the fact that the argument does not attempt to deduce existence from a definition. The considerations about whether or not a Godlike being exists are dependent on factors that are *outside* of the definition, namely on the judgment that the existence of a Godlike being is logically possible. In order to arrive at this judgment, considerations independent of the definition are used viz., Gale's conclusions on the logic of properties. At no point do I simply attempt to define God into existence.

The argument works if we can show that we are warranted in believing that the existence of a Godlike being is logically possible. Ordinarily, we *assume* that the existence of something is logically possible unless we find some good reason to doubt its logical possibility, such as the discovery of conceptual incoherence. The problem with making such an assumption in this case is that we could just as easily use the same method to argue for the existence of all kinds of strange non-contingent entities just by assuming that they are logically possible. Clearly, that situation is unacceptable, and so we need to find a way to show that the argument for a Godlike being has an edge over an ontological argument for something like a non-contingent horse, or a necessary island. It will help to clarify things if we can identify that there are two classes of ontological arguments:

1) There are those for which there is no known way to prove the consistency of the concept of the being in question. [This class includes all ontological arguments for a positive concept of God, and all ontological arguments for non-contingent islands and such. All of these arguments are inconclusive, for there is no way to prove that the other attributes in the definition are compatible with non-contingency. The best they can do is show that the being in question is either necessary or impossible, but cannot eliminate one of those disjuncts.]

2) There are those for which there is a known way to prove the consistency of the concept of the being in question. [The proof that there is something that exemplifies the property of being Godlike falls into this category. Since the definition of the property of being Godlike is strictly negative, there is no possibility of it entailing incompatible properties.] In light of this distinction, we can argue very strongly (through the use of Gale's logic of negative terms) that the concept of what it means to be Godlike is conceptually coherent, while the jury is still out on the consistency of the notion of something like a non-contingent island. Indeed, we have good reason to suppose that a non-contingent island is incoherent because an island is something that is spatiotemporal, and current scientific conclusions hold that spacetime (at least in the actual world) has a beginning to its existence, and is therefore logically contingent. Krueger totally misses these subtleties when he writes:

And what about the concept of "a noncontingent unicorn." Let us specify that, unlike other unicorns, this one is noncontingent. Let's call such a unicorn a "nunicorn." The concept of a unicorn does not seem to entail contingency, so we could say of a nunicorn that it's existence is either logically impossible or logically necessary, just as McHugh asserts of his Godlike being. The basic structure of McHugh's argument would prove that a nunicorn exists.

Krueger's comments evince his drastic misunderstanding the argument, for there is no known way to prove the consistency of such parody concepts, but there is a way to prove (or at least argue very strongly for) the consistency of the property of "being Godlike." The negatively defined God-concept that is being used in the proof is (given Gale's conclusions) logically guaranteed to be free from incompatible properties, because it only includes negative terms. The concept of a nunicorn, however, has no such guarantee, and there is also good reason to think that it is incoherent for the same reasons given for the notion of a non-contingent island.

Even though he overlooks my reason for defining the essence of a Godlike being in purely negative terms, Krueger still attempts to show that there can be some negative terms that are conceptually incompatible. He writes that non-deficiency is incompatible with being non-spatiotemporal:

If a being could be Godlike in other respects and could also be spatiotemporal, wouldn't that be a being greater than one that had similar properties but which lacked spatiotemporality?

Pace Krueger, a natural or spatiotemporal being is obviously deficient in some sense because it is conceivable that there is something that can destroy it. For example, a supernatural God that has absolute power over spacetime and the objects therein can destroy any spatiotemporal object. Spatiotemporality (in and of itself) is not always a good thing.

Krueger continues:

Furthermore, to say that a being is not spatiotemporal is to say that the being is unable to engage in activities that require a spatiotemporal context, such as walking around and juggling. Those activities cannot be performed except in a spatiotemporal environment. So if the Godlike being is not spatiotemporal, the being cannot juggle, ride a bicycle, speak, and engage in other common activities. How is that not being deficient 'in any sense'?

A being that does not suffer any deficiencies has absolutely nothing to gain from engaging in common activities, therefore there is no privation implied in transcending them. Indeed, such activities as walking and bicycling imply that one is acting from a state of deficiency viz., that there is somewhere that one wants to be, but presently is not. God, not being deficient in any sense, does not need to travel (or change in any way) because nothing better could come of it. God's situation simply cannot be improved. Krueger seems to be under the impression that the mere ability to engage in any random activity is a good, but this is not so. For example, while it would be a good thing for a heroin addict to go through rehab in order to be free from his addiction, it does not make sense to say that someone who has never been addicted to drugs is deficient because he does not have the ability to be freed from a drug addiction. It is absurd to say that God is deficient because He has not been through drug rehab, but this is the same type of mistake that Krueger makes when he says that God is deficient because He cannot walk around. Relative goods, like walking around or juggling are only good for those who are acting from a standpoint of already being deficient in some sense, but for God, they are a step down from absolute non-deficiency.

It may be argued that the notion of having no positive properties is incoherent, because the property of "necessity," for example, is positive, and the ontological argument that I present leads to the conclusion that a Godlike being is a necessary being. Such an objection stems from a misunderstanding of the proof, because I do not say that God may have *no* positive properties. The negative definition of the property of being Godlike is only a *partial* definition of the essence of God. A being that exemplifies the property of being Godlike may very well have some other positive properties that are not mentioned in that definition, like necessity. The purpose of the strictly negative partial definition is to show that (at least) the negative property of being Godlike is guaranteed to be consistent. From that point we can use modal logic (as is done in the argument) to deduce that "being necessary" is one of the additional positive properties of a being that exemplifies the negative property of being Godlike. The definition of what it means to be Godlike is in no way meant to be exhaustive of all the properties of God; its purpose is only to give us a (consistency guaranteed) partial picture of the essential attributes of God.

Krueger rightly points out that the property of being Godlike is compatible with a host of relational terms. He writes: "McHugh indicates that statements such as "God is that on which the universe depends," and other claims, are compatible with the god produced at the conclusion of his proof, but of course the god in his argument is also compatible with "God is not that on which the universe depends," and "God is not the creator of the universe."

This much is true. God is still God sans creation. I can conceive of a possible world in which there is a Godlike being who does not create anything. The purpose of the proof is only to show that the property of being Godlike is exemplified in every possible world. It does not say anything about the relational properties between God and anything else. Krueger goes on to write:

If we were to construct an argument for a 'Godlike+' being similar to McHugh's (with a plus sign added), but which has the property 'Is not that on which the universe depends,' would McHugh allow that this being also exists, and that it exists alongside a 'Godlike&' being to which we would add the property that it 'is that on which the universe depends'?

Krueger's remarks above are not a problem for the proof because relational properties, like "being that on which the universe depends," are not properties that determine the concept of the *nature* of God (or any other being), and so cannot be used as part of a definition of God. Relational properties only make sense after the concepts of the natures of the entities in the relationship are determined. For example, the concept of the nature of my desk is determined independently of the things that are placed on top of my desk. My desk (in itself) has the same nature whether or not I have a blotter on it. Similarly, the concept of God is determined independently of whether or not God decides to create a universe. The relationships that obtain between God and the world cannot be part of the definition of the nature of God.

Krueger complains that the strictly negative definition of the essence of a Godlike being defeats the appeal of the proof. He writes:

This limits the appeal of McHugh's proof because few believers in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition would be willing to endorse a proof of god that can be used to exclude that god is omnipotent and omnibenevolent. To the extent that some mystics are online to see this, he may find a sympathetic ear, but most believers would accept that any proof that accommodates god as non-good or non-powerful has been reduced to absurdity.

Krueger is simply mistaken when he says that this mystical idea of God is foreign to the Judeo-Christian tradition; it actually represents the orthodox view. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

God transcends all creatures. We must therefore continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, imagebound or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God--'the inexpressible, the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable'--with our human representations. Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God. Admittedly, in speaking about God like this [using the positive religious terms and analogies within Catholicism] our language is using human modes of expression; nevertheless it really does attain to God himself, though unable to express him in his infinite simplicity. [This means that positive analogical language can help elevate our thoughts towards divinity, but can never be literally true of God.] Likewise, we must recall that 'between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying an even greater dissimilitude'; and that 'concerning God, we cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not, and how other beings stand in relation to him.[1]

Krueger's remarks betray that he is ignorant of the Catholic position, and has limited himself to understanding the negations "non-good" and "non-powerful" as indicating privations such as "badness" and "weakness," while they are actually intended to point towards a transcendental reality that defies positive classification. The negations in the definition of what it means to be Godlike do not entail any privations, like badness and weakness, but they point towards something that is beyond our finite, empirically derived conceptions of goodness and power. It could be said that the transcendental "goodness" and "power" of God cannot be thought in a positive idea, but can only be experienced in mystical union. Of course, if we construe the "goodness" of God to be a relational term that says something tantamount to "It is in my best interests to worship God," then there is no problem with that, because it does not say anything positive about the nature of God; it only speaks about my situation in relation to God. However, if we try to define exactly what we mean by God's "goodness" as it is in itself, then we will have problems, for God's essence is far above our positive concepts of the good.

I conclude that Krueger's criticisms are easily answered, and pose no threat to the soundness of the ontological argument that I set forth in my opening statement.


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1995), p.22.