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Ontological Arguments

Ontological arguments contend that we can know that God exists in the same way that we know that 2 + 2 = 4: through reason alone. In other words, they claim to show that God exists without ever consulting experience or observation. Anselm provided the first ontological argument for the existence of God in the late 11th century in his Proslogion, arguing that God must exist if we can conceive of him. In the mid-17th century Rene Descartes provided his own version of the ontological argument in Meditation 5. The classic version of this argument runs as follows:

1. God is the most perfect ('the greatest') being conceivable.
2. It is more perfect ('greater') to exist than not to exist.
3. Therefore, God must exist.

In the late-18th-century Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant provided the standard rebuttal to the classic ontological argument: the mere concept of what God is does not entail his existence. While we may conceive of God as having the property of being all-powerful (say), existing is not a property of a thing at all. (More specifically, existence is not a perfection.) So the second premise is false. God's existence concerns whether our concept of God corresponds to anything real, and pure reason cannot tell us that (unless the concept of God is self-contradictory, in which case God cannot exist). We can show that the classic ontological argument fails by keeping the erroneous second premise and replacing the first one with: "Utopia is the most perfect ('the greatest') society conceivable." The parallel conclusion that Utopia (or "the greatest car," or whatever) must exist is clearly false. Only observation could determine that such things exist.

-- Keith Augustine

In addition to the articles below, see also related Reviews, and Links. To purchase related reading, go to the Secular Web Book Store.

Arguments from Perfection (2011) by Ryan Stringer

In this paper Ryan Stringer discusses arguments from perfection, both for and against the existence of God. He begins with a simple argument from perfection for the existence of God and argues that it is unsuccessful. Then he defends two kinds of arguments from perfection against the existence of God. The first ones are inductive and thus present atheism as a tentative conclusion, while the second one is deductive and thus purports to conclusively demonstrate atheism based on the logical inconsistency between God's existence and the imperfect world in which we live.

A Critique of the Plantinga Version of the Modal Ontological Argument (2016) by Arnold T. Guminski

In this paper Arnold T. Guminski examines the modal ontological argument based upon possible worlds semantics expounded by Alvin Plantinga and further developed and defended by William Lane Craig. In section A Guminski discloses the flawed underlying assumptions of this Plantinga modal ontological argument (PMOA). In section B he defends the "anti - Plantinga modal ontological argument - argument" (or anti-PMOA-argument) by showing that a maximally great being is not broadly logically possible. In section C Guminski shows that the anti-PMOA-argument is amply confirmed since the procedure used to construct the PMOA plausibly allows the construction of arguments relevantly similar to the PMOA, but inconsistent with it. Section D explains why that which is broadly logically possible/necessary ought to be distinguished from that which is metaphysically possible/necessary. Section E considers the plausibility of premise 1 of the PMOA according to the writings of other scholars.

Descartes' Meditations Ontological Argument (n.d.) by James Still

"Descartes's fifth Meditation argument for God's existence relies on an untenable notion that existence is a perfection and that it can be predicated of God. I shall first explain what Descartes's argument for God's existence is, and then present his argument in propositional form. I will then attempt to support the argument that existence is neither a perfection nor a predicate of God."

Godelian Ontological Arguments (1996) by Graham Oppy

Oppy draws attention to an objection to Godelian ontological arguments which has hitherto gone unnoticed.

Modal Arguments for Atheism (2012) by Ryan Stringer

In addition to evidential and logical arguments for atheism, there is a lesser-known third kind of argument. Modal arguments for atheism conclude that atheism is necessarily true on the basis of a mere possibility claim. In this paper Ryan Stringer considers how modal arguments for atheism contribute to the philosophical defense of atheism, concluding that modal arguments for atheism either (a) positively support atheism or (b) at least undermine modal arguments for theism.

Naturalism vs. Theism: The Carrier-Wanchick Debate (2006)

In this online debate between Richard Carrier and Tom Wanchick, Carrier opens with a discussion of method followed by 5 arguments for naturalism and 2 arguments against theism, while Wanchick opens with 9 arguments for theism. In the first rebuttals, each debater criticizes the arguments offered by the other in the opening statements. In the second rebuttals, each debater defends their opening arguments against the criticisms of the other in the first rebuttals. Both closing statements focus on the purported deficiencies of the other debater's overall case.

Ontological Arguments (1996) (Off Site) by Graham Oppy

An overview of the major ontological arguments for the existence of a god, that is, arguments drawn from analytic, a priori premises rather than observations of the natural world. Includes histories, taxonomies, objections to, characteristics of the ontological argument, and a bibliography. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Modal Theistic Arguments (1993) by Graham Oppy

Oppy provides a "general ground" for rejecting modal theistic arguments, arguments for the existence of God which makes use of the premise that God is a being who exists in every possible world.

Mereological Ontological Arguments and Pantheism (1998) by Graham Oppy

Oppy criticizes mereological ontological arguments for pantheism.

On "The Ontological Argument": A Response To Makin (1993) by Graham Oppy

A refutation of Makin's defense of "Anselm's Ontological Argument."

Review of Jordan Howard Sobel's Logic and Theism (2006) by Theodore M. Drange

Jordan Howard Sobel's Logic and Theism is long, abstruse, and technical, but valuable for those who have an interest in its topics. Those looking for arguments based on empirical phenomena said to be best explained by the God hypothesis should look elsewhere. Sobel's focus is, rather, issues of definition and logical structure. He addresses everything from the ontological argument to the fine-tuning argument, demolishing all of the main arguments for God's existence. Moreover, he argues that the kind of omnipotence and omniscience that theists ascribe to God is incoherent, and defends both evidential and logical arguments from evil against the existence of God. Finally, he turns to a discussion of practical reasons for belief in God, such as those invoked by Pascal's wager. No cutting-edge research on these topics should omit Sobel's work.