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The Krueger-McHugh Debate: Theism or Atheism – 4

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

Doug Krueger

Closing Statement by Doug Krueger

McHugh has failed to rebut my objections to his ontological argument.

For example, I challenged McHugh to show how his move from “statement t is true” to “there is an object t that is real” is justified. McHugh responds:

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.

But using a term in a true sentence does not prove the existence of the referent of the term. It’s true that the sum of the angles of a perfect triangle is exactly 180 degrees, but this does not show that perfect triangles exist–it simply shows the rules of geometry. McHugh’s attempt to show that other necessary beings exist doesn’t hold up. His equating truth and existence claims requires some explanation, but none was forthcoming.

I also asked McHugh to clarify his statement: “metaphysical possibility is a species of real possibility.” What is “metaphysical” and what is “real”? It’s true that ‘Ahab was a whaler,’ but this doesn’t show that Ahab exists. So what does McHugh mean by asserting that “truths” “have being”? He never clarified this.

McHugh’s premise (6) is that a Godlike being has the property of “Not being a logical law, a number, a mathematical truth, a Platonic form or some other abstraction.” It seems a question-begging way of making his Godlike being unique, and unless we know the criteria for what abstractions he’s talking about, this premise is useless. I asked McHugh to clarify what he meant by “some other abstraction,” but he didn’t. His list of properties of a Godlike being is unworkable.

I have explained that McHugh’s first premise “If there is a Godlike being, then there necessarily is such a being” is problematic. I cited R. L. Purtill’s comment, which included: “…it seems unlikely that any plausible account of logical necessity would allow it to be dependent on existence.”[1]

I had asked McHugh to explain what sort of necessity he is talking about in his argument. He responded that he is not defining god into existence and repeated part of his proof, but he didn’t answer the question. His first premise not only lacks support, it’s still counterintuitive to our usual notions of necessity.

McHugh’s argument has other problems. McHugh says his ontological argument is one in which “there *is* a known way to prove the consistency of the concept of the being in question.” Not with McHugh’s proof. I pointed out that he must ascribe at least some positive properties to god, and McHugh wrote:

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.

However, the being at the end of McHugh’s proposed proof has properties in addition to the partial list, such as necessity, existence, and others. Where is the proof that all these attributes are consistent? There is no reason to suppose that because a partial list of attributes is consistent, that the whole concept is consistent, so his list doesn’t demonstrate the consistency of the concept of god.

Furthermore, even the partial list’s consistency was called into question. McHugh’s Godlike being is “not deficient in any sense” but also “not spatiotemporal.” Isn’t lacking spatiotemporality a deficiency? McHugh’s responded:

…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.

McHugh assumes that it is a necessary condition for a thing x to be spatiotemporal that x can be destroyed. But why? It’s not contradictory to imagine an indestructible spatiotemporal object. It is also not clear at all why we should assume that if an object is not spatiotemporal, then it would not be possible to be destroyed. In addition, a Godlike being who had spatiotemporality and who was not “deficient in any sense” could keep his spatiotemporal aspect from being destroyed. So it is false that having spatiotemporality would entail a deficiency. McHugh’s list is defective.

I also pointed out that a nonspatiotemporal being cannot juggle, ride a bicycle, etc. Isn’t that a deficiency?

McHugh replies:

A being that does not suffer any deficiencies has absolutely nothing to gain from engaging in common activities…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…does not need to travel (or change in any way) because nothing better could come of it. God’s situation simply cannot be improved.

McHugh had stated that his concept of god was compatible with the statement “God is that on which the universe depends,” but now that is not the case. If his defense against spatiotemporality is correct, then god, being perfect, could not gain anything by having a universe dependent on him. If he could, he would not be perfect to begin with. So McHugh’s proof wouldn’t prove the existence of a being that is the creator or sustainer of the universe. And if his god is only capable of doing things that he needs to do or that can improve himself, then since he needs nothing and cannot be improved, McHugh’s god can do nothing. That sounds like he’s deficient in some sense! McHugh’s list of attributes is in trouble.

However, the issue is not whether a Godlike being would gain anything by performing spatiotemporal activities, but whether he has the capacity to do them. A being like McHugh’s Godlike being but who can juggle, ride a bicycle, etc., could do more things than McHugh’s being. How can McHugh’s Godlike being be god if some other being could have more capabilities?

And is McHugh’s list really only of negative properties? He had “non-finitude.” Isn’t that the positive property of being infinite?

I had also parodied McHugh’s argument with the concept of a ‘Godlike+’ being, similar to McHugh’s being, but with the property ‘Is not that on which the universe depends.’ Can’t we “prove” the existence of many similar beings? McHugh claims that this is not a good objection 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.

His point is irrelevant. We are talking about two beings:

Godlike+ = a Godlike being that ‘Is not that on which the universe depends.’

Godlike& = a Godlike being that ‘Is that on which the universe depends.’

Since each has negative attributes–which McHugh argued are compatible–plus the “Godlike+” and “Godlike&” attributes separately, which are compatible as attributes for different beings, the existences of these two beings are logically compatible in the same universe, so we can “prove” multiple beings with McHugh’s argument–a reduction to absurdity.

I also used the concept of “a noncontingent unicorn,” which I called a “nunicorn,” as a parody. I wrote: “…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.”

McHugh responds:

…there is no known way to prove the consistency of such parody concepts…the concept of a nunicorn…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.

No “guarantee” is needed. We can imagine an eternal unicorn, and there is no reason to think the nunicorn concept is inconsistent. McHugh doesn’t show that the concept is inconsistent, so the parody still works–another a reduction to absurdity.

I also asked McHugh to show how his list defines the Judeo-Xian-Islamic god and not the Tao, the Hindu concept of Brahman, the Buddhist concept of Nirvana, or still other concepts. He never addressed this.

Finally, I note in passing that McHugh misrepresents me as holding that “this mystical idea of God is foreign to the Judeo-Christian tradition.” I said no such thing, but I did, rightly, characterize his mystical view of god as being in the minority among believers.

Because McHugh’s ontological argument suffered from such severe problems as those above, I conclude that his argument has failed. And because McHugh, in a bizarre twist, stated that he “can concede Krueger’s opening statement in its entirety” and has also failed to undermine my arguments, I am as confident as ever in my conclusion that there is no god. And, unlike McHugh, I appealed to straightforward, commonsensical principles to demonstrate my case. McHugh’s “proof” had the air of sophistry, as do all ontological arguments. I think overall I had the better case. I have already cited Schopenhauer’s remark that “considered by daylight…and without prejudice, this famous Ontological Proof is really a charming joke.” I think McHugh’s argument, with its suspect reasoning and obviously contrived way of characterizing god, has perhaps reinforced Schopenhauer’s observation.


[1] R.L. Purtill, “Hartshorne’s Modal Proof,” Journal of Philosophy, 63, 1966, pg. 408.