While still a Christian, I had no need for proofs of God - faith was central to my, well, faith. As a mathematician, I was aware of Godel's ontological proof of God; but knowing what a fruit-bat Godel had been, I never bothered to investigate.
So, following my Damascus Road conversion to atheism, I have been reading up on the ontological arguments of Anselm, Descarte, Plantinga, and of course, Godel, to find out what all the fuss is about...
My first impression was simple confirmation of something I had long suspected: logic in the hands of philosophers tends to result in the use of very precise and well defined rules to push around exceptionally nebulous and ill-defined concepts. The ideas of maximal goodness, maximal greatness, maximal perfection, etc, suggest extremely naive one-dimensional thinking, almost certainly inspired by the age-old tenets of the faith held by the philosopher in question.
My second impression, primarily from reading Plantinga and associated apologetics (e.g. William Land Craig), is just how blatently dishonest the argument appears. The bait-and-switch on the term "possible" is a text-book case. The modern Plantinga argument (put into readable english) is:
- It is possible that a maximally great being exists. - If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world. - If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world. - If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world. - If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists. - Therefore, a maximally great being exists.
The possible of the first line looks innocuous enough, and on a generous day some of us may even make grudging acceptance. Possible is this context tends to be taken as "not definitely impossible". BUT the use of possible in the second line is very different. This is now the "possible" of modal logic, with very different meaning: something that is "possible" must occur in some plausible example of existance (the "possible world" mentioned.)
If we agree up front that the first "possible" is in the colloquial sense, then the argument fails immediately as the "possible"s of lines 1 and 2 are now different. If it is in the modal logic sense, then we have essentially begged the question, as we have essentially agreed as premise that this "maximally great being" is necessary.
And finally (for now), the "possible worlds" of modal logic are a perfectly sound concept when looking at strictly defined systems with specific parameter spaces, but their applicability is extremely questionable when it comes to considering possible examples of Existence. We even have no surety that there is any such thing as a possible example of existence that is not our own!
Is this referring to the whole multiverse idea, where all possible worlds exist?
Hi Phat - you would think so, but no. The "possible worlds" are worlds that *could* exist, but don't. Any form of physical multiverse (or even the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics) is still our actual "world" - part of our existence - even if we are forever disconnected from parts of this larger multiverse.
Doesn't seem worthy of any attention at all, but I understand the argument, "Some of the most famous philosophers of history have seriously studied this issue, perhaps I should take a look."
More the point, it is something trotted out by the likes of William Lane Craig when he feels he can get away with it, and one needs to be aware of where the arguments fall apart before he attempts to steam-roller you with a gish-gallop of pseudo-logic. See here for a perfect example:
quote:Third, you confuse logical equivalence with synonymity. To say that “Possibly, a maximally great being exists” is, indeed, logically equivalent to saying that “Possibly, it is necessary that a maximally excellent being exists.” But these statements do not mean the same thing. It is the meaning of a statement that is relevant to its epistemic status for us, not its logical entailments. A statement may seem true to us even though we are quite unaware of its logical implications. It is therefore a mistake to say that "’possibly necessary’ is the same thing as ‘necessary,’" if by “is” you mean “means.” So it is a mistake as well to think that because ◊□G ↔ □G, the first premiss of the argument “reduces” to □G. It’s not a matter of reduction but deduction!
William Lane Craig, "Does the Ontological Argument Beg the Question?", Reasonablefaith.org website
Why travel all the way from faith to atheism?
Over recent years my Christianity had been practically diluted to the point of Deism, so there was more of a protracted spiritual jouney out of Christianity than I portrayed above. The reason I dismiss Deism is that as far as I can see, intentional purpose, intelligence, awareness, etc, are products of the natural evolution of self-replicating chemical structures on one particular planet in this Universe. I cannot see any reason to imbue something else in (or "outside") the Universe with these same characteristics. Ok, it's not the same as the blatent anthropomorphic nonsense of most faiths, but it is still anthropomorphism.
Hey, where have you been lurking? You can't just sidle in here, nonchantly trying to make it look as if you haven't taken the year out... you have responsibilities.
Incidentally, evangelical Christians aren't even intellectually honest in their use of logic. Their concept of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent deity is logically contradictory. Most of them even admit it.
It always gave me problems. The slow reaslisation that I had no clue what I meant by the term "god" is what took me firmly towards atheism.