Sunday, November 03, 2013

An Examination of the Ontological Argument

In my previous entry, Twerking for Jesus, I mentioned that I would be posting a new entry examining the ontological argument for the existence of a god more closely. So here it is.

The version of the argument that I will be examining is taken from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on the ontological argument, the author of which opines that this argument is a “remarkable (and beautiful!) undertaking.” Curiously, the author of the article, one Kenneth Eimar Himma, states the following:
We can prove certain negative existential claims merely by reflecting on the content of the concept. Thus, for example, we can determine that there are no square circles in the world without going out and looking under every rock to see whether there is a square circle there. We can do so merely by consulting the definition and seeing that it is self-contradictory. Thus, the very concepts imply that there exist no entities that are both square and circular.
I’m reminded here of my own article Gods and Square Circles which argues that, just as the notion of a square circle is self-contradictory, so is the notion of a god. This argument focuses on the contradiction entailed in the notion of a god given its assumption of the metaphysical primacy of consciousness. Sadly, to date, I have not seen any successful attempt to salvage theism in any form from my argument. But just to be clear: the clash resulting from an attempt to integrate two contradictory notions in a single notion or idea is sufficient to show that such an attempt is incoherent. This is what my argument sets out to demonstrate in the case of the notion that a god exists. If such a clash does in fact obtain in the attempt to unite two horns of a contradiction into a single notion, then this in itself tells us that such a notion cannot be true, and thus it should be rejected. Consequently, we would not, as Himma writes, have to worry about “going out and looking under every rock to see” whether or not something corresponds to said notion. The contradiction within the notion is sufficient to tell us that it is impossible.

But Himma thinks that this process of consulting the contents of an idea or notion can work in the opposite direction. He continues:
The ontological argument, then, is unique among such arguments in that it purports to establish the real (as opposed to abstract) existence of some entity.
Here it is clear: Himma assumes that, if it is possible to prove from the content of a notion that said notion cannot be true (such as when a contradiction is present), then it must be possible to prove from the content of a notion that said notion must be true (such as when, as we will see, its definition requires it). Unfortunately, this does not follow. The procedure here is entirely rationalistic. Knowledge of reality does not begin by looking inward to the contents of our consciousness and then deriving from those contents conclusions about what “must be” the case “out there.” Similarly, concepts are not formed first in a vacuum and then proven true because they are somehow determined to be internally coherent. Rather, concepts are formed on the basis of objective input and by means of an objective process, and their definitions are likewise formed by an objective process. Without objectivity, a concept cannot be accepted as legitimate knowledge. That is the underlying point in my Gods and Square Circles.

Himma states:
Indeed, if the ontological arguments succeed, it is as much a contradiction to suppose that God doesn’t exist as it is to suppose that there are square circles or female bachelors.
What we will find involved here, however, is a profound epistemological reversal: we have the affirmation of a concept first, and from the content that this concept is said to entail (given its definition), it is argued that whatever the concept is thought to denote must exist by virtue of the content which the concept, by stipulation, is said to have. It is precisely in this manner that the ontological seeks to define a god into existence.

Generally speaking, this is not a new criticism of the ontological argument. But hopefully my above statement has captured the essence of the causal mischief involved in the ontological argument.

But let’s take a closer look. The following version of the ontological argument is what Himma takes a quote from Anselm to suggest:
1. It is a conceptual truth (or, so to speak, true by definition) that God is a being than which none greater can be imagined (that is, the greatest possible being that can be imagined).  
2. God exists as an idea in the mind.  
3. A being that exists as an idea in the mind and in reality is, other things being equal, greater than a being that exists only as an idea in the mind.  
4. Thus, if God exists only as an idea in the mind, then we can imagine something that is greater than God (that is, a greatest possible being that does exist).  
5. But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God (for it is a contradiction to suppose that we can imagine a being greater than the greatest possible being that can be imagined.)  
6. Therefore, God exists.
Premise 1 begins by making an unargued declaration: “It is a conceptual truth…” What analysis of the nature of concepts and the process by which they are formed justifies this? No indication is given here. We are simply expected to begin with a certain definition that is stipulated to be true (“a conceptual truth”) at the very outset. Nothing prior to this is indicated. Thus no support for this is given.

Premise 1 is to be rejected because it reverses the proper order in which definitions are formulated for concepts. According to the objective theory of concepts, definition is the final step in concept-formation, not the first. But Premise 1 violates this vital truth about concepts and assumes that one can begin with a definition and then seek out any inputs which might inform the concept so defined. This is a complete reversal. The objective method of forming concepts begins with inputs – inputs from reality. These inputs come first. In the case of concepts denoting concretes, like ‘ball’, ‘rock’, ‘tree’, ‘dog’, ‘man’, etc., these inputs are concrete objects themselves which we perceive – things that we are aware of, things that we discover in reality by looking outward. They do not come from inside us; they are not products of imagination or wishing or emotions. These objects exist independent of consciousness, and the task of consciousness is not to “create” them, but to identify them. Thus we begin with the inputs of which we have awareness, isolate them by means of differentiation and selective focus, unite them according to some criterion of similarity, integrate them into a mental unit by means of measurement-omission, and then – as the final step – formulate a proper definition of the concept by isolating the essentials of the units the concept subsumes. Premise 1 does not follow the objective method of concept-formation which begins by looking outward. Premise 1 (and really the rest of the argument, as we will see) begins by looking inward and stipulating a definition for which it will be argued that, because a concept is so defined, there must be some object, unit, input (call it what you will) “out there” to which it corresponds.

Now let us ask: what inputs could possibly be in mind to provide such a “conceptual truth” with its purported content? What could possibly be their source? Premise 1 does in fact indicate their source: our imagination is the source here. We are to suppose that “it is a conceptual truth” that what is called “God” is “a being than which none greater can be imagined.” Imagined by whom? The argument does not say, and it doesn’t matter: imagination is not a means of gaining knowledge of what actually exists in reality. Presumably the notion “God” is supposed to denote something beyond which no one can imagine; it therefore purports to represent the maximum of what can be imagined by anyone. Think about that for a moment: “God” is supposed to be the maximum of what can be imagined by anyone. Thus “God” is the “concept” which denotes the maximum of man’s imagination. It is often said of man’s potential that “the sky’s the limit.” But with the ontological argument, it is clear that “the imagination is the limit.” Unfortunately, the imagination is also the ontological argument’s standard: it is the imagination which provides the ultimate input and sets the limits here. Premise 1 is saying in no uncertain terms that the imagination is the source and the standard informing the notion “God”.

So right off the bat we should see that Premise 1 is grounded in arbitrariness. Legitimate concepts are not ad hoc. They are not invented from whole cloth. Nor are they just made up because we like them, because we want them to be true, or because we hope they have legitimacy of some kind. Legitimate concepts are formed to identify and integrate things that we discover in reality (and other concepts that have been so formed), not things that are merely imaginary. Legitimate concepts are formed by an objective process (which in part means that the objects they denote exist independent of consciousness and that we must acquire awareness of them by some means of looking outward - i.e., by means of perception), and so are their definitions. By contrast, what Premise 1 offers is an instance of stipulation: “We hereby stipulate that the following is ‘a conceptual truth’.” Does it have any correspondence to reality? I wager that, if it did, the ontological argument wouldn’t be needed in the first place.

So the ontological argument is off to a dismal start. In fact, we do not need to go any further, but let’s continue for the sake of grins. After all, Himma responds to Aquinas’ criticism of the ontological argument (which states that ““not everyone who hears this word ‘God’ understands it to signify something than which nothing greater can be thought, seeing that some have believed God to be a body”) by suggesting that we
simply delete premise 1 and replace each instance of “God” with “A being than which none greater can be conceived.” The conclusion, then, will be that a being than which none greater can be conceived exists – and it is, of course, quite natural to name this being God.
But this would not escape the points I raised against Premise 1 above, for this maneuver still makes the imagination of central importance likewise rests on the view that knowledge of reality is acquired essentially by looking inward. Given that what can be “conceived” is of such pivotal significance to the ontological argument, beginning with what one might imagine is indispensable here. At any rate, Anselm’s second version of the ontological also begins with its first premise stipulating a definition (“By definition, God is a being than which none greater can be imagined”), so clearly Anselm assumed this was an important part of his argument.

As for Premise 2 – “God exists as an idea in the mind” – I take this as sufficient confirmation for Premise 4 of my own Proof that the Christian God Does Not Exist, which argues that the, because the Christian god is imaginary, it is therefore not real, which can only mean: it does not exist. Good going, Anselm!

Next we come to Premise 3, which affirms that something existing both in one’s mind (e.g., in his imagination, per Premise 1) as well as in reality, is “greater than a being that exists only as an idea in the mind.” The error here is that it treats something formulated in one’s imagination as a “being,” when in fact it is merely a figment of the imagination. Thus it appears to be an equivocation of sorts. The concern here is to ensure that we distinguish properly between mental content (whether conceptual, emotional, intentional, imaginary, etc.) and mind-independent entities – i.e., things which exist independent of conscious activity, and Premise 3 ignores this distinction by assuming that some item of mental content and some independently existing entity can somehow be one and the same. Moreover, that the first two premises make it clear that the “being” involved here is essentially imaginary in nature, makes Premise 3’s equivocal use of ‘being’ all the more insidious.

The mind is not populated by independently existing entities; there are no “beings” existing in a person’s mind, where “being” here is supposed to denote something existing independently of consciousness, just as there are no ideas floating around outside us. To treat something that the mind conjures up in the imagination as an independently existing entity, as Premise 3 does, entails a contradiction: it is acknowledging on the one hand that the mind conjured it up by means of imagining it – and is thus not an independently existing being, while on the other hand pretending that it has been an independently existing being all along. This contradiction has been smuggled in so deftly that even the argument’s craftsmen probably did not detect it (and given their false understanding of knowledge, they likely could not have detected it). And yet, the preceding two premises seal the accuracy of this objection.

Once this contradiction has slipped by, the premise continues on as if there is some correspondence involved here. Now correspondence is a legitimate concern in epistemology: we want the content of our knowledge to correspond to what’s existing outside independently of our consciousness. But as we saw already in Premise 1, the ontological argument reverses the proper orientation of correspondence. Instead of objective correspondence (in which we look outward at the world, perceive objects and unite them into concepts by means of an objective process), the ontological argument calls for a subjective form of correspondence (in which the thinker imagines something first, projects it into reality, and then attempts to rationalize the affirmation that what he has imagined must exist “out there” – even though he did not discover it by looking outward - he “discovered” it by looking inward). In the final analysis it is really saying: “I have imagined God, and would you look at that? It matches what exists in a supernatural realm that is just as imaginary as the God I imagined!” After all, wouldn’t things be better (“greater”) if what exists outside us matches what we “conceive”? Thus we have: a being that exists as an idea in our minds and in reality outside us is “greater” than a being which exists only as an idea in our minds. Unfortunately, what we imagine in our minds are not actual beings, nor does it have any bearing on what actually does exist.

Perhaps some might attempt to salvage Premise by making it hypothetical. For instance: if something that we imagine as good, for instance, also exists in the world, it would be better than something that we imagine as good and yet does not exist in the world. But here again, the “something that we imagine” is equated with something which also exists in the world, and there is no such thing. Even if I’m imagining my wife, I am still imagining and what I am imagining is still imaginary, even though my wife in reality is very much a real person existing independently of my consciousness. But my wife and what I imagine when I imagine her are obviously not one and the same. Moreover, if the ontological argument acknowledges this truth and revises its Premise 3 in conformity with it, then it would need to acknowledge the fact that we would need some objective method by which to discover the object or state of affairs which our conception is said to match. But the ontological argument makes no allowance for this. On the contrary, it works from the imagination outward – i.e., beginning by looking inward and then finagling its locutions to make it seem necessary to conclude that what is imagined must also exist outside us. It is “greater” for something to exist both in our imagination and outside it, goes the argument, all the while ignoring the fact that the whole thing starts in the imagination. The argument has us first imagine “God” as “the greatest conceivable being,” and then reasons that, given the notion that it is “greater” for something to exist both as an idea in our minds and outside our consciousness in reality, given the stipulation (“by definition”) that “God” is “the greatest conceivable being,” it must exist outside our imagination as well.

Even supposing that we grant the notion that it is “greater” for something to exist both as an idea in our minds and in reality independent of our minds than it is to exist only as an idea in our minds, this would not be without counter-examples. Suppose for example that someone wishes that another person die in a tragic accident. Smith, who is viciously angry at Jones for some reason, can imagine that Jones die of some catastrophic incident, and yet, in spite of taking pleasure in such fantasizing, Smith would not actually want Jones to die in such a manner or at all. Which would be “greater” here: the situation in which Smith merely imagines that Jones die in a tragic accident, or the situation in which Smith imagines this and Jones actually does die under such circumstances? The ontological argument assumes that the latter is necessarily greater, but given the fact that we can derive pleasure from certain fantasies that would not result if those fantasies came true, such an assumption cannot be taken for granted. Some legitimate reason needs to be given for this, but there is none.

And here’s another point to consider: It is not a given that the argument at this point is using the term “greater” in the same context as where it appeared previously, in Premise 1. In Premise 1, the notion “greater” seems to have to do with the capacity of one’s imagination, and is therefore limited by that capacity. In Premise3, “greater” seems to indicate some maximal measure of evaluation (as opposed to capacity of one’s imagination), since it is used in the interest of comparing two different scenarios: an idea one has exclusively in his mind as opposed to an idea in the mind along with some state of affairs to which that idea accurately corresponds. So the notion “greater” seems to be used in two different senses which the formalized argument neither acknowledges nor explains. This will become relevant in considering Premise 5.

Premise 3 also makes no reference to any possible causal connection between the two scenarios it identifies. As we have seen, the only process available here is subjective in nature: i.e., starting out by looking inward and then drawing conclusions about what must exist outside us given certain stipulations involved in what was imagined.

Premises 4 and 5 seem to be saying that we cannot imagine something greater than what actually exists since, according to Premise 3, greatest would entail existence. But in fact we can imagine something greater than actually exists. Nothing in reality at all suggests – let alone guarantees – that what we imagine must therefore exist independently of our imagining. A brief analysis of what imagination is, is in order here. Imagination is essentially the ability to mentally rearrange things that we have encountered in reality – either by directly perceiving them, reading descriptions of them, etc. – into combinations which do not actually exist. For example, I have encountered cats, fish and chickens in my life. So I can combine attributes selected from each of these to come up with the mental image of an organism with a chicken’s head, a cats’ body and limbs, and a fish’s gills, fins and tail. But there is no such organism in reality. It is merely imaginary.

Moreover, imagination allows me to piggyback off of the conceptual process known as measurement-omission - i.e., the principle which states that “omitted measurements must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity” (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 18) – and expand or contract anything I imagine in terms of its attributes’ measurements completely at will. For example, I can imagine a one-inch tall Empire State Building just as easily as I can imagine a 900-foot tall Jesus. Our imaginations are extremely nimble in this regard. Since measurements as such exist in specific quantities, and we can always imagine a measurement greater than any given specific measurement, it is hard to see how one can be confined to some impenetrable “ceiling” suggested by the ontological argument which itself seems entirely imaginary!

Furthermore, one thing we do learn about in rational philosophy is the law of identity. The law of identity states explicitly that a thing is itself, that A is A, that a thing is only what it is, and no more. In other words, the measurement of any actually existing thing’s attributes are always specific and therefore finite. Since the human imagination can always “conceive” of measurements beyond whatever actual things exist (e.g., if the tallest building is 163 stories, I can conceive of one that is 164 stories tall, etc.), the notion that there is some fixed “greatest” beyond which nothing is conceivable (i.e., imaginable) seems entirely wrong. On one occasion, then, we might imagine a “supernatural God.” On another, we might imagine a “superdupernatural God.” And on yet another, we might imagine a “superduperwupernatural God,” and so on. And given that different individuals have differing levels of skills in any area, one individual may very well be able to out-conceive or out-imagine another individual in this area. So any attempt to call something imaginary “the greatest” would be purely arbitrary – there is no objective means available by which the proportions of the imaginary could be measured.

So the ontological argument, as it is presented here, has numerous insuperable problems. For one, it starts out with an arbitrary stipulation which is intended to be accepted as a governing definition going forward. It has no objective basis in reality, and what’s ironic is that, if such a definition did have a basis in reality, the ontological argument wouldn’t be needed in the first place. Premise 1 then is a sort of implicit announcement that the argument is DOA. Premise 2 outright acknowledges the imaginative nature of god-belief and thus has at least some truth value. Premise 3 shows us that the ontological argument works from the vantage of looking inward into the contents of one’s imagination to positing consequences in reality based on looking inward. It seeks to draw conclusions about reality by starting with what we imagine. Premises 4 and 5 ignore the nature of imagination, which is not confined by the limits which the ontological argument seeks to impose on it for the express purpose of drawing its desired conclusion.

Since so many thinkers have apparently been conned by the ontological argument, it must be stressed that whatever exists, exists independent of our conscious activity. Either we discover and identify whatever exists by an objective process - i.e., by looking outward, and thus learn about what exists independently of consciousness, or we don’t, and thus remain ignorant about what exists in reality and consequently remain confined to whatever horrors we might imagine. What we “conceive” of or imagine by any other name, is neither here nor there. Imagination is not a means of discovering and identifying what exists in reality. Reality does not conform to what we “conceive” any more than it conforms to what we imagine. So what we conceive or imagine is in fact irrelevant to what actually exists. There is no substitute for an objective process of acquiring and validating knowledge. Consequently, given these incontestable truths, there is implicit to the very nature of knowledge a fundamental black-and-white nature, an either-or which the ontological argument not only obscures, but also distorts, and it does this by blurring the distinction between looking inward and looking outward. An objective orientation is one which recognizes that what is actual, is actual independently of any cognitive activity we may perform. Reality does not conform to what we conceive. Rather, what we conceive should conform to what we discover in reality. But on the terms of the ontological argument, since correspondence between what is real and what we imagine is ultimately the standard, the entire concept of objectivity is abandoned at the very outset.

The advent of the ontological argument is as explicit an acknowledgement as one should ever need of the fact that the very notion of a god is entirely imaginary in nature, as I have argued. The argument essentially proceeds as if the one forming it had openly confessed: “Yes, I do have no alternative but to imagine my god, but here’s a way that I can make it seem real.” It is as condensed a form of pure rationalism, i.e., deduction without reference to reality, as one is likely to find anywhere.

by Dawson Bethrick


Justin Hall said...

Dawson I suspect you are just failing to get it. This sublime Platonic reasoning. Now I want you to imagine a pancake greater then any other pancake. The perfect most pancakest pancake that ever was. Then I want you to understand that you wont be able to order this at the international house of pancakes. On the upside at least the one you can order is real :)

Bahnsen Burner said...

Yeah, you're right, I probably just don't get it.

But here's one thing I do get: your mentioning of IHOP brought back memories of food back in the States. Damn! What I would do for a plate of enchiladas!! Back home I had a waffle iron and I used to make waffles every weekend. Here I have a choice between noodles and rice... not much else!

If only I could conceive the greatest bean and cheese burrito into reality... Now then I might get it!


NAL said...
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NAL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justin Hall said...


Hey this Platonic "reasoning" can be fun. I say two can play this game. Check out this little gem.

look God can't exist because of Eric the God-Eating Magic Penguin. Since Eric is God-Eating by definition, he has no choice but to eat God. So, if God exists, He automatically ceases to exist as a result of being eaten. Unless you can prove that Eric doesn't exist God doesn't exist. Even if you can prove that Eric doesn't exist, that same proof will also be applicable to God. There are only two possibilities - either you can prove that Eric doesn't exist or you cant - in both cases it logically follows that God doesn't exist.

NAL said...

Excellent analysis of Premise 3. "A being that exists as an idea" is an equivocation. It is the idea that exists, not the being. Previous commenters have had a problem with this concept.

There is still another problem with the Ontological Argument: since the mental activity of humans is finite, anything greater would not necessarily be infinite. The Christian god is considered to be infinite (putting aside the different sized infinities).

Ydemoc said...


I recently sent your piece Gods and Square Circles to a friend who maintains an agnostic position when it comes to the question of god.

I haven't gotten a response back on it because the last time I talked to him, he hadn't read it. But he did say that he plans to do so.

What prompted my sending it to him was a discussion we had in which he maintained that I could not prove that there isn't a little, bearded, all-powerful man circling the planet Jupiter. I did my best to explain (this was an in-person discussion) that unless he had some credible evidence in favor of such a claim (and that there was no evidence against it), then such a notion is completely arbitrary.

One of his favorate lines that he uses quite often is: "Anything is possible." I've pointed out to him on numerous occasions that this is a contradiction, e.g., if anything is possible then it would have to include the fact that there is such a thing as "impossibility," thus negating his very claim.

This time when he asked it, I was ready with a concrete response. I said, "Are square circles possible?"

He slowly repeated my question, thought about it for a moment, and then said, "I'll have to get back to you on that one."

After he reads Gods and Square Circles, will he still maintain that that "anything is possible"?

Knowing my friend, I would say: Now **that** is entirely possible!

And thanks once again for all the new entries!


Unknown said...

I loved this one, Dawson. I am glad that folks like "Unknown" drop by to drop some of their mad erudition on you. What the hell is that?

Anyway, thanks for the post. I'm going to be sharing some of this on Crackbook.

In Humanity,

Bahnsen Burner said...

NAL wrote:

<< "A being that exists as an idea" is an equivocation. It is the idea that exists, not the being. >>

Right. And what’s more is the converse: any idea that exists in my mind, exists as an idea, not as an independently being. A is A. An idea is an idea. An independently existing being does not exist as an idea, period. My cell phone, my computer mouse, my pen, my driveway, the tree in my backyard, etc., all exist as independently existing entities. They do not exist as ideas in my mind. I can identify and mentally integrate them with other things that I find in reality, but when I do this, they still remain in existence independent of my consciousness. Similarly, when I recall them from my memory, I am not recalling the objects themselves, as though my memory were able to run downstairs, grab my computer mouse or my driveway, and bring it back up to my study. I’m recalling a percept, a percept that I acquired by perceiving the object in question.

Anyway, that’s my thinking here. Does anyone think I’m wrong? Isn’t there a distinction between what actually exists, and what my mind is doing when I think about what exists? I would say there is, and I would also say that the ontological argument, deliberately or accidently, plays fast and loose with this distinction at this point (Premise 3). On the contrary, I think it is vitally important to keep this distinction explicitly in mind.

NAL continued: << Previous commenters have had a problem with this concept. >>

There have been many who have commented on the ontological argument. Many have been highly critical of it, and many have sought to defend it or salvage by revising it in some way, anxious to protect its conclusion. I would hope that many would have seen this problem already, but I cannot say that I recall encountering it in any critical treatment of the ontological argument. In the case of those who are eager to defend the argument, I would not expect them to stumble upon this problem.

For those who have found the argument unsatisfactory for some reason and sought some way to identify their point(s) of contention with it, they may or may not have sensed a conflict here. If one has already accepted the trappings of the primacy of consciousness and thus some blurring between thought and the objects to which it relates, this distinction is likely to have been lost on them. One’s underlying metaphysical and epistemological premises play a decisive role in how one understands and reacts to the ontological argument.


Bahnsen Burner said...

NAL also wrote: << There is still another problem with the Ontological Argument: since the mental activity of humans is finite, anything greater would not necessarily be infinite. The Christian god is considered to be infinite (putting aside the different sized infinities). >>

Fascinating point; it uncovers another non sequitur implicitly endorsed by the ontological argument.

In fact (and I’m just thinking out loud here; feedback appreciated), I don’t think it is actually possible to imagine something that is truly infinite. And this is why I think this: When we imagine things, we imagine things that are analogous to concretes – things that are full of specifics. Even if those specifics change or are – in the context of our imagining them – always subject to change, they are specific in any given conception of them. While concepts are open-ended, our imagination applies the procedure of measurement-omission to expand what we imagine beyond what we perceive, but it seems to me that the destination of this process (i.e., whatever it produces for the mind to contemplate), would have to be finite (again, however fleeting or momentary) for it to serve as an object of mental activity. Imagination produces a semblance of objects for the mind to contemplate, and thus its products would have to be distinct within a context internal to the imaginative process.

If I imagine something at any given moment, I’m imagining one thing as opposed to something else, whether it is my wife, a happy day at the park, or an invisible magic dragon in my front yard. In each case, there is a combination of features giving a semblance of identity to what I am imagining. For the mind to be able to project a combination of features in the imagination, those features would have to have identity or something analogous to it (however fleeting).

This of course would not stop me from calling what I imagine “infinite” if I wanted to. That’s quite easy to do, and if I bought into a worldview which encouraged me to do just this without critically examining what I was saying, I very well might do just that (such as before I became philosophically enlightened).


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Ydemoc,

You wrote: << I recently sent your piece Gods and Square Circles to a friend who maintains an agnostic position when it comes to the question of god… I haven't gotten a response back on it because the last time I talked to him, he hadn't read it. But he did say that he plans to do so. >>

I’ll be amazed if he does read it. While I stand by everything I recall writing in that piece, and I think it makes important points, I admit it’s extremely long, and I’m guessing most who attempt to read it would give up, wondering what’s the point. I realize that most folks out there are very busy people – life has its demands, and reading things carefully takes time. It sure does for me! I’m a very slow reader as it is, but I do my best to stick with it, in spite of a very demanding schedule. I’m guessing many folks are not very different from me in this respect. I’ve begin to realize at this point in my life that my “problem” is that I write much faster than I can read. And that’s pretty much confined to typing now; my handwriting is atrocious, as my hand cramps very quickly when I handwrite (which is not helped by my aggressive bass guitar practice schedule – I occasionally wake up with painful numbness in my hands and arms now).

This having been said, I’m reminded of a comment I saw over on Triablogue some time ago (see here:

<< Non-Christians, especially atheists, have (from a human perspective) the advantage in this generation where people have 1. short attention spans and 2. are media minded (i.e. video and/or audio) rather than literature minded (i.e. books). That added to the fact that it's easier to argue against Christianity and the Bible than to defend it makes it much easier for atheists to make atheist converts out of Christians and other theists.>>

I will speak for myself, but in regard to 1, I don’t think I have a short attention span – over eight years maintaining this blog alone suggests that I have some demonstrable stamina in this. In fact, I have gotten my share of complaints – typically from Christians – that my posts are too long.


Bahnsen Burner said...

In regard to 2, I would not say that I am “media minded” either – where this is taken as preference for video and/or audio formats. I prefer writing, and I have yet to do any videos. Occasionally I receive e-mails urging me to go on YouTube, but frankly, I don’t know how I would do this. I like to do things well, and I’m pretty sure that any video I might produce would be dismally campy. Back in the late 90s an atheist producer with a Sacramento news station hounded me for weeks to appear on a local broadcast. I politely refused. It’s just not been my thing. Maybe in the future.

Now it is interesting that this fellow, a Christian mind you, states that “it’s easier t argue against Christianity and the Bible than to defend it.”

Regardless, I am not about trying “to make atheist converts” from any religion. Rather, my hope is to awaken any thinker to his capacity for reason, and to embrace it in a consistent and uncompromising manner. If Christian apologists want to denounce me for this, they are only telling us about themselves.

The comment continues:

<< So, while Christians will win a debate that delves into the intricacies of an issue to its very depths, and which often requires a lot of reading/documenting/thinking, atheists, by contrast atheists can produce superficial videos that can leads to instant converts. >>

So according to this view, atheist prefer some “superficial” means while theists are tirelessly intellectual in their handling of the issues. I don’t think that’s true at all, though, at least with regard to the theists. Theists are constantly relying on superficialities – whether they are slogans like “the impossibility of the contrary” or indemonstrable assertions like “the atheist worldview cannot account for [fill in the blank].” Meanwhile, it is theists – not atheists – who champion woefully misguided contraptions like the ontological argument or the “presuppositional” argument. Indeed, from what I have observed, no theist has been able to successfully distinguish what he calls “God” from what he may merely be imagining. That, I think, is quite alarming. Then again, it is not my problem.

Then he says:

<< It's analogous to the manufacturing and use of weapons. A nuclear bomb is more powerful than rooms full of pistols and rifles, but the latter are easier to make and use (and can be used effectively by more people because it requires less expertise). >>

It’s telling that this fellow thinks argumentation and debate is analogous to things that destroy. Don’t these folks ever think about constructing values rather than destroying them? Meanwhile, where has this guy interacted with any of my arguments? Or are they mere side-arms in comparisons to theism’s alleged nuclear fallouts?


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Daniel,

You wrote: << I loved this one, Dawson. >>

I’m glad you have found it helpful.

You wrote: << I am glad that folks like "Unknown" drop by to drop some of their mad erudition on you. What the hell is that? >>

From what I saw, the comments that “Unknown” posted were merely attempts to help me edit my own work, so I do appreciate them (and I have made the needed edits “Unknown” brought to my attention – so thank you “Unknown” whoever you are).

I posted this entry on Sunday – which was an extremely busy (and tiring) day for me. It showed up as being posted on Nov. 2 as my blog is still tied to California time – but in fact, it was Sunday here in Thailand when I actually published it.

Normally, I write my entries in several stages. This is in part due to my limited time, and also in part due to my own idiosyncrasies. I tend to write in an either brief or prolonged fiery blaze punctuated with any number of interruptions – either self-imposed or impinged upon me by my environment (e.g., my wife or daughter, a phone call, nature calls, the laundry, or I just need to get up and move around, etc.). But I always try to come back, and if it’s still hot on my mind, I come back in white heat. I might get an idea when I’m washing dishes or take a shower that just needs to be integrated into something I’m writing, and I almost need to knock down whatever’s in front of me to make sure I get that idea written down somewhere – anywhere –and eventually added to my blog in progress.

Naturally, I might very well make errors at some point, so I always try to edit. Typically I give my blog a once-over while it is still on MS Word, before I copy it over to Blogger’s editor. Once it’s on Blogger’s editor, I need to do some final formatting, which can be a pain in the ass, frankly. But I do it nonetheless. My blog is truly a labor of love!

Finally, I usually like to review my blog once it’s published on Blogger, and make any little minor edits that I think need to be made (such as the kind that “Unknown” pointed out).

Unfortunately, I had a really busy Sunday evening, and I was not able to do this final step. So I am grateful to “Unknown” – whoever this individual might be – for calling out the spots that needed correction.

I still haven’t gone over the post with one final fine-toothed comb-over. I may never get the opportunity to do so. I’m spending this evening responding to comments, which is far more enjoyable!

Some years ago, I made the determination to stop fearing my own fallibilities – and I have more than anyone else! Alfred North Whitehead is reported to have stated: “Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance is the death of knowledge.” I confess that I am ignorant of so many things – and doing so when in fact I am ignorant of something, can only arm me. And that is because I am not ignorant of my ignorance. But even more, I am not ignorant of my need for an objective method of knowing. And that is the final defining point.

Anyway, I need to eat dinner. So I have to go now. I’ll try to post more later. Seriously, I have tons more in the works. I just don’t have tons of time to work on it all.


blarkofan said...

Another great post, Dawson. Thanks.

Even 30+ years ago, when I was a gung-ho Southern Baptist (chairman of the deacons, taught adult Sunday school, played in a Christian band, etc.), I would not have considered the ontological argument very compelling. It's too obviously just word-play detached from reality. I would not have argued against it (back then), but I would not have relied on it either. The same was true for Josh McDowell's Evidence That Requires a Verdict where he recites how many copies of the Bible have been printed or how many languages it has been translated into. I didn't criticize it (back then), but I knew that popularity is not a measure of truth.

The logical gimmick that drives the ontological argument is so clearly faulty when applied to concepts other than the Christian god (such as Blarko, or Justin's wonderful Eric the God-Eating Magic Penguin). Just defining anything as "the greatest that can be imagined" doesn't guarantee it actually must exist. I define the "Reality Destroyer" as the most powerful weapon imaginable. Since an actual Reality Destroyer is more powerful than a Reality Destroyer I am just imagining, an actual Reality Destroyer must exist. B_llsh_t!

NAL said...

In fact, I have gotten my share of complaints – typically from Christians – that my posts are too long.

It's their own fault. Their worldview is vague and muddled and it takes space to debunk each of the possible meanings of their statements. This is good from a counter-apologetics perspective, there is no escape route left un-debunked.

I appreciate the details. On another blog, the philosopher briefly discussed the logical incoherence of omniscience and cited no references or any details. I was left to google and fortunately found the Michael Martin article which had the details I was looking for.

Another blog was discussing epistemology justification and the M√ľnchhausen trilemma. I think that Objectivism has the best foundationalism. Existence exists, the primacy of existence, and the axiom of consciousness. Understanding consciousness and its relationship to reality is the heart of all philosophy, and the primacy of existence puts that relationship in the proper orientation. It just makes sense.

Ydemoc said...


NAL wrote, regarding your blog entries: "I appreciate the details."

Yep, me too!


Justin Hall said...


you said

"Objectivism has the best foundationalism. Existence exists, the primacy of existence, and the axiom of consciousness. Understanding consciousness and its relationship to reality is the heart of all philosophy, and the primacy of existence puts that relationship in the proper orientation. It just makes sense. "

In fact I would go one further and say the contrary is simply incoherent, ie impossible.

Unknown said...

"I don’t think it is actually possible to imagine something that is truly infinite."

I have to start posting my blogs sooner. I have a whole section in one of my upcoming posts on just this idea in almost just the way you detailed it here. Get outta ma head.


Unknown said...

On my "Crackbook" page this morning:

"My original comment was borne out my frustration with the inconsistency of defining God as "that than which nothing greater can be imagined" when the God generally presented (by Christianity, at least) is presented by definition as one greater than the imagination. For all of the big doctrines - the trinity, the incarnation, the problem of evil - as well as a host of more minor doctrines and biblical stories, we are asked to make allowances for God's behavior because he is beyond the scope of our imagination.The Christian God, at least, is not the greatest being we can imagine, but something else entirely. If we're going to prove him into existence with our imagination, we ought at least to be consistent."

I picked a hell of a week to quite smoking. Between my ex-"friends" and the news on my father's decent into Christ-induced intellectual intoxication, I don't know how long I can manage without a drag.

In Humanity,

The Thinker said...

The Ontological argument, even if granted, also proves Yahweh isn't god. Consider this little gem:

1. God is the greatest conceivable being.
2. I can conceive of a greater being than Yahweh.
3. Therefore, Yahweh is not God.