Monday, June 01, 2009

Answering Alice

Alice asked if I think about the existence of God in the same way that Anselm did, and I’m more than happy to respond, as this involves two of my favorite interests: theology and philosophy.

I think that Anselm’s ontological argument
for the existence of God is interesting—if only because it was a more or less novel attempt to use reason and logic to ‘prove’ the existence of God. That said, however, I just re-read one of my old posts in which I characterize Anselm’s ‘proof’ as “rather weak and speculative”.

[Speaking of atheism, Chris Wilson suggested that atheism is actually “non-theism”, but I would argue that atheism has come to have a stronger connotation than non-theism: the former seems to imply that there’s absolutely no God (Dawkins, Hitchens, et al), whereas the latter simply acknowledges disbelief (e.g., my kids…so far). And I would say that agnosticism is distinct from those two, in that it sort of leaves the door open a bit, just in case God turns out to exist after all.]

But back to Anselm: he’s certainly not without his intellectual progeny. One of the leading (living) logic-based theistic philosophers in the Anselm tradition is Alvin Plantinga. Here’s a bit of his Wikipedia article:
Alvin Plantinga has given another descriptive, initial version of the [ontological] argument, one where the conclusion follows from the premises, assuming axiom S5 of modal logic. A version of his argument is as follows:

1. It is proposed that a being has maximal excellence in a given possible world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good in W; and
2. It is proposed that a being has maximal greatness if it has maximal excellence in every possible world.
3. Maximal greatness is possibly exemplified. That is, it is possible that there be a being that has maximal greatness. (Premise)
4. Therefore, possibly it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.
5. Therefore, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists. (By S5)
6. Therefore, an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.
This argument makes a huge leap from possible to necessary, with possibly necessary as the bridge. This is sadly just as weak as Anselm’s original.

So, what’s my view? Well, I suppose I’m committed to (at least) three foundational truths: first, the fact that there’s something rather than nothing presupposes causality; second, the first fact notwithstanding, the existence of a particular God (as opposed to a generic, first cause) simply cannot be demonstrated by reason and logic, because there’s just no empirical evidence (as commonly defined); third, as I’ve tried to show in parts I and II of my series so far, faith is not the same as belief (although belief is a constituent of faith); rather, faith is a type of knowledge that is spiritually imparted, unlike more typical knowledge, which is essentially cognitively acquired.

Having said all that, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that theists and all varieties of non-theist have simply reached a stalemate…but I’m okay with that.