God is a being greater than which no being can be conceived.
Agree? This is Anselm’s conception of God. He’s this 11th century Christian theologian.
This series of argument for the existence of God is going to blow your mind. I’ve been fighting the excitement since about 5pm last evening.
Let God be the abbreviation for the statement “a being greater than which no being can be conceived”.
1. God exists in the understanding.
You have to agree with this statement because you can’t think about God without having the concept of God in your mind, even just to say “God does not exist”.
2. God might have existed in reality.
This takes a bit of explanation. What it means is that God is a possible being. A possible thing is something that is not a contradiction. To give a reverse example, an object cannot be completely round and completely square at the same time, that object is not a possible thing.
(Note to self: this point might be attackable if God can be proved a contradiction?)
For the moment, this point seems fair so, agreed.
3. If something exists only in the understanding and might have existed in reality, then it might have been greater than it is.
To understand this, you need to see that existence is a great-making property. Something that we conceive to be great is only as great as it is in our imagination. If it exists in reality, then it would be greater than it is in our imagination. Note the concept of greatness is an abstract, not literal.
This is a very important point and it is what makes this argument brilliant. You have to agree with this. If something is great only in our imagination, it isn’t all that great because in fact, it doesn’t even exist.
This is the turning point. We’ve granted statements 1, 2 and 3 right?
4. Suppose God exists only in the understanding.
This is the Atheist’s stand, which Anselm calls the fool’s belief.
5. God might have been greater than he is.
God might have been greater than he is IF he also existed in reality (statement 3). But in 4, we have supposed he only exists in understanding.
6. God is a being than which a greater is possible.
Because we have supposed in 4 that he only exists in understanding. We have supposed that he doesn’t exist in reality and that makes him less great than he would be if he did. This is in contradiction with the definition of God, which is a being greater than which no being can be conceived i.e. it is impossible for any conceivable being to be greater than he.
7. The being than which none greater is possible (“God” in our agreed definition) is a being than which a greater is possible (statement 6).
This is obviously a false conclusion because it doesn’t equate mathematically. But it is the conclusion we have been led to with the Atheist’s supposition in 4.
8. It is false that God exists only in the understanding.
We are forced to agree with this because we have seen in 7 that the conclusion therein is false.
9. God exists in reality as well as in the understanding.
Brilliant, eh? The way I see it, we would have to disagree with the definition of God and come up with another or prove that God in itself is a contradiction. The actual argument is found in chapter 2 of Anselm’s Proslogium. Statements 1 to 9 were rephrased by William L. Rowe in his book Philosophy of Religion. That was the Ontological Argument.
Personally, I think we could come up with another definition of God to counter that but the argument itself is flawless. If you’re not sold, try replacing God in the argument with something that we know does not exist in reality e.g. Santa Claus (as put forth by the lecturer). You’ll see that the argument only works for God or the being we’ve described as that which is greater than any being conceivable.