Random thoughts and views of Tim Young

Posts Tagged ‘Atheism

St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument for God’s Existence

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St. Anselm of Canterbury was an interesting guy.  He was born 1033 in Aosta to a well off family.  Though he was a bright and well liked child who stole the affection of his mother, Anselm had a strained relationship with his father.  In his teens, he became intensely interested in religion and wanted to enter the monastery, but was denied.   While in his early twenties, Anselm’s mother died and his relationship with his father became hostile.  Unable to cope with this father, Anselm left his house at the age of 23 and wondered around Burgundy and France for three years.

Around the age of 27 Anselm arrived at a monastery and soon after became a monk.  His brilliance was quickly noticed, and he became popular among his peers.  At one point, they challenged him to prove the truths of scripture by reason alone (i.e. without using the Bible).  Anselm accepted the challenge, and wrote the Monologion.  In this book, Anselm attempted to argue for the existence of God and many of the Christian doctrines without the aid of Scripture. This was no easy task. Ultimately the book is a long chain of arguments that can be tiresome to read.   Anselm would later describe the book as being “knit together by linking of many arguments,” and this fact caused Anselm to be dissatisfied with the work.  It was not that he thought the arguments in the book were false, it was just that they were inelegantly strung together into a long laborious chain of arguments.

As Anselm’s dissatisfaction grew, he became very anxious to discover a new, single, argument that would, in his own words,

require no other for its proof than itself alone; and alone would suffice to demonstrate that God truly exists, and that there is a supreme good requiring nothing else, which all other things require for their existence and well-being; and whatever we believe regarding the divine Being

Anselm desired a single argument that would prove God’s existence and every attribute associated with him.  Anselm took this very seriously to the point that he became obsessed by it.  He lost his appetite and could hardly sleep at night.  At one point his obsession got so bad that he could no longer pay attention in church which lead him to believe the task was a temptation from the devil!  Eventually Anselm finally did discover his “proof,” and he wrote it in the second chapter of his work Proslogion.

So just what was Anselm’s great argument?  Let’s see his own words,

AND so, Lord, do you, who do give understanding to faith, give me, so far as you knowest it to be profitable, to understand that you are as we believe; and that you are that which we believe. And indeed, we believe that you are a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. Or is there no such nature, since the fool has said in his heart, there is no God? (Psalms xiv. 1). But, at any rate, this very fool, when he hears of this being of which I speak –a being than which nothing greater can be conceived –understands what be hears, and what he understands is in his understanding; although he does not understand it to exist.

For, it is one thing for an object to be in the understanding, and another to understand that the object exists. When a painter first conceives of what he will afterwards perform, he has it in his understanding, but be does not yet understand it to be, because he has not yet performed it. But after he has made the painting, be both has it in his understanding, and he understands that it exists, because he has made it.

Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.

Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.

Did it convince you?  My guess is you’re probably still trying to figure out just what the argument is!  Well, it can probably be formulated like this,

(1)   God is by definition the greatest possible being.

(2)    The greatest possible being exists in the mind.

(3)   Either the greatest possible being exists in the mind only, or he is exists in the mind and in reality.

(4)   Assume (for reductio) that the greatest possible being exists in the mind only.

(5)   In that case there could be a greater being viz. that very same being existing both in the mind and in reality.

(6)   But then there could a being greater than the greatest possible being (which would be a contradiction).

(7)   Therefore the greatest possible being exists both in the mind and in reality.

Think on that for a second! 🙂  Do you think Anselm was successful?


–All quotations are from the preface of Proslogion except for the main argument which comes from chapter 2 of the same work.

William Lane Craig’s Moral Argument for God’s Existence

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  1. If God does not exist, then there are no objective moral values or duties.
  2. There are objective moral values and duties.
  3. Therefore, God exist.

It seems to me that those who want to reject this argument will do so by denying the second premise.  In that case he’d likely be a non-cognitivist or a relativist.  In response I think Craig would push his point about there being circumstances in which we can just see that certain acts are right or wrong.  We can just see, for example, that many of the acts done by Hitler were immoral.

I suppose some would want to reject the first promise.  So, for example, they might give a naturalistic account of moral properties.  They might argue, for example, that “keeping your promises is good” is equivalent to “keeping your promises is N” (where “N” is some natural property like “maximally conducive to human wellbeing.”).   Or they might give a non-naturalistic account of moral properties, in which case “good” would refer to some irreducible moral property (i.e. a property that could not be reduced to “N”).  I think in both cases Craig’s response would be “So what?  Why should either case create objective moral duties for me?”

His argument seems good to me, but I suppose I have my own biases.


Written by Tim

January 15, 2010 at 9:58 am

You Can’t Prove a Universal Negative!…Or can you?

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Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m a Bible thump’n evangelical Christian, but I have to point out bad arguments when I see them…even when they come from Christians.  In fact, I think I ought to be harder on Christians then I am non-Christians.  After all, we are supposed to be in possession of the most complete and cogent world view.  So why would we need to propound bad arguments?  So here’s a bad argument that I’ll seen thrown around a bit.  It goes something like this: 

Atheist: God doesn’t exist.

Theist: But you cannot prove a universal negative, so you cannot know that God doesn’t exist.  In order to know that God didn’t exist, you’d have to examine the whole universe.  But you cannot do that so you cannot know that God exist 

My dear Christian brothers and sisters, if you are using this argument, STOP!!  Do not pass go, do not collect $200…  It’s a bad argument.  Why?  Because you can prove a universal negative.  How?  By showing that it’s falsehood involves us in an inconsistency. Here’s an example: 

Universal negative: There are no four-sided circles. 

Now, let’s suppose, for a second that the above sentence were false.  In that case there would be at least one object in the universe that was a four-sided circle.  But how could there be a four-sided circle?  What would it look like exactly?  Try picturing it in your head… Don’t feel bad if you can’t.  In fact you shouldn’t be able to conceive of four-side circle because the concept is contradictory.  By definition circles don’t have sides.  So the existence of a four-sided circle would be inconsistent, hence the above is true. 

Now, in the past atheists have argued that believing in God’s existence is like believing the existence of a four-sided circle.  They argued that God—were He to exist—would be a ‘walking’ contradiction just as our four-sided circle proved to be.  So, for example, atheists argued that God’s omnipotence is contradictory.  You’ve seen the fruits of this argument if you’ve ever been asked the question “Can God create a stone so large he cannot lift it?”  This question shows—or at least it’s supposed to show—that God’s omnipotence is contradictory, thus such a God cannot exist.  Or consider this: 

  1. God is omnipotent, thus He has the power to rid the world of evil.
  2. God is omniscient, thus He knows how to rid the world of evil.
  3. God is omnibenevolent, thus He does not want there to be evil in the world.
  4. There is evil in the world.
  5. Therefore God does not exist 

Again, this is meant to show an inconsistency.  In this case we are told that God’s existence is incompatible with the existence of evil.  Thus either God exists, or evil exist, but not both.  Since we know evil exists, then God cannot exist…or so goes the argument.

 In any case, the point is that atheists have tried to show that God doesn’t exist, and that the whole “you can’t prove a universal negative thing” response simply ignores this fact.

Written by Tim

January 13, 2010 at 11:09 am

The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

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The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is meant as a parody of intelligent design. He makes his first appearance in a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education in protest to their decision to require that intelligent design be taught alongside evolution in public schools.We are told that the FSM created the world and even regularly intervenes in human affairs by use of his “noodly appendage.” He supposedly created the world to make it look as if evolution is true, and he frequently sabotages carbon dating test so that they give inaccurate readings, leaving us with the impression that the world is really very old when in fact it is only 10,000 years old. There is even a church for this deity called The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I say: Give it up! Please!!

First off this is nothing unique. We have the Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU), Russell’s tea pot, supermanism, etc. All of these are really meant as parodies of theism (usually Christianity), and they are supposed to somehow show the absurdity of believing in God. Well, I’m beginning to get tired of hearing all of them (FSM seems to be the most popular at the moment). So atheists, before you’re tempted to use one of these as an objection to Christianity, please take note of the following:

By creating such superficial fairytales as the FSM or the IPU, you are really showing your superficial understanding of Christianity, and any reasonably reflective Christian will not take you seriously. Why? Well:

1. These cheesy, on the spot parodies do not at all take into consideration the historic development of Christianity given through the various works of great historic (and contemporary) figures. Everyone from St. Paul, St Augustian, Thomas Aquinas, and Anselm, to Calvin, Edwards, Plantinga, and Van Til… the list could go and on, but the important thing is that you’re failing to understand Christianity as a complex knowledge tradition, and this causes you to draw inadequate analogies between the God of the bible and, say, a flying spaghetti monster.

2. You’re mistakenly viewing the Christian God as a vacuous concept.. As if I could go from believing “God exist” to believing “God does not exist” without it having a catastrophic effect on my world view. More to the point, Christianity is a complete world view, and the Christian God is at the very center of that world view. He gives purpose to our existence, He gives purpose to the universe, He is the ground of knowledge and truth, ethics and aesthetics. I cannot answer the questions “what is right and wrong” or “what is beautiful” without making recourse to God.. The entire foundation of philosophy, science, history…in short, everything, is built upon God. To get rid of God is to get rid of an ENTIRE world view, thus one is forced to answer life’s ultimate questions by making recourse to other things, by other means. On the other hand, whether or not I choose to believe in a flying spaghetti monster, an invisible pink unicorn, a dragon in my garage, an invisible gardener, or a tea pot in orbit around the Sun between Earth and Mars, has no such effect.

So please, give it a rest!

…though I do have to admit the FSM pictures are pretty funny!

So is God Designed? (In Christian Perspective)

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Last post I pointed out that the “Who designed the designer?” objection to intelligent design is a red herring. Pointing out that the designer is complex and therefore in need of a designer itself doesn’t mean that the universe wasn’t designed. Maybe the designer is complex? So what? If ID is true, then the universe is designed regardless.


But still, might it be the case that God is designed? After all, wouldn’t God be more intricate and more complex than any feature of the universe? Sure cells, flagellums, humans, etc., are complex but wouldn’t God be even more complex than they? And if we’re arguing that the complex features of the universe are best explained by an intelligent designer, then how much more would this principle apply to God?

So, can this problem be escaped? I think so. The first question we’ve got to ask is this: Why should we believe God is designed? The argument for that goes something like this:

1. Complex things are best explained by an intelligent designer.

2. God is a complex thing.

3. Therefore God is best explained by an intelligent designer.

No doubt, the first premise will be accepted by ID proponents. Indeed some would argue that ID entails (1). After all, ID proponents like Michael Behe, for example, often appeal to the complexity of cells as evidence for them being designed by an intelligent designer. So for now we can accept the first premise. What about the second premise ? Why should we believe God is complex? As best I can tell the assumption for (2) goes something like this: Any being who could design all the complex features of the universe would in all likelihood be at least as complex as those things it designed. And naturally this seems like a reasonable assumption. There are many examples of manmade things in our world: machinery, computers, cars, architecture, art, data structures, etc., etc., and no matter how complex and amazing these things are, there is still something that’s even more complex than they are: their designer–in short, human beings. The same is true for other animals as well. Birds make intricate bird nests, and ants make intricate underground networks, but a bird and an ant are far more complex than those things they “design”. Thus–or so the argument goes–it is reasonable for us to assume that if God designed the universe, then in all likelihood He is at least as complex as the universe itself, and probably more so. Hence we get (2), and (3) follows logically.

Now it’s worth noting at this point that ID proponents typically view complexity in terms of the arrangement of material parts. Just reflect for a moment on what is commonly appealed to in intelligent design arguments. Cells, DNA, flagellums, eyes, etc. What should be fairly obvious is that these are all material things and they are “complex” in that they are constituted by an intricate arrangement of material parts unlikely to have arisen by chance. In fact, the probability of their parts being arranged as they are completely by chance is extremely low. Something like the probability of a tornado going through a junk yard and producing a 747 jet…and I don’t think that any of us would hold our breath waiting for that to happen.

So why is this important? Well because it would appear that according to ID a necessary condition for X to be complex is that X be a material object.  In other words, anything called “complex” (in the ID sense of the word) has got to be a material object or some sort. We don’t find, for example, ID proponents speaking of the irreducible complexity of “souls,” or minds, or abstract entities like numbers. They’re always talking about some physical object: cells, bacteria, etc.

So according to (2) God must be a material object of some sort.  But why should we suppose that God is a material object? After all, doesn’t the Bible make abundantly clear that God is spirit (e.g. John 4:24)? Furthermore, why should we believe that God is complex? Isn’t it, for example, a Christian tradition of ours that God is simple i.e. not a composite being? It’s quite clear that the Christian conception of God doesn’t fit (2).

So again, why is it that we should suppose that God is complex? Well the argument for (2) above was essentially that in all our experiences with design the designer is always more complex then its design, thus we have good reason to believe that in the case of God and the universe, God is more complex than the universe. But isn’t there something a bit odd about this claim? Suppose it is the case that the Christian God exists. If that be the case, then there are many designed things which are more complex than their designer. In fact, everything that God designed would be more complex then He is. The universe would be filled with such examples, and we’d come in contact with them on a daily basis. So the argument in support of (2) does nothing more then beg the question. What really needs to be shown is why God must be complex which, unfortunately, is an argument I’ve yet to find. Maybe someone reading this knows of one?

Written by Tim

March 17, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Plato the friend of Atheists?

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There’s been a few occasions now where I’ve asked an atheist how they explain things from their naturalistic world view and I’ve been told “We can just appeal to Plato’s Forms as an explanation.”  I’m not sure if this is an ongoing trend, or just a few isolated instances.   One of the atheist even appealed to Plato’s Forms as an explanation for the cause of the universe…I’m not sure how that would work exactly, and unfortunately I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.  In any case, if they are going to appeal to Plato’s theory of the Forms, I suppose they should deal with the problems surrounding it.



What follows is an excerpt from a paper I had to wrote on the criticisms of Plato’s theory of the Forms as presented in his dialogue Parmenides.  This was the place in the paper where I discussed the problem called the “Third Man Argument.”  Sorry I know it’s a bit techinal, I’m just to lazy to rewrite it for the blog right now 🙂  Also the references at the bottom are what I used for the entire paper, not the excerpt…once again I am too lazy to take out the ones that weren’t used in the excerpt (man I’m feeling lazy today!).  In anycase, this represents one of the problems these atheists would have to deal with if they are to make Plato a friend of atheists.



The Third Man Argument

     The third man argument is probably the greatest (or at least the most popular) problem for Plato’s theory of the Forms.  As mentioned above, the primary role of the Forms is to explain predication.  The statement the Statue of Liberty is large” is supposed to mean that the Statue of Liberty participates in largeness.  But what exactly is it supposed to mean for the Statue of Liberty to participate in largeness, or, for that matter, anything at all to participate in largeness (or in any other Form)?  Plato’s gives the following answer in Parmenides 132c12 – d4:

In my opinion, the ideas are, as it were, patterns fixed in nature, and other things are like them, and resemblances of them-what is meant by the participation of other things in the ideas, is really assimilation to them.


 Plato’s view (given through the mouth of Socrates) is that the Forms are patterns, and insofar that an object resembles a Form, it participates in that Form.  Forms, then, are like paradigms and participation just is resemblance, i.e. resemblance of an object to the Form(s) it participates in.  Judgments of the sort x is F mean precisely that x sufficiently resemblances F.  Hence, the judgment “the Statue of Liberty is large” means that the Statue of Liberty sufficiently resemblances the Form of the Large.  For a person to make the Judgment “the Statue of Liberty is Large,” it involves that person being acquainted with the Form Largeness and seeing that the Statue of Liberty sufficiently resembles that Form (Rickless, 2007).  In fact, according to Plato, not only does the statue of liberty resemble Largeness, but every single large object resembles that Form as well.   This is true not only of Largeness, but of every other Form as well.  Plato’s assumption is that anytime there is a group of things that share a common nature (largeness, beauty, goodness, etc) there exists one Form “over” all the like things. This assumption has been called “One Over Many” (OM):

OM   – For any collection of things (a, b, c, etc) that are F, there exist a single Form by virtue of which they are all F.  (Cohen, 2006)

     A second assumption made by Plato is that a Form can be predicated of itself.  In the case of largeness, not only are the Statue of Liberty, Jupiter, and Great Danes large, but Largeness itself is large.  The same holds true for all other Forms as well.  The Beautiful is itself Beautiful, The Good is Good, Equal is Equal, etc.  This assumption has been called “Self-Predication” (SP)

            SP        F-ness is itself F (Cohen, 2006)

     At this point Plato’s theory runs into a difficulty. If predication is supposed to be explained by participation in the Forms, how does one explain predication with regard to the Forms themselves? Must the Form of the Large participate in itself?  Or does it participate in a different Form of the Large?  Is The Beautiful, beautiful in virtue of itself or some other Form?  Is the Good, good by virtue of itself or another Form that it participates in? On this issue, Plato assumes that Forms cannot be what they are by virtue of participating in themselves.  This assumption has been called “Non-identity” (NI)

            NI        F-ness is not F by virtue of participating in itself (Cohen, 2006)

     With these three assumptions in place a major problem arises for Plato’s theory as illustrated in Parmenides 131e8 – 132b2:

—And what now? What do you think of this?

—Of what? —I presume you believe that in each case there is one form because of [ej k ] something like this: whenever you think several things to be large, perhaps you think, looking at them all, that there is some idea, one and the same; hence you suppose that the large is one.

—You speak the truth, he said. —And what about the large itself and the other large things?

Whenever you look at them, with your soul, in the same way, will there not appear again one large thing [e{ n ti au\ mevga], by which [w| / ] all these appear large?

—So it seems. —So, another form of largeness will turn up besides the largeness itself that has come to be and the things that participate in it; and over all these again another, by which [w| / ] all these will be large; and thus you will no longer have one of each form, but an indefinite plurality. (as cited in Scolnicov, 2003). 


     The problem can be put this way:  If one considers a collection of large things—say, the Statue of Liberty, Jupiter, and a Great Dane—according to OM, there must exists one Form “over” them by virtue of which they are all large.  Hence the Statue of Liberty, Jupiter, and Great Danes will all be large by virtue of participating in the single Form of the Large.  However, according to SP, Forms can be predicated of themselves.  Hence the Form of the Large itself is Large, and the collection of large things will now consist of the Statue of Liberty, Jupiter, Great Danes, and the Form of the Large.  Since OM demands that there exist a Form “over” any collection of things with a common nature (in this case largeness), then there must exist a single Form over the collection of large things, i.e., there must exist a single Form over the Statue, Jupiter, Great Danes, and the Form of the Large, by virtue of which they are all large.  Lastly, by NI a Form cannot participate in itself, hence the “new” Form of the Large that exists over the “new” collection of large things must be numerically distinct from the Form of the Large.  But then there will be a new collection of large things, viz., the Statue of Liberty, Jupiter, Great Danes, the Form of the Large1, and the Form of the Large2.  By OM, there must be a new Form that exists over the new collection, and the process repeats itself ad infinitum. (Rickless, 2007)

Cohen, S. (2006). Criticism of Theory of Forms. Retrieved 2008

Copleston, F. (1946). History of Philosophy: Greece and Rome. Paulist Press.

Graham, D. (2007, Feburary 8). Heraclitus. Retrieved November 2008, from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Plato. (n.d.). Parmenides. Retrieved December 2008, from The Internet Classics Archive:

Plato. (n.d.). Phaedo. Retrieved December 2008, from The Internet Classics Archive:

Plato. (n.d.). Sophist. Retrieved December 2008, from The Internet Classics Archive:

Rickless, S. (2007, August 17). Plato’s Parmenides. Retrieved Decemer 2008, from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Russel, B. (1967). A History of Philosophy. Touchstone.

Scolnicov. (2003). Plato’s Parmenides. University of California Press.




Written by Tim

March 10, 2009 at 11:39 am