Just so we’re all on the same page – and before fielding any arguments against it – I’d like to present everyone with the chance to peruse a transcript, from the Philosophy Department of New Hampshire’s own Saint Anselm College, of ANSELM’S ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT. (In it’s original form – translated by Jonathan Barnes.)
From the Proslogium
Therefore, Lord, who grant understanding to faith, grant me that, in so far as you know it beneficial, I understand that you are as we believe and you are that which we believe. Now we believe that you are something than which nothing greater can be imagined.
Then is there no such nature, since the fool has said in his heart: God is not? But certainly this same fool, when he hears this very thing that I am saying – something than which nothing greater can be imagined – understands what he hears; and what he understands is in his understanding, even if he does not understand that it is. For it is one thing for a thing to be in the understanding and another to understand that a thing is.
For when a painter imagines beforehand what he is going to make, he has in his understanding what he has not yet made but he does not yet understand that it is. But when he has already painted it, he both has in his understanding what he has already painted and understands that it is.
Therefore even the fool is bound to agree that there is at least in the understanding something than which nothing greater can be imagined, because when he hears this he understands it, and whatever is understood is in the understanding.
And certainly that than which a greater cannot be imagined cannot be in the understanding alone. For if it is at least in the understanding alone, it can be imagined to be in reality too, which is greater. Therefore if that than which a greater cannot be imagined is in the understanding alone, that very thing than which a greater cannot be imagined is something than which a greater can be imagined. But certainly this cannot be. There exists, therefore, beyond doubt something than which a greater cannot be imagined, both in the understanding and in reality.
Having weathered this painful exercise in circular logic:
If we take the hard scrub-brush of deductive reasoning, to that mental house of cards first constructed by St Anselm’s ontological argument, for the existence of god, we can actually learn considerably more than one might suspect, from what we have left.
That God does not exist, I cannot deny.
That my whole being cries out for God,
I cannot forget. – Jean-Paul Sartre
As Thomas Aquinas argued, the mere fact that the mind of man is able to conceive of the idea of god, is certainly no proof of god’s existence. After all, the same mind capable of imagining the edge of space, is the same one that, not so long ago, dwelt on imagining the edge of a flat earth. And is equally capable of seeing the image of Mary in a cheese sandwich, or imagining monsters under the bed. All it really means, is that we have a wide imagination.
And all the other claims that are automatically attributed to this imagined embodiment of perfection, can likewise be dismissed:
Omniscient? Omnipotent, All loving? Wouldn’t that depend on whether you’re drawing your conclusions from some of the hard realities of life, or merely indulging an overarching hubris, in supposing ourselves to be the central focus of some anthropic super power’s attentions?
But, for the sake of addressing the issue, I’d like to propose a modest line of questioning, and look to determine what possible reason one might be able to give, for postulating the existence of an intentionally ‘hidden,’ or absentee god.
After all, any God capable of creating an entire universe, containing billions of galaxies and stars within those galaxies, who first breathed life into man; who has, parenthetically – and apparently on his own – made any number of brilliant discoveries, and developed massive amounts of intrinsically subtle technology, and yet is either unwilling or unable to directly make his own existence known, or communicate his own wishes to us, is clearly either not there, dead, or in hiding.
Sylvia Brown is dead – and we’re not going to go with God being channeled through Pat Robertson, or any of his ilk.
But of the three, lets see if we can’t use our inductive reasoning, to brainstorm and come up with any possible rational reason for the existence of this proposed absentee landlord of the cosmos.
It’s been suggested, at least by myself if not many others, that possibly we’re being punished. That we’ve been exiled to this earthly prison, where we’ve all been given life sentences beyond any direct knowledge of god.
Some consideration can certainly be paid to the possible impact any direct knowledge of a deity might have on our world view — much as might be presumed to occur if we had direct knowledge of any other extra-terrestrial life.
Could people continue living normal lives, and not spend them in constant supplication and petition, if they knew that the lord of all things could simply solve all their problems, and grant any of their wishes, if it were only his will?
Could a god still be a god, if he was directly knowable? Or would he quickly become relegated to the position of president and CEO of some ‘heavenly government’ in our minds. That once seen and directly known, could be grumbled at by individuals unhappy with their own particular lot in life?
That I once held these arguments in high regard, as a hedge against our ability to completely discount even the remotest possibility of a deity’s existence, I confess.
But lets return to these same proposed possibilities, and see how they hold up under the deductive logic of simple human reason.
There is a certain appeal – that again, I once regarded favorably – in holding that any direct knowledge of God’s existence would simply negate any meaning to our ability to struggle, and suffer, and learn. Because, I believe there is intrinsic value to the learning achieved through overcoming the difficulties, and meeting the demands of this life. But our suffering — indeed all suffering — could quickly be seen as pointless, if it were to merely hinge on one’s ability to petition, or otherwise game god for relief.
Where this argument really loses ground, though, is when we look around and consider that there are many people who already operate on the presumption that god has a direct hand in their lives. Who go about thinking god is looking directly over their shoulder at everything they do. Who spend inordinate amounts of time in supplication to their particular deities, and are unabashedly unashamed in claiming gods love and concern for themselves, while often excluding or simply remaining indifferent to the fate of vast majorities of the human race.
Additionally, we’re now faced with trying to parse between legions of religious leaders and authorities, who are equally unashamed in their unabashed claims to know and understand the Mind of God, while also claiming all necessary authority for the right to speak in His behalf.
English scientist Julian Huxley (1887-1975) famously observed that:
Operationally, God is beginning to resemble not a ruler
but the last fading smile of a cosmic Cheshire Cat.
So we have to ask ourselves, what good could it possibly do for any ‘real god’ to remain hidden, when there are so many imposters ready to stand up and represent themselves as emissaries in his stead?
Because unless this real God was to have some means of preventing the gross misuse and misappropriation of his own intended role, we can grant no advantage to any idea that he is simply keeping himself hidden for our benefit.
And in fact, it is this inability to defend himself or his own good name, against such egregious misuse and abuse, that provides the final logical evidence for establishing this proof – that no ‘real god’ exists, outside of the hearts and minds of those who may desperately want him to exist, for any number of good reasons.
For me, this has been one of the deciding issues that many as yet undecided deists, caring to weigh this out, might wish to consider.
Out of a sense of self-respect, for having ever given this idea safe haven in the deepest recesses of the mind, one needs to respectfully lay this myth to rest.
And I think we can see the need to stop affording myth peddlers the deference they so ardently seek, in continuing to weed them from the political, legislative, and social fabric of our lives.
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