The trick on Ontological Argument

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Discussion by: baaltzebub
Hi, guys !
English is not my native language. I never made a class on this language. Thus, i know that this text is poor in grammar and vocabulary. I don’t know if it is relevant too. Please, take a look and do what you think is better to do (including, move to trash can).
Best regards.

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I am over the Ontological Argument (OA) at least a bit per day. It appears as a magic, or a logical trap, where i can’t see the key. I did read a lot of refutations of the OA, but none is really clear about where is the trick. 
Some days ago, i saw an answer that William Craig gives to a person that asks about the OA. The persons asks specifically about the word possible in the first premise of the argument. He argue that, if its is possible that a Maximally Great Being (MGB) exists, then it is possible that it does not exists, after all. 
Craig explains giving as example a complicated equation found on a blackboard. The equation is TRUE or FALSE. It can’t be both, of course. But if the equation is TRUE, it is not possible that it is not. I think that is the trap OA uses to proof that MGB exists. The presumption that it actually exists.
Lets suppose MGB exists.
Then, the following formula is true
T1. MGB exists ==> its possible that MGB exists
And the following, is a false formula
F1. MGB exists ==> its possible that MGB not(exists)
Note that “X ==> Y” is the same of “if X then Y”.

This is the trick used by ontological argument. What it really does, is take T1 and proof that it is an equivalence.

O1. its possible MGB exists <==> MGB exists         (“X <==> Y” means “X ==> Y and Y ==> X”)

Nothing wrong, if we implicitly consider that MGB exists. In this case, is evident that O1 is true, despite the development of the proof.

But it is not fair, because F1 is false, only by the presumption that a MGB exist. Actually, we don’t know if a MGB exists or not. Without the presumption, the ontological argument leads to a contradiction, because we will have TWO true premises.
P1. its possible that MGB exists 
P2. its possible that MGB not(exists)
P1 and P2 are both true.
Starting with P1 (and forgetting the needs of substantiation of the MGB concept), we can follow the reasoning of OA and reach the conclusion :
P1. it is possible that MGB exists
A1. it is possible that MGB exists ==> MGB exists in some possible world
A2. MGB exists in some possible world ==> it exists in every possible world
A3. MGB exists in every possible world ==> it exists in actual world 
A4. MGB exists in actual world ==> it exists
Therefore,
C1. MGB exists.

But if we start form P2, we get :

P2. it is possible that MGB not(exists) 
B1. it is possible that MGB not(exists) ==> we cant say if it exists or not
Therefore,
C2. we can’t say “MGB exists”.
C3. we can’t say “MGB does not exists”.
Now, C2 contradicts C1.
I don’t know what i can conclude from this contradiction.
There is any “ground” to say : 
C1 is false because C2 ?
or else, 
C2 is false because C1 ?

37 COMMENTS

  1. I did not see the formal logic that Craig used, but you can be sure that his premises were flawed.

    The Ontological Argument boils down to “I can conceive of god; thus god must exist”. This is hardly an obvious deduction. The Ontological Argument can be used to “prove” the existence of anything you can think of by replacing the word god with your favourite thing, for example “invisible purple unicorns”.

    See Ontological Argument at Wikipedia for a good summary.

  2. “Philosophy is Useless, Theology is Worse”
    - Dire Straits, “Industrial Disease”.

    As proven by this whole Onanological Argument thing, which is just a bit of mental masturbation presented as a parlour trick. I’m on the side of the Invisible Pink Unicorns on this one. I happen to get along with them better than I do with those purple Canadian ones.

    • In reply to #2 by OHooligan:

      “Philosophy is Useless, Theology is Worse”
      – Dire Straits, “Industrial Disease”.

      “What do you expect from a band that thinks hiring a front man who sounds like Bob Dylan is a good idea?”

      Socrates

    • In reply to #2 by OHooligan:

      “Philosophy is Useless, Theology is Worse”
      – Dire Straits, “Industrial Disease”.

      As proven by this whole Onanological Argument thing, which is just a bit of mental masturbation presented as a parlour trick. I’m on the side of the Invisible Pink Unicorns on this one. I happen to get along with them better than I do with those purple Canadian ones.

      Yep- mindwank

    • In reply to #2 by OHooligan:

      “Philosophy is Useless, Theology is Worse”
      – Dire Straits, “Industrial Disease”.

      Also in the Same song “two men say their Jesus, one of them must be wrong”.

  3. As with pretty much every ontological argument I’ve ever seen, there’s an insistence (the reason given varies) that God is possibly necessary. It’s certainly true that what is possibly necessary is necessary, full stop. However, that’s for propositions, not entities; in this case, we would apply it to the proposition that God exists. I’ll try to explain why such a proposition cannot be necessary.

    One flaw common to all ontological arguments is that they reach a conclusion which must be wrong, so must have invalid logic somewhere. Their conclusion is that “God exists” is necessarily true, which logically cannot be so, because statements are only necessarily true if negating them is self-contradictory. (Theology is replete with the pretense that any other sort of necessary existence is possible.) But “X doesn’t exist” can never be self-contradictory, for any X, because it is logically possible that “Nothing exists” (formally: there does not exist an x such that x = x) is true.

    It’s empirically false, of course, but it isn’t logically impossible. The reason is because it’s impossible to deduce a statement of the form: “there exists an x such that x has property P” without using at least one premise of that form (or containing a statement of that form as a conjunct, e.g. “Eggs are delicious AND there exists an x such that x is heavy”). Therefore, if your only axiom is “Nothing exists”, you can never deduce the negation of that statement; and yet from any self-contradictory statement alone its negation can be deduced, because anything follows from a contradiction (this is a fact called the explosion theorem).

    Incidentally, I’ve never understood why anyone would go to William Lane Craig for pro-theist arguments. There are much “better” arguments by smarter people. By “better” I don’t mean that they work; they certainly don’t. What I mean is there’s a lot more to explore in understanding where they’re going wrong. For example, when I wrote for myself a refutation of Godel’s version of the ontological argument, I had to make use of what’s called type theory, which classifies predicates into a hierarchy based on what they act on. (Properties of properties are on a different rung of the hierarchy from that of, say, properties of cats.) Craig’s cosmological argument is poor, too; he uses the Kalam version, which has so many holes in it we lost count of them in the 361 comments on this thread (a personal favourite of mine): http://old.richarddawkins.net/discussions/507717-the-kalam-cosmological-argument/comments

  4. This is just word-juggling imaginary “castles in the air”, with no evidenced material basis what-so-ever!

    As canadian_right points out, you could substitute anything for the pompous initial ASSUMPTION of the existence of a “Maximally Great Being” in the formula!

    … .. “invisible purple unicorns”, “Maximally Great Crap Pile”, “Maximally Deluded Aliens”, “Faithful Religious Asteroids”, “Maximally Confused Galactic Space Donkey” etc.

    A2. Is of course nonsense – even for entities, such as humans, which actually exist on Earth!

    A2 – MGB exists in some possible world ==> it exists in every possible world

    Humans exist in some possible world ==> Humans exist in every possible world (Try Jupiter / Saturn)

    It is of course also quite likely that “EVERY THEORETICALLY POSSIBLE WORLD” does NOT exist in the material universe.

    This sort of nonsense works on the “Gish Gallop”
    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Gish-Gallop – of swamping a debating opponent in masses of complex bullshit! – particularly in unrecorded verbal arguments!

    The Gish Gallop, named after creationist Duane Gish, is the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments that the opponent cannot possibly answer every falsehood in real time. The term was coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. Sam Harris describes the technique as “starting 10 fires in 10 minutes.”

    The formal debating jargon term for this is spreading.[1] It arose as a way to throw as much rubbish into five minutes as possible. In response, some debate judges now limit number of arguments as well as time. However, in places where debating judges aren’t there to call bullshit on the practice, like the internet, such techniques are remarkably common.

  5. I didn’t follow all the logic but it seems to me that A1 is invalid. Just because it is possible for MGB to exist doesn’t mean MGB exists in any actual possible world. That always seemed to me to be the obvious flaw in the ontological argument.

    Also, from a purely logical standpoint it is not the case that some statements can’t be both true and false. There is a theorem, its been a while but yes pretty sure this is Godel’s incompleteness theorem, that a logical system can’t be both complete and consistent.

    The classic example is the Liar’s paradox (or for Star Trek fans the Harry Mudd paradox). I’m someone who always lies and I say “Everything I say is a lie” If that statement is true then its false and vice versa.

  6. The part of OA that is missing here is the definition of MGB. The key is to remember that a MGB that exists (MGB+E) is greater than a MGB that doesn’t exist (MGB-E) according to OA. Therefore MGB-E < MGB+E, but for all x, MGB > x by definition of “maximally great”. So if it does not exist, then it is not maximally great.

    • In reply to #10 by blu28:

      The part of OA that is missing here is the definition of MGB.

      The whole thing is a vacuous assertion without definition. that is why ANYTHING can be substituted for this claim.

      The key is to remember that a MGB that exists (MGB+E) is greater than a MGB that doesn’t exist (MGB-E) according to OA.

      Anything is greater than nothing!

      Therefore MGB-E < MGB+E, but for all x, MGB > x by definition of “maximally great”. So if it does not exist, then it is not maximally great.

      It really makes no difference. If it was “minimally small” and existed , it would still be greater than the zero of non-existence!

      If the fallacious argument is used to support the imaginary concept of a “Maximally Confused Galactic Space Donkey”, it is just as fallacious as if it is used to support a “Minimally Confused Microscopic Space Donkey”! The adjectives add nothing to the circular formula. They are pure pomp and bluster.

      P1. it is possible that “Maximally Confused Galactic Space Donkey” exists

      A1. it is possible that “MCGSD” exists ==> “MCGSDonkey” exists in some possible world

      Spot the jump from “possibly existing donkey” to “existing donkey”, with the word “possible” moving to describe a world!

      A2. MCGSD exists in some possible world ==> it exists in every possible world

      Having fallaciously jumped from “remote possibility” to “actual existence” at A1, – A2 then jumps from “some possible world” to “every possible world”!

      It’s just the old shifting meanings game, dressed up in verbosity, and the posturings of pseudo-intellect!

    • In reply to #10 by blu28:

      The part of OA that is missing here is the definition of MGB. The key is to remember that a MGB that exists (MGB+E) is greater than a MGB that doesn’t exist (MGB-E) according to OA. Therefore MGB-E < MGB+E, but for all x, MGB > x by definition of “maximally great”. So if it does not exist, then it is not maximally great.

      Good catch, that addresses my comment. I think the logical flaw is the definition of MGB. Why does it follow that something that exists is somehow “greater” than something that doesn’t exist? Whatever perfection or greatness mean they seem to be separate concepts from existence, or if we say that by our definition perfection entails existence than the whole thing becomes a trick with words where you have assumed what you wanted to prove. I do think these kinds of problems are kind of interesting because they reveal issues with our common sense notions of concepts like perfection and existence.

      • In reply to #12 by Red Dog:

        Good catch, that addresses my comment. I think the logical flaw is the definition of MGB. Why does it follow that something that exists is somehow “greater” than something that doesn’t exist?

        This is a good, common retort to the OA. The only possible reply is to ensure existence is actually a defining trait of the MGB, by stipulation if necessary. Descartes’s version relies on saying that, while the essence of a triangle is having three sides, the essence of God is existing. This makes his OA the most transparent one of the lot. He even plays Devil’s advocate with the obvious reply that an essence being necessary if the thing exists doesn’t imply the thing does exist with that essence, onto to reject it by repeating his original argument. This is one of several reasons some scholars suspect Meditations was actually a satire of bad philosophy. (They’re in a minority on that, though.)

  7. MGB exists ==> its possible that MGB exists

    Non sequitur (If A exists it exists, it does not “possibly” exist, if we assume MGB then we necessarily admit existence) If A then “possibly” A is not even a tautology, forget the rest Its GIGO (Garbage in Garbage Out)

  8. I wouldn’t concur with those who express the sentiment that “philosophy is useless” but some philosophical approaches are and this is one of them.

    I remember years ago when I was both a religionist and an undergraduate student of philosophy, even taken from that mixed perspective when I believed in the conclusion, this particular argument struck me as rationally bankrupt.

    Back to the topic of philosophy, where it can offer something of value is to take the findings of science about nature, the universe, etc. and then explicate from there what that might mean for us in areas like ethics, etc.

    • In reply to #15 by Russell W:

      I wouldn’t concur with those who express the sentiment that “philosophy is useless” but some philosophical approaches are and this is one of them.

      I agree on both counts. I forget the exact quote but Sam Harris had what I thought was one of the best definitions of good philosophy, something like “philosophy is what we do when we don’t have enough information (or a mature theory) to do science yet.” I think Ethics is an interesting example, where people like Harris and Marc Hauser are blurring the line between philosophy and science.

      • In reply to #16 by Red Dog:

        “philosophy is what we do when we don’t have enough information (or a mature theory) to do science yet.”

        Nice try. But that’s awfully close to equating philosophy with bullshit.

        How about “Philosophy is what we do when we’re too drunk to do anything more challenging.” Such as play guitar, which I must say Mark Knopfler does pretty well. Cue the Monty Python Philosopher’s Song

    • In reply to #15 by Russell W:

      I wouldn’t concur with those who express the sentiment that “philosophy is useless” but some philosophical approaches are and this is one of them.

      I think the reason for this issue, is that what is now called “science” was previously “Natural Philosophy”. (Much of which is now physics)

      Back to the topic of philosophy, where it can offer something of value is to take the findings of science about nature, the universe, etc. and then explicate from there what that might mean for us in areas like ethics, etc.

      Competently done philosophy does this, but that sort of philosophy is usually incorporated into the science discussions, with scientists/medics/engineers etc, who understand the depth of the scientific issues participating.

      There are still imponderables and abstract philosophical issues, but so much of what is now taught as “philosophy” is the useless rump-end of theology and contorted fallacious theological or postmodernist thinking: – which is what is left, after the science and ethics have been taken out of the original “Natural Philosophy” !

      • In reply to #17 by Alan4discussion:

        what is now called “science” was previously “Natural Philosophy”…

        but so much of what is now taught as “philosophy” is the useless rump-end of theology and contorted fallacious theological or postmodernist thinking: – which is what is left, after the science and ethics have been taken out of the original “Natural Philosophy” !

        So, Philosophy is to Science what Astrology is to Astronomy, and Alchemy is to Chemistry.

        And a word for that would be… what? How about “Useless”?

        • In reply to #21 by OHooligan:

          In reply to #17 by Alan4discussion:

          what is now called “science” was previously “Natural Philosophy”…

          but so much of what is now taught as “philosophy” is the useless rump-end of theology and contorted fallacious theological or postmodernist thinking: – which is what is left, after the science and ethics have been taken out of the original “Natural Philosophy” !

          So, Philosophy is to Science what Astrology is to Astronomy, and Alchemy is to Chemistry.

          And a word for that would be… what? How about “Useless”?

          If you are saying that the majority of stuff that gets published in philosophy journals is useless I agree. That isn’t at all the same as saying that all philosophy is useless.

          I always like to get down to specifics. Some examples of philosophers that I think were far from useless would be Daniell Dennet and Jerry Fodor. Back in the 70′s when I first read them they were considered pure philosophy, philosophy of mind. Their work helped pave the way for cognitive science, for psychologists who realized that unlike the dogma of behaviorists concepts like emotions, intentions, and beliefs were legitimate areas of scientific research.

          Or another example would be Kuhn’s work in philosophy of science. He essentially put a much deserved stake through the idea that disciplines like Marxism and Freudian Psychology should be considered science.

          Or a third example would be Harris and Marc Hauser on ethics. Of the two I think Hauser had much more interesting stuff to say, Harris did a good job of arguing why science can apply to ethics but Hauser’s book Moral Minds summarizes some fascinating recent work on ethics and psychology. We are starting to understand that some tendencies for moral behavior are hard wired into humans and others seem to develop according to fairly well defined patterns, similar to the various stages that Piaget found with children learning concepts like spatial geometry.

          • In reply to #23 by Red Dog:

            If you are saying that the majority of stuff that gets published in philosophy journals is useless I agree. That isn’t at all the same as saying that all philosophy is useless.

            I did not say that “Philosophy was useless”. What I said was that most of the useful parts of it have been taken over by scientific debates, while the useless parts have been preserved in theology colleges etc. – So I think we agree on that.

            I always like to get down to specifics. Some examples of philosophers that I think were far from useless would be Daniell Dennet and Jerry Fodor. Back in the 70′s when I first read them they were considered pure philosophy, philosophy of mind. Their work helped pave the way for cognitive science, for psychologists who realized that unlike the dogma of behaviorists concepts like emotions, intentions, and beliefs were legitimate areas of scientific research.

            Just like physics taking over from “natural philosophy, and chemistry taking over the valuable aspects of alchemy, neuro-psychologists are taking over from the more woolly thinking of their forebears.

            Or another example would be Kuhn’s work in philosophy of science. He essentially put a much deserved stake through the idea that disciplines like Marxism and Freudian Psychology should be considered science.
            Or a third example would be Harris and Marc Hauser on ethics. Of the two I think Hauser had much more interesting stuff to say, Harris did a good job of arguing why science can apply to ethics but Hauser’s book Moral Minds summarizes some fascinating recent work on ethics and psychology.

            I think you are adding to the point of developing sciences debunking earlier quack versions of themselves, and taking over usable features which were previously covered by philosophy.

            We are starting to understand that some tendencies for moral behavior are hard wired into humans and others seem to develop according to fairly well defined patterns, similar to the various stages that Piaget found with children learning concepts like spatial geometry.

            It is interesting. Back in the 1960s I did some experimental work as a student, confirming the effectiveness of Piaget’s tests in identifying those stages.

        • In reply to #21 by OHooligan:

          So, Philosophy is to Science what Astrology is to Astronomy, and Alchemy is to Chemistry.

          I don’t think so, no — or at least, not necessarily so.

          To broaden the discussion, philosophy, like science, has a domain which I’d call pseudo-philosophy — a parallel to pseudo-science. I think Bertrand Russell described this kind of thing well when he takes on one of the major “philosophical theologians”, Thomas Aquinas. Here is what Russell says of Aquinas and his approach to philosophy:

          There is little of the true philosophic spirit in Aquinas. He does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead. He is not engaged in an inquiry, the result of which it is impossible to know in advance. Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given I in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading.

          I think this kind of consideration of such differences should somehow weigh into this discussion, which is why I mention it.

          At any rate, back to the discussion at hand, as I’ve already argued, I think philosophy can offer something of real value and merit in areas like ethics, logic, etc.

          But perhaps let’s ask it this way: are you familiar with and do you see value in the work of philosophers like Bertrand Russell, A.C. Grayling, etc.? I certainly do and would hope that most here would.

          I know there can be this apparent tension between philosophy and science for some, but insofar as both attempt to be rooted in empirical knowledge and reason (unlike the pseudo-philosophical approach Russell criticizes above), I think they really do have a harmonious and supportive relationship.

          • In reply to #28 by Russell W:

            To broaden the discussion, philosophy, like science, has a domain which I’d call pseudo-philosophy — a parallel to pseudo-science. I think Bertrand Russell described this kind of thing well when he takes on one of the major “philosophical theologians”, Thomas Aquinas. Here is what Russell says of Aquinas and his approach to philosophy:
            .. . . . . .

            The finding of arguments for a conclusion given I in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading.

            At any rate, back to the discussion at hand, as I’ve already argued, I think philosophy can offer something of real value and merit in areas like ethics, logic, etc.

            I think the problem, is that whereas pseudo-science is clearly distinguished from science by university scientists, Theology Colleges actively mix what you call “pseudo-philosophy” into their courses. (Some also try to teach pseudo-science under various guises.)

            Philosophy, clearly cannot claim a monopoly on logic, while objective consideration of ethics is probably better separated from the tangled assortment of dogmas. This brings us back to the question of if the philosophy is better understood combined in an atmosphere of objective scientific methodology, or in the muddle of theology and post-modernism etc.

            Ethics for example is taught in medical universities, as are legal requirements, health and safety etc, in engineering. Many professional bodies have codes of conduct.

            I know there can be this apparent tension between philosophy and science for some, but insofar as both attempt to be rooted in empirical knowledge and reason (unlike the pseudo-philosophical approach Russell criticizes above), I think they really do have a harmonious and supportive relationship.

            Why would these codes of conduct and ethics, be better handled by separate philosophy departments, (which are infested with pseudo-reasoning and theist nonsense), by philosophers who do not have the training in the specialist science, medicine and engineering subjects, under discussion? Surely integration of the valuable aspects of philosophy, is a better option!

          • In reply to #29 by Alan4discussion:

            I think the problem, is that whereas pseudo-science is clearly distinguished from science by university scientists, Theology Colleges actively mix what you call “pseudo-philosophy” into their courses. (Some also try to teach pseudo-science under various guises.)

            You’ll find no disagreement from me about that issue. Theology has often attempted to co-opt philosophy in order to try to support their particular theologies and dogmas. A similar thing can be seen, I think, in the so called “creation-science” and ID movements. They already have their conclusion, and now they try to smash some premises in to fit it.

            The waters of philosophy, like the waters of science, shouldn’t be muddied by theology, nor by pseudo-science or sophistry.

            Philosophy, clearly cannot claim a monopoly on logic

            No of course not. I would only suggest it has contribution to make.

            while objective consideration of ethics is probably better separated from the tangled assortment of dogmas.

            Clearly. Dogma shouldn’t even enter into it. Scientific facts should however.

            This brings us back to the question of if the philosophy is better understood combined in an atmosphere of objective scientific methodology, or in the muddle of theology and post-modernism etc.

            Clearly the former in my view.

  9. Of course even if you could get to God through this arguement, you still don’t get your god, you might get gods, evil gods, gods made entirely of marshmallow anything. If you grant that a god is possible then who says he does exist. It may be possible for a god to exist and he commited suicide in a fit of boredom, it is possible he existed and was murdered by another god, perhaps a god existed but was obliterated in the big bang. Craig is tying his argement to HIS god existing. So what is the evidence for HIS god existing? Nothing so far.

  10. I doubt very much if any philosopher would consider Sam Harris’s definition even close, having said that, any five philosophers would give you five different definitions of what is “good” philosophy; I like the way Socrates used the potters’ analogy to describe philosophy, I’ll paraphrase it:

    No one, said Socrates, would ever imagine a good pot would result from intuition alone, that the skilled potter throws his clay with no knowledge of technical procedures and the arts of his craft, why then assume that sound reasoning could be attained without sustained reflection and practice?

    Knowledge means little if you cannot even describe with confidence, what it is…

    “So, Philosophy is to Science what Astrology is to Astronomy, and Alchemy is to Chemistry.”

    The same misapprehension committed by Sam Harries, someone who I greatly respect, but in this he is simply wrong, in that he appears to believe that Science and Philosophy are distinct, they are not, Natural Philosophy becomes Physics, Astrology does “not” become Astronomy, a subtle distinction I know, but one you need grasp if you feel the urge to pontificate in such matters.

    When an empirical body of knowledge becomes recognised as a Science, it is still using the methods of philosophy, to claim otherwise is nonsensical, rationalism, empiricism, scepticism, deduction, induction, axiomatic systems, logic… need I go on? Oh! OK, idea, theory, hypotheses, thesis, antithesis, do these terms and concepts sound suspiciously philosophical?

    Scientists often forget that they operate within constraints imposed by methodology and those methodologies while often not considered, are still based on the philosophic traditions from which they have branched.

    • In reply to #22 by ShinobiYaka:

      Natural Philosophy becomes Physics, Astrology does “not” become Astronomy, a subtle distinction I know, but one you need grasp if you feel the urge to pontificate in such matters.

      Disagree strongly. Physics developed from Natural Philosophy, taking most of the good bits and leaving the rest. Likewise, Astronomy developed from the good bits of Astrology (the observations and measurements, that is, not the imagined influences on human behavior), Chemistry developed from Alchemy. Psychology and neurology are mopping up the last of the good bits, leaving philosophy with just the dross.

      The “subtle distinction” you claim is just something you allege, without evidence. Pontificater, Allegator.

      At least, I see nobody here has questioned the corollary: “Theology is worse”.

  11. In reply to #22 by ShinobiYaka:

    I doubt very much if any philosopher would consider Sam Harris’s definition even close, having said that, any five philosophers would give you five different definitions of what is “good” philosophy;

    If any five philosophers can’t agree on a definition of philosophy than its not a surprise nor much of a critique if those same five also don’t like the definition from Harris.

    Knowledge means little if you cannot even describe with confidence, what it is…

    I would have a hard time arguing with that. But while I agree with that I also think there are times when we need to confront very fundamental questions that don’t fit neatly into any one well defined theoretical model or when we need to argue between two alternative models. The debate between behaviorism and cognitive psychology is one such example and an example where I think philosophy was useful in clarifying the issues. Besides Dennet another example of someone who contributed a lot to this debate and our current understanding of cognitive science was Chomsky and his critique of Skinner’s approach to understanding human language:

    http://www.chomsky.info/articles/1967—-.htm

    That paper pretty much was the beginning of the end of classic behaviorism.

    The same misapprehension committed by Sam Harries, someone who I greatly respect, but in this he is simply wrong, in that he appears to believe that Science and Philosophy are distinct, they are not,

    That’s not the way I understood Harris. To me he seemed to be saying that the boundaries between philosophy and science were very ill defined and not really all that important. In any case regardless of what Harris thinks that is what I think. Look at the examples I’ve used, with the exception of Kuhn all the others could be considered to be some other discipline instead of or as well as philosophy (linguistics, psychology, anthropology). I think all the boundaries between disciplines are artificial anyway, a lot like the boundaries between species, they help humans organize their research and academic departments but they aren’t cast in stone.

    When an empirical body of knowledge becomes recognised as a Science, it is still using the methods of philosophy, to claim otherwise is nonsensical, rationalism, empiricism, scepticism, deduction, induction, axiomatic systems, logic… need I go on? Oh! OK, idea, theory, hypotheses, thesis, antithesis, do these terms and concepts sound suspiciously philosophical?

    I’m not sure but I think we may just agree. My point is you can do science or rather use the scientific method on just about any problem, it doesn’t have to be a problem involving linear accelerators or test tubes.

  12. With the various versions I poke holes in the construction. MGB, this is a neural-semantic issue. “Being” is both a noun and a verb. For instance, in hermetic Judaism God can translate as the verb “Being”. Being has a funny place in many languages. In the MGB form it is begging the question because the construction of the concept implies existence. The conclusion is embedded in the premise.

    Or you can rock it like this: Fine, MGB exists. Prove a god can be a MGB. I define MGB as the Universe and can support that claim. All god-concepts (except MGB) are logically incompatible with MGB. No god/God can be MGB. Therefor there is no god but MGB, which nobody worships or ‘believes’ in, which is Deism. Taken a step further, there is nothing which is not MGB, and if MGB is god, we get an atheist form of pantheism. Theism is not even on the table.

  13. Possibly other worlds have different ontologies. Our logic is based on our ontology, in this world. We cannot even hope to use our logic to describe other ontological possibilities in other worlds, it is simply a limitation of logic. Perhaps there are worlds where A does not equal A, but we have no access to them.

  14. I’ve enjoyed the frantic scurrying provoked by the blunt sticks (the Dire Straits and Monty Python references) I poked into the subject of Philosophy. Thanks everyone for your efforts, no offence intended: wouldn’t want to risk this:

    “You’ll have a national Philosopher’s strike on your hands!”

    (Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

  15. P1) If God exists, then He is maximally great in every conceivable attribute

    P2) William Lane Craig is the biggest wanker in the universe

    P3) William Lane Craig is not God

    C) God does not exist

    • In reply to #34 by Jabu Khan:

      what the bleep is a maximally great being ? would be my first response

      and until you’ve observed one how can you reliably say anything about it

      In terms of reality, I think the nearest you can get to this , “is the puffed-up egotistical delusion in the fundamentalist brain”!

  16. My ontological argument is much better than that of Descartes who tried to make a case from perfection, or Anselm (sp?) who made it from what we can conceive. Both are flawed arguments easily refuted.

    Mine is from the perspective of existence.

    We exist. We did not always exist. So if you define god as that which produced us then there is by default a god.

    But, this tells us nothing about what the god is. There are two main choices: A conscious god, or a natural non-conscious process.

    While there is no evidence for a conscious god, there is plenty of evidence of a creative process in nature and the laws of physics.

    Which do you think has the most probability of being fact?

  17. The ontological argument is merely a linguistic discussion of the concept of perfection.

    Can we agree that a god that existed would be more perfect than a god that didn’t exist? That is, existence is one of the perfections, right? Then let’s begin. Once upon a time there was a god. Gods are perfect by definition, and existence is one of the perfections, so once upon a time there was a god that existed.

    Or how about this… Once upon a time there was a perfect three-headed monster on Mars. Existence is one of the perfections, of course, as to exist is more perfect than to not exist. Therefore once upon a time there was a three-headed monster on Mars who existed.

    The problem with the ontological argument is that playing with the definition of “perfect” does not cause perfect things to spring into existence. Thinking it with your brain and saying it with your mouth doesn’t make it so.

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