An Ontological Argument for Atheism

This is a totally unoriginal thought, but I can’t remember where I learned about the ontological argument for atheism. It’s been bouncing around my head for awhile, so if anyone could tell me who originated this argument it’d be appreciated. I’ve probably butchered it anyhow, but here goes.

The ontological argument for theism is supposed to prove God exists from the supposition that the concept of God includes not only the properties of being all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good but the property of perfection itself. That is, God, if He is anything at all, is the most perfect being that could possibly exist. Now here’s the workhorse of the ontological argument: does the property of existence itself count amount the properties that a perfectly perfect being necessarily has? Theists answer in the affirmative, since surely a God that exists is more perfect than a God that does not exist. And since God is by definition the most perfect being possible, we can conclude that God exists because the most perfect being would perfectly have the property of existence .

“Not so fast!” says the atheist. Consider this. One of God’s most impressive alleged feats was the creation of the universe, an event universally considered to be a big deal. But wouldn’t it be more impressive if God had managed the trick of creating the universe without existing at all? Now that would be impressive! To make yourself vanish and in your place have a universe. Neat trick. A God who could do that seems more powerful than a God who couldn’t even manage to create a universe without existing. When you think about it, it seems awfully easy to create the universe if you actually exist. But to do so from beyond the grave is very difficult. But if anyone could do it, it’s God alright. Therefore, God does not exist.



Filed under Atheism, Philosophy, Theology

4 responses to “An Ontological Argument for Atheism

  1. Good point. It’s so much easier to do anything if you actually exist.

  2. Thank you for a brilliant piece. I think this object is not strong because a being creating without itself existing is illogical.

    Creation is a propert of existing beings. Example, if I say x create y, I assume that x exists to bring y into existence. If x does not exist then y would not exist. Asking the existence of y without existence of x is simply asking for a two angles triangle or a square-circle.

    Illustration, claiming that Michaelangelo would have being more powerful if he could paint at St. Peter cathedral without him existing does not make sense, because an non-existing being has no properties thus it cannot be powerful. If Michaelangelo does not exist, then it is meaningless to claim that he would be more powerful, since there is no being to attribute that power.

    Another weakness is that a being that exists is greater than a being that does not exist. A being that exists in all possible worlds is greater than a being that exists in some possible worlds. Necessity is a greatness making property, thus a being that does not exist, quite the contrary, will not be more great.

    Let me know your thoughts.

    Your blog reader and new follower,
    – Prayson

  3. Hi Prayson,

    Thanks for your comment. You raise some pretty good points.

    “being creating without itself existing is illogical.”

    What do you mean by illogical? We just need to use our imagination to see that it isn’t illogical at all. Suppose you are a very clever inventor who creates a very powerful “creating device” that is preprogrammed to create some specified object once triggered. Surely it’s possible for this inventor to program the creating device to create an object after the inventor kills himself, either through a simple timing mechanism or something more complicated. So, there would be creation, but without the actual existence of the creator.

    Suppose further someone tried to invent a “universe creation device” i.e. a device that would create a universe. This would have to be a very powerful inventor (or group of inventors), with an awesome ability to tap into unfathomable energy sources. Obviously, the physics of how such a device works could only be known to a very smart being, obviously way beyond the limits of human thought. So given we don’t know ourselves anything about creating universes, perhaps this inventor, in all his wisdom and benevolence, knew that the only way to create a universe would be to do this self-programmed suicide.

    This notion of suicidal creation is actually central Hindu theology. Wikipedia says “The basic recurring theme in Hindu mythology is the creation of the world by the self-sacrifice of God—”sacrifice” in the original sense of “making sacred”—whereby God becomes the world which, in the end, becomes again God.”

    Put in terms of our inventor analogy, suppose the Inventor is a very advanced and intelligent robot, like a Transformer. But suppose that the Transformer deconstruct himself into a universal creation-device but which energetically turns itself into that which it creates.

    Ok, so this is all wildly speculative and absurd. But I take this to mean something about the bankruptcy of the ontological argument in particular, and onto-theological metaphysics in general. Hindu self-sacrifice metaphysics is no more absurd than trying to reason about whether actual existence is a quality of perfection or imperfect. I take it that one of Hume’s basic arguments against theological metaphysics was that whenever we use our limited human understanding of concepts like “perfection” and try to project them on beings that are stipulated to be beyond our ability to truly understand what their nature is like, we are bound to misrepresent and distort it. Living mammals like humans are biased towards existence being a perfection, but isn’t it more likely that this is because we are biologically programmed to try to stay alive? So of course living animals like ourselves think existence is a perfection. But what could possibly justify such an assertion that isn’t tethered to the contingent interests of animals? What about the world itself makes it true?

    • Thanks Gary for a brilliant and robust response to my comment. Though you point disagreement with illogic of nonexistent object creating without itself existing, you comment is full of civility at the highest degree.

      I believe you are correct that if we think of a being x which creates y, and y is an automatic creating machine that create z, then it is not illogic to say in a broad sense that x, which ceased to exists, created z.

      I think it is not illogical given any being but God, as defined in ontological argument, namely the greatest conceivable being. If you are familiar with this case, then you know the greatness making properties.

      Example if we think of possible worlds(sets of affairs) W1 and W2, and in W1, Gary knows the answer to every second question I ask, and in W2, Gary knows all answers to every question I ask, then Gary of W2 is said to be greater than Gary of W1, because excelling in knowledge(omniscient) is a greatness making property.

      With similar reason, a being that exists in every possible world (W1, W2 …Wn) is greater than a being that exists in even number possible world(W2, W4 … W2n) because necessarily existence is a greatness making making property.

      Thus God, as defined in ontological argument, cannot simply cease to exist because God necessarily exists in every possible world. Moreover God would not be greater if does not exist because necessarily existence is a greatness making property.

      Let me know your thought Gary.


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