Friday, July 24, 2009

The Ontological Argument Discussed: Peter S. Williams MP3 Audio

Philosopher Peter S. Williams discusses the ontological argument for the existence of God and its various forms. Check out his podcast here and his blog here.

Full MP3 Audio here.



  1. Matthew July 24, 2009

    I will listen to this because, well …

    William Lane Craig has a podcast on the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (go to his page and listen to it) where he mentions that the author of the chapter on the ontological argument is someone named Robert Maydole and that he recently formulated a modal ontological argument which he discussed in an essay for the secular philosophy journal Philo and that Quentin Smith, the editor of Philo, told him that none of the people on the editorial board knew how to answer it.

    The reason for this is because it does not assume that existence-in-reality is a perfection (this is what St. Anselm argued) and it also does not assume that God is not-contingent.

    There have been 2 responses to this argument: One by John (not sure about the first name) Metcalf who argued that it contains a false premise, one by Graham Oppy (the biggest atheistic expert on ontological arguments) who argued that it is subject to a parody like Gaunilo's island.

    I also had an email exchange with Alexander Pruss and Robert Maydole himself (one thing I wrote him was that I had a proof that the argument is immune to parodies and he told me he was not unimpressed) and from what I can tell, it's a pretty good argument, because – and here it becomes complicated:

    I would say that the premises are true. One is true by definition, the second one seems to be true and intuitively obvious and the third one is the one I would challenge as an atheist, despite the fact that it is also intuitively obvious.

    The problem with the argument is that it requires the strongest system of modal logic, namely second-order quantified logic – which is extremely controversial.

    Also, it has the same problem which is the reason why William Lane Craig doesn't use ontological arguments:
    It takes you forever to wrap your head around it. In Maydole's case, it requires you to understand the concept of non-abstract, non-concrete possibilities, called possibilia. They seem to be a useful tool, but it's not good for the lay reader.

    Right now, I'm working on a series of videos for YouTube that tries to explain the argument and gives a number of defenses.

    The hardest part is to make this complicated stuff accessible to the layperson so it will take me some more time. That is also why I don't expect much on this topic in this podcast. 😉

  2. Brian July 24, 2009

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. I'm no expert on the ontological argument, nor do I think it that practical apologetically. However, I do like it and find the modal logic version is very interesting.

    I think Peter S. Williams does a good job presenting this talk at the recent Tyndale Fellowship conference in Cambridge as part of the philosophy of religion group track.

  3. Matthew July 24, 2009

    nor do I think it that practical apologetically.

    That's because it's worthless unless you have people who understand the semantics of logic you are building your case on and those semantics aren't easy.

    However, I do like it and find the modal logic version is very interesting.

    Well, there isn't such a thing as "the" modal logic version, there are a good number of them, from people like Norman Malcolm, John Harthshorne, Kurt Gödel, Alvin Plantinga, Alexander Pruss, Robert Maydole and I think Anderson (forgot the first name) have each formulated different modal ontological arguments and as I said, Maydole has the best one yet because it relies on complex logic rather than on controversial premises.

    Maydole is the only one who does not assume God is not contingent, which really makes it stand out.

  4. Brian July 24, 2009

    there isn't such a thing as "the" modal logic version

    I mean as opposed to Anselm's early formulations. But like I said, no expert.

  5. Brian July 24, 2009

    By the way, feel free to share those youtube links here, Matthew.

  6. Matthew July 24, 2009

    I mean as opposed to Anselm's early formulations.

    I see. Well, Maydole defends Anselm's argument in the BCTNT, but I focus on what Maydole calls "the modal perfection argument for the existence of a supreme being", which is by far the most sophisticated ontological argument so far.