Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Terminology Tuesday: Ontological Argument

Ontological Argument: A priori argument for God’s existence holding that the concept of God implies his necessary existence. Anselm is credited with originating this argument with his claim that God is a being “than which none greater can be conceived” and that a being who existed only in thought would not be such a being.

The argument was defended by Rene Descartes and Gottfried Leibniz and attacked by David Hume and Immanuel Kant. In the twentieth century the argument was defended by Alvin Plantinga, Norman Malcolm and Charles Hartshorne. Some of the twentieth-century versions stressed the idea that necessary existence is an essential property of God.1

1. C.Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 85.


  1. bossmanham August 11, 2009

    One of the more brilliant arguments I have heard. At first it sounds silly, but upon reflection it makes sense.

  2. Anonymous March 4, 2011

    This same argument can also be used to prove the existence of the "most perfect unicorn." If the most perfect unicorn did not exist then it would not be the most perfect one!

    Proving the existence of things (God, France, unicorns) using logical arguments tricky business. We might be better off demonstrating the existence of things by providing evidence of their existence. Just saying.

  3. Anonymous November 20, 2012

    A "most perfect unicorn" is limited to the physical traits that make it a unicorn.

  4. LittleGoose November 20, 2012

    This argument has always been sooo cool and still confusing. Examples of things like the "most perfect unicorn" don't make sense for the reason given above, so those types of counter arguments don't bother me (at least for now). What I don't understand is how could the ontological argument not be used to prove the existence of a nearly perfect being (has all the attributes of a perfect being except say perfect knowledge)? Or any coherent being that has necessary existence. I've heard William Lane Craig say that the existence of a perfect being would preclude the existence of any other nearly perfect being, but I don't understand why. Advice anyone?

  5. tenkaren November 20, 2012

    Useless and worthless argument. Jesus preached repentence, not abstract logic. The argument has never made anyone worship The one True God of scripture. In fact it takes away focus from The person of Christ to empty philosophy.

  6. Brian Auten November 20, 2012


    I would beg to differ.

    Yes, Jesus preached repentance. But it does not follow that we can't explore the Christian faith with our God-given minds.

    Furthermore, the ontological argument seems in my estimation to exalt God beyond anything else. It is pointing to the One True God. "Than which none greater can be conceived" – and a God who cannot not exist.

    I wouldn't say it takes the focus away from Christ, but it's a pointer to Christ. Empty philosophy, I would say, is philosophy devoid of God or devoid of any Christian core.

    And perhaps we're not in the position to say what this argument has or has not done in the lives of people to lead them toward Christ. And of course if our goal is to lead someone to Christ it's not as if we run to use only the ontological argument or something.

  7. Anonymous November 20, 2012

    @LittleGoose: Perfection is a necessary attribute of God. Qualifiers like "most" and "nearly" muddy the waters.

    There's no such thing as a most perfect anything since there are no degrees of perfection (it either is or isn't perfect); and a nearly perfect being would necessarily need a target of perfection (else how would it be "nearly" reached?).

    @tenkaren: Jesus preached repentance using brilliant arguments and speaking in abstract logic, so much so that his closest students often misunderstood and had to ask what he meant!

    You're using Col. 2:8 out of context. Paul isn't saying philosophy is worthless, he's fighting idea-battles against those who would enforce Jewish regulations that Christ has made obsolete (v. 16-ff).

  8. LittleGoose November 20, 2012

    @ Anonymous
    Thanks for the reply. Sorry about the confusion, I don't traffic in philosophy enough to be completely accurate sometimes. I guess I just carried over the use of "most perfect" from the "most perfect unicorn" above my comment. What I meant by a "nearly perfect being" is a being that has all great making properties except one or two.

  9. Chad November 21, 2012

    Hello all,

    I wanted to offer an outstanding video I found on the Ontological Argument that can be viewed here.

    This is the best explanation of the Ontological Argument that I personally have ever seen. I hope it proves beneficial!


  10. Mathetes November 21, 2012

    I don't think Plantinga's version has the word "perfect" in it. He talks about a maximally great being. To be maximally great would be to exist in every conceivable (possible) world.

    The parodies that use material or fantasy objects don't really apply. How could we say that a unicorn, or a pizza, or whatever, is maximally great? I could imagine killing the unicorn, or eating the pizza. Then it would cease to necessarily exist, which doesn't make any sense.

    Or what about eating a pizza with parts of the unicorn as an extra topping on the pizza? Here you can kill two parodies with one pizza!

    Would the unicorn have a really long horn? Perhaps the pizza would have just the right proportion of pepperoni, flown in from a possibly perfect Italy?

    This is why the parodies don't really work. For an example, I think Stenger used the pizza parody in his last debate with WL Craig.