This is an extract of our Arguments For The Existence Of God document, which we sell as part of our Metaphysics Notes collection written by the top tier of Cambridge students.
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Is there a god?
In this essay I will argue against the arguments for the existence of God, focusing particularly on the ontological proof, so as to demonstrate either His non
existence or the high likelihood thereof. I will take a priori arguments first, because if we can justify God's existence from only the meaning of the word God, then we needn't go any further, into analysing the world, for instance. I will then distinguish the rationalist, or naturalistic, God from the God of classical theism, and make my separate deductions for each. I aim to conclude that, whilst the existence of God cannot be strictly disproven in any way, there is such a thing as the burden of proof, and it lies with the theist. The Ontological Argument Ontological arguments try to determine God's existence by means of a priori reasoning, that is reasoning independent of the state of the external world. Since I can conceive of a being than which no greater could be conceived, it follows that such a being must exist, because otherwise I could think of a greater one, who did. But we might as well look at the argument a different way. Descartes is saying that, for God to be perfect, he would require to be existent. If God would require to be existent in order to be perfect, then surely that would undermine the whole argument that He was the greatest thing I could conceive, because I could just as easily conceive of one who didn't require any such thing. The fact that he required anything at all would be an imperfection. Douglas Gasking draws the amusing observation that 'the most formidable handicap for a creator would be nonexistence' and so concludes that a creator who could overcome this handicap would be a being greater than one who could not. Obviously this isn't intended to be a proof of God's nonexistence (even if God did create the world whilst not existing, it doesn't follow that he couldn't have done so whilst existing) but it at least provides a good demonstration of the bizarre kind of reasoning on offer here. The proponent of the ontological argument takes existence to be a necessary part of our concept of a god. As such, it makes no sense to say god does not exist, any more than saying that an existent thing is nonexistent. But this is surely a matter of phrasing, and we could just as easily say that "there is no god/existent deity". Descartes is saying that God is necessarily existent in the same way that a triangle is necessarily threesided. Just as if a shape doesn't have three sides it can't be a triangle, if a being isn't real then it can't be God. But this doesn't really tell us anything about whether or not we have a God (or a triangle) in the first place. Saying that triangles come with three sides tells you neither that there is such a thing as a triangle nor that there is anything that is threesided. You could just as well do without either. Suppose I have a concept of a monster in my mind, which I'm calling the monkeytoad. For something to be
a monkeytoad, I require that it is half monkey and half toad. Anything that is only monkey, I will still define as a monkey, and anything that is only toad, I will still define as a toad. Nothing that is not precisely half of each can amount to my conception of a monkeytoad. So what have I achieved with this? I have defined my monkeytoad, and I have set bounds to my definition. I haven't actually said anything about whether or not there must now be such a thing, merely because I defined what one would be. As Hume famously said, "you can't define something into existence". It should be noted that if Hume is right on this, then the entire ontological argument falls down, as this is precisely what it tries to do. But perhaps my monkeytoad argument is missing the point. There are clearly differences between the things I ascribe to my imaginary monster and those that the ontological argument ascribes to God. That is to say that appearance (e.g. the green colour of a frog) seems a different sort of thing to existence (e.g. whether or not there's a frog at all). When I describe my monkeytoad and have the concept clear in your mind, it doesn't change what you envision for me to say that the monster is now existent. Certainly not in the same way as saying that it has an extra head or some additional aspects of a salmon. It seems to me that when we conceive of something, we necessarily conceive it as though it was existent, because otherwise we would be conceiving nothingness or, more probably, simply not conceiving at all. We clearly can't add characteristics to a conception that we aren't having. So, again, we see a difference between existence and predicates or, at the least, between existence and other predicates. In fact, it is around this point that the major disputes concerning the ontological argument revolve. There are a number of difficulties with treating existence as a predicate. Firstly, it seems that existence isn't something we can add to a concept, but rather to determine whether that concept applies to the real world. In order to illustrate this point, it is natural to compare its usage in parallels with more obvious predicates, for instance colour or shape. G. E. Moore illustrates this well, and so I will here use a similar explanation of the problem. To say that 'buses are red' is clearly an ambiguous use of English. We could mean either that they are all red or only that some of them are red1. It is clear what I would mean in saying either of these. If we contrast this with the sentence 'buses are existent' there is again a problem. We might simply interpret this as meaning that, of the things that are existent, some of them are such that we refer to them as buses, or, in other words, 'some buses exist'. However, the parallel we posed for 'buses are red', namely that 'all buses exist' does not have such a clear meaning. There is, therefore, some difference between the usage of a colour predicate and that of the word 'exist'. We have not yet established what this is, however.
1 We ought to clarify what we mean by the statement that 'some buses are red'. In the strictest sense, it means only that there are at least two things at which we might point and say 'this is a bus and it is also red'. [We say it means 'at least two' because some is a plural.]
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