An Argument from the Duty to Worship
One of my philosophical idols, Alexander Pruss, recently posted a brief but interesting deontic-ontological argument for God’s existence.
The argument runs:
- There ought to be a perfect being.
- What ought to be is possible. (Ought implies can.)
- If a perfect being is possible, there is a perfect being. (By S5 and as a perfect being is necessarily existent and essentially perfect.)
- So, there is a perfect being.
Essentially the argument makes use of the Kantian dictum that ought implies can in order to ground the possibility premise of the modal ontological argument — a brilliant method. However, it was noted by one of Pruss’s commentators that non-agential oughts are likely not applicable to the Kantian principle. Pruss confesses a similar worry. In the comments box attempts are made to justify a non-agential “ought implies can” dictum. I’m not sure if they are successful, but it is worth considering.
Here, I would like to borrow from Pruss’s insight and generate an agential version. But in so doing, I must also explain why I don’t think it is an utterly useless or question begging argument.
The argument would run as follows:
- I am aware of a duty such that I ought to unconditionally glorify, worship, and offer gratitude on behalf of myself and creation.
- If I ought to unconditionally glorify, worship, and offer gratitude on behalf of myself and creation, then it is possible for me to unconditionally glorify, worship and offer gratitude on behalf of myself and creation (ought implies can).
- If it is possible for me to unconditionally glorify, worship and offer gratitude on behalf of myself and creation, then it is possible that there is a perfect personal being to whom glory, worship and gratitude is due.
- If it is possible that there is a perfect personal being to whom glory, worship, and gratitude is due, then there is a perfect personal being to whom glory, worship, and gratitude are due (by S5 and as a perfect being is necessarily existent and essentially perfect).
- So, there is a perfect personal being to whom glory, worship, and gratitude are due.
A brief explanation: when examining my conscience, I genuinely perceive an obligation to glorify, worship, and express a deep sense of gratitude to… well, that which would be the appropriate recipient of such things. This perception is unqualified and without reservation. So it seems to me that this would only make sense if the “object” of such worship and gratitude were perfect. An imperfect being would only merit a conditional sort of praise and gratitude proportionate to its limited perfection and ability. It seems to me that gratitude can only be extended to persons. It makes little sense to be grateful to an impersonal thing since, whatever good it has brought about, the benefit it confers to me is only incidental. Furthermore, it seems to me that the possibility of fulfilling one’s duty to worship, etc. obtains in those worlds where the object of such devotions exist. So the possibility of worshipping God entails the possibility of God.
Now one might say that this argument is worthless, since it cannot convince anyone who does not share this deep conviction that there is a duty to worship. Most committed atheists would be happy to dispense with (1), if this felt duty is taken to imply the real possibility of fulfilling the duty. But I don’t think the argument should be construed as an apologetic tool. Rather, I see it as a way of grounding the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit — an argument by which the Christian can articulate, with some vigor, that this inner impression to worship and feel gratitude for existence does in fact testify to the existence of God, at least for those who perceive it. And perhaps, just perhaps, some atheists, upon reflection will realize a conviction to worship and be grateful. If so, then they may just consider whether this conviction is more than a fleeting “second-hand” emotion, but the promised testimony of the Holy Spirit, which speaks directly to our spirits (Rom 8:16). For, it is said that He guides us in truth (Jn 16:13). And as Christ prophesied, “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (Jn 16:14).