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:

  1. There ought to be a perfect being.
  2. What ought to be is possible. (Ought implies can.)
  3. If a perfect being is possible, there is a perfect being. (By S5 and as a perfect being is necessarily existent and essentially perfect.)
  4. 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:

  1. I am aware of a duty such that I ought to unconditionally glorify, worship, and offer gratitude on behalf of myself and creation.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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).

Posted on June 25, 2013, in Arguments for God and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Interesting argument, Dan. I agree with number 1 in that there seems to be some innate desire to worship and stand in awe of things: a beautiful sunset, feelings of love, gratitude for life as a gift. But regarding number 3, why must we posit a personal being? It seems that we conceive that gratitude can only be felt toward another being because we are beings and perhaps that is how our brain is hard wired to think. I just still believe in Kant’s unknown X: that it’s not possible to know what’s outside of us because our brains view it according to its own categories. But I do think number 3 is possible, but I think that it’s just as possible that we can feel deep gratitude and that that gratitude might go toward a impersonal thing or what could turn out to be nothing (yet we wouldn’t know that that’s where our gratitude is received). Although this makes far less sense, of course, but in my opinion and I think logically there’s really no way to argue definitively for a personal being than an impersonal thing or nothingness. But, (to flip flop), you could say (as you did) that those feelings of gratitude when someone does something for us are usually felt toward beings, and so it makes logical sense that the gratitude for existence would be felt toward a larger being. But at the end of this post, I still think number 3 can go both toward a personal being or an impersonal being or nothingness, but that it makes the most sense for it to be a personal being based upon our experience in life, but that there’s still really no way to argue for something such as God outside yourself definitively. Call me a solipsist! :)

    Like

  1. Pingback: Good Reasons to Believe: Do Ontological Arguments Provide Good Reasons to Believe | vexing questions

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: