Author Archives: Daniel Vecchio
Often when I share my arguments, atheists will respond by pointing out that one cannot define God into existence. I don’t think my arguments do that, since each of them require axioms and premises that move beyond mere definitions to establish their conclusions. At any rate, when someone makes this objection, this is what I visualize:
I’ve also heard it said that you cannot use logic to prove the existence of something:
Here is a variation on my argument from Anselm to Plantinga:
P1) Possibly, there is an absolutely metaphysically simple being.
P2) Necessarily, that there is an absolutely metaphysically simple being implies that there is a maximally great being.
P3) If it’s possible that something is maximally great, then it’s possible that necessarily there is an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
C) There is an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being.
Defense of P1: An absolutely metaphysically simple being, insofar as it is being, is attributed positively, cannot contain a part that negates its essential nature, which means it does not contain inconsistent properties or attributes. Now, it has been objected, by none other than Plantinga, that the concept of a metaphysically simple being is incoherent, but as Vallicella (2019) points out, one need not adopt the metaphysical framework by which that incoherence is pressed. Thus the metaphysical possibility of an absolutely metaphysical being will depend on the supposition of a “constituent” metaphysical frame work. Vallicella (2019) writes, the “constituent” metaphysicians “…did not think of individuals as related to their properties as to abstracta external to them, but as having properties as ontological constituents.” This roughly tracks Aristotelian realism over Platonic realism, which I think is a decisively preferable metaphysical framework, given the third-man objection to Platonism. With these considerations in mind, I think it is highly plausible to defend the metaphysical possibility of an absolutely simple being.
Defense of P2: Aquinas demonstrates that an absolutely metaphysically simple being is metaphysically necessary (since its has existence essentially, see -), omnipotent (since God is infinite, which is derived from His simplicity), omniscient (see, in particular, ), and the good of every good (see ) and the highest good (see ), so omnibenevolent. Now one might object that a maximally great being has many divine attributes and is, therefore, not absolutely metaphysically simple, but Aquinas explains that the plurality of divine attributes is not opposed to divine simplicity. Since the attributes of a maximally great being can be deduced from an absolutely simple being, we can conclude that the existence of an absolutely simple being necessarily implies an maximally great being (where maximal greatness is defined as a necessarily existing, omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being).
Defense of P3: This implication follows from Plantinga’s stipulative definitions of maximal greatness, and maximal excellence, with a slight deviation from moral perfection to omnibenevolence, defined in Thomistic terms. So this is an analytically true implication.
Mx ≝ x is maximally great
Ox ≝ x is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent
Sx ≝ x is absolutely metaphysically simple
Theorem of K: ☐(p → q) → (♢p → ♢q)
Theorem of S5: ♢☐p → ☐p
Axiom M: ☐p → p
1. ♢(∃x)Sx (premise)
2. ☐[(∃x)Sx → (∃y)My](premise)
3. ♢(∃y)My → ♢☐(∃z)Oz (premise)
4. ☐[(∃x)Sx → (∃y)My]] → [♢(∃x)Sx → ♢(∃y)My] (Theorem of K)
5. ♢(∃x)Sx → ♢(∃y)My (2,4 MP)
6. ♢(∃y)My (1,5 MP)
7. ♢☐(∃z)Oz (3,6 MP)
8. ♢☐(∃z)Oz → ☐(∃z)Oz (Theorem of S5)
9. ☐(∃z)Oz (7,8 MP)
10. ☐(∃z)Oz → (∃z)Oz (Axiom M)
11. (∃z)Oz (9,10 MP)
Vallicella, William F., “Divine Simplicity”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2019/entries/divine-simplicity/>.
There is a slight difference in the way Anselm and Plantinga define God. Anselm’s definition is that God is that than which none greater can be conceived. Plantinga’s God is a maximally great being, i.e. a necessarily existing being that has omnipotence, omniscience, and morally perfection. Anselm’s definition is negative, while Plantinga’s is positive. Anselm’s definition fits with the apophatic tradition of a negative theology, i.e. God is not among those things of which a greater can be conceived. It is because Anselm’s definition is negative that I contend that Thomas Aquinas is incorrect in his central critique of the ontological argument. Anselm isn’t offering a positive account of God’s essential nature. I agree with Aquinas that a positive account of God’s essential nature cannot be completely and univocally known to us, but I should also say that although Plantinga’s definition is positive, it is not claimed to be complete and it need not be interpreted as perfections of “power”, “knowledge”, and “goodness” as those terms are understood univocally.
There is still a strong relationship between the Anselmian definition of God and the Plantingan definition. Namely, one can derive from the Anselmian definition various divine attributes like necessary existence, omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection, among other perfections. So one can argue that if there is an Anselmian God, then there is a maximally great being, in the Plantingan sense. Indeed, that impication necessarily holds, given that it analytically follows from the Anselmian definition. As an aside, I would argue that the two definitions are not equivalent in that one cannot derive the Anselmian definition from the Plantingan definition. So, the existence of a maximally great being would not necessarily imply the existence of Anselm’s God.
Another interesting aspect of Anselm’s definition is that, since it is negative, I think the case for its metaphysical possibility can be firmly established. Now, I am not suggesting that Anselm makes a modal inference that the metaphysical possibility of God, as he defines it, entails his actual existence. Still, it is often disputed that conceivability does not entail metaphysical possibility. However, in this particular case, the conceivability of the Anselmian God makes the following falsehood self-evident, viz. that it is somehow metaphysically necessary that for any object, there will always be something else one could conceive of which would be greater.
Given that Plantinga’s maximally great being is a necessarily existing omnipotent, omnicient, and morally perfect being, I think there may be a powerful way to combine the fact that we can understand the Anselmian God, and show the Anselmian God possible, and use that to demonstrate the existence of a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect. In what follows, I exploit Anselm to vindicate Plantinga.
Informal Expression of the Argument:
P1) If I can understand the Anselmian definition of God, then it is not necessarily the case that, for any given thing, there will be something conceivably greater.
P2) If it is possible that there is something than which none greater can be conceived, then it is possible that there is an Anselmian God.
P3) The existence of the Anselmian God necessarily implies the existence of a maximally great being.
P4) I can understand the Anselmian definition of God.
P5) If it’s possible that something is maximally great, then it’s possible that there is a necessarily existing, omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being.
C) There is an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being.
A Formal Expression of the Argument:
P1) If it is possible that the Anselmian God is in the understanding, then it is not necessary that, for all x, it is conceivable that there is y and y is greater than x.
P2) If it is possible that there is something, x, such that it is not conceivable that there is some y and y is greater than x, then it is possible that there is something, z, and z is the Anselmian God.
P3) Necessarily, if there is something that is the Anselmian God, then there is something that is maximally great.
P4) It is possible that the Anselmian God is in the understanding
P5) If it is possible that there is something that is maximally great, then it is possibly necessary that there is something that is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
C) There is something that is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
Formal Deductive Proof of the Argument:
Mx ≝ x is maximally great
Ox ≝ x is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect
Ux ≝ x is in the understanding
Gxy ≝ x is greater than y
©… ≝ it is conceivable that…
g ≝ (ɿx)(~©(∃y)Gyx)
Theorem of K: ☐(p → q) → (♢p → ♢q)
Theorem of S5: ♢☐p → ☐p
Axiom M: ☐p → p
1. ♢Ug → ~☐(∀x)©(∃y)(Gyx) (premise)
2. ♢(∃x)~©(∃y)(Gyx) → ♢(∃z)(z = g) (premise)
3. ☐[(∃z)(z = g) → (∃x)Mx] (premise)
4. ♢Ug (premise)
5. ♢(∃x)Mx → ♢☐(∃y)Oy (premise)
6. ☐[(∃z)(z = g) → (∃x)Mx] → [♢(∃z)(z = g) → ♢(∃x)Mx] (Theorem of K)
7. ~☐(∀x)©(∃y)(Gyx) (1,4 MP)
8. ~~♢~(∀x)©(∃y)(Gyx)(7 ME)
9. ♢~(∀x)©(∃y)(Gyx)(8 DN)
10. ♢(∃x)~©(∃y)(Gyx)(9 QN)
11. ♢(∃z)(z = g) (2,10 MP)
12. ♢(∃z)(z = g) → ♢(∃x)Mx (3,6 MP)
13. ♢(∃x)Mx (11,12 MP)
14. ♢☐(∃y)Oy (5,13 MP)
15. ♢☐(∃y)Oy → ☐(∃y)Oy (Theorem of S5)
16. ☐(∃y)Oy (14,15 MP)
17. ☐(∃y)Oy → (∃y)Oy (Axiom M)
18. (∃y)Oy (16,17 MP)
P1) Hope is a virtue.
P2) If God does not exist, hope is not a virtue.
C) God exists.
Defense of P1: Hope is a habit of the will by which one desires a good and expects to receive it. As in many virtues, hope is a mean between extremes, as one can desire a good in a disordered way (too much or too little in relation to other things good or bad), and ones expectations can be too high or too low for evidential reasons. Hope, then, involves achieving a mean in both what one desires and what one expects, which shows that there is a certain state of character that admits of a mean between extremes that tends towards our good. There are goods that we can appropriately desire, and which we can reasonably expect to obtain. So hope is a virtue.
Defense of P2: Schopenhauer is right, and Nietzsche is wrong. If there is no God, there is no external, objective, and ultimate source of meaning, i.e. there is no global meaning and any local attempts at meaning is futile. Pessimism is the appropriate expectation, and hope is, therefore, a vicious extreme. Likewise, no good is all that good in the long run, so one should not desire any good more than non-existence, which the anti-natalist philosopher, David Benatar, notes is at least “not-bad”. The “not-badness” of non-existence outweighs the minor goods found in existence when they are stacked along side the immense amount of suffering and misery life doles out. Therefore, even if there is a minor good that one might reasonably expect, hope is still vicious because, on the whole, one is desiring a good disproportionately, when one should favor the blessings of non-existence, once one has truly weighed out everything. As Schopenhauer writes:
Again, you may look upon life as an unprofitable episode, disturbing the blessed calm of non-existence. And, in any case, even though things have gone with you tolerably well, the longer you live the more clearly you will feel that life is a disappointment, nay, a cheat…” (On the Sufferings of the World, 1851).
What about Nietzsche and Russell? Both admit that with atheism, there is no ultimate sort of meaning. But Nietzsche resists the pessimistic implication by supposing that we can invent meaning from within. Can this be done while also recognizing that this meaning is subjectively invented? Can you fall for an illusion while also noting that it is an illusion? Russell writes:
…[A]lthough it is of course gloomy view to suppose that life will die out—at least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the thing that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation—it is not such as to render life miserable (Why I am not A Christian, 1927).
Almost a consolation? We can be a “Pollyanna” and turn our attention to local goals, but in the end, we know that these goods and are ultimate justifications cannot make hope, the expectation and desire of goods, a mean between extremes. Virtuous hope, in a godless world, is impossible because it would be based the illusory belief that our invented meaning is better than it really is, or that, in the long run, the illusion that we can reasonable to expect such goods for any decent amount of time into our brief and decrepit future. Hope, in a godless world, becomes the vice of presumption, where desires and expectations are not aligned with the reality of the situation.
But then again, hope really is a virtue, so given the validity of the argument, God exists.
Can you think of a direct and intentional action done by someone to someone, aside from abortion, that is morally wrong to wish happened, but would not be wrong for someone to have done it to them?
“I wish someone robbed you!” is an immoral thing to wish, and if someone were to rob that person, the robber would be acting immorally.
“I wish someone murdered you!” is an immoral thing to wish, and if someone were to murder that person, the murderer would be acting immorally.
“I wish someone raped you!” is an immoral thing to wish, and if someone were to rape that person, the raper would be acting immorally.
I think we have an intuitive sense that it would be morally wrong to express this wish to someone:
“I wish you had been aborted in your mother’s womb”.
Yet, some of us think that had someone aborted your life-stage as a fetus, that person would be acting in a morally permissible way.
Other examples? Aside from abortion? If not, then it may be that abortion isn’t really an exception to the rule, this wish test.
I think you could construct the following argument:
P1) If it is morally wrong to express a wish that someone directly and intentionally act upon a person, then the act, itself, is morally wrong.
P2) It is morally wrong to express a wish that a mother or abortion doctor should have been aborted a person.
P3) Abortion is a direction and intentional action.
C) Abortion, itself, is morally wrong.
Now, it is important to note that we are talking about wishing for a person to actively do something to you. This would preclude the assessment of events or other counterfactual circumstances as being “morally wrong”. In other words, it may be hurtful and even immoral to wish that certain events had occurred in someone’s life, or that some events of circumstances had occurred in one’s parent’s life, which would have resulted in a state of affairs wherein one does not exist. So, for example, to express “I wish your parents had never met” or “I wish your parents fell in love with other people and were subsequently prevented from consummating at the appropriate time to bring you about” is not a wish that someone act upon the person directly. They may be hurtful and even immoral wishes, but they are wishes about circumstances and events rather than actions one wishes to have happened directly to the person in question. So to clarify, the “Wish Test”, as we might call it, is a test about moral actions done to members of the moral community.
Here is an argument that an omnipotent individual exists:
P1) All potentialities are things, or states of affairs, that can be realized by an actually existing individual or an actually existing mereological sum.
P2) All metaphysical possibilities are potentialities.
C1) All metaphysical possibilities are things, or states of affairs, that can be realized by an actually existing individual or an actually existing mereological sum (P1,P2 Modus Barbara).
P3) If all metaphysical possibilities are things, or states of affairs, that can be realized by an actually existing individual or an actually existing mereological sum, then some individual is an omnipotent being or some mereological sum is an omnipotent being.
C2) Some individual is an omnipotent being or some mereological sum is an omnipotent being. (C1,P3 Modus Ponens).
P4) No thing that is contingent is an omnipotent being.
P5) All mereological sums are things that are contingent.
C3) No mereological sum is an omnipotent being (P4,P5 Modus Celarent).
C4) It is not the case that some mereological sum is an omnipotent being (C3 Contradiction).
C5) Some individual is an omnipotent being (C2,C4 Disjunctive Syllogism).
C6) There is an individual that is an omnipotent being (C5 Semantic Equivalence).
Defense of premises:
Support for P1: This is a statement of actualism, the metaphysical thesis that anything that is potentially real must be grounded in something that is actually real. That is, potentials are the powers that actualities possess.
Support for P2: Here, I defend this implication as following from the definition of what a metaphysical possibility is, namely, a real potential that can be actualized. That is, these are genuine possibilities, and not mere epistemic possibilities, and so are properly potentially real things, or states of affairs.
Support for P3: The implication, here, is that there is either an individual or set of things that is the actuality by which all potentials can be realized. That is, if all potentials can be realized by something actual, then that actuality, be it individually or collectively, is omnipotent. This is the definition of omnipotence. Note that this premises is neutral on the question of whether the set of “all metaphysical possibilities” is finite or infinite. However, to be omnipotent, it is sufficient that one has the power to actualize all of the metaphysical possibilities there are. It need not be established that the set is infinite, though I suspect it is. To be omnipotent, one must possess the ability to actualize all of the metaphysical possibilities that there are.
Support for P4: A thing that is contingent is not the source of its own existence, and therefore cannot be the actuality by which its own existence obtains. The potential for a contingent thing to exist must exist in some other actuality beyond itself.
Support for P5: A mereological sum is a collection of things that, grouped together, compose some whole. All collections of things are contingent on their parts, and the arrangement or structure by which those parts really compose a whole, just as a human is contingent upon the atoms which compose his body.
P1) There is a Summum Bonum (highest good).
P2) The kind of good that is most lovable is a beloved that has the attribute of personhood.
P3) The Summum Bonum is eternal, necessary, unchanging, ultimate final cause, and source of moral values and duties.
P4) All goods are lovable in proportion to the kind of good they are.
C1) The Summum Bonum is a kind of good that is most lovable (From P4).
C2) The highest good is a beloved that has the attribute of personhood (From P2, and C1)
C3) There is an eternal, necessary, ultimate final cause, and source of moral values and duties, which is most lovable, and has the attribute of personhood (From P1, P2, C1, and C2).
Definition: God is a perfect, necessarily existing, personal being.
1) If one thinks that it is very probable that God is not broadly logically/metaphysically impossible, then one should think it is very probable that God exists.
2) I think it is very probable that God is not broadly logically/metaphysically impossible.
3) I should think it is very probable that God exists. (From 1 and 2)
4) I understand my epistemic obligation in (3).
5) If I understand my epistemic obligations regarding a proposition that I should think is true, then I think that proposition is true.
6) I think it is very probable that God exists. (From 3, 4, and 5)
P1) If a belief is made true simply by mentally affirming that it is true, then it is not worth arguing about the belief.
P2) If subjective morality is true, then all moral beliefs are made true simply by mentally affirming that they are true.
P3) It is worth arguing about moral beliefs.
C) Subjective morality is false.
Defense of premises:
In defense of P1, it could be said that the truth-maker for the belief is immediately intuited by the individual subject. Since each individual will immediately intuit their own mental affirmations, there is no value in debating with someone else what one’s own mental affirmations really are. One need only introspect to discover the truth-maker for the belief, which is merely the affirmation of the belief.
In defense of P2, that is just what subjective moral relativism holds. If you define subjective relativism in some other way, that simply is not my target.
In defense of P3 I point to empirical evidence that moral debates and disputes are held to be among the most worth-while discussions humans have.
The conclusion follows from the premises, i.e. QED.