Presenting the ontological argument for God’s existence

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let's take a look at the facts
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let’s take a look at the facts

My friend Günter Bechly has started a new blog, and his first post is about the ontological argument. A lot of smart philosophers really like this argument, but it’s out of favor with evidentialists like me, because… well, it’s just the opposite of evidence in every possible way. And evidence is awesome. Evidence makes the world go round.

But if I’m going to take my philosophical medicine from anyone, I’m going to take it from Dr. Bechly. Because at least he has a doctorate in STEM, and that makes him not a squishy-head:

I am a German scientist (paleo-entomologist), specialized on the fossil history, phylogeny, and evolution of insects, the most diverse group of animals.

I am also a conservative evangelical Christian. I strongly reject atheism, materialism, naturalism, and scientism, and privately support Intelligent Design Theory.

Anyway, here is the new post from his new blog:

The Ontological Argument is a highly sophisticated philosophical argument for the existence of God that is often poorly understood by believers and universally dismissed or even ridiculed by atheists, who usually do not properly grasp the argument either. In his anti-religious pamphlet “The God Delusion” Richard Dawkins made a complete fool of himself with the embarassing remark that the defendants of the Ontological Argument even “felt the need to resort to Modal Logic”, which showed that he was completely ignorant of the fact that this argument simply is an exercise in modal logic (see this Q&A by William Lane Craig). The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell once mocked the Ontological Argument as nothing but “a case of bad grammar”. We will get back to him at the end of this post.

With this very first posting on my new blog, I want to provide an introduction to the famous Ontological Argument, and show how simple but ingenious and unrefuted it really is. When I first truly understood this argument for God’s existence, I was absolutely thrilled by its force, and I hope you will be too.

If you do not like to read lengthy blog posts like this, you find an excellent introduction to the modern modal version of the Ontological Argument in these two short YouTube videos.

That’s the intro, and here is the horrible argument, which contains no evidence, and is therefore evil.

For the purpose of this essay, I reformulated the argument as follows:

  • Premise 1: If a maximally great being exists, it must exist necessarily.
  • Premise 2: If the existence of a being is necessary, it exists in all possible worlds.
  • Premise 3: If the existence of a being is possible, in exists in at least one possible world.
  • Premise 4: It is possible that a maximally great being, aka God, exists.
  • Conclusion: Therefore God exists in one possible world, which implies that he exists in all possible worlds, including the actual world.
  • Therefore, God exists!

A greatly simplified version of the argument makes it even more obvious:

  • Premise A: If a being that has the essential property to “exist in all possible worlds” is demonstrated to exist in one possible world, than it must exist by definition in all possible worlds.
  • Premise B: The existence of a maximally great being that necessarily exists in all possible worlds is possible, so that it exists in at least one possible world.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, such a being exists in all possible worlds including ours.

This argument is a deductive argument in the modus ponens and is universally accepted as logically valid (= properly formed according to the laws of logic). This means that the conclusions follow necessarily from the premises. Thus, our atheist friends cannot simply dismiss the argument because they do not like the conclusion. The only way to refute the argument is to show that one of the premises is false. Premise 1 has been established by Hartshorne and Plantinga as true. The truth of premises 3 and 4 (or of premise A in the simplified version) follows necessarily from modal logic and thus is undeniable.

Therefore, the only chance for the atheist is to deny premise 4 (premise B in the simplified version), which means that he has to deny that God (a maximally great being) is possible. The atheist has to claim that God is logically impossible, because the concept of a maximally great being is incoherent or self-contradictory, like a “round square” for example.

I hope none of you will ever use this evil argument, even though it probably works, and smart people like Craig and Plantinga really like it.

I have been friends with Gunter since last year, when he was interested in intelligent design, which I like, but still not a theist. Then he became a theist, and now a Christian. So, I really like that. I hope everyone will click through and read his article, and then you can all annoy me by telling me how much you like the post, how great philosophy is, and why I need to add it to my list of arguments for Christian theism. It’s an argument tailor made for all you people who don’t like STEM. Sigh.

6 thoughts on “Presenting the ontological argument for God’s existence”

  1. Thank you for making my Thanksgiving, WK!

    “Because at least he has a doctorate in STEM”

    Applies to me, as well. Here is one that has been checked out by your crowd:

    Formal paper:

    Access to the theorem-prover files:

    Nice summary article for the layman:

    My fave, however, is the Argument from Unconditioned Reality:

    (It’s a Muslim site, but it has all of the logic flowcharts in it.)

    Happy Thanksgiving!!!

      1. It is my view that the ontological arguments are actually best used to encourage the brethren, not to place a pebble in the unbeliever’s shoe. However, just pointing out to the unbeliever that there are great minds on both sides that engage with these ontological arguments is of some value, and the fact that smart folks (like you, in your field) actually put some pretty hard work into the modal logic theorem provers to verify Godel’s ontological proof might spark some interest in the unbeliever also.

        Like you, I am an evidentialist, and I believe that is where we should focus the majority of our time and efforts. But that last argument, AUR, was one that really helped me to grasp God as Sustainer in a more intimate way thank any others, including the Bible. For the more mature believer, I do believe that ontology has a lot of benefits. And I am GREATLY impressed that you went against your own grain to present two versions of the argument – and probably the clearest versions out there in ontology – good show, WK!

  2. The quoted from Bertrand Russell is a good one, but it doesn’t fully describe his frustration with St Anselm. This one, I think, is better:

    “[St Anselm’s ontological] argument [for the existence of God] does not, to a modern mind, seem very convincing, but it is easier to feel convinced that it must be fallacious than it is to find out precisely where the fallacy lies.” (Russell, 1946)


  3. Philosophical arguments based on laws of logic are evidential. The evidence is not scientistic or naturalistic as you might prefer. IMO, that is a form of scientism itself, which you often rail against (for good reason). The existence of laws of logic are a further philosophical proof of God’s existence. They can derive only from an authoritative source, which must be God (this requires a chain of reasoning, of course).
    Your statement that William Lane Craig and Plantinga are using evil arguments, seems a bit of a stretch to me.
    I would consider that you are placing too much weight on STEM, weight which it cannot really hold, as a basis for Christian apologetics.
    I’ve been living in a world totally submerged in science my entire life: From grade 3 onward really. I’ve done many years of basic science in molecular biology (regulation of DNA transcription amongst other topics) and am also a physician working in intensive care and anesthesiology..
    It’s been science and evidence fro m God’s creation that led me to, and continually confirms, the truth of both theism and Christianity.
    However, with growth and some maturity, I have seen the importance of a strong philosophical and theological grounding for my faith.
    All of science falls under the umbrella of God’s reality. But it’s only a very small part of a much bigger reality, a reality that requires use of our God given mind, logic, and use of philosophical argument. Science (and STEM) is only a very small slice of God’s reality. STEM relies on philosophy for our ability to make sense of it.

    1. Beautifully put, Sir!

      Science, in and of itself, has no objective foundation. Philosophical foundations for science include, but are not limited to the following: there exists an external world; the external world operates in an orderly fashion; the external world is knowable; truth exists; the laws of logic exist; our cognitive and sensory tools are reliable enough to discover truth and form rational beliefs; language can be adequately used to describe the external world; some form of ethical values exist in which to perform science in a valid way; nature has some uniformity to it; induction and numbers exist; etc.

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