After reading Anselm’s Proslogion, a person could be convinced of the existence of a supreme being, based on the ontological argument he provides. Anselm claims that there exists a being that which nothing greater can be thought. He is referring to God and shows how the simple idea of God in one’s mind proves that God exists because it is that which nothing greater can be thought. An idea that exists only in the mind and not in reality is not as great as an idea, which exists in both. Since God is the greatest being, God must exist in our minds as well as in reality.
If a person had read the first of the five ways presented by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa of Theology and his Summa Against the Heathens, this person could be convinced of a divine being through the proof of an unmoved mover, who Aquinas conveys as God. The first of the five ways that Aquinas uses to prove the existence of God is related to motion. Aquinas says that some objects in the world are in motion. These objects must be moved by another object in motion. From that, he makes the deduction that there is a long chain of movers that not only move objects but also are moved by objects before them. Since the chain cannot go to infinity, there must be some unmoved mover that starts the chain and Aquinas concludes this being to be God.
We will call the two previous convictions A, representing Anselm and T, representing Thomas Aquinas. Also, we will refer to G as the conviction that God exists. Together both convictions, A and T, are not equivalent to G. A and T both take different routes in proving G but are flawed in their own ways.
Take for example A by itself, which is not equal to G. From individual to individual, there can be different notions of the word God. For example, take an idea of a sports car that which nothing greater can be thought. Two different people may have two very different ideas of what makes a sports car the greatest. The use of the word “greatest” in the argument is left for individual interpretation and also just the thought of the greatest sports car does not mean that it exists. Simply conceiving the greatest of anything does not result in its existence. If everyone had the same definition of God, a stronger case for A equaling G could be made but we know this not to be true. Anselm’s argument works under special circumstances but cannot be extended for every case.
T by itself is not equal to G. Strictly speaking, T simply provides reasoning for a being that is an unmoved mover, not an all-powerful deity. However, Aquinas attributes this being to God but it can just as easily be attributed to any other being. Applying Aquinas’s principle that motion of an object must be received from a moving object before that object, the argument would result in infinity. If God is the first unmoved mover to start the motion of objects, the notion of God contradicts Aquinas’ foundation that all movers must be moved.
An ordinary conception of God is a supreme being that is all good, omniscient, and omnipotent. Given such a conception, the conviction represented by A partially fails to be equivalent to it because of the various assumptions that Anselm makes in his ontological proof. Anselm references the greatest being, that which nothing greater can be thought, however, this does not necessarily mean that this being is omniscient, omnipotent, or other qualities that are included in an ordinary conception of God. This is due to the simple fact that a person’s interpretation of greatness or idea of greatest may or may not encompass these qualities. Consider the common man’s knowledge for a great basketball player. Some would assume that this person would be extremely tall. Using Anselm’s proof for the greatest basketball player that can be thought, each person’s idea could be potentially different from the next. Some may define the greatest as the quickest or the best at shooting while others would agree that it would be the tallest man. This failure to be equivalent is only a partial failure because some may have the same definition as the ordinary conception while others would have a different definition.
T partially fails to be equivalent to the ordinary conception of God as well but is closer to equivalence than A. In the first of Aquinas’ five ways, he simply proves a being that is a mover that is not moved. This can be interpreted to be an omnipotent being because it breaks away from the assumption that all objects that can move must be moved by another object before it. Only an all-powerful being would be able to be the unmoved mover. The first of the five ways does not embody the other ordinary conceptions of God in any way. However, if we were to expand our prior knowledge which led us to conviction T from just including the first way to including all five ways then we are closer to equivalence. Each of the five ways proves a different feature that a being could have which can be juxtaposed with the ordinary conceptions of god. Aquinas is closer to proving the existence of God with his five ways in comparison with Anselm’s ontological proof.
We will refer to the limited acceptance that David Hume acknowledges for natural theology, as H. H is not directly equivalent to A or T, or both together because H is built upon the premise that analogies cannot be extended to the existence of God. A and T both conclude with statements that recognize the existence of God. Strictly speaking, Hume would not agree with A or T, therefore H does not equal A or T. Hume does however agree with the fact that if the arguments, A or T, are convincing enough, then they can be extended to human intelligence but not any further.
H captures less of what people ordinarily take the word ‘God’ to mean. Hume does not suggest anywhere in his limited acceptance of natural theology about the existence of God or any of the ordinary notions that are associated with God. Since he does not accept the existence of God as deduced by natural theology, his statement, H, does not bear any similarity to the ordinary conception of God. To a certain extent, A and T do acknowledge God and based on individual interpretation capture what the word ‘God’ incorporates. Therefore, H captures less of the ordinary notion of God then A or T. Philosophers have yet to agree upon a definitive answer to whether God exists or not and each one provides their own argument. Each argument has its strengths and weaknesses and ultimately, we continue to work to find the answer.
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Problem of Evil
The challenge issued by Gretchen Weirob in John Perry’s Dialogue on Good, Evil and the Existence of God is directed towards Sam Miller. Not only does Gretchen want Sam to prove to her the existence of God, but also God’s coexistence with evil in the natural world. A successful answer to this challenge would be a clear and proficient proof for how a perfect God can exist and can create a world where there is evil. Sam starts arguing that God has a big picture plan for the universe, which includes necessary evil and imperfections for the greater good. Gretchen does not buy into his big picture argument and in order to prove the big picture, Sam presents her with a three-part theodicy.
The first part discusses free will, where Sam says that creatures and beings have the option to make good choices or bad ones and the path that they choose is entirely up to them. Consider the choice a student makes between cheating on a test and studying diligently. The decision that he makes is up to him because he has free will. Gretchen is not convinced and does not believe that an all-good God can exist because of this reason.
Sam counters with the second part, which considers the notion of the afterlife where God does justice for all the wrongs that are done in the world. For example, a flawed justice system could result in a criminal not being punished for his crime or an innocent man taking the fall for something the man has not done. In the afterlife, God, an all-fair and just being, would punish the criminal and reward the innocent man. Gretchen provides examples for evils that are not caused or controlled by humans and Sam has an answer for that as well.
The final part deals with the existence of devils, which causes anguish and pain through natural phenomenon. This encompasses the remaining evil in the world that is not directly an effect of free will. For example, a tsunami that wipes out many cities is not something a human can control and it is explained by the will of the devils.
These various ideas and the examples that defend them offer a satisfactory response to how evil can exist in the world created by a supreme being. Sam’s theodicy is difficult to argue with as he provides examples and observations in the natural world that eventually encompass all kinds of evil in the world. Gretchen is unable to come up with any more counter-examples or scenarios of evil in the world and she admits that Sam has provided a satisfactory response to her challenge.
In David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Philo claims “the idea of such a Deity” is consistent with the nature of the world. God formed the world and everything in it. Therefore, a logical parallel to draw is between the nature of the world and the nature of God. Philo’s argument could answer Gretchen’s challenge because she is simply looking for a possible explanation not necessarily a feasible one. As long as Gretchen is provided an explanation for how God can exist alongside the evidence of so much evil in the world, she will treat this as a satisfactory response.
However, there is good and evil in the world and given this nature, we cannot infer that God exists. Since our world is not perfect, our evidence and observations cannot be used as a root for the argument of God’s existence. For example, if a vehicle were to collide with an innocent pedestrian, an all-perfect God would not only know it was going to happen but also could have prevented it from happening in the first place. We can extend this example to all grief in the world and dismiss any understanding of God that comes from the world. If a perfect deity were to create a perfect world, we could use that evidence to prove the existence of such a deity.
In my opinion, the inability to make this inference would hinder Philo’s ability to meet Gretchen’s challenge because he would be unable to prove to her that a supreme benevolent being exists. Philo explains four hypotheses for the possible nature of God; perfectly good, completely evil, good and evil, and neither good nor evil. The first two are immediately thrown out because of the natural world has both good and evil; therefore God has to somehow embody both forces. The third possibility is viewed by many as two separate beings, one representing good and another representing evil. If this were the case, then our world would be caught in a struggle and this is not evident simply observing what happens on Earth. What we can see is regardless of the nature of a person, that person is subject to the laws of nature. For example, a thief and a charity worker living in a city could both lose their homes because of a hurricane. Their individual nature has nothing to do with whether the hurricane will affect them or not. God set up these laws of nature to affect everyone. Therefore, God is neither good nor evil.
At best, Philo would prove to Gretchen about neither an all-good, nor an all-evil God, rather a neutral one. Gretchen would not be entirely convinced because her definition of God along with the general consensus is that God is all-good. The only assumptions for a possible existence of God come from what we can observe and the problem of evil in the world is a definite deterrent in proving this to be true.