The Ontological Arguments

Once and Future Traditionalist blogger and orthospherean Casey Ann, now on hiatus from her doughty online efforts so that she can concentrate on college, recently commented on a post from 2013 in which I offered an ontological argument for the existence of God, asking for help with the covalent ontological arguments of St. Anselm of Canterbury and of Alvin Plantinga. She wrote:

I’m currently suffering through a Philosophy of Religion course (the democratic nature of these courses is sickening), and we have just gone over the cosmological arguments, arguments from design, the ontological arguments, and their respective criticisms. I’m writing an essay about which I prefer and discussing its strengths and weaknesses. I immediately go toward the ontological argument per St. Anselm, which I have loved for years now. The problem is that each time I study it I find myself peering at it through seemingly various aspects that become obscure to me as the next one approaches (this also could be linked to sleep issues, but anyway). I would love to get your perspective on it. What do you make of St. Thomas’s criticisms of it? Can a Thomist use the ontological argument? Do you think that there are really two ontological arguments made by Anselm? How do you approach Kant’s criticism and does it reject the traditional notion of God as Being? Is modal logic orthodox? (ha…seriously). Lastly (at least for now), what about Plantinga? I’m very unfamiliar with analytic philosophy, so I hardly even tried to tackle his writing on it. I wrote on a paper for a concise summary of his argument, “If it is possible for God to exist, then it is impossible for God not to exist,” and yesterday morning it CLICKED, wonderfully (but at the same time I feel as though there’s a strange gap between the two statements that I need to work out). Is it possible to reconcile this with Anselm’s, whose I am assuming can be thoroughly defended (double question)? What about Aquinas? Please, Kristor, don’t be vague (not to say that you tend to be); I really could use your help even from a personal position. Thank you.

The rest of this post is my response.

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Will the Real Christianity Please Stand Up?

In the discussion after a recent post here, commenter Vishmehr24 said [I’ve made minor corrections of spelling and form]:

Alan Roebuck,

Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Protestant?

How is Protestantism defined ?

You write

“confessional Protestantism (that is, the Protestantism that honors the Word of God by explicitly identifying what it teaches and then codifying these teachings in the various protestant confessions) is the best system.”

You write from theologian’s perspective, perhaps that is looking for best systems. But a believer or a seeker is looking for the best church. Your answer “confessional Protestantism” is too loose, too flabby. It seems like to mean -anything except the Catholic church or the Orthodoxy.

Here’s my response:

OK Vishmehr24, good questions. You sound skeptical, but I hope you’ll allow me to set the record straight.

The key issues underlying your questions would be these: First, Who, or what, has the authority to define Christianity?  Second, What difference does it make if one adheres to an invalid (or not-fully-valid) version of Christianity?

The answer to the first question has to be Jesus Christ and the Apostles he trained. And since they are no longer available for direct consultation, we must look to the written record of God’s words, the Bible.  This is the correct way to know what Christianity is.

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Concreteness, Corporeality & Responsibility

English makes it easy to refer to a whole group of things as if it were a substantial entity in its own right, whether or not it really is. It then allows us to assign such things as motives, plans, and behavior to that merely notional entity. Thus, e.g., “Baseball been very very good to me;” “The Wehrmacht has taken Paris;” “Godless Communism killed 100 million.”[1]

It’s handy. But difficulty can ensue when we take our shorthand references to such groups as if they indicated something concretely real. The game of baseball can’t do anything, nor can the Wehrmacht, or Communism. Clemente was treated well by actual people involved in baseball, Paris was taken by German soldiers, and the victims of the Communist holocaust were destroyed by real men and women. It’s a category error to blame or credit merely notional entities. AN Whitehead called it the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. It arises when we treat ideas as if they were actual and concrete. Concrete entities do all inherit ideas from their past, embody them, and propose them to the future. But without a concrete entity to do the inheriting, embodying, and proposing, nothing happens with the ideas. Ideas don’t have themselves.

Ideas are indeed causes, to be sure; the final, formal and material causes of events are all ideas, in the final analysis. But the inputs to an event are not yet the event. Only agents can respond to the ideas that are their factors. It behooves us then to remember to assign responsibility to natural persons, rather than to movements or schools, to philosophies or merely legal persons.

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Heaven is the Theosis of Nature

That a phenomenon seems to be wholly explicable in natural terms does not, of course, mean that it is not due to an ingress of Divine Grace. Thinking so is a common error of the naturalist bent – or rather, what it is more accurate to say, of the bent naturalist. But natural explanations do not rule out supernatural explanations. There is, indeed there can be, no conflict between natura and supernatura; natural explanations are all in the final analysis also supernatural explanations, because natura presupposes supernatura.

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Behavior Presupposes Theism

Behavior as such is predicated upon the orderliness of the world. The acts of organisms are avowals of confidence that the acts themselves are appropriate to the world; that they make sense in terms of the way that the world is ordered. My walk to the store is an effectual assertion that there is indeed still really a store, that my path will still take me to it, that it usually offers for sale the items I need, and so forth. Likewise for a cow heading home to her stall from the pasture. Likewise even for the phototropism of plants. Behavior is a commitment to the truth of an idea.

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The Ultimate Integration

God is Omega in that all things achieve their final integration in him, and by him – not just at the eschaton, but always. It is by virtue of this integration that creaturely events are in the first place coordinated so as to form any coherent world. Thus the integration of the Omega is the forecondition of Creation. That’s why Omega is coterminous with Alpha.

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Creatura : Creator :: Map : Territory

According to the invaluable Online Etymology Dictionary, the English word “map” is derived from:

… Medieval Latin mappa mundi “map of the world;” first element from Latin mappa “napkin, cloth” (on which maps were drawn), “tablecloth, signal-cloth, flag,” said by Quintilian to be of Punic [i.e., Tyrian] origin (compare Talmudic Hebrew mappa, contraction of Mishnaic menaphah “a fluttering banner, streaming cloth”) + Latin mundi “of the world,” from mundus “universe, world” (see mundane).

Now this is interesting, because while the Old Testament refers to the firmament of the cosmos with the word raqiaà, meaning literally “extent” – apparently a merely abstract geometrical idea – it is described variously in scripture as like a crystalline tent or canopy (Isaiah 40:22, Ezekiel 1:22), or a scroll (Isaiah 34:4; Revelation 6:14). I.e., an expanse of fabric such as are used as a substrate for maps.

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God is the Window

Eternity is prior to all events. Events cook out of eternity. Their causal relations to each other cook out of their accidental forms, which are found originally in God. So Leibniz was right: the monads – the quanta of action which constitute the events of creaturely lives – don’t define themselves ab initio in terms of their own immediate relations to each other, but rather in terms of their relations to each other as mediated by the logically prior Divine omniscience of all compossibilities. They do see each other – they are not windowless – but only through God. God is their window.[1]

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Keepers of Our Elder Brothers

Is it fair to characterize the Jews of today as the elder brothers of the Christians, as recent Papal dicta would suggest? The question arose in the commentary on Bonald’s recent post on Judeo-Islamic universalism. I hadn’t ever considered it one way or another, but the comments got me wondering. I still don’t think that the answer matters much (although I may of course be missing something), but as so often happens once one begins to think a little about a little thing, one discovers all sorts of connections.

What follows began as a quick comment in that thread, which grew in the writing as unsuspected and fruitful associations revealed themselves. It came to me first as a single sentence, almost the moment I asked myself the question, “Are the Jews our elder brothers, after all?” It had always seemed to me that they are – which was why I had never thought about it.

The answer: “Yes, certainly: the Jews are elder brothers to us, just as the elder brothers of Joseph were to him.”

Now, when it first bubbled up to the surface, this statement seemed to come out of nowhere, completely unsupported. It rang true, but for reasons I could not begin to see. So I began to ruminate upon it, in the process gradually discovering why the thought had arrived.

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Difference As Such Entails Risk of Evil

There is no logical Problem of Evil, because it is impossible in logic for God to create any sort of thing that is not extremely likely to Fall, and so suffer.

God knows perfectly, and so wills, the way that everything should be in order to be best. His existence is necessary, so if he were the only entity, things would necessarily be best.

But God is not the only entity. Because he is necessary, all the other entities that exist must – logically must – be contingent; for, there can be at most one unmoved mover. And contingent beings as such, by definition, are at risk of evil.

That there should be different things, then – that, i.e., there should be more than just one thing, namely God – entails that there should be great risk of evil.

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