Walter wrote: “I know that Randal considers this argument to be a Ferrari, but I would classify it as a Yugo: the engine runs, the car moves, but it is still a piece of crap.”
Walter knows of Yugos that are still running? Seriously?
(A brief aside. First, Walter’s saucy “piece of crap” quip reminds me of Neil Young’s great anti-consumerist song “Piece of Crap”. “Saw it on TV, bought it on the phone. When I got it home it was a piece of crap.” Can you relate? Second, on the Yugo bit, Malcolm Bricklin imported Yugos to North America. He was the same entrepreneur who built the ill-fated Bricklin sports car in the mid 70’s with gullwing doors, a forerunner for the fates of the better known and equally unsuccessful DeLorean.)
Piece of crap?
Okay, now down to business. Let me first say that I am glad Ontie is not around to hear this. He’d be either heart-broken or would fly into a rage. (He’s unpredictable that way.) Last year he pummeled Pascal’s Wager when ole’ PW said “I wouldn’t bet on you.” It took two arguments to break them up.
Next, I class Walter’s statement somewhere between unjustified and mystifying. We can classify formal arguments like the ontological argument into three basic classes:
(A) Valid (conclusion follows from premises)
(B) Valid with plausible premises
(C) Sound (valid with true premises)
If an argument is a “piece of crap” it presumably is either not valid or it is valid with ridiculous premises. There is no debate (or no reasonable debate) about whether the ontological argument is valid. The whole question is whether it has plausible or (even better) sound premises.
Whether the argument is ultimately classed in (A), (B), or (C) depends on who you ask. Here again is the argument (as I presented it):
(1) The most perfect being is the being with the maximal number of compossible great-making attributes.
(2) It is possible that the most perfect being exists (that is, there is at least one possible world in which the most perfect being does exist).
(3) All things being equal it is greater to exist necessarily than contingently.
(4) The property of existing necessarily is compossible with other great-making attributes.
(5) Therefore, the most perfect being exemplifies the property of existing necessarily.
(6) Therefore, there is at least one possible world in which the most perfect being exemplifies the property of existing necessarily.
(7) If a being exemplifies the property of existing necessarily in one possible world then that being exists in all possible worlds.
(8) Therefore, the most perfect being exemplifies the property of existing in the actual world.
(9) God is the most perfect being.
(10) Therefore, God exists.
The biggest question concerns (2). I believe (2) is very plausible not least because I assess it relative to a background set of beliefs. An atheist (or perhaps a deist) would assess it differently relative to their set of background beliefs.
Does that mean the argument is a piece of crap relative to Walter but not to Randal? No, I don’t think so. If reasonable people can reasonably find the premises persuasive or (at least) plausible then the argument is not a piece of crap. Rather, Walter should say something like this: “I believe the argument is unpersuasive relative to my background beliefs”.
Even if it is a Yugo, it is better than what you got
The theist presents the ontological argument, an argument which minimally meets (A) but is considered by many reasonable, intelligent people to meet (B) or even (C). Let’s grant for the sake of argument that this is a lowly Yugo. But as I have already pointed out, this is no different than other major arguments in philosophy. The number of arguments about significant matters that are recognized by all or nearly all philosophers as having attained (C) is rare indeed.
So if the ontological argument is a Yugo, it is a Yugo being driven in Kosovo in 1986 when having a car made you one of the priviledged elite. If the theist gets to drive the Yugo then Walter’s complaint is reminiscent of a non-theist who mocks the Yugo from the shoulder of the road where he is … walking. You see, the non-theist’s ontological disproof (courtesy of J.N. Findley) is like a Trabant that blew up mere moments after someone started it. Now it sits a charred ruin in a dusty back lot under the grey communist sky.
We speed down the road on the way to Skopje. As we fly up behind Walter carrying a bundle of sticks we inadvertently shower him with gravel. “Your Yugo is crap!” he calls out angrily. But we can’t hear him because we have Kraftwerk cranked on the cassette player. As we fly by my front passenger notices Walter and his scowl. He leans out the window and shouts back “It beats walking!”