I just returned from driving the Ontological Argument to the airport when I found the following comment from Jerry:
Walter, and then TAM, posted a link to a counterargument to the ontological argument. I didn’t read it all, but I did notice the following:
Plantinga writes: “Our verdict on these reformulated versions of St. Anselm’s argument must be as follows. They cannot, perhaps, be said to prove or establish their conclusion. But since it is rational to accept their central premise, they do show that it is rational to accept that conclusion” (Plantinga 1974, 221).
No… is that what this is all about? No one is claiming that the ontological argument proves God’s existence, just that it makes it rational to believe it? If so, that could have been stated up front and saved us all a lot of trouble.
Oh how I wish the Ontological Argument were here to field this one, but since he’s in the air as we speak, I’ll address it. In response I’ll make three points.
The last argument you’ll ever need?
Let’s say that you buy a Yoshiblade™ Ceramic Knife because you saw it advertised as “The last knife you’ll ever need!” So far as I can tell, that is a decent knife. But the last knife you’ll ever need? No bread knife? Butter knife? Hunting knife? The Yoshiblade™ can handle it all? Come on. That’s a bit much.
If people approach arguments for God’s existence as proofs they are bound to be disappointed. Billing the Ontological Argument as “the last argument you’ll ever need” is like billing the Yoshiblade™ as the last knife you’ll never need.
Now hold on a minute. Am I engaging in special pleading for the ole’ Ontological Argument simply because we’re on a first name basis? (I call him “Ontie”.)
Not at all. The same goes for pretty much every other argument in philosophy. There are no proofs for the existence of other minds or propositions or the truth of possibilism, utilitarianism or most other things that are of interest to philosophers. So objecting to Ontie … oops, I mean the Ontological Argument, is unjustified if it focuses on the failure of the argument as a proof in the traditional sense. Countless excellent arguments fail to meet that lofty standard.
Finally, does the Ontological Argument make it rational to believe in God where it wasn’t rational before? After all that’s what Plantinga seems to say in that passage from 1974.
It is important to note that many of us wrote things in 1974 that we have since come to regret. For example, I left some scribbles with a purple crayon on my bedroom wall back in 74′ which I came to regret. (Actually that regret came rather soon … as soon as my dad got home from work.) So it is little surprise that Al Plantinga probably wouldn’t say the same thing today. Plantinga emphatically doesn’t believe that arguments are necessary for the rationality of belief in God. And neither do I by the way.
The Ontological Argument accomplishes an honest day’s work. If it is possible that God exist then he must exist. For those who already believe that God exists, and who have no defeaters to that belief, that is an impressive accomplishment. It also plays an evidential burden on atheists and skeptics to demonstrate a fundamental incoherence in the concept of a most perfect being, at least if they want to offer a defeater to the theist’s belief.